Since 2009, Jeremy Renner has established himself as the go-to guy for characters with mysterious pasts and unpredictable futures. In fact, he’s so good at it, he got two Oscar nominations in a row playing them in “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town.” In “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” Renner plays another character, Will Brandt, whose history is linked in unrevealed ways to the series’ longtime hero, Ethan Hunt, and in perhaps predictable form, Renner is reluctant to say too much about Brandt, even in an interview about the film.
The Playlist joined a small group of journalists in Los Angeles to chat with Renner, who talked at length about 'Mission: Impossible,' offered some insights into his experiences playing Hawkeye, and reflected on how his life and his career have changed since he received acclaim and commercial recognition in the last few years.
Does it give you an advantage to walk into a franchise that has an established lead, or is there a challenge in sort of distinguishing yourself?
Jeremy Renner: No – I think it’s great to be part of a franchise. That’s kind of nice to be a part of, when a movie gets all around the world and you know that, because 80% of the movies I’ve done, nobody’s seen. So going into that’s pretty exciting. And getting the opportunity to work with Tom is really exciting. And then having a part that was complex enough to go do — I had a lot of fun.
Given the fact that each of these films is kind of independent of one another and you have a new director with Brad Bird, did you guys have to take a crash course in what these movies are or what’s involved in them?
Well, I was a fan of the franchise to begin with, so I was very aware of everything. But like you said, they’re all very separate movies. Tom never wanted to do a franchise or to do a sequel to any movie, and he hasn’t, except for 'Mission,' which is his baby. And he’s always had directors come on that had a very specific sort of vision for it that keep them kind of separate, as stand-alone movies, that if you didn’t see the first two, the third one still all makes sense. And the only throughline is Tom’s character for the most part. There’s been characters that have trickled in and out. But with this one, having Brad come in and have his sort of slant with the gadgets and the attention to detail and character, which brings tension and cutting tension with comedy; and you have Simon Pegg there for that, which is awesome. Brad Bird is all over this movie, and if you’ve seen “The Incredibles” or any of those movies, you definitely see that in this.
What can you tell us about your character?
He’s one of those hinge/fringe characters – you’re not sure what’s gonna happen, and that was the attraction for me. I can tell you that Will Brandt is a Chief Analyst for the IMF, the right hand man to the Secretary, which is always the voice, now a face, finally, in this movie, played by Tom Wilkinson. He hands out all the missions. And this sort of buttoned-up desk jockey, gets thrown into the mix of Ethan Hunt and two other agents, Paula Patton’s and Simon Pegg’s characters. And instead of having a mission dished out, circumstances kind of fall apart and we’re thrown together and have to be together. It doesn’t mean we like each other, but we have to unite, and to overcome certain obstacles. And then within that spectacle of action and mission stuff, there’s an interesting character. You will see all four characters are very strong archetypes and how they play off each other ends up being really…it's Brad Bird’s strong suit, [and] I think you’ll see a lot of that within that structure.
You describe him as a desk jockey – how much physical stuff do you have to do? And how much training did you have to do?
I mean, just stretching kind of winded me, starting this movie. So I had a long curve to get ahead. After “The Town” I didn’t do anything physical, I didn’t break a sweat for a year, until 'Mission,' and so I had to make up for lost time and spend like five hours a day learning certain disciplines, like Muai Thai and Filipino stick fighting, and all this random stuff that I never thought I’d learn, which was a blast. And then there’s stuff on a wire, you have to prepare your body for — I mean, I know much more about my body than I ever wanted to. But yeah, it’s a very physical thing, and you have to treat it like you’re a professional athlete.
Tom is known for his enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. Are you that way, as well?
I think if it’s required of me to do it, I think I’m attracted to challenges. So there’s a great physical challenge in doing stunts. And also, there’s no ticket you can buy for that ride, to do the stunts and to do the things that we were able to do in this movie; people don’t get that opportunity. So yeah, that’s exciting, if it serves the story and the character. I don’t want to just do a stunt just to do a stunt [or] to have fun, but it just becomes the icing on the cake to help Brad Bird tell the story.
For Hawkeye, how do you deal with the expectations when you have a comic book character who maybe a lot of people know?
I don’t do well with expectation, in my life; or I certainly can’t think about it in other peoples’ lives. All I can do is do the best I can do, and I’m consciously aware, specifically in the comic book world, where there’s a built-in fanbase to that. But there’s a little bit of leniency because there’s a couple different universes. 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. But also, I wanted to serve the story and the script at hand that Joss Whedon wrote, and not bring a bunch of baggage…what mattered to me is Page One to Page whatever-the-heck-it-ended-up-being, you know, and serve that story. That’s what mattered to me.
Do you get the feel of an ensemble movie from “The Avengers?”
Oh, yeah. It’s huge – I mean, look at how many characters are in that thing. It was the ultimate challenge for Joss Whedon, who knows that universe so well – no one better to write it. And he was so challenged, to write and direct that thing. I don’t know how you put that many characters in a movie like that. It’s immense. But with that, you have to sort of pass the baton, you get to work with very few of them, because everybody’s got their own thing going on. Someone’s in the air, flying around, I’m on the ground, shooting a bow and arrow, and there’s a lot of things happening. So I have no idea what that movie looks like.
Would you like to do a separate Hawkeye movie to explore the character deeper?
I don’t know, there are a lot of variables in that one — if they’d want to make one, and what it would be about or anything. 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.
How has your life changed after the acclaim you received for “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town?”
Well, I’m not different, but a lot of things around me have shifted, and some in pretty great ways. Artistically, there’s a lot more opportunities, bigger opportunities — bigger meaning big directors that, you know, you love their cinema — or the quality of scripts, the amount of scripts, that sort of thing. That’s really shifted for me. And people just being aware of who you are all of a sudden. And people that you think of as some big movie star, and then all of a sudden, they say your name. That’s strange, but really great.
Is continuing to do more independent projects something that’s important for you, going forward in your career?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ll never, never abandon completely the stage, where I started. I’m actually trying to do [theatre] next year. I’ll see if I can manifest the energy to go and do that. It takes a lot out of you to do a stage play, but I’d love to do that. I’d love to continue to do challenging material, whatever shape or form that comes in. I want to not know the answer. I want to not do anything I’ve done before. I mean, now it’s action movies, but where it is after that, as long as I want to get up every morning and be happy to go to work, then I don’t care the size of the movie; I just care about who I get to learn from.
After playing characters in “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town” that are both sort of unpredictable, do you have to be careful to choose different kinds of roles to avoid being typecast?
I think that’s where real life and cinema kind of blend for me. I like to play unpredictable characters, and I like to be unpredictable in what movie I’ll do. I want to be — I want to skip to work. I don’t want to repeat anything. So yeah, what the future holds, I don’t know. But that’s what I like — I’ll take any risk there is, so I’m not concerned about what people think or what they want. And what matters to me is learning and growing and getting to skip to work and do what I love to do. As long as I can do that, I’m happy.
"Mission: Impossible" opens in IMAX on December 16th, and rolls out nationwide on December 21st.