Welcome to Career Watch, a vocational checkup of top actors and directors, and those who hope to get there. In this edition we take on Jeremy Renner, who stars in Taylor Sheridan’s indie hit western “Wind River” with fellow-Avenger Elizabeth Olsen.
Bottom Line: Renner has built his movie stardom and used it to smart advantage, ranging from archer Hawkeye in “The Avengers” to throwing banter with Simon Pegg in “Mission: Impossible.” Those movies make it possible for him to be a magician in love with a Frenchwoman (Marion Cotillard) in James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” or the pompadoured Camden, New Jersey Mayor Carmen Polito in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.”
Career Peaks: Renner had been a working actor for 13 years, supporting himself with construction and house-flipping (and roles as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and zombie killer in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later”) when he broke out at age 37 as the fearless, focused bomb dismantler in Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” earning his first Oscar nomination. Since then he has made smart choices, balancing macho action franchises — “Mission: Impossible,” “The Bourne Legacy,” and Marvel’s “Avengers” — with richer dramatic roles in “American Hustle,” where he met Amy Adams, and Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” in which he happily supported his pal Adams.
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“I wanted to support my friend in the role of a strong female lead which is lacking in Hollywood,” he said. “She’s a superhero essentially. If a role is not as rich and dynamic, it’s a different sort of challenge, but you’re part of the storytelling. Because there was a rug pull, we wanted to dive into the romance, but we couldn’t show it too much. We had to steer away so the rug pull would work.”
Assets: He’s an athletic everyman from Modesto, Calif. who can carry an action film and woo the girl. But those big blue eyes draw us into his deeper feelings; he can be smart and dangerous, but also vulnerable and emotional.
Biggest Problem: Aside from his one shot at the Universal “Bourne” series — and he wishes his alternative “Bourne” could integrate with the Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon universe “and have them come together as enemies” — Renner tends to be relegated to supporting roles that are not only shallow and time-consuming (see “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”) but dangerous. When a stunt went very wrong on “Tag,” a New Line comedy slated for next summer, Renner landed on his arms and fractured his right elbow and his left wrist — and then did the stunt again. He’s still in physical therapy.
“I didn’t know,” he said. “I pushed myself to my limits. It was a freak accident. It was a stunt with a stack of chairs 20 feet high. I was supposed to topple over them, land on the ground and run. The stack didn’t fall — I did. When the wire rig busted, I busted with it.”
Awards Attention: In “The Hurt Locker,” Renner made us understand the extraordinary toll of the war in Iraq on American soldiers, as well its allure. He earned his second Oscar for Ben Affleck’s well-reviewed heist thriller “The Town,” stealing the movie as a crooked Boston bank robber who doesn’t want his best chum (Affleck) to leave him in the rear view for a straight woman (Rebecca Hall).
Latest Contender: Villeneuve introduced Renner to Sheridan. Renner had a blast walking the red carpet with Cannes rookie Sheridan, who was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for “Hell or High Water” and won Best Director at Un Certain Regard for “Wind River.” Renner plays a wily but damaged tracker of predators who investigates an ugly murder of a Native American girl in a remote wintry rural location, aided by an FBI rookie (Olsen, in an unfortunate reprise of Emily Blunt’s “Sicario” role).
He avoided reading the script for a year until he finally read the first 10 pages and was hooked. When he met Sheridan, he was in. “I wanted to explore the loss, the character themes,” he said. “He’s carrying the weight and the burden of being a father, the righteousness, the humility. A movie like ‘Wind River’ lets me flex a bit and go deep, use all six gears.”
His character’s way of dealing with loss is to escape into being a hunter, Renner said. “It kept him busy doing things. This is the modern current state of reservation life and atrocities.”
While the movie, shot in the mountains covered with snow, still relies on “the Clint Eastwood icon of what a man is,” said Renner, “he has strength and fortitude, but there’s an emotionally sensitive awareness. There’s a sense of his being fallible and broken and far from perfect. You can judge him by his actions, but he’s compassionate and thoughtful.”
At Cannes, Renner was anxious about what had happened in the cutting room with Harvey Weinstein and his director. He was terrified that his character might suffer as they cut five minutes to make the film more thrilling. “They did a good job of balancing the storytelling,” he said, “while keeping the thriller going to keep asses in seats.”
Renner revels in “the responsibility of being the lead of a picture,” he said. “I shoulder the storytelling, I have no ego, working with a director to help tell the story. I’ll do what I have to behavior-wise to keep things interesting and subtle and deep.”
Starring in “The Avengers” allows him to make “Wind River.” “That’s the most gratifying thing,” he said. “That movie gets made because Lizzy and I are Avengers, which helps us get the smaller movies made. This is an important, emotional movie, and hopeful and thoughtful. Big movies allow little ones to get made.”
Latest Misfire: Renner scored better reviews than Michael Cuesta’s 2014 true story “Kill the Messenger,” playing a justifiably paranoid investigative San Jose Mercury News muckraker who publishes the CIA’s role in importing crack cocaine into the U.S. from Nicaragua. But the $5 million movie lost money at the box office.
Current Gossip: Having survived his own parents’ divorce when he was in the third grade, Renner insists on doing well by his four-year-old daughter Ava, following the messy 2014 breakup of his ten-month marriage to Canadian model Sonni Pacheco.
Next Step: He’s voicing his first animated movie, “Arctic Justice,” and having fun supervising the soundtrack and writing some original songs as he finishes up his stint as an Avenger. “As far as I know, this might be the end for me,” he said. “Mostly after December, I’m done with Avengers.”
He’s looking forward to some time off as he ramps up his own projects. At his production company, he’s developing a Doc Holliday origin story as a limited series with Sheridan, looking for a showrunner as they send it along to the likes of Amazon and Netflix, along with “a beautiful intimate story of a boxer with early-onset boxer’s dementia. Next year is wide open.”
Career Advice: As he heads for his two last “Avengers” movies as Hawkeye, Renner is looking forward to indulging his jones for digging into dramatic roles. And he’s bankable enough to do it.