Note: This piece is primarily focused on Renner's upcoming projects. To read about his thoughts on making "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", be sure and check back here tomorrow.
Not widely known until he became an Oscar nominee for his performance in director Kathryn Bigelow's 2009 Iraq War film "The Hurt Locker", Jeremy Renner has enjoyed a quick rise over the last couple of years, joining not one, not two, but three big-deal franchises: Paramount's long-running "Mission: Impossible" series, Universal's blockbuster "Bourne" franchise and Disney's big-budget superhero movie "The Avengers", in which he stars as Hawkeye/Clint Barton.
In addition to these high-profile projects, Renner has continued to show an interest in making smaller films, including two with "We Own the Night" writer/director James Gray: "Low Life" opposite Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, and a biopic of '60s and '70s action-movie icon Steve McQueen that will serve as a potential starring vehicle for the actor.
Of course, given the current pop-culture mania surrounding all things superhero, "The Avengers" (directed by geek icon Joss Whedon) was front and center in everyone's minds during a recent roundtable discussion with Renner about his role in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", the upcoming fourth installment in the Tom Cruise franchise.
"I feel like I might be an extra in it, I'm not sure," Renner joked about his part in the superhero film, alluding to its gigantic A-list cast. Of course, his first experience playing Hawkeye - in a cameo apperance in this summer's "Thor" - practically did rank as a background role.
"It [was] actually difficult because, you know, there’s not a lot to do," he said of setting up the character in "Thor" with only a brief amount of screen time. "Just stand on a bucket and hold my bow and arrow. ...So yeah, it’s a little strange. I don’t know if it’s a good thing. I mean, I don’t think I’d go about it normally that way, but it was certainly a different way to kind of go about taking on a role."
Along with that film's Chris Hemsworth, Renner also shares the screen in the upcoming Joss Whedon-written-and-directed superhero extravaganza with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Tom Hiddleston as the villainous Loki. And yet he barely got to work with many of them during the shoot.
"I mean, look at how many characters are in that thing," he said. "It was the ultimate challenge for Joss Whedon, who, you know, knows that universe so well - no one better to write it. And he was so challenged and - to write and direct that thing, to - I don’t know how you put that many characters in a movie like that. It’s immense. But you know, with that...you get to work with very few of [the other actors], because everybody’s got their own thing kind of going on; someone’s in the air, flying around; I’m on the ground, shooting a bow and arrow, and whatever - there’s a lot of things happening. So I have no idea what that movie looks like."
One thing Renner did appreciate about the role was the opportunity not to wear the "old-school" Hawkeye costume from the original Avengers comics.
"There’s a couple different universes," he said. "There’s the Ultimates, and then there’s the old school version. And I wasn’t interested in wearing purple tights when I’m 50, so I love that they went the Ultimates route."
Since Thor and Captain America already got their own successful standalone movies, the question of whether Renner is interested in going solo for a separate Hawkeye film is a legitimate question - though with the caveat that the character is considerably less well-known than the former two heroes.
"I don’t know; there are a lot of variables in that one - [like if] they’d want to make one; what it would be about or anything," he answered when asked. "There’s a lot of things. I suppose if they all aligned, then it could be interesting, because I certainly like the character. But I don’t know what the future holds."
In the realm of his career, at least, Renner's future looks incredibly bright, with a lead role in "The Bourne Legacy" directed by Tony Gilroy looming large on the horizon. Renner is playing a CIA operative named Aaron Scott in the film - the first in the "Bourne" series not to be based on one of Robert Ludlum's books and the first without original star Matt Damon.
While Renner couldn't say much about the film, which he is currently in the midst of shooting and which won't wrap until late February, he did take a moment to straighten out one misconception about the project which he clearly felt was widespread enough to debunk in the first place.
"What I can clarify, [what] there’s been some confusion about [is] that I was taking over for Matt - [but] there’s no taking over for Matt. Matt Damon will always be Jason Bourne to that franchise," he asserted, before quickly transitioning into "sell" mode: "But the writer [Tony Gilroy] is consistent through them all, the same writer, and he’s also our director on this one. And so there’ll be, for the fan base that likes that type of movie, it’ll be - the continuity of that, the pace of it, the way it’s shot, just everything about it is - you’ll know it’s a 'Bourne' movie. There’s just going to be different faces. There’s going to be Ed Norton and Rachel Weiss, which are, you know, some of the most talented actors out there. But it’ll be just a different program, and different - different spies, essentially. But...it has that same sort of pace to it."
Renner did take the opportunity to chat with Damon after being cast in the role, with his fellow actor giving him a sage piece of advice prior to shooting.
"If anything, he said just, you know, 'Just listen to your guys that know what they’re doing'," Renner recalled of the conversation. "He’s worked with Dan Bradley, who did all the action on all the 'Bourne' movies. He’s actually our second unit director on 'Mission'. And so I was, you know, happy to know that he was part of this 'Bourne' movie. He's the guy with, you know, if you’re doing action, you’re working with Dan Bradley. So he says, 'Just trust that guy.' I’m like, 'Oh, yeah, perfect. You don’t have to tell me. I’ve already worked with him. He’s awesome.'"
Perhaps Renner's most intriguing new project is the aforementioned Steve McQueen biopic he's currently developing with his recently-formed production company The Combine.
"It happened because a script came around, and they asked maybe, if I wanted to look at it and potentially maybe play him," he said of the project's genesis. "And I thought, 'Ah, it’s interesting.' And you know, obviously, I loved his movies. I wouldn’t say like I was a massive fan of him, by any means. I’ve seen probably like three of his movies. But then as it came around and I started to study him more and realized wow, what a dichotomy of a human being. He’s really, really interesting, outside of what most of him know him as, like...you know, the King of Cool or the coolest human being that ever lived or whatever it is."
That said, Renner wasn't the biggest fan of the original script - "I felt like it was just sort of a retelling of what everybody already knows about him," he told us - which is why he later tapped Gray to pen a new version that's less career retrospective than an exploration of McQueen's inner workings. He went on to describe one photo of the actor he'd come across while doing his research that helped illustrate the updated approach to the story.
"There’s a photo of him - a butcher in the shop is bandaging up his hand," he began. "And the movie set’s around the corner. And he’s just preparing to do a stunt, or just did the stunt of the famous bike jump - or whatever the heck it was, whatever stunt it was. Everybody knows about whatever that stunt is. So why talk about that? I want to know what that conversation was between that butcher and McQueen in that butcher shop. That’s more interesting to me.
"I think an inside sort of look into his life as a human being is - could be fascinating," he continued. "So that’s what we’re exploring...to see like, what is it like to walk into a room and everybody stares at you because they know exactly who you are? Not a lot of people know what that feels like. So let’s let people into that world."
Given his skyrocketing career trajectory as of late, it's a feeling Renner himself is probably going to become quite familiar with going forward.
"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" hits theaters on December 16th in IMAX and December 21st everywhere; "The Avengers" is slated for release on May 4, 2012; "The Bourne Legacy" comes out August 3, 2012.
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