Jeremy Renner isn’t getting much sleep these days.
There are, of course, the numerous film franchises. His bow-wielding superhero, Hawkeye, will be popping up in the superhero extravaganