We're delighted to share Sally A. Edwards' conversation with Jeremy Renner to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the release of Katherine Bigelow's multi-award winning film, "The Hurt Locker". The chat took place prior to the film's release, literally as Jeremy had received the call to play Hawkeye. The inspiring conversation covers everything from taking you inside the suit to travel, cooking, architecture and some unforgettable thoughts about you and your home.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 3 Nø 2 print edition in 2011
Interview by Sally A. Edwards
Stills of The Hurt Locker courtesy of Optimum Releasing
"If you can remain semi-anonymous you can constantly be discovered."
Now, I could begin this story with an elaborate anecdote of our encounter, of how Jeremy Renner was dressed. I could also recount his facial expressions and body language, or make comparisons to the characters he’s played in The Town and The Hurt Locker, but unfortunately this was one of those scenarios that doesn’t get close. For this was a meeting purely by phone, a long distance call with a total stranger.
You see as much as I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to have a good chat and to learn about people, these phone interviews can be awkward nonetheless. You can’t gauge slight reactions. You can’t tell if eyes roll and – for this time in particular – you can’t tell when the other will speak. Resulting in the equivalent of a high paced edit of an unscripted split screen phone conversation.
These moments, you’ll be glad to know have been edited out. I’m sure it would be pretty boring for you to read “I’m sorry”, “You’re breaking up a little there,” surrounding several repeated questions.
With all that said, you do however determine quite a lot from the levels of ‘umm’s, laughter, sighs and the sound of a smiling voice. And once you engage you get a sense of facial expressions.
The only other part of the scene I can set is that it’s night time in the UK and it’s the afternoon in New York City. When I say who’s calling, Jeremy answers, “Hellooo” and tells me he’s just got a cup of coffee, is going to make himself comfy and that it’s raining. Good stuff. He knows he’s talking to a Brit.
The first thing I wanted to ask you – and I know you’ve probably been asked umpteen times – is how did you get into acting? Was it through education or was it through friends and family?
“You know it wasn’t until I was 18 or 19, I was at a community college. I was a science major, a criminology major and none of them were kind of sticking, so I took this random acting class and it stuck. I fell in love with it, it was really like 19 years of emotional repression. The stage became a wonderful playground for me as a young man to explore all these feelings I was having and be able to explore them safely because I could get behind the characters. I really loved the whole idea of telling stories and getting involved in the artistry of it. I went onto LA and studied a lot more and then got to work. Hey! Lovely!” [laughs]
PASSION & PATIENCE
The theme of the issue is Passion & Patience, so I wanted to ask you: What’s the one thing you’re most passionate about?
[Laughs] "Errrrr, wow! Music is probably one of the top two you know, because I’m passionate about my job as an actor and music as well, because those translate into my life and I’m fortunate enough to have my job be something I’m very passionate about. I wish that was a common place. I feel like for a lot of people it’s not.”
No, I know, definitely. So the other thing is, what are you most patient about?
“I think with being passionate about what you do for a living, there are sacrifices and with those you have to be patient. That’s where I’ve learnt a lot, I was a very impatient young man growing up. I had to learn different ways and coping mechanisms to deal with doing what I wanted to do in life and not doing some job that makes money and then affords me a vacation to do what I really want to do, like jetski on the Riviera or whatever [laughs], you know what I mean? I get that patience and what the passion’s about.”
So our theme works very well then?
“Yes, yes it does and if something comes easy, it doesn’t seem as gratifying, you know I’m 39 and feel like... I feel like I’m starting and I don’t know, there’s something very gratifying about the 12 miles of bad road to get to this spot.”
I’ve got a question about that actually, I’ve been doing a lot of research on you and I keep seeing the word ‘newcomer’ attached to you...
... and I just feel like you’ve done an awful lot of ground work to be called a newcomer.
“Right, right. I take it as a compliment.”
Oh that’s good.
“I’ll be a newcomer ‘til the day I die, I’m happy with that! It’s better than being the old guy, like, ‘Oh I know that guy, I know his schtick.’ You become stagnant at that point. If you can remain semi-anonymous you can constantly be discovered. That’s not really even in cinema alone, I feel like if someone can discover a film it becomes much more effective to them. Rather than a thousand people saying, ‘Oh, this is the best movie you’ll ever see in your life.’ You’re going to walk in with expectations and it’ll always fall flat. No matter what. Like, ‘Go see this rock band, this band is so amazing!’ and you see them and they’re good, but you didn’t get to discover them. So when people discover somebody or something in art it becomes very personal to them and it affects them a lot deeper. So I think it’s a wonderful thing.”
