May 3, 2006 -- Exclusive: Jeremy Renner Talks Assassination of Jesse James (

Jeremy Renner has had one heck of an interesting career that I originally predicted to explode during 2005. After his first film in 1995, National Lampoon's Senior Trip, Jeremy ducked under the spotlight with brief roles in the television series Angel and CSI. In 2002, however, Jeremy came out swinging with an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his disturbing depiction of Jeffrey Dahmer in the film Dahmer and a role in a large blockbuster film, SWAT, which followed in 2003. Critical acclaim plus a film co-starring Samuel L Jackson, Will Ferrell and LL Cool J? With this type of mix I had figured one blockbuster film a year for Jeremy Renner beginning in 2004.

Though Jeremy Renner did have a significant role as Charlize Theron's ex-fling in North Country, the actor has remained close to independent films -- for now. In the last year we have seen The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Neo Ned and the Twelve and Holding get released with Renner's name attached to each project. Even though the actor seems to have found his niche, 2006 marks his return to tentpole films with Warner Bros The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Don't worry, I will get to this extended title later.

Jeremy Renner on Being Twelve and Cousin to Jesse James

I recently took a drive down to Sunset Blvd. to meet up with Jeremy Renner before he heads off to New York to promote his upcoming independent film Twelve and Holding. To start off with a positive -- this year's domestic indie films have not been all that, with only three, including Twelve and Holding, receiving mass amounts of critical acclaim.

Due out on May 19th, Twelve and Holding tells the story of a group of friends who enter into an identity crisis after a tragic accident that resulted in the loss of a friend. Renner plays Gus, a patient who attracts the obsessive attention of Malee, a young girl who thinks she is mature enough to deal with the tragic event on her own. Renner explained that the film was more about the children, with the adult actors serving the role of supporting cast. The film will cover three different stories based on each child: Jacob, Malee and Leonard.

After discussing Renner's stints with independent films and theatre, we moved on to his role as Robert Woodson "Wood" Hite in the upcoming adaptation of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Starring Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider and Mary Louise Parker, Assassination of Jesse James tells the true demise of Jesse James at the hands of Robert Ford. Brad Pitt plays Jesse James, Casey Affleck is Robert Ford and Jeremy Renner took the role of "Wood" Hite, Jesse James cousin.


CanMag: What was your competition for your role in The Assassination of Jesse James and then your reaction when you learned you had got the part?

Renner: The competition really came from everybody in town reading for the part of Robert Ford. Everybody on the film read for that role. I did, Rockwell did, they had people off the street – that weren’t even actors -- coming in to read for the part. The competition was there.

When I was too old to play the part they asked me to come in and check out this role [Robert “Wood” Hitt]. Anything less than that was ‘alright, I will give it a go.’ I got it and I was definitely excited because it was another Warner Bros movie with only Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck at the time. I was definitely excited, even though I didn’t get the part I went for initially. But to get to shoot guns and ride horses every day in Calgary, well, you know.

I was even more excited when Rockwell got on board. Paul Schneider, who was cast at the same time I was cast, worked with me and Brad as we did a table reading for all the characters. I didn’t have a whole lot lines in the original script, so it was exciting to see people such as Sam Rockwell and Sam Shepard come on board.

CanMag: In American Outlaws we are not introduced to Robert “Wood” Hite. What is his importance in the latest rendition of Jesse James?

Renner: Without giving much away – every character has a specific purpose in this script with smaller roles that are very intricate into the plot. They are complex and drawn out over a long, 160-page script.

The character Wood Hite is more of a screen presence and how he affects other characters. The character’s main purpose for the story is to instill paranoia in Jesse James. Just like every other character, he serves a specific purpose. As events unfold, Jesse James paranoia causes him to only trust his blood. Since there is an award for Jesse and his brother Frank, Jesse knows that Wood Hite, his cousin, will not turn on him.

Everybody else in the gang could not be trusted by Jesse. When Hite disappears, paranoia really sets in for Jesse that creates a whole avalanche of unsightly events that I can’t go into detail without spoiling the film.

CanMag: What kind of research did you do in preparation of your role in The Assassination of Jesse James?

Renner: As far as research we had pre-production time that covered basic stuff like horseback riding. I already knew how to ride, but we still spent six hours a day riding. I was always familiar with guns, but this is a period piece that had us using period guns. Wardrobe, just walking around in wardrobe, physical stuff as an actor that you have to appreciate. Then there is the time and the period, the language, how they spoke, how it sounded, the dialect, and the actual events and how they occurred. The movie is based on the novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, so I read that and the film doesn’t stray too far from the novel and took that as God’s word.

Mind you this being a larger budget film – not that big for a studio film – they can provide you with enough information that you need about your character. I also went on the internet to learn about my character and his background. It didn’t serve me a whole lot to know that my dad did this or that, but how they walked, talked, looked, what their daily lives were like, how often they bathed; being a period piece makes the character a bit more difficult.

CanMag: Did you know the full story behind Jesse James before you went out for the part?

Renner: No, no. I knew ideas of him and even what I did know of him changed and shifted due to the prospective of this Jesse James movie as told through the eyes and actions of Robert Ford -- who later assassinates him. So, yeah, the film is a completely different take on the outlaw.

CanMag: Of the western films that I can list at this very moment – Silverado, Wyatt Earp, Tombstone, American Outlaws, Open Range and Unforgiven – what would The Assassination of Jesse James align more closely to just by the style of the film.

Renner: I couldn’t really do that, but if I had to choose anything I would choose Wyatt Earp only because it has an epic feel to it; which The Assassination of Jesse James has. However, Jesse James has a much darker look and feel. Instead of offering a perspective of the writer, the film tells the perspective from the actual man – Robert Ford.

The Assassination of Jesse James will be different because of this perspective laid down by the novel.

They are going to keep that title, as long as it is. Brad was adamant about keeping it that way. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the Coward Robert Ford, because it was Ford who shot James as he was turning away.

The film is Jesse’s plight, but the film is not a Brad Pitt movie. Brad was also adamant about not having his picture on the actual poster; as that is not what the story is all about.

There might be two robberies by the James gang shown in the film. The film is not all about riding off firing our weapons while hollering. It is more like a Goodfellas of Jesse James. There is more of a hierarchy and totem pole in the gang with each member wondering where they belong. With that came paranoia and mutiny and all these other sort of elements that will be interesting.

Some scenes will feature the gang around a campfire discussing, let’s say, a rash remedy. But the scene is more about ‘is he going to kill me?’ We may be sipping coffee around the campfire, but it’s not about that. I am wondering if Jesse is going to kill me right now or if he thinks I am saying something behind his back. The suspicion makes it very rich and interesting to watch. Nothing is on the surface with a lot of fear-based mentality among the characters.