There are a lot of weird things people say during interviews, but this one is true. And yes, we checked. “I like to renovate houses,” says Jeremy Renner when we meet in Cannes, referring to his successful real-estate partnership with Kristoffer Winters. The duo’s penchant for flipping multi-million houses around is already well known to business insiders, but not to Episodi. Still, we are here to learn. “For me, it’s a form of artistic expression and the only thing that I do that is tangible. Music, movies – not tangible. But a structure is a structure. You are creating life for other people, and I know all of them.”
Although he has bought and remodeled more than 20 homes, from a mansion that once belonged to director Preston Sturgess to a cabin somewhere in Nevada, rest assured: Renner still makes movies. Like Wind River, which marks the directorial debut of white-hot screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and tells the story of Cory Lambert, who discovers the body of an 18-year old resident of the Wind River Indian Reservation. As rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) arrives to determine if a murder has been committed, the two decide to join forces.
Cory is reeling from a personal loss when he comes across the body of that girl. Which makes him quite different from some revenge-crazed vigilantes.
I found this man by being a father myself, first and foremost. That was the most effective fuel. Taylor explained it to me in a very interesting way. He said: “I want to write a movie about what happens if you take a piece of granite and a piece of steel and bang them against each other.” I thought that was a very interesting outlook on that. After reading the script I thought he would be much more stoic, but then I realised he fell apart. He fell apart when he lost his daughter, then again when he found this girl in the snow. I went: “Wait! Wasn’t this guy supposed to be tough? He can deal with this, right?” Cory is hypersensitive because of his past. So it became like a barrel of water that slow-leaks, seeping out. I just had to run with that.
Everybody who experiences loss either runs from it or towards it: there is no right or wrong. I had two people in my life that lost a husband, a father and a child – all within the same year. One was my acting coach and the other my grandmother. Both strong women, but in both cases it was the loss of a child that sent them spinning. I can’t say that I understand this experience totally. I just found it interesting how he deals with it and how he serves other people while trying to figure out what to do with his own pain.
There is not much to do, really. In his small community, a man always has to be a man, whatever that means.
I realise it’s a silly way to live, but it was an interesting inner struggle for the character. Which is why what he does in the end, I don’t see it as a revenge thing. Although I could speak in depth about what I would do if something like that happened, which is not that dissimilar from what happens in the movie. I am the last guy you want to be chasing after you.
There is righteousness in what he does. Cory has a very simple belief system: don’t fuck with kids, don’t fuck with women, don’t fuck with animals. And then we will be fine. Just don’t do any of these things and I will accept you and tolerate you. It’s a principle, so you can agree with it or you don’t, but I live that way. These are the simple things that mean a lot to me, like having a really good friend helping you move. Nobody likes to do it, it’s a lot of work and it sucks. But you know who has your back at the end of the day.
I rarely see you in films without a gun in your hand.
I grew up with guns, so that helps [laughter]. Now I have done a lot of movies when I had to shoot things, so I got pretty good. But this film is not a shoot-’em-up and violence here just hurts. Maybe because it’s based on so many true stories and fear is always around. It’s the most powerful human emotion and certainly the flashiest. It connects every single human being on the planet. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what your sexual orientation is, whether you are a cannibal or not. We are all afraid.
Having grown up in a small town, can you identify with this kind of hopelessness?
I think that we are all products of where we were raised and there are limitations that come with that. There are those that can escape the white picket fence, or maybe the not quite so nice version of that, but there are also others that stay. I remember going to my high school reunions throughout those years; my career was at different stages. First I did some commercials, then movies. But some that stayed do what I want to do now, which is to be a stay-at-home dad. I didn’t know that acting was a job. You would go drive a forklift for Costco or whatever – this is what people did where I am from. I discovered it in college and my dad, who is well-educated, said: “Are you really going to do that?” It just wasn’t on anybody’s radar. But I got to hide within the character and express whatever the fuck I wanted to express: fear, anger, rage, sadness, love. It wasn’t okay to cry where I came from – you would get beaten up. But I could cry on stage, because I was playing someone else. I was gregarious, but very quiet. So the stage became this place where I was free to feel all that without being judged.
Still, it took you a while to get recognition. After years of constant work, when The Hurt Locker came out, some went: “Who is this guy?”
It was a huge milestone. It was an opportunity to be in a movie that ended up being very important and timely. And I had the chance to carry it. I could stretch and exercise something I wanted to do for a long time. Before, I sometimes sang in karaoke bars to pay my bills – that’s where I met Amy Adams. We could sing and they would give us drinks for free. So I would wake up, take a shower before noon, go to the gym and do it all over again, because there was no plan B. Plan B would be like planning on failing. With my real-estate business I have a lot of things going on now, but that’s not a plan B, because as an actor I already achieved everything I have ever wanted. Even if I would never get to make another film in my life, I would still have this big smile on my face. Also because the best role is that of a father and I will play that for the rest of my life. I have to be there for my child, not run around making Mission: Impossible 19. So that’s my plan A.
The full interview was published in Episodi.
American actor known for his roles in The Hurt Locker and The Town. Hawkeye in The Avengers. Flips houses for big bucks.