I wanted to speak to you about the fact the media and a lot of record labels seem to be a lot more acceptive of more experienced talents. They’re getting behind them now compared to how they were, because it’s been young for an awful long time. With BLAG we got offered loads and loads of young talent for a while and now they’re older and it feels more grounded and more skilled. We can get more content and more depth from the people we speak to. So what do you think the tipping point of that is? How do you think it is for some people that they can tick along being comfortable and doing what they do, then – like you say – they get discovered by more and more people, or they might suddenly get discovered by someone and their lives can change over. Like you said, you had 12 years before it turned around.
“Yeah, yeah. Yeah. What is the tipping point? I don’t know. When more eyes are upon you I suppose. Is any individual ready for that moment when you do something and a lot of people all of a sudden get on board? I don’t know, I think that you have to be ready. I think that being ready is doing what you love to do and learning and growing as you go and if the spotlight comes on you and you fall on your face, well that sucks. You work so hard and all of a sudden the pressure of something or other – you know outside sources – affect who you are, I don’t think you can really let those things happen. All that really matters is what you know. ‘I know how to put my shoes on in the morning. Don’t tell me how.’ ‘I know how to brush my teeth. Don’t tell me how.’
“These are things I know how to do and that thing is another one of them where you do it. I know what I’m doing so with that I learn and grow. I work with people that teach me so much and The Hurt Locker is no exception, it just happened to work out that some eyes came upon this project and it affected people. We had no idea. All we did from doing that movie is... [laughs] We were just happy we’d finished the movie in general! Then all of a sudden people responded to it. I mean that’s been the most baffling thing to me, but amazing.”
Definitely! It’s a really interesting film. A lot of my peers and a lot of people I know like it, it’s a very diverse section of people who appreciate it. So I only have another question about The Hurt Locker because I want to ask you about some other things: Do you think there are any similarities between you and your character, Will James?
“Yeah, yeah I think so. And it’s in any character I feel like the only way I can approach something is to limit it to my perception of life and how I see things. So I think of course there’s going to always be a part of me in the character. Will James was certainly a lot of things that I imposed upon him and vice versa with philosophies and ideals. We’re very similar in a sense that I’m more of a man of few words to be honest and more of a man of action, thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not the guy who has the courage and the nuts to go out and do what somebody like Will James does. There’s no way! But I think that things have fuelled James or things have fuelled me and I obviously impose that on him.”
I wanted to speak to you about Light Bulb and The Unusuals. Is Light Bulb going to come out in the UK?
“The Unusuals was a television show that was short lived, it was only a year and Light Bulb is a little movie I did... Gosh, that was a while back. It was an independent so who knows what happened to that guy. That’s done the typical plight of independent films where it gets money, it’s made and I still haven’t seen it and I don’t know what happens to it. Does it go to DVD? I have no idea. I thought the same thing about The Hurt Locker by the way. You do something, like ‘Oh cool.’ and you get to work and you get to learn something, and you get to work with some great people and it’s the independent film world, right? The highest expectations of an independent film is that it gets on the big screen, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe someone bought the movie and put it out!’ ‘Unbelievable!’”
Can you tell us about your latest film, The Town?
“Yes, The Town was a really fun experience with Ben [Affleck]. Such a great, smart dude. Such a relaxed set, there was a really great tone on the set. It was a really, really wonderful experience. Shooting in Boston was lovely and yeah, I had a really great time on that. I feel like I had too good of a time, I feel like it was easy so I hope that I didn’t get lazy! It’s a pretty interesting film.”
Brilliant, and what’s it about?
“It’s about the whole different world and the whole community of these career bank robbers. There’s this town called Charlestown and there’s this one square mile and within this is a code of silence, no one speaks about anyone’s wrong doings although they’re all doing something wrong, they’re all criminals. So there’s this sort of life there and Ben’s character tried to get out and creates a rift. There’s an interesting world of armoured car robberies and bank robberies and we’re all the good guys by the way, so the audience is following the plight of all of us versus the cops – who are seemingly the good guys, right? And I think it’s pretty interesting, it’s got a lot of crime, drama and definitely some action sequences in it as well, so it’s a lot of fun.”
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CAMERA
Would you consider getting on the other side of the camera as well?
“Oh yeah, absolutely and not right at this moment, but definitely sometime soon.”
Great, and didn’t you co-direct a play in LA?
