Jeremy Renner may be known to the mainstream filmgoing world as Hawkeye and that guy from the Bourne movies who isn’t Matt Damon, but there’s more to the man than big biceps and billion-dollar box office draws. Since earning ubiquitous acclaim for his searing turn in Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” Renner has been steadily building a body of work comprised almost equally of big-budget action flicks and smaller, intimate films, such as this year’s beautiful “The Immigrant.” In “Kill the Messenger,” which he also produced, Renner plays investigative journalist Gary Webb, who cracked the story of the CIA’s role in the crack cocaine epidemic of the Reagan Era. Webb’s life was subsequently destroyed by treachery and denial, as the powers that be sought to silence and discredit him. He killed himself in 2004.
The film is helmed by Michael Cuesta, working from a script by Peter Landesman, and stars Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paz Vega, Rosemarie DeWitt, Michael Sheen, and Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta. It’s being released on October 10 by Focus Features.
So what’s going on with you?
Nothing much, man. Just happy to be here in New York, getting out of Africa. Love the big city, man. Nice change of weather from hot ol’ Africa, too.
You not only star in “Kill the Messenger,” but you produced it, too, and you were integral to its inception. What drew you to this project?
It was the great script that I bought, and I read the books it was inspired by. The more information I got on Gary’s Webb’s plight, which went down near my home, the more interested I was. I knew very little about it, but it very quickly went from a movie I wanted to do to a movie I had to do. I just had to tell the story.
You’ve worked with Michael Cuesta before. What’s your working relationship like?
Mhmm, yeah this is the third or fourth time we’ve worked together. It was perfect timing for him and for me to get together. He was just coming off of “Homeland,” and that’s when I was like, “Wow, the energy of that show, it would be great for ‘Kill the Messenger.'” Great stuff, I love working with him so much.
Cuesta makes prolific use of intimate handheld shots throughout the film, getting right up close to you. Is it weird having a cameraman running around you in circles with a handheld camera?
For me, it’s great cause I like movies that are subjective, and I understand what that means, with the camera, and what he’s trying to do. I’m there doing what I got to do, and he’s just trying to capture it. We understand each other, and we stay out of each other’s ways, give each other room whenever we can. It’s a great working relationship, amazing.
How do you balance doing all your blockbuster franchises with the “serious,” more intimate dramas like “The Immigrant” and “Kill the Messenger?”
I feel like the big movies allow me to do the smaller movies. It helps me finance those — no one’s throwing money at “The Immigrant,” no one’s throwing money at “Kill the Messenger,” these are all great pieces of cinema that should be filmed. It’s just finding time between the big ones to slip in one for me, kinda thing. I’m very fortunate that I have some big movies to do, and I can pick and comb through the small ones.
The marketing and release for “The Immigrant” was kind of butchered, with the awful posters and the lack of theaters that showed it. How did that make you feel, given your strong turn in that film?
It’s a bummer, you know? How and why people pay for a movie and how and why they release it the way they release it, you know… Harvey [Weinstein] has his own thoughts on it, and ultimately it’s above my pay grade to even pontificate on it, and like you said, it’s frustrating, putting a lot of hard work into it, and I think Marion [Cotillard] and Joaquin [Phoenix] are terrific in it and should be recognized. But, you know man, that’s just how it goes.
It’s a beautiful film.
It is a beautiful film, and I was so happy to be a part of it.
Is it nice, with roles in these smaller films, that you get to take a break from your prodigious workout regime and diet?
[Laughs] Yeah! Normally I have to stretch for an hour before I can go to work. With “Kill the Messenger” I didn’t have to do much stretching. It’s not a physical challenge as much as it is a spiritual challenge.
Can you elucidate on what a “spiritual challenge” it was?
It takes a lot out of me. The emotional anguish, sort of makes me step back and consider my own thoughts on the state of where we are as people. It’s a much bigger thing for me than just saying some lines, or kicking some butt. Requires a lot more thought and feeling.
Do you think the film has a political ideology or theme it, trying to present some message, since you’re the messenger? Or is it just an objective recreation of Gary Webb’s life?
We wanted to be as accurate as we could to Gary Webb’s life, I just thought it was our duty. It just happens to be a relevant topic now, only now I can pull back and think, “Wow, this is a good commentary on us as people, on the mean and salacious sensationalism of media, not reading and paying attention to really good investigative reporting.” Then there’s the whistle-blowing aspect, and social media. Really all of that is under the second amendment, the freedom of speech. How beautiful and powerful that is. How lucky we are to have that.
Did you run into any challenges during filming, the way Gary Webb did while writing his article? I assume the CIA didn’t try to sabotage you or anything.
I don’t think anybody got too upset, or at least I didn’t hear about it personally, but there are some sort of things done, people stating their point, but no one came after me or anything.
You’ve had myriad roles based on people who actually existed in real life. Obviously not Hawkeye…
No, not Hawkeye.
…but your roles from “American Hustle,” “Dahmer,” “Kill the Messenger.” Is it a different sensation when you play a person who was real instead of a superhero who shoots magic arrows?
There’s limitations to playing someone who existed. It starts off easier, cause you have a roadmap already built for you, and you can lean on that to learn about the character. But then you’re limited cause you can’t veer off the roadmap so much. They always present challenges, but I like those challenges.
What’s it like having your Bourne movie and Matt Damon’s Bourne sort of co-existing while competing with each other?
I think it’s great! Ultimately, if I had it my way, I’d love to do a movie with them. I think it’s great that [Paul] Greengrass and Damon may have cracked the reason to go back and make a new one. Maybe it’s the film that we made that helped them crack that code, I don’t know. Regardless, i think it’s good for cinema, and it’s good for the franchise. It’s very exciting and I hope that we can work together someday.
What do you have coming up next?
Probably what I’ll end up doing next after “Mission: Impossible” is one of the movies for the company. Just depends where it’s at and my schedule. I’m focused on promoting this movie and shooting “Mission” for now. My year fills up pretty quick.
That’s gotta be exhausting.
If I stop and think about it, yeah I get exhausted. I don’t want to think about it. I just kind of do it.
You became an action star fairly late in your career compared to the average Hollywood marquee name.
Well, I’m glad I got recognized from “Dahmer” on up, and “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town,” I feel good going into the sort of action, anti-hero roles. I dig it.
In “Kill the Messenger” you get a lot of respected actors to pop up in smaller roles. Was recruiting actors part of your producer duties?
Yeah, man, I reached out to a lot of people, actually. That was the biggest part of my role as producer. My responsibility was to do the best I can to grab the best possible cast. And we had a great casting director, as well. It was all about getting on the same page for who’s the best person for the role. Ultimately it’s like throwing it out there and seeing what sticks, and ultimately I feel like the people that ended up in the roles were the people that needed to be in those roles. Couldn’t be happier. I mean that cast is tremendous. I was threatening to wash a lot of cars and do laundry to get them to come, but ultimately it ended up being a smoother ride than I anticipated. Just scheduling issues, but thank goodness we were able to massage and say, “Okay, this is only one day a week here, and there,” and also people really like the content. I didn’t have to scream too hard, too loud to get them to come work on something like this. Ray Liotta, I’ve known him since “The Hurt Locker,” we have the same manager. He came in cause he just wanted to work with good people, on good material. He was very passionate about the story. I don’t wanna say he was easy to get, but we were so fortunate to have him. I just like to let the work speak for me.
Well I’m embargoed from telling you that the work speaks very loudly.
[Laughs] Thanks, man. It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone you broke your embargo.