Jeremy Renner is a busy man these days, balancing bigger stuff like Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Bourne Legacy with more character-centric turns in American Hustle and his new film, Kill the Messenger (which he also produced). Kill the Messenger is based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Gary Webb (Renner), whose life was ruined when he linked the CIA to a scheme to arm Contra rebels in Nicaragua and import cocaine into California. His investigation not only threatened to ruin his career, but also his life and the life of his family. For more on Kill the Messenger (which I thought was really well done), watch the trailer.
I recently landed an extended interview with Renner. He talked about making Kill the Messenger, the last time he had to audition, what it’s really like working with David O. Russell, his craft, the worldwide success of Hansel and Gretel and the status of the sequel, what his production company is developing, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
JEREMY RENNER: It’s awesome, first of all. And it’s awesome mostly because auditioning is awful and the process of it is awful. I was lucky because I was good at auditioning but I hated the process. I don’t think anybody ultimately likes the process, even being on the other side of it and watching people audition, it’s not the greatest place for someone to really shine.
It’s like a Ferrari sitting in traffic, you’re not really going to see the performance of this car, yeah it’s moving—it’s a terrible process. I’m so happy I don’t have to do that. The last time I auditioned, I think was 28 Weeks Later, maybe.
Wow, so it’s been a while.
RENNER: It’s been a while. Mind you, there were surreptitious sort of auditions that you do when you meet a director. I have a body of work now that they can look at, they give it a once-over, I feel like as an observer. I would never be cast in American Hustle as Carmine Polito as, “Oh here’s a kind of frumpy, old mayor from Jersey… Renner would be perfect for that!”
It’s sort of like, they already trusted me and believed in me but I feel like there’s observing, he’s also writing for me, so we would talk in terms of things. I think there’s sneaky ways to audition without auditioning. So, I haven’t ultimately auditioned since 28 Weeks Later.
RENNER: That could be used, I think. He’s very particular and specific and the ideas he throws out are great, don’t get me wrong. Some people’s process are—if I’m in character, I’m in a scene staying focused and someone starts shouting to say something, and if I’m not feeling the line and I can’t deliver it with truth, then I just don’t say it. Some people can do that and just be like, “Pa pa pa” and repeat it, “ta ta,” just deliver a line and throw it out in the thing.
And people can do that brilliantly. Dave was like in there, it’s 360 lit, so he’s just up in there in the grill and he starts shooting things. He’s got a really interesting way and wonderful way to make things feel alive. It’s very hard work for everybody but it pays off in his movies. He makes brilliant movies. I love them. I’d do any David O. Russell movie. I love them.
You look at the work that he’s been producing and he gets amazing performances.
RENNER: Yeah. He’s so good at character. He wrote it so fast, that movie, he wrote it so fast and he’s in the middle of a huge campaign for Silver Linings. All around the world promoting a movie while writing American Hustle and just delivered it and delivered amazing characters for actors, almost too good.
American Hustle, I think the giant problem with that is there’s so much great character, you can really follow any one of these people and have yourself a great movie. I think there’s so much wonderful character stuff that you’re not quite sure who to really root for or follow. It’s amazing, it’s a wonderful testament to David O. Russell’s character study.
When you first started, did you used to do certain things that you look at now and laugh? Or are there things from the beginning of your career that you’re still taking with you to what you’re doing right now?
RENNER: I feel like everything I’ve done and failed at, I’ve learned and moved forward. My approach to every role is going to be different. There’s a through line, I’m always look for the truth, sometimes it’s one of two things. It’s looking inward and working out or outward physically.
Like in Carmine Polito with his hair, the thing, the suit, and when you wear a suit you kind of sit differently. When you’re wearing jeans, short and flip flops, you sit differently, think working outward in. It all changes and shifts depending on each and every role and every movie.
Did you do anything special for this role besides the normal, reading the book and asking questions?
RENNER: Well, yeah because you’re playing a real guy or a guy that did once exist. It was important to portray him and portray him accurately with truth. It’s not just put him in a pedestal by any means, but also accent his flaws and make him human. All those things are very important.
