“I have been banged about in all my movies,” says Jeremy Renner, scanning his arm for a recent mark. “When you’re fighting you always get bruises on your elbows. I’ve sprained my neck and a guy fell on my shin.” The 40-year-old star of The Hurt Locker may see the odd battle scar as an inevitability, but his peers could hardly be blamed for aiming the odd envious jab his way.
The Boxing Day release of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, in which he stars alongside Tom Cruise as shifty new Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent William Brandt, kicks off what could be clunkily called ‘The Rise Of Renner’. Next year he’ll appear as dead-eye archer Hawkeye in supersized superhero adventure The Avengers, play an all-new elite assassin in The Bourne Legacy and blast gingerbread architecture to smithereens in Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters. So whether they’re unintentional or not, it seems he’ll be tending more wounds for some time to come…
Tom Cruise famously performs many of his own stunts. Did you have to raise your game for Mission: Impossible?
Yeah, for sure, man. I’ve always liked to do everything myself as much as I can. But this is my first ‘spectacle’ movie, so obviously the stunts are a bit bigger and Tom sets the bar for that kind of stuff. I learned a lot from him. He helped me prepare physically. The thing I really took away from him was to treat it like you’re a professional athlete. Tom ices up at the end of the day — he sits in a big bath of ice.
What were the toughest stunt scenes to film?
The Burj Khalifa [the world’s tallest building in Dubai] one was much tougher on Tom. He had a lot to do in that one but, physically, for me, it was the hanging-out part that was terrifying. Tom was on a couple of wires upside down [outside the building] while I had this little belt wrapped around me with a wire on it. It didn’t feel like it was the most secure thing. There’s some guy holding the wire at the other end, looking the other way, maybe taking a phone call [laughs]. I was like, “Have you got me? Because if you don’t, I’m done, dude.”
What’s the biggest surprise about Tom?
He takes the p*ss out of himself. Also, I think what people don’t really understand is that he is a 14-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body. He has the same — I don’t want to say naivety — ‘wide-eyed view’ of life. He’s really optimistic about things — almost crazily so. He really cares about cinema, about films. It’s his life. And that’s the thing we have in common.
Did you hit it off with your other co-star, Simon Pegg?
I love that guy. He kept telling me that I use the word c*nt pretty loosely, and that that’s a very British thing. I kind of picked it up from my buddy Colin Farrell, and I think it’s a similar thing in Ireland. So it rubbed off and I started using it as an adjective, a verb and everything else [laughs]. It’s not really accepted in the States. People get very offended by it and it gets me in trouble.
Farrell’s a reformed hellraiser — are you slowing down too?
Yeah, well I don’t do what I did back then. It’s not worth the wreckage afterwards. I just have to weigh up what’s important to me. I work every day and I can relax with a glass of wine, but I can’t go out and knock them back any more because I hate going to the gym, and the more I drink the more I have to work out. If I started crushing them like I wanted to, then I’d have to go on a treadmill, which is the last thing on f*cking Earth that I want to do. Feel like a rat in a cage? No thanks.
You’re from California but played a Boston native in The Town. How did you go about preparing for that famously tricky accent?
I asked Ben Affleck [The Town’s star and director] if I could get a dialect coach, because it was the only thing that I was really afraid of, and he said, “We’re not going to do that. I don’t want that.” I was like, “Oh, man.” I was freaked out. But then he brought me to Charlestown in Boston and I realised that I could observe people, listen to them in bars and practise to see if I could fit into the community, get some confidence and at least attempt it. He even sent me to a prison, and I connected with the right people there over 10 days and felt pretty confident.
You play a completely different character to Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne in The Bourne Legacy. What else can you tell us about the new film?
We’ve kept the name, the style, tone and format of what those Bourne movies are. It’s a new [shady government training] programme like Treadstone with a new set of spies designed to do what they do. We’re filming in Calgary until Christmas then go to the Philippines for a couple of months to finish it off. Everything about it is the same. The way it’s shot, the pace, the ticking clock and the very visceral fights. It’s down, dirty and gritty. But they keep Jason Bourne alive, so who knows where they’ll actually go with it. This one still has to be successful, but maybe eventually Matt Damon and I could do one together. That would be kick-ass. I love Matt.
What about The Avengers? Was there a sense of occasion when you were all in costume?
There were only one or two days when we were all there together on set or on location. I saw Robert Downey Jr twice in the entire shoot. But there was a moment when I looked over and saw Thor flying through the air and crushing down on Captain America’s shield. And I thought, “Where the hell am I? We’re a bunch of freaks, man. Is there some sort of a parade going on?” [Laughs] It was kind of nerdy and odd, but there was something cool as sh*t about it.
Have you got a Hawkeye action figure now, then?
Yeah. It’s a little surreal, though, because it looks exactly like me in the face, but all my body parts are really kind of jacked-up. I look like Sylvester Stallone, or something. It’s like my head doesn’t fit my body.
Speaking of Stallone, you seem to have picked up the action-hero baton from actors such as him. Are you a fan of the genre?
Growing up, I was a huge fan, but it’s hard to draw a comparison. Movies such as Predator, Aliens and The Terminator were these big, fantastic spectacles, but it was a different time and place. I would never compare myself to any of those guys, but I’ve met some of them, which is pretty cool. I met Bruce Willis a while ago. We had a little chat. I think he was a big fan of The Hurt Locker, so he told me that.
Finally, you’ve been nominated for an Oscar twice. Have you got your ‘gracious loser’ face down?
Nah, that’s the easy part. I don’t know what it’s really like to win any of these things, but I certainly know the joy of being recognised. And I look at it this way too: it saves me the anxiety of having to go up and thank people. That speech would freak me out, so I just get to have fun. At the Academy Awards I was just at the bar [laughs].
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is at cinemas nationwide from 26 December