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War of the Worlds: Interview with Jeremy Renner (Hot Press)

Hollywood star Jeremy Renner discusses his latest movie, Arrival, in which he and Amy Adams square off against mysterious alien visitors.

Arrival star Jeremy Renner is 45, but you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t heard of him until relatively recently. After taking low-profile roles in film and television for years, the California native hit the big time, starring in Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 Iraq war thriller The Hurt Locker. After that film bagged Renner an Oscar nomination, he rocketed to the top of casting agents’ wish-lists – and the success kept coming. 

It wasn’t just luck – Renner made smart choices when it came to his projects, avoiding mindless entertainment in favour of movies with more bite. He received another Oscar nomination for his role in The Town, before finally shifting to blockbusters – but what blockbusters! Taking starring roles in the Mission Impossible franchise, The Bourne Legacy, and of course The Avengers, the actor has shown an uncanny ability to attach himself to high-quality genre flicks.  

Renner, however, thinks the key is actually quite simple: look for good material, pick directors who respect the audience’s intelligence, and make sure your film is full of heart. And with Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama Arrival, the actor knew he had all that, and more. 

Renner compares Villeneuve, best known for helming Prisoners and Sicario, to the greats. 

“Why I loved this so much,” Renner explains, “was because it has what Spielberg does so well – it has a wide audience lens for emotional content. Spielberg can pull on your heartstrings. Then you take a touch of Kubrick, in that he doesn’t have that accessibility, but it’s about the beauty of his frames and his shots, how patient he is with his filmmaking. I think Denis did a wonderful job combining both those elements.”

Arrival explores what happens when mysterious spacecrafts touch down across Earth. While the panic to find an explanation brings mankind to the brink of a world war, Amy Adams and Renner head up a team of elite linguists, scientists and army personnel tasked with discovering the aliens’ motives. 

While the film is thrilling and emotionally gripping, Renner provides some comic relief as a wise-cracking mathematician. The actor says he wanted to avoid the stereotype of the humourless genius.

“This is a really smart character,” he notes. “He’s probably talked more to the stars than people on the planet. But I didn’t want to make him socially awkward, so we used a sense of humour to create emotional content for him outside of zeros and ones and theorems. That could be really boring. But as long as there are some jokes, there’s an emotional inlet.”

Jeremy Renner’s Avengers co-star Tom Hiddleston is known for seeking inspiration from other iconic characters and giving them a loving wink in his performances. In Avengers, a scene where Hiddleston’s villain Loki tries to intimidate Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow through the walls of a glass cell is a clear homage to Anthony Hopkins’s performance in The Silence Of The Lambs.

Renner took a page out of Hiddleston’s playbook for his role in Arrival, evoking some of Richard Dreyfuss’ spirit from Jaws. The characters overlap, both in their expertise and in their unshakable ethical core. 

“Obviously Dreyfuss’ character in that film is a marine biologist,” says Renner. “He’s a man who loves sharks, whatever. But it’s how he loves sharks, and his passion for them was the idea. That’s what I initially felt.”

Here’s another lesson Renner learned from working on Avengers: don’t speak in a derogatory manner about your female co-stars, or their characters. The actor landed in hot water last year after referring to Black Widow as “a slut” during an interview. Here, the actor has nothing but praise for Amy Adams’ performance as a linguist tasked with communicating with the extra-terrestrials.

“Amy Adams is in a really wonderful role,” he enthuses. “She’s not a victim, she’s very powerful – she’s a superhero, essentially. She saves the world because she’s thoughtful, compassionate and educated. It’s just a beautiful story, and it’s accessible to a lot of different people.” 

Renner also praises the emotional intelligence evident in Adams’ character, stating that she has “empathy and tolerance, even throughout silly men’s behaviour, which is all over this movie!” 

Given the film’s message of unity, against a backdrop of a world divided by fear and violence, the actor’s comments about a woman leader being forced to endure the nonsense of powerful men also feels prescient. Was the film inspired by current events and the US election?

“That’s just a coincidence, be it happy or unhappy,” says Renner. “The birth of this story never came out of politics, though I can see the through-line and how people would conclude that. It’s a much more humanitarian piece, about what unites us and what divides us.”

Arrival is in cinemas now. 

Source: Roe McDermott at Hot Press

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