Jeremy Renner Gets His Priorities Straight
Puppy woke me up at the crack of ass,” says Jeremy Renner, apologizing for his midday grogginess. It’s a gray, wet Saturday in New York City, and we’re looking for coffee. He and his dog are holed up at a downtown hotel as he shoots The Bourne Legacy, the rogue-agent tetralogy’s latest (and notably Matt Damon-less) installment. “Judo throws,” he answers when I ask about his raw, busted-up fingers, which look like melted wax. He’s been training hard to get his 40-year-old body ready for the action sequences. This is his first day off in weeks, and despite the combat fatigue and apparent hangover, he’s eager to get going. “What else would I be doing?” he says, grinning. “Sleeping, probably.”
Renner grew up with a pygmy goat named Sugar. He’s the oldest kid, with four siblings who range in age from 37 years to 4 months. He and his best friend (the actor Kristoffer Winters, whom he also confusingly refers to as “my brother”) run a successful side business renovating houses. Sometimes he lives in the houses during construction, often without such bourgie comforts as electricity and indoor plumbing. Disciplines he’s studied include but are not limited to: world religion, sociology, criminology, Filipino stick fighting, and Muay Thai martial arts. Previous professions: ski instructor, professional makeup artist. He has taught himself to be unafraid of sharks. He has dined with Colin Powell and has regularly basked in the praise of such luminaries as Sean Penn—but about the only time he’s found himself starstruck was when he met Cesar Millan, TV’s Dog Whisperer. He is, by turns, cut-the-bullshit intense and just-fucking-with-you funny. He’s religiously unsentimental (“I don’t give a shit about the past”) and unabashedly devoted to his cream-colored miniature French bulldog, Franklin.
These are some of the facts that you may collect in your net while standing in the riptide current that is a casual conversation with Jeremy Renner. There are many others that swim by too quickly to catch (what was that about playing with C-4 explosives?).
I’m not saying the dude is weird. I’m saying he contains multitudes. I’m saying he is interesting. Complex. Resolutely present when he talks. Willing to go wherever the conversation takes him. Fearless and frank. When he gets going on the psychology of pygmy goats (“They’re all of 12 pounds, but they believe they’re a 2,000-pound bull—they’ll head-butt you and stare you down like, ‘What’s up, motherfucker?!’”), you are roped in and down for going halfsies on a herd of the nubbly runts.
There’s something compellingly unusual about a guy who’s been a working actor for two decades—working but struggling—and then rather suddenly finds himself a leading man with his pick of major franchises. Here he is jumping off buildings opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. Next he’s leathered up as the arrow-slinging Hawkeye in the Joss Whedon–helmed superhero supergroup The Avengers, alongside Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). Then he’s out for vengeance in the just-wrapped action comedy Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. “That was a blast,” Renner says. “It’s 15 years later and they’re pissed off. They’re bounty hunters killing witches for a living!”
As we settle into a dark booth at Pete’s Tavern, an agreeably ancient and grotty bar near Union Square, some girls at the bar shout at Renner: “Hey, you, I like your stuff!” Really, that’s what they say. Renner gives a friendly wave.