Jeremy Renner does not look like a movie star. He has unruly hair, a nose that looks like it might have taken a punch, and the physical comportment of someone who doesn't think he needs a bodyguard. He doesn't think like a movie star, either. On an early weekday recently, having already done "CBS This Morning" and scheduled to face the loquacious Charlie Rose that same afternoon, Renner seemed puzzled by the politics of the interview process.
"I don't like to cut people off," he said, over coffee at a Manhattan hotel. "I had this guy this morning who was very thoughtful and informed and kept talking, as if maybe he was waiting for me to say something. I'm not sure if he wanted me to jump in or not. I like to let someone finish his thought. So I don't know."
He'll probably have to get over it: "The Bourne Legacy" -- which stars Renner, not as Jason Bourne but as another agent entirely -- is going to be Renner's movie-star movie. Even though the actor has appeared in some of the biggest films of the last year or so -- including "The Avengers" and "Thor" (as Hawkeye) and alongside Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol" -- the innovative "Bourne Legacy," opening Aug. 10, is all about Renner.
"I guess I'm the face, or one of the faces, of the franchise now," the actor said, "and not in among a big ensemble. But I don't look at it that way. I just look at it as a great role and a great opportunity. Whether it's 10 days on a movie or 100 days, it doesn't matter to me. It's the same preparation, the same work."
According to director Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton," "Duplicity"), "The Bourne Legacy" is unlike anything tried before. Rather than following the chronology of "The Bourne Ultimatum" -- the last Bourne film to star Matt Damon as Robert Ludlum's rogue CIA agent -- the new film takes place at the same time as its 2007 predecessor, "and not because we are so smart or so cool," Gilroy told the Huffington Post. "No one has ever had an opportunity to do that before. If you think about it, episodic filmmaking has not been something that people have really done."
Renner's character, Aaron Cross, is a super agent participating in a top-secret government medical program that's killed off -- along with its participants -- after the revelations of "The Bourne Ultimatum." Because he needs the drugs the government has had him taking, Cross has to first rescue, then collaborate with, beautiful research scientist Marta Shearling (Rachel Weisz) so they can both escape the lethal dismantling of their program.
"I think it was really clever how Tony came up with a way to keep the franchise going," Renner said. "It went from real concern about 'How do you do this?' to real excitement. It's really, really clever and smart and now it can lead to many paths."
Like a sequel.
"Yeah," Renner said. "Which is great. I love that."
Gilroy had to find the right person to inherit Damon's role, even if it really isn't Damon's role. Renner, who has played Jeffrey Dahmer ("Dahmer"), a neo-Nazi skinhead ("Neo Ned") and will be Hansel in the upcoming "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters," received a best actor Oscar nomination for "The Hurt Locker" (2008) and a best supporting actor Oscar nod for "The Town" (2010). The action sequences in "The Bourne Legacy" -- which recall the original Doug Liman film more than they do the two Paul Greengrass-directed sequels -- seem likely to satisfy Bourne-aholics. They also were something Renner took very seriously.
"With all the three prior films, all that work put into them, and what's put into 'Bourne Legacy,' it would be a complete disservice if I could not perform," he says. "Especially the stunts. It's not something you can fix in CGI, it's not something you can really enhance in any way. You can maybe increase the shutter speed and make it look faster, but you can tell when that happens. So I was diligent in knowing I had to perform those things. It would be a complete and utter disgrace if I could not live up to the three prior films and the people behind this one.
"I don't want to become some kung-fu guy," he added, smiling. "But I have to be able to take out a target fast, efficiently and then move on."
He plans to move on from the kind of blockbuster he's been doing, at least for a while.
"I'm consciously avoiding the action movie," Renner said. "I've done four pretty big films right in a row, and they happen to be action movies, so I'm trying not to do another action movie for obvious reasons. It would be my own fault if I got pigeonholed. You look for things that are challenging. I just want to go to work and not know the answers and try to figure it out with a group of people I care about and want to learn from."
They're tough acts to follow
BY JOHN ANDERSON, Special to Newsday
It's a risky business stepping into someone else's shoes -- especially when they belong to a performer with a role as closely identified as Matt Damon is with amnesiac CIA operative Jason Bourne. And yet, with "The Bourne Legacy," Jeremy Renner may have the best of both worlds -- taking on an established franchise without having to play the title character (Renner's character is Aaron Cross, a super secret agent whose fate is determined by Bourne's, yes, legacy). Given the nature of his new movie, the fate of Renner-"Bourne" is likely to be far more sunny than that of the following franchises, which over the years have seen their share of crash-and-burn casting.
JAMES BOND Daniel Craig is magnetic, Pierce Brosnan was suave and sophisticated, but Sean Connery is still the guy by whom James Bond fans define Ian Fleming's secret agent extraordinaire. The less said about Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby the better (but don't forget David Niven!).
TARZAN Screen portrayals of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Ape Man date back to 1918 and Elmo Lincoln, but the golden age of Tarzan was the '30s, when five-time Olympic gold-medalist Johnny Weissmuller put on a loincloth, screamed operatically and imprinted himself on the public imagination. While none of Weissmuller's 11 sequels ever matched the feral sensuality of his 1932 Tarzan debut, no one could ever displace him, either -- not Buster Crabbe, Lex Barker, Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, Mike Henry, Ron Ely, Miles O'Keeffe (Bo Derek's "Tarzan") or, shudder, Christopher Lambert.
SHERLOCK HOLMES It's hardly inconceivable that several generations of readers have approached Arthur Conan Doyle's deductive genius with an image of Basil Rathbone already in their heads. In 14 features made between 1939 and 1946, Rathbone -- accompanied by his faithful Watson, Nigel Bruce -- made himself synonymous with the Baker Street sleuth. Literally dozens of actors have played Holmes, including comedians John Cleese and Peter Cook (and Robert Downey Jr.), but none, even Jeremy Brett, could substitute for Rathbone.
SPIDER-MAN Andrew Garfield is one of the best actors of his generation -- something he's proved in "Boy A," "Never Let Me Go," and "The Social Network" -- but it's way too early to tell if he'll ever replace Tobey Maguire. It was also too early for another Spider-Man.
BATMAN The exception to all this is Christian Bale, who is just the latest in a long line of actors to don the cape and cowl, but who also seems to own the role. Who's been better? Val Kilmer, Michael Keaton and George Clooney are among the formidable performers who've taken on the part, but with the possible exception of the immortal Adam West -- the Batman of the 1960s TV show -- no one has as much claim to it as Bale.