“Yeah, I did. I did a lot of theatre directing which was really great fun and I shoot things. I did a couple of shorts here and there to keep my mind working. I love it. Ben directed this movie and he starred in it, so we’ve certainly got to see how that works. I would never want to do that by the way – star in a movie and direct it. I mean I don’t think I’m good enough at either to be able to do both. So it’s either one or the other at a time.”
TWO OPPOSING CHARACTERS
So I wanted you to take two films you’ve done with really opposing characters and then tell us the difference between the preparation and the job satisfaction you had from each, please. “Wow, yikes. That’s a big one!”
“It’s a good question actually. Oh no, no, no. Let me think... I’m trying to think of how they would be opposing though... Wow... OK. In big milestones for me – personally in my life – [It] would be doing Darhmer, which was a little movie for like, $10,000.00. I didn’t know who Jeffrey Darhmer was, I had three days to prepare and then we shot for two weeks and we were done. So all my preparation on that movie for three days was having a coffee with the director, I read any books I could possibly get my hands on which didn’t really help me at all.
“So basically my preparation was really trusting my instincts. I laid down basic ideas of how I wanted to approach the character, talking with the director, David Jacobson. We were definitely on the same page about everything and [it was about] really trusting everyone around me and going with my own instincts without any true preparation. My only preparation was what I want to do, but not actually applying it, so I applied that and over the two weeks we were done with it. So that was a really interesting process, it was really fast. Very, very fast and juxtaposed to The Hurt Locker which I was on for a year. It wasn’t as intense preparation, but at that time I actually got to go build bombs and detonate. Learn about the rules in the EOD and learn about what tech EOD was. Jeffrey Dahmer was just as foreign to me as EOD was – Explosive Ordnance Disposal – I had no idea what that was. So I had a lot of time to prepare for that. I got to talk to a lot of people that do that job. I’m not playing a specific individual like Jeffrey Dahmer so I wasn’t tied into that, I’m making it my own character from a regular script. I spent a lot of time in training for that and then again when I got on set in Jordan, all the preparation goes out the window and you just trust your instincts, and lean on the great actors that I have surrounding me. The through line for both and in every job is trying to find the truth, whatever it takes to get to the truth of it, to help tell the story to make it the best film it can be and as honest as it can be. That’s what it takes for me. That’s what I need to find. No matter if I need a year to prepare for it or three days, it’s always about finding the truth and something honest about the character initially and how it fits into the story.
MUSIC & PLAYLISTS
You were saying music is your other passion. Haven’t you been involved in soundtracks along the way?
I make playlists for every character and everyone has a 10-15 song playlist on my iPod. Back when I first started doing it there wasn’t iPods or the internet, so I’d make cassettes or CDs of music. They’re all things that don’t necessarily tie into ‘Oh, it’s just that movie’. Like, The Town I’ve got this club kicker music, these very Irish, Celtic, awesome songs [for it]. It’s great for that movie, it gives me the sort of a feel for a specific part of a scene or if I have to draw on some sort of emotion or set myself in a certain mood or be in a certain place. I have a playlist of songs that I put in a certain order and it keeps me going when I don’t feel like I’ve got it in me. So it helps. You see music is actually a really big part of me as an actor.”
That’s really good. So what music would you pull up for say, The Hurt Locker?
“The Hurt Locker, yeah, let me go through - I think I even have it on my phone, but I remember: The bomb suit - Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven.”
“That’s one of my favourite songs and one of my favourite songs in life. You know, you’re isolated in the whole helmet and the bomb suit, you feel alone and there’s something so beautiful about Moonlight Sonata that I felt at peace – really at peace being in that suit. So I used that song.
“Driving around in the Humvee, I had a couple of random, you know... I can’t remember, like ACDC’s, Back in Black I think. I had some Muse as a general as there’s a lot of tension in their music. So when I’m sitting in the desert waiting for the next shot, I’d throw on some Muse, you know Apocalypse Please, anything. Supermassive Black Hole, I mean I love Muse, they’re one of my favourite bands. I had like five of their songs. There’s a lot of different things... Patsy Cline for some reason I think made it in there.”
Oh right. That’s interesting.
“It was random, but that was for me personally. Whenever I was feeling like, ‘What am I doing here?’ ‘I’m shooting a gun. What am I doing with myself?' Patsy Cline... Oh... I got to find it now, or I’m going to go bananas... Yeah, Hurt Locker, Hurt Locker Playlist. Yeah, The Doobie Brothers, Travis, Rufus Wainwright, Iggy Pop, The Police, The Who - I didn’t listen to those very much.”
