Jeremy Renner on How Filming an Indie Like ‘Wind River’ Compares to the ‘Avengers’ Movies
Last week I got to talk to Jeremy Renner for his upcoming film Wind River. The film marks a new directorial effort from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) and follows a wildlife officer (Renner) teaming up with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate a murder on a Native American reservation. It’s a powerful conclusion to Sheridan’s “frontier trilogy”, and I definitely recommend checking it out when it comes to a theater near you. Click here for my full review from Sundance.
During my conversation with Renner, we talked about what appealed to him about this character, playing someone who has a unique occupation, what it was like filming on location, how shooting an indie like Wind River compares to shooting a blockbuster like the Avengers movies, if there are future plans for his Bourne Legacy character Aaron Cross, if he might return to the Mission: Impossible franchise, breaking his arms while filming the comedy Tag, and much more.
Check out the full interview below. Wind River is now playing in limited release.
JEREMY RENNER: There’s a … I mean initially it was the father aspect of the role and then sort of the essence of the complications of being a very masculine man but being very very very sensitive and very actionable about how he went about things. It was just a complicated character and as well as it was written and so it setup and allowed for me to explore a lot more behavioral stuff with the character. It was … The writing was just fantastic and then it was a very just important story that I really wanted to be a part of.
One of the things that kind of leaped out at me is that sort of Taylor has made kind of like a modern day western. Is that something that appealed to you?
RENNER: Yeah. I love the simplicity in the storytelling. It’s the … Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I never really sort of label anything just in that way but I think thematically I think you can draw those comparisons.
What kind of research did you do for this role because it’s a unique character in terms of his occupation?
RENNER: To understand that job was pretty easy and the skillset behind it was pretty easy to kind of supports just maybe using a lever rifle at a restaurant with that little bit that was newer to me. Working around a snowmobile, getting pretty good on a sled was important, but I think most of the work was just a lot of inner work of how to express and what to withhold ended up being much more withholding emotion than it was expressing it. Or at least capping that stuff. So it was how to deal with loss, how to not deal with loss, how to exist with loss, especially for the young girls in the picture. Those were great challenges for me.
Did you get a chance to sort of speak with any Native Americans in preparing because your character is sort of having to straddle both worlds? He’s sort of the law enforcement on his own, but he also has relations and ties to this community.
RENNER: I mean, between the actors and then some of the families and the chiefs from the tribes on the reservation came to visit and we got to spend time with them. There’s always information, and Taylor himself spent time on the reservation and got to share some of his experiences, and I think that shows in the picture as well.
What was it like filming on location and how did that sort of inform your choices?
RENNER: Well, it’s the landscape is another character in the movie, not unlike the desert of Iraq in The Hurt Locker. It certainly plays a big part in the movie and it only helps inform choices that we make and don’t make in that, as far as what we wear, how we walk, how we talk, and the lifestyle that limits you to or provides you for. And, it forms a lot of things. It forms … I mean, it’s the number one thing I rested on as I got over the landscape is what define these people. I think it reminded me of the belief that we are all limited by our surrounding of how we grew up, and that landscape and that environment certainly was very telling for that character and anybody in that environment.
And the way Taylor shoots it is these characters are sort of dwarfed by that landscape. I mean, what was it like kind of setting up for these shots? Did you have an idea of how he would sort of approach the film before you guys started shooting?
RENNER: Yeah, I mean we spoke about one of my questions. I had asked him a few questions when I first met him, and one of them was, “Look, you’re an amazing writer. How are you gonna tell this story with a camera?” And he was able to speak very specifically about that and why he wanted to shot that way. Then with Ben Richardson at his side who is just a fantastic DP who did Beasts of the Southern Wild. You just felt very confident in how he was going to use the camera to tell the story. And then, I was more interested in like now what story are we gonna really tell here? How do we really go about it?
This is Taylor’s debut feature. How was it working with him on set?
RENNER: It was great. He’s a guy that’s very very outspoken, but he also listens and he doesn’t try to tell me how to do my job. He’s the first guy to say, “I’m never gonna tell you no.” And so, it just gave me freedoms to go explore more with the character and behavior and even dialogue. I mean, so it was very collaborative, and he … it started with trust. We both trusted each other and with Lizzy, with all his actors, and when you have trust with your writer, director you start planting seeds of truths happen and the real arc can generate out of that trust.
How does the experience of working on an indie like Wind River compare to something like a blockbuster like The Avengers movies?
RENNER: I feel you’re more a part of it. It’s more of a cohesive storytelling unit. It’s everyone involved is collaborating to make the picture the best it can be, so it feels more of a team kind of effort than it is any individual effort. You feel because of that and because of the story we’re telling is based on true events and factual events there’s a weight to it and there’s a sense of pride to what you’re doing in a real way. And not that we don’t have those in bigger pictures as well. It’s just that it’s a smaller story. It’s a small world, and it’s a visceral real world. And authenticity is very very important to that. So, everybody’s just working to make it together. It’s like a communion that happens. It feels more like you’re doing a stage play, cause that happens on a stage play as well. Everyone together is working as a unit.
Do you sort of like in working for instance on Avengers: Infinity War do you feel a little more isolated in that because it’s such a huge cast?
