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Contender Q&A: Jeremy Renner, 'The Hurt Locker'

The actor worked to figure out his character's wiring: Does he defuse bombs for thrills? Or is there something deeper?

December 16, 2009|By Michael Ordoña

Movies about our current conflicts in the Middle East have been notoriously tough sells. Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," however, a white-knuckle thriller following an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit defusing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq, is collecting plaudits all around the award circuit. Star Jeremy Renner, who scored a National Board of Review honor for breakthrough performance, plays Staff Sgt. Will James, who may be an idiotic cowboy, a suicidal maniac or something much more complex.

Not to take away from James' sense of duty and dedication to his comrades, but is he at least part adrenaline junkie?

I wouldn't say it's so big a part -- I think, yes, all the EOD guys, in layman's terms, they like to blow [stuff] up. It's a cool thing, by the way. They collected all these IEDs and took them out in the desert and -- boom! It's really impressive. You can't understand until you're there to see this thing explode. It hits you; you feel it and then you hear it. It's the strangest thing. It's really powerful. It's like being around a natural disaster without anybody dying. I personally love earthquakes. If nobody got killed, I wish they would happen all the time, if they didn't do any damage.

So that was one of my first questions to Kathryn, and to myself: Does he have a death wish? Is he just a thrill junkie? It kind of cheapened it to me; I couldn't find a way to play it honestly, if it was just that. So I really spent more time on what else fuels a human being to do this job. That's when I really started digging into the guys from EOD, the real questions, why they did it. Some were not so romantic and sexy: There's a pay upgrade or something. And there's a lot of pride, and things like that. James is doing something he truly loves. It's nice to feel wanted and do what you were born to do. He could have been a great father and a good husband and all these things, but you feel like you're sitting on something. Do you want to die knowing that you're sitting on who you really are?

What has been the response from general audiences and servicemen and women?

[At one screening for former and current EODs], I've got 200 guys there and this is their job, or there are families of fallen soldiers from IEDs, or survivors of IEDs are there. So I'm shaking, a nervous wreck. Technically, they can tear it apart. But they were very easy on me. "We know it's not an EOD training film, but right on, man, you captured a lot of what goes on." People come up to me on the street -- I was at the ATM, and this big, lumbering guy comes over, staring at me. He starts shaking, his lip's quivering, he starts crying. It took him a while to get the words out: "I promised my wife if I saw you, that I would thank you." He's EOD, he just got back. And I stop him right there -- "No, dude, thank you for your service, not me." You get that a lot from the military, and it's beyond powerful when it affects somebody's life that way. What he was truly feeling, why he wanted to thank me, I'm not sure. I didn't want to get too much into it; he was crying, I was crying. I'm giving him a hug.

I wonder if he responded that way because the film expressed something to his wife that he couldn't.

He got into that a little bit. EOD also stands for "every one's divorced." It's very trying on their families when their job is their life. That was a big, big thing with all those guys. They laugh about it, they're very jocular about it. So maybe this guy comes back and he's dealing with post-traumatic stress, like a lot of our guys are doing, and maybe it was a way for him to say, "Look, honey, this is kind of what I'm dealing with."

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