I had a roadmap of wonderful videos that the family gave me, and the family was a great resource for me. Then also a lot of his writings and seeing him speak on the internet and that sort of thing was very helpful. It’s also because you can’t veer too far from the roadmap that’s laid before me. Otherwise, it becomes untruthful. It’s a double-edged sword to play a real life guy.
A lot of actors who play a real person will gravitate toward one thing they learned, on piece of real stuff—book, video—and they’ll constantly go back to it to remind them about the character. Is that applicable for this role and for you?
RENNER: You mean like a tangible object?
It can be like constantly watching one video, reading this one thing.
RENNER: Oh. Yeah, there was probably one thing I kept going back to. There was this one video—one of the first things I saw. It’s of Gary, sitting in a chair like this and just speaking to somebody off camera. It’s sort of like something they did, a little documentary on him, like a little mini movie.
It’s just him speaking, like now, talking about journalism and his take on investigative reporting. When he’s a little bit older, this is maybe 6 months, a year before he died. I kept going back to this one interview. He’s eloquent and calm speaking.
What he spoke about, actually I ripped a line from that speech he had and I put it into the speech at the end of the movie. It’s a thing he says about ruffling feathers, if you’re investigative reporting, you’re ruffling feathers. If you’re not ruffling feathers, what’s the point of it all? That kind of really locks me in to his essence.
It has too be a little weird promoting it and talking to reporters after playing a reporter. Or maybe you’re seeing it a little bit differently.
RENNER: Sure, sure. Not that I can really empathize or really see what it’s like for—investigative reporting is a whole other ballgame. What was interesting to me, what I learned about how corporate papers work, relationships are much more interesting to me than just that—editor relationship to any reporter, a reporter and a reporter’s relationship. All that was interesting to me.
RENNER: Dude, unbelievable! I was like, “Wow.”
One of the VPs at Paramount said the sequel was a real thing they wanted to do. Have they asked you about this?
RENNER: I’m sure there’s rumblings of it for sure. I haven’t spoke to anybody about it or seen anything on it.
This is probably the unusual question of the day.
RENNER: I think everyone was surprised by that but happily. That’s great! Every country it opened in, it was like #1, just crushed. It did lukewarm here, sort of made its money back in the states but it wasn’t like a giant movie. Everywhere else it was unbelievable.
People that write about box office don’t factor in the 70-75% of money that’s coming in from international territories. It’s everything.
RENNER: Yeah. It’s huge.
A lot of actors wish to be part of one franchise. What is it like balancing more than one franchise and how important is it when you’re not doing the franchise movie to find something like Kill the Messenger or other things where you can showcase your acting.
RENNER: I feel very blessed to have fallen into a handful of franchises. I feel like they challenge me enough, they also afford me time and get movies made like this where I started. Some people look at me just like an action hero, I’m like, “Okay but that’s fine because they made a big splash around the world. I get it.”
But where I started and who I consider myself as an actor, not an action hero, so to do movies like Kill the Messenger is very important. To do movies like The Hurt Locker and The Town, those types of movies, and even The Immigrant, all those things are very important to me. I’ll never abandon it, that’s where I feel like my wheelhouse is.
Can you talk specifically about what you’re trying to develop?
RENNER: This is a great example because it’s part of our company and this is the first movie we put out. It sets a tone in our mind and in the company’s mind what we kind of want to put out there for me as an actor and for the company. There’s a lot of themes that are similar, a lot of them are based on true stories, not as heavy as this, some of them much more entertaining—about a guy who buys a car on Craigslist for $500 and then becomes a huge rally racer. It’s like Smokey and the Bandit meets The Hurt Locker. It’s this fun, rally racing movie.
And there’s The King of Heists, which is like Heat in the 1900’s in New York. It’s a true story based on the biggest American bank heist of all time. That’s awesome, awesome, awesome. Then, Steve McQueen was an interesting guy, want to tell that story. That’s all the things that I’m working on at the company. It’s a whole plethora of wonderful source material in there that we can’t wait to put out there.
I think your biggest challenge is having enough time to do these pictures.
RENNER: Time is precious, yeah. But that’s a high class problem, brother.
First world problems.
RENNER: [Laughs] Yes, for sure.