Although he’s somewhat known for playing a crazy guy, Jeremy Renner is one of the most laid back guys you will ever meet.
In Director, Kathryn Bigelow‘s, The Hurt Locker, Renner plays Staff Sergeant William James, a member of the Army’s elite bomb squad unit that has one of the mot dangerous jobs in the world – to disarm an active bomb before it goes off. Unlike others in his field, his character feeds off the pressure and recklessly dives into dangerous situations with passion. The film is action and emotional packed thanks to the dynamic performance by Renner.
Check out what he has to say about playing Staff Sergeant, working in 120 degree heat while in the Jordan a few miles away from the violence in Baghdad, losing IQ points while trying to learn how to work in the bomb suit, adjusting back to life after shooting a film as difficult as this and more…
It seems like you keep playing roles with guns, how much training did you go through?
Renner: I’ve gotten to where I have a favorite rifle. Which I never thought I would. I can pick out an M4, that’s what they use it on all the movies. That’s as close to the military as I want to get.
But yeah, it was fun. It is as close to the military that I want to get. It’s good to play and it is fantasy for me.
So how much training did you have to go through with this film, with the suit? Because it is a strain role emotionally and physically, so I am just curious, did you train with an actual unit, or you know?
Renner: Yes, yes and yes! Everything about it was difficult. I went get some training and initially was just sort of kind of understanding the military, really, that’s a whole other ball game with a good and bad side. It’s so structured and I’m not good with that. So just learning that and acronyms, and that sort of stuff. But then the actual bomb suit EOD training, which everyone in the military who wants to be an EOD has to take this test. It’s a bomb suit that weighs about 80 to 100 pounds, depending on how much gear you have on you. And, you know, they kept telling me about how awful the suit was—so I’m like “whatever.” So, I put this thing on and I’m like “this is no problem, I can do jumping jacks in this thing! What do you want!”
Then they said “OK, there is a stack of paper clips on the ground, there is 50 of them, just bend down, and pick one up, and then get up, then go ten feet over and put it in the ground.” I essentially had to move the stack, very simple. Just getting on the ground? I was like “okay that took a minute, this sucks.” I did like ten of them then I’m like “do you really want me to move the whole stack?” They were like, “you really want to do the test?” I’m like, “all right.” I was fogging up, I was dying, I’m like, “can this thing pop off?”
I guess that was test one. Then it was like dragging the pot which was in the movie, that’s like, 200 pounds. You’ve got to drag it 300 meters and then take a one-five-five, which is about 75 pounds and drag it on your shoulders. You know it’s basic tasks that are arduous, that are physically draining in the heat, it was 106 that day.
Then the last fifteen minutes of the EOD test, you take off the helmet, and all the gear, and go to a chalkboard and they ask you what is 49 divided by 7? All I could think was “I like cookies.” Your brain is like mushed. But that is all I could really think about. [They would ask] 7 divined into forty-nine, and I was like “yeah I want a cookie.” My IQ is like [claps] I went really special for a second.
But that is when I learned that your IQ does drop about 25 to 40 points. My understanding of it, is that it is such a mental toughness and not a physical toughness. Those guys I trained with that did three or four tours, and it looks like they sit on a couch with a clicker and a bag of Doritos – they were not in great shape. But the mental toughness. It’s laser focus that get’s you through all of the difficult part. It’s not the physical strength by any means.
So did you find your IQ dropping during the shooting of the film every time you had to wear the suit?
Renner: We all tried not to keep it on me very long, but there is times that I just wanted to get the shot, so I could actually just take it all the way off. I tried not to keep it on for more than 20 minutes to half an hour because then I would start to want to pass out. It was 125 degrees there and it’s brutal. But you know, it was a massive part f the character, I couldn’t do it without it. It was very informative for me.
I’m so overwhelmed by the point that you loose IQ points, but regardless—
Renner: Yeah, yeah, it’s the stress it puts in your body.
There was something about your characters, and it might have been completely in my own brain that was so Cool Hand Luke. What were you thinking of when you were creating this sort of rebellious, well thought out character?
Renner: Right, right, I certainly didn’t base it off anyone or anything. I based it off of circumstances and I guess instinctual things. There things are very telling, Some things I found in the day, and other things I was adamant about with Kathryn and she was with me about… Like the bomb parts were such a throw away little thing, but I laced then throughout during the entire movie because it was a big informing thing for me for this character. I had the ultimate respect for the guy. The love for the craft that he does makes him a sane person and not some junkie. It’s so obvious that this guy could be a thrill junkie, this guy’s bravado and all—that’s just one note that I did everything I my power to not play—that is part of him absolutely, but I just focused on all of the things. Like focusing on the bomb part, the love of his craft, the respect of his job, the relationship with the child, that really was an important aspect to the character, those things informed me. The bomb suit informed me how this guy walks, all of these things kind of just came and presented themselves to me, and I just kind of went with it, you know.
Well then maybe you can answer a question for me. At the end of the film, in my mind, he goes back, he’s so broken that he doesn’t know what else to do, but is it that he loves it so much?
