'This is more exhilarating than I could have ever imagined," actor Jeremy Renner said in a statement e-mailed to journalists after his recent Oscar nomination. "What a tremendous honor from the academy - a blazing stamp in the passport of an artist that can never be taken away and will always be cherished."

Audacious words coming from a relative unknown, but who can blame him? As a reckless bomb expert in Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," Renner not only won glowing reviews but a place in the Oscar race for leading actor alongside George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Morgan Freeman and Colin Firth.

In a way, the 39-year-old from rural Modesto, Calif., remains an unknown. His resume includes overlooked movies like 2005's "North Country" (with Charlize Theron) and 2002's "Dahmer" (his portrayal of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is what caught Bigelow's attention). Following the acclaim for "The Hurt Locker," Renner began granting interviews left and right, but the resulting articles focused more on his intense performance than on his personal life.

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Readers learned that he's single, renovates houses for fun and profit, and - according to Jon Hamm, who stars with him in the upcoming crime drama "The Town" - plays piano and sings. He's also given to emotion: Accepting an award at the Hollywood Film Festival recently, Renner choked up more than once.

In interviews, Renner comes across as down-to-earth and fairly modest. We'll see what happens if he gets the chance to make a speech at the Oscars.