PSYCHOLOGY, PIANO & DANCE
I thought I read somewhere that you were a singer, is that right?
“A singer? Yeah. I was a musician before I was an actor.”
Oh I see. OK.
“So, you know when I was in college and I discovered acting was a cool thing, I started studying psychology number one after that and then I wanted to play piano and see Broadway. One of my first shows was The Wizard of Oz. So I was implementing all this stuff and I was taking dance classes, it wasn’t really my thing, but it was something to learn and grow and do... but I’ve been writing and singing for a long time. I love it and I love it because it’s not my career. I don’t have to put any business into it at all. I don’t want to. I don’t need an audience, I don’t need to play, I’ll go and sing karaoke if I really want to sing in front of somebody – which I love to do actually. Yeah, but I just write music because I want to write it and sing because I want to sing. I don’t have to write a song for a record label or to put out new [material] or to get an audience. I just do it because I like it. I don’t need anybody but myself and that’s something kind of settling.”
That’s a real treat. So how would you describe your music and your singing to someone if you had to sum it up?
“You know I... [sigh] If I was in a rock band, it would probably be like a Muse, it would be like a Chris Cornell, it would be like Queen – which is a lot more fun. I love sort of very... heavy. It’s got to be passionate, it’s got to be soulful, melodic. It has to be melodic. There are only 12 notes and a thousand ways I can say ‘Go fuck yourself’ in the English language. And I think the melody is really, really important. So as long as it’s something interesting. Then lyrics are obviously very important, but I’m much more of a melody driven kind of songwriter.”
Great. I didn’t know that about you at all. It’s really good to discover. So I wanted to find out what else you’re into outside of film. Do you get to travel much aside from your work?
“Travelling? Yeah, I get to travel quite a bit, but it’s usually always for work which is a wonderful part of the job.”
HIDDEN TREASURE & ARCHITECTURE
Are there any hidden treasures you’ve discovered?
“Well it’s an absolute treasure, I never thought I’d go to Iceland. Jordan was a treasure – that was one of the last places I thought I’d ever go to – the Middle East. Petra, The Dead Sea, The Red Sea. Architecturally, parts of the planet that are fantastic and on that I love architecture.
“That’s why I love London and New York – there’s great architecture. I’ve built homes with one of my best friends, so that’s been keeping me pretty busy over these last 10 years. I’m finding I don’t have time to do that anymore unfortunately. You know I still have to finish another one, but there’s something really kind of interesting about building a home to me, it’s very artistic. At least that’s how I look at it. It’s where people spend their lives and to create an environment for someone to want to live, when you sell a home you sell a lifestyle, not a structure. That’s how we look at building property and how someone lives. You should be able to walk through your entire house without any lights on without bumping into furniture. There should be a really good flow, you should know exactly where the light switches are. Everything should be very easy, so it’s just the thought that goes into when you build a home.
“But yeah, I mean I really, really love it. I learn so much, constantly. Like in London, I remember I was forever affected by these guys, these great, great developers who do these boutique hotels in Soho, Charlotte Street Hotel. They’re gorgeous! Gorgeous little hotels. I just feel like they do something really special. You know, I’ve probably stolen an idea or two from those guys.”
There’s some more that have opened actually Soho House have opened a hotel and Firmdale who have Soho Hotel, Charlotte Street and Covent Garden have opened another one. “Covent Garden, that’s where I stayed when we were shooting 28 Weeks Later. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is fantastic!’ but then I realised, like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m living in Covent Garden, it’s like living in Times Square or something! No one actually lives here!’ No one can afford to live in Covent Garden. It’s quite lonely. At 11 O’clock everyone’s taking the tube and they’re leaving and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute!’ It’s like making a whole lot of friends, then you have to take cab rides to Hackney or something to go and visit somebody.”
I lived around the corner from the Covent Garden Hotel for over 12 years.
“Oh you did?! Nice, that’s fantastic! I got a flat on Neal Street, right around the corner from the hotel, because I wanted to cook.”
So you were my neighbour.
“Yeah, I was in that neighbourhood the entire time, pretty much. It’s wonderful to walk out and be inspired by the landscape, it’s just gorgeous. It’s fantastic and then realising, ‘Wow, this building, this Seven Eleven has more history than our old star country.’ That’s just amazing to me. It gives me a really good perspective.”
My last question is: What’s next for you?
“A sandwich and a diet coke... [laughs] I can’t think too far ahead at this point in my life. I’m just going to enjoy the moment."