Renner: [No answer for some time] I’m not going to tell you! I could say where I come from in my mind, but it really doesn’t matter.
Do you think he is broken?
Renner: Yeah, I think he’s damaged in some ways. You know, my first question to Kathryn was, “how should the audience feel at the end of this movie when James goes back, how do you want them feeling?” I’m like “is he a martyr, do you feel torn, do you feel happy that he has to go do this, I mean, how should we feel?” And as she told me, and it was pretty much as I thought, from that I made discoveries that informed to what that was. Approaching it from the inside. What she wanted people to feel like at the end of the movie, and it is supposed to be more of a positive feeling.
What was it?
Renner: That’s for you to walk away with! I mean what does the title mean?[Laughs]
Absolutely, what do you think it means?
Renner: For me, it was a thousand different things and when I first saw it I thought that’s just a really fucking cool title. Page one, “The Hurt Locker, what is this about?” And then it became a casket, I thought of it as a casket or a hospital bed, not as a place. And after shooting it, it was an emotional and spiritual place of pain and despair and loneliness and loss. This is personal stuff, this is for me, this has nothing to do with the movie, that is what it seemed to represent because we were all in the hurt locker, somehow.
There was an outhouse for 200 people that were all in diarrhea that’s the hurt locker! Get me out of this suit, were all going to the hurt locker, you know what I’m saying. So it was a lot of things for a lot of people. You know it doesn’t matter what I think so much, it’s how one interprets it. That is why I love the movie title, I love the characters because it’s so rich, and they are not one note, and there is room for interpretation. I love that.
Anthony was saying that he gained much more respect for the Muslim tradition while shooting there. What kind of things did you take back being on the shoot?
Renner: Absolute awareness and respect for the Middle East that I knew nothing about, and didn’t want to know anything about. I was so glad I was able to experience that. It’s those things that we don’t know, that scare us most. So check that off the list, that I am not afraid of because it is somewhere I know.
It seems like once you had your eyes open to that it might be hard to kind of acclimate back to your normal life and like it was before. Did you have any problems with that?
Renner: I had problems coming back just because the conditions we were in, what we became accustomed to working and not working. Everything about those three-in-a-half months and the year prior was tough. Especially those months being over there, it was tough to be back. So doing that scene with the cereal, that wasn’t so far off. Even though we shot that a few months later, I didn’t leave the house when I first got back. It was hard getting adjusted back in the states.
Some other people in the film have said that when they got back and heard people using words like “terrorist” or “towel heads” they would just think you are so far behind—Did you ever have any experiences like that where you’re just like, catch up to what is really going on?
Renner: No, I don’t stand on a box and preach that, you know, those judgments. If it’s something that really affects me then I’ll stand up for what I believe in, but people can say whatever they want about people, I don’t care. Just don’t talk about my family or my friends and we are alright. You know, you can say whatever you want about anybody else.
Can you talk a little bit about Kathryn’s visual filming, can you talk about working with her, what her process was like?
Renner: With Kathryn, I was lucky enough to be with her a year before we started principal photography, I never got to spend that much time, even though months would go by and I did another movie. Spending a lot of time with her while she was working on The Hurt Locker alone, she has like these story boards and that is actually the poster. The poster they’re using now was the first storyboard she showed me. [Looks at the poster for the film]. This is before I did any training, she was like “this is a daisy-chain.” I’m like “oh yeah, and that’s phenomenal.” I got chills when I saw it, I’m like “that’s awesome.”
And then she showed me part of the suit that I would be wearing. Now, the suit that they showed me was, not the suit I was wearing, it was like a backpack thing. It weighed like ten pounds. They were like “this is part of the suit that you are wearing.” Yeah, a very small part, like socks@ Then I went to go do the training and no one came out with me, they sent me out to Bakersfield. They were like here are the directions.
She told me early one, you know, “I hired you because you know what you are doing in your job,” and that freed me because I felt like she trusted me, and I trusted her, to not get in her way in what she’s doing and then it became collaborative. Especially after all of the dialogue that we have had, and knowing that we are on the same page with character roles, you know which is pretty important to her. But she is a voyeur, she isn’t going to come in and try to do so much to try to stir the pot, some directors do that, but she wants to watch. So, she’ll hire the right people, so she thinks the right people to do that job and it becomes a machine at that point.
Going back to that, talking to Anthony Mackie he said he wouldn’t have been able to do this movie if it wasn’t for you and Brian Geraghty. Can you talk about how it was working with the other guys?
Renner: We definitely needed each other. They were such smart actors, such giving as human beings, we leaned on each other because of the circumstances that we were in. You know, we know we are not in war, but we are in 125 degree heat, we are dealing with the same conditions, the same experiences, and you kind of, they’re all new. We are in the Middle East! All these things, where is the camera, where is the thing, all of our difficulties are not our own, it’s collectively our own. So we needed each other for those, to vent afterwards for the long day, I don’t know, do we do anything, I don’t know what happened. We all became one unit, somehow, someway, even though that was not part of the movie as much because I was kind of a lone wolf kind of guy, but we needed each other so much in this movie, so important.
Check out The Hurt Locker, in theaters June 26th.