In new release Wind River, the Hollywood veteran plays the central character. He talks to The National about the film and his career to date
Jeremy Renner explains his belief system and talks about Wind River
An encounter with Jeremy Renner is an intense experience. Like the moment he walks into the room and says he will put his phone down next to my recorder to tape our conversation and keep me “honest”.
Even when he’s joking, there’s a serious edge to this Hollywood star.
In some ways a throwback to a bygone era, the actor famed for playing Hawkeye in the Marvel films comes equipped with a coiled, muscular physicality. To put it another way, in a fight, you would want to be on Renner’s side. “I’m the last guy you want chasing after you,”
The 46 year-old has a fundamental – and very direct – belief system: don’t mess with kids, women or animals, he says.
“Believe whatever God you want to believe in, think whatever you want to think … just don’t do those things and we’re all right. I’ll accept you, I’ll tolerate you … and it’s all good. It’s a principle, right? Maybe you agree with it, maybe you don’t.”
Renner’s latest film, Wind River, plays into this, pitting the actor as a character close to home; perhaps the closest to himself he has ever played.
Set on the real-life Wind River Indian Reservation in snowy Wyoming, Renner plays Cory Lambert, a United States Fish and Wildlife Service agent. Usually, his days are spent hunting the coyotes and wolves that attack local livestock. But after he discovers the body of a raped Native American woman, he is on the trail of an altogether different predator.
Initially at least, the sharpshooting Cory feels like an archetypal Renner role. As he puts it, “90 per cent of my movies, I have a weapon in my hand”. This could be indie thrillers such as The Hurt Locker and The Town, both of which saw him nominated for an Oscar, or blockbusters such as the Mission: Impossible franchise or The Bourne Legacy, which saw him pick up where Matt Damon left off. Weapons are a way of life to him. “I grew up with guns,” he explains.
Yet beneath this tough exterior, Cory is a maelstrom of emotions, which becomes evident as he joins forces with Elizabeth Olsen’s FBI agent.
Renner admits an explanation from Taylor Sheridan, the film’s writer-director, explained “the inner workings of Cory” in a way that got him hooked. “[He said]: ‘I want to write a movie about what happens if you take a piece of granite, you take a piece of steel … you bang them against each other and something’s got to give.’ I thought it was a really interesting outlook on it.”
Reading the script, Renner initially felt Cory would be stoic, but after shooting several scenes he “fell apart”, the emotions of a character overwhelming him.
“I was like: ‘Hold on a sec – this guy is supposed to be a little more tough.’ I always imagined he could deal with this situation … [but] it was actually a guy that is hyper-sensitive because of his past, so it became like a barrel of water that slow-leaks, seeping out. I had to run with that, because I couldn’t hold in the emotion.”
Collaborating with the in-demand Sheridan (a hot property after writing evocative thrillers Sicario and the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water), Renner admits that “first and foremost being a father” helped him to key into Cory.
“I think that was the most effective fuel for the character,” says the actor, who has a daughter, 4-year-old Ava Berlin, from his former marriage to Sonni Pacheco.
“Experiences I’ve had with my family helped,” he says.
While Cory is dealing with emotional trauma from a past tragedy, it’s something Renner understands. “I feel like anybody that goes through loss – you either run from it, [or] you steer towards it. There is no right or wrong way.”
He mentions two women in his life – his acting coach and his grandmother – who lost a husband, a father and a child in the same year.
“Both women, as strong and unflappable as they both are…” He pauses, deep in thought. “Always the child ‘loss’ is the one that sends them spinning.”
It’s admissions such as this that make Renner a fascinating figure. Born in Modesto, California, the oldest of seven siblings, he grew up in a blue-collar world where showing your emotions was not encouraged. His father ran a bowling alley, and Renner didn’t discover acting until he was at college studying computer science and criminology.
“It just wasn’t a thing that was on anybody’s radar for a job,” he reflects. “You go drive a forklift for Costco or whatever … those were the jobs on offer.”
Like his character in Wind River, he understands what it’s like to be raised in a small town with few opportunities.
“Sometimes I’m jealous of those who stayed,” he says, surprisingly. “I remember going to my 10-year high-school reunion in Modesto, and then 15-year and 20-year. And throughout those years, my career was in different stages. I did a ... commercial and then I did some movies, then became a big star. But I still envied those who could do what I want to do now – be a stay-at-home dad.”
When Wind River debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Renner was singled out for praise – playing “the taciturn hero with a strong-and-silent yet vulnerable élan”, as Variety put it.
Much like his mathematician character in last year’s sci-fi offering Arrival, another figure who encounters grief and loss, Renner is increasingly finding complex emotional terrain to explore beyond simply holding a gun or, in the case of The Avengers’ Hawkeye, a bow-and-arrow.
While you suspect it will be Wind River that provides him with the greater career satisfaction, Renner is now returning to the Marvel Universe for the two-part Avengers film, Infinity War, which he will continue shooting until the end of the year.
“Two very, very different movies,” he teases. As to whether he will get a stand-alone Hawkeye movie, he’s not saying. He’s got bigger concerns. “Being a father is number one. That’s what keeps me focused.”
Wind River opens in cinemas on Thursday