RENNER: Yeah. Yeah. You don’t even get to see a whole script or anything. It’s kind of you just do what you do and you do it with whoever you’re doing it with, and that’s it. And you trust the directors and writers that are good what they’re doing. So, yeah. You just kind of go enjoy doing what you do with your deal, but it’s not like you’re … It’s a different movie. A different audience. They’re equally fun to do and equally rewarding. It’s just I get a little bit more satisfaction from the filming process on movies that require more complexity I suppose.
Do you feel at least that maybe with Hawkeye at least because you get to keep returning to the character? For instance, in Infinity War do you get to build on him a little bit more? We get to know a little more about him? And you kind of just put a little bit more each time?
RENNER: Yeah. I think so. I mean, I think they’ve got a lot going on in the Marvel world and I’m just happy to be a part of it. I do want to explore more with the character. I’m down. I’m always wanting to understand Barton much more cause I think he’s just a kick ass character and I hope we get to explore a lot more. It looks like we’re going to be pretty busy for the rest of the year, so I can’t wait to see what they come up with.
When do you go back for Avengers 4?
RENNER: Like 10 days.
RENNER: Two weeks. Something like that.
Correct me if I’m wrong, I heard that you injured yourself on the movie Tag.
RENNER: Yeah. Yeah.
What happened? I mean that’s a comedy about guys who’ve been playing tag their whole life correct?
RENNER: There’s some physical aspects to the movie, but yeah, no stunt that was very difficult or anything. It was just one of those things where some stunts can go wrong. I mean, I think the worst thing you can do on camera is run because all you have to do is roll an ankle and then guess who’s not running again. So, this one I actually got a real injury. Busted up both my arms, but I’m recovering. Recovering fast, and working hard and diligently to be ready.
Well, good. I’m glad to hear that you’re recovering. It sounded kind of painful.
RENNER: Yeah, it was, but we went back to work the same day and finished out what we need to finish out. And that to me was important as well.
Another thing I wanted to ask you about is that we have The Bourne Legacy and then they sort of switch back to Jason Bourne, but that the Aaron Cross character was pretty interesting. Are there any plans to sort of return to that?
RENNER: I mean, the willingness on my part is there cause that to me is where a movie … Like we were talking about the differences between a big movie and then like a small movie, as far as like maybe budget. Well, this is when that in shooting Bourne Legacy there’s a lot of complexity in the character and it felt like shooting a small independent movie only because, not so much cause of the budget, just because there’s a small team. It was like [DP Robert] Elswit and our director and the writer and we were all just there in the mountains doing this and doing that and a lot of action and a lot of fun things to do, but there’s a communion and a heavily emotional investment into what we were doing. So, I really really enjoyed shooting that movie, and so my desire and will in wanting to do that is yes, but is has to be … an audience has to want that and the studio. There’s a lot of other people. It’s kind of outside my pay grade to make those decisions, but yeah I’d want to do that. It’s interesting you mentioned sort of that mid budget film and it is sort of harder to keep finding those and the sort of way to get the collaboration of an indie with a slightly higher budget.
Are there any sort of other films like along the lines of Bourne Legacy where you’ve really enjoyed sort of like you’ve had that mid budget range but the same level of collaboration?
RENNER One I produced, Kill the Messenger. You get that. You get it on I mean a lot of those movies. I feel like the less money that’s spent means there’s less limitations to have to whitewash the story telling so you can get your money back. For the investors, stuff like that. You know what I mean? So you can push the envelope in storytelling when you have less money against telling the story. So, when you do that and you have a smaller budget you can I guess be more unapologetic and be more truthful and don’t have to appease or please anybody or have whatever you got to do to try to get your money back on the picture, so. And I think usually the smaller budgets allow for more intimacy and more communion to happen and more authentic creative experience.
I was a little bummed to find out that you weren’t going to be in Mission: Impossible 6 cause I think the Brandt character is so much fun and offers just like a great kind of deadpan energy.
RENNER: I love that character.
Do you think that there’s a chance he might return in a future installment? Cause these characters do kind of cycle in and out of the franchise.
RENNER: Yeah, I mean, the team was getting kind of solidified in the last two pictures and it’s a character I love. It’s a character that Tom loves as well. And it’s just … It just didn’t work out cause of scheduling of The Avengers and that’s just too bad, but that’s how it goes. And I think if they want to do another one in the future I think there’s a high probability of it happening again, but who knows? Who knows?
So other than Avengers what else do you have coming up on your schedule?
RENNER: I’m just playing my best role to date as a father. Give them that.
RENNER: Yeah. And then Taylor and I are talking about doing a cable limited series of the origin story of Doc Holliday.
Oh, that’s cool.
RENNER: But again, trying to serve and being a dad to his little boy and same for me to my little girl, and do it how we want to do it the way we want to do it. And if that works out great. If it doesn’t then maybe I’d do another movie with Taylor perhaps or maybe I take a break for a year. I’m not sure yet. But The Avengers is going to take up quite a bit of time for the rest of the year and promoting this movie and then I still have Arctic Justice coming out, which is an animated movie, that I’m going to be doing some music for and I did the lead voice for. And then there’s Tag that I just finished, which will come out next summer. So, I’ll still be busy but I like keeping the year, next year, wide open so I can be around a bit.