When you reach a certain level of fame, the way you walk gets recalibrated out of necessity.
A regular person might stroll, or wander, idly glancing around.
Jeremy Renner strides, head down, sunglasses on, earbuds in place. And for good reason, as he's accosted by a disheveled woman claiming to be a producer who's working with Renner on a film he has never heard of.
"I don't know anything about this, but I really have to go," Renner says, deftly and quickly maneuvering his way out of the situation.
Renner, 41, once a respected character actor who played serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 2002 and Brad Pitt's cousin in 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,has emerged as a dynamic leading man, breezily segueing between thoughtful dramas and flashy blockbusters. On the heels of two Oscar nominations — for 2008's The Hurt Locker and 2010's The Town— Renner is headlining Friday's The Bourne Legacy, a departure from the trilogy anchored by Matt Damon.
Where Damon's Jason Bourne was haunted and principled, Renner's Aaron Cross is untroubled by moral qualms. Nor is he suffering from amnesia. He knows precisely what he wants — blue pills, courtesy of a scientist played by Rachel Weisz— and how to get them.
After grasping the structure and tone of the film, Renner says, "it was an easy 'yes.' Prior to that, I wasn't sure how they would do it, so it was an easy 'no.' They told me I would not be playing Jason Bourne. I was not interested in doing that. I was curious, and the script came a couple of days later. How would they do a Bourne movie without the central character? It seemed so asinine. Once I saw the script, that was it."
Not quite. Renner still had to finish playing a sorcerer killer in 2013's Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Hawkeye in this year's hit The Avengers, before he could arm himself for Bourne. Ultimately, he had three weeks to prepare. "It was daunting. Would I have the energy? That was my main concern. But I kept going."
It was precisely Renner's powerhouse stamina, coupled with an intensity and intelligence, that resonated with writer/director Tony Gilroy. He had spent months searching for his lead, until Renner's schedule shifted, the script solidified, and the actor he wanted — something of an unknown quantity, as opposed to a supersized celebrity — became available.
"We knew how demanding the part was going to be. You have to be able to do everything. There was no mystery about what an actor he is. He's incredibly physical. People knew who he was, but they hadn't pinpointed him yet," says Gilroy. "This character is so different than Jason Bourne. He has to be aware of where he comes from and who he is and that he doesn't want to go back. He has to be a badass killer. At the same time, when you find out his origin and what's at risk for him, there has to be an intellectual nimbleness and there has to be a sweetness there."
As Aaron Cross, Renner felt "connected to the idea of wanting to belong to something, for having a reason to exist. A lot of people feel that way, and I'm certainly no different."
Weisz saw similarities between Renner the actor and Renner the person: an inability to be plastic. "He's not false in any way. He thinks things out. He's got a very filthy sense of humor. I've never met anyone like him."
To get to the core of Aaron, Renner went full throttle, performing most of his own stunts in Bourne. That's him, blowing things up, dodging bullets and fighting creatures both two- and four-legged. Renner doesn't announce this with braggadocio.
"I did all of them except for a handful of the motorcycle tricks. … You can't fake fighting. You either can do it or you can't. There was a lot on my shoulders to not get injured. You get banged up. You limp off, ice up for the night, and do it again tomorrow."
Realities of Renner's life
Renner tries to live in the moment, which helped him cope when suddenly, thanks to The Hurt Locker, he was anointed Hollywood's awards darling. Renner doesn't have George Clooney's genial charm or Brad Pitt's relaxed affability. He's more self-contained but also exceedingly polite and something of a renaissance man. And Renner makes every effort, between films, to live like a real person. He works in the yard at his L.A. home. He plays the piano and walks his French bulldog puppies.
Says Jon Hamm, who became friends with Renner while shooting The Town: "Jeremy does not suffer fools. The best way to describe Jeremy is that he's consistently curious. He'll talk about jazz or sofas or movies or baseball or politics. We're both like, 'Let's have some dinner and shoot the (expletive) and not talk about work. We have all day to talk about work. Let's talk about something else.' He listens."
And he's not afraid of being direct, says Town director Ben Affleck. "He isn't uptight. He is straight and to the point. You can be honest with him, and you can count on him being honest back. He is at the center of the social scene that develops around a movie, mostly, I think, because people are really drawn to his personality."
If that isn't enough, Renner also is an artisan and a builder. "It's not fair. You can't be that cool. It's all of an artistic temperament," Hamm laments, tongue in cheek.
Redoing houses, starting company
Indeed, Renner and his brother lavish TLC on neglected Los Angeles properties, renovating them and selling what he calls "lifestyles" that come fully furnished with everything, including a toothbrush. When Renner is shooting, his brother takes over.
"We don't look at it like we're flipping a property. It feels like home. Films and music and the other things I do, they're not tangible. It's an experience and it goes away.
"It's lovely to sit at a table that you designed. You see all the hard work put in. It exists long after you're gone. You're preserving something that existed well before you, which is a lot of the structures we do. We take these great architectural homes and keep them going. It's a form of art."
Renner is grateful for his life, and being compensated — handsomely, these days — to do something he loves. He has started a production company, which he intends to use to make smaller dramas like The Town. Because he has been hop-scotching from film set to film set non-stop for the past two years, he can't yet quantify if, or how, his daily life has changed as his star has soared.
"Being recognized for something you love to do is one of the greatest feelings. What an honor. It gives me a little bit of peace that it may be a little bit easier to get another job. It happened later in life, and I am able to really, truly appreciate it. I look at it as a great honor and a responsibility to myself to be the best I can be. That's as good as it gets."
The flip side of acclaim, of course, is the attention you get for everything except your work.
"They certainly had me having sex with a lot of people," he says. "Anyone I touched during The Hurt Locker campaign, I was having sex with. Wow, where would I find the time? And one of them was my brother. I don't really pay attention to too much of that."
Nor does he have a serious relationship in the hopper. "Here and there. Again, when you travel so much, it makes it really difficult to maintain anything. My career at this point is my wife," he says with a smile.
Would Renner want to front a second Bourne film?
"The future is not something I'm really good with. I'm really good with now. It's never about the end result. You'd be remiss if all you thought about was the future and suddenly you croak."