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Contender Q&A: Jeremy Renner on his role in 'The Town'

He may have his share of tough-guy roles, including his latest as a bank robber in 'The Town,' but Jeremy Renner says he's just an 'easygoing dude' out of Modesto.

December 16, 2010|By Glenn Whipp, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Jeremy Renner talked to professional bank robbers for his role in "The Town."
Jeremy Renner talked to professional bank robbers for his role in "The… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Jeremy Renner is a newly minted member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, thanks to his lead actor nomination for playing the gonzo bomb detonator in " The Hurt Locker." Renner speaks highly of the honor, but what he's really digging right now are the film screeners that have been arriving. He plans to take a stack with him to Vancouver, Canada, when he heads north to continue filming the latest "Mission Impossible" movie.

"They'll keep me out of trouble," Renner says.

There's trouble in Vancouver?

"There's trouble everywhere," Renner says, laughing heartily. "There's too much down time making movies. That leads to boredom. And that leads to trouble."

Which is why Renner likes to keep working. He quickly signed on to "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" after Paul Thomas Anderson decided he needed more time to think about his religious drama, "The Master," which Renner had signed up for. ("Paul only had a small window, and he was feeling it wasn't quite ready," Renner says. "PTA doesn't do anything until it's ready.")

Renner, 39, describes himself as an "easygoing dude," an image at odds with the tough guys he plays on screen, the latest of which was Jem Coughlin, Ben Affleck's volatile bank-robbing partner in "The Town." And, for the most part, Renner is a pussycat — as long as the topic isn't casting rumors that have him taking over the "Mission Impossible" franchise or playing Snake Plissken in an "Escape From New York" remake.

"People love to yammer on about things that aren't real," the actor says. "You may as well ask me what it's like to sprout wings and fly. It sounds pretty cool, but I couldn't tell you."

Here Renner talks about what he does know: character, acting and Modesto.

Jem, as originally conceived in "The Town," didn't go much deeper than being a wild card in the pack. What was your way in?

When I first read the script, I didn't understand him at all. He was electric on the page, but I didn't know why he did these crazy things. What ended up working for me was making it all about brotherhood and loyalty. Those are things that are strong in my life, so I could connect with them.

You talked to a few of these Charlestown guys too, professional bank robbers?

I went to some prisons and had a few beers with ex-cons. It's their trade. It's hard to wrap your mind around that. Once I got to know them a little bit, I asked, "Don't you ever get nervous? What goes through your mind when you throw on the mask?" They say, "It's simple. We look at this bank and think, 'That's our money in there. We've just got to go get it.'"

But there's a limited number of outcomes for that trade, right?

Yeah, with Jem, it's either you get some money or you die. He can't stop. It's not the best thing, but it's what he knows. And he doesn't have the expansive mind or the will to want to stop.

Which provides the conflict with Affleck's character, who feels trapped.

Right. People find themselves in ruts all the time. You're in a complacent lifestyle where you work 9 to 5 and then you add a mortgage and kids. You feel trapped, but guess what, brother? You constructed that life. If you're OK with it, there's nothing wrong with that. But if you've got unease, then you've got to make a change.

Finding acting as a young man in Modesto, did that break you out of your construct?

Big time. It opened me up in a lot of ways as a man where I could hide in these characters and explore these feelings I was having. It was very therapeutic in a lot of ways. Then it became about the artistry, and it shot off and I never looked back. It was an absolute blessing. I love my small town, and I love going back there and supporting the community. But I could not have stayed there. No way.

Do you remember your first paid gig?

I'm at Modesto Junior College and this guy comes in and says, "Hey, you wanna make $50?" The job was to help train police academy cadets. They put me in this room the size of a closet and said, "They've got a call about a guy creating a ruckus. We want you to resist arrest." "Got it." He comes in, "Calm down, sir." I start freaking out and kick him in the balls. (Laughs) It was fun.

Beats working at the carwash or the fast-food counter, right?

And I did all those things. Yeah, this was way better. You could trace Jem right back to that first job.

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