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Jeremy Renner

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Matt Damon may be gone, but now the CIA has Jeremy Renner to deal with, finds ShortList’s Andrew Lowry.

Success has come late to Jeremy Renner but, at the age of 41, it has come in a big way. After credibility-building turns that earned him two Oscar nods (The Hurt Locker and The Town), in the past 18 months he’s appeared in three gargantuan films: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Avengers Assemble and now as Matt Damon’s successor in The Bourne Legacy. Not bad for a man who 10 years ago could boast only of renovating a few houses and starring in National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. So, as he prepares to show how he measures up as a secret agent, ShortList sat down with Renner to hear about an unlikely application of his handyman skills…

First of all – you kill a guy with a table in The Bourne Legacy

Yeah – actually, I was injured doing that stunt. I missed the table. I was getting choked and went to kick the table to crush it into the guy’s skull, but I missed and hyperextended my leg, fell down and caught my knee – that was the first of many injuries. My ego was more hurt than anything else. But, if you don’t get banged up you’re not working hard enough.

Did it occur to you that now you’re carrying action blockbusters, your life is going to change?

That’s why I was contemplating saying no to something that, creatively, I would sell a testicle to do. This is a dream role for any actor, because of the complexity of the character, the really cool stunts and the fact it’s all visceral and authentic. But I had to sit and think how it would shift my life. My friends said, “What are you, an idiot?” But nobody wants to be under a microscope constantly, so I had to consider it. It could be really great, it could be awful. I don’t know the answer, but I do know it’ll draw a lot more attention than I want. I had to sleep on it, and wake up clear knowing I’d be an idiot for not doing it.

When it emerged there was going to be a Bourne film without Matt Damon, not everyone was pleased. Did that factor into your thinking?

Absolutely. Before I saw the script I thought the idea of being in a Bourne movie was awesome, but I had no idea how they’d do it. I was a fan of the franchise, I was just curious and I didn’t know. But then I saw the script, and how clever it was interweaving the worlds, and it made perfect sense. I would never have done the movie if I was playing Jason Bourne – Matt Damon will always be Jason Bourne – but it was clear there were many more agents out there, and they’d thought it out. We had to keep it quiet, so we faced some obstacles at first. It’s funny – the very people that were against the idea, you’re making the movie for them. So we had to make sure they were happy with the continuation of it. In a business full of reboots and re-imaginings and prequels and sequels, it’s none of the above. It’s its own sort of thing – an expansion.

You have to get into phenomenal shape for a role like this – between the roles, though, do you like returning to the carbs?

Oh yeah. Raw cookie dough, cake, doughnuts, I eat everything. When I’m training it’s all cans of tuna and fruit. Sugar’s the hardest thing to give up. I miss chocolate – I have a terrible, terrible sweet tooth. It’s tough afterwards – I hit some ice cream and I’m like “I shouldn’t be getting used to this… but it’s kind of sweet… Sh*t, it’s going to take forever to shake this off.”

Looking back on Avengers Assemble, did you expect it to take off the way it did?

Well, I signed on to it before Bourne or Mission: Impossible. I thought it would do well. The cast they were assembling was great, and the role was great, and I was like, “Hey man, as long I don’t have to wear tights.” And how cool is it to know that that kind of thing has never happened before – getting all those guys in the same movie? Just unbelievable.

Do you have fond memories of being in that ensemble?

The cast made that process amazing – the whole crew of guys and gals on that movie were so fun on and off camera. I remember Scarlett [Johansson] and I went to see Thor, while we were shooting Avengers. We didn’t know – what the heck’s Thor? Who’s the big tall guy? We didn’t really know Chris Hemsworth, you see – we’d started before I saw his film. So we go see it and it’s like, “Ah, of course!”

You have a sideline in restoring houses, dating from before you were in the public eye. Is that your first love?

It’s another career I have – I’ve done 18 homes or so, and I love it. I made more money doing that than I ever did as an actor. It’s something tangible that exists when I’m done.

Has architecture and design always been a big passion?

Sure. When you walk into a room, you have to think, “Why do I like this place?” or “Why do I not like this place?” Part of my love of architecture came from travelling and staying in hotels in London. In that city, there are 7-Elevens in buildings older than our country.

You filmed in Manila for Bourne – had you been there before?

No, never. You know, you shoot in a place like that because you can’t fake it anywhere else. It’s like when we shot in Jordan and Iraq on The Hurt Locker: it becomes a character in the movie. It plays to the authenticity, and we’re allowed to do stunts there that we couldn’t get away with in the US. They were very open and helpful. I don’t know if I’m big on the food, but I’ll always speak highly of the people.

Success came late for you – did you ever doubt it would happen?

I would have stopped if I was miserable, but I found something when I was 18 that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I continued doing it and growing and falling on my face. I love the journey, and I think having a plan B is just planning to fail. I still may stop if I feel like I’m not learning. What if I’m only offered action roles? I’ll build a house.

The Bourne Legacy is at cinemas nationwide from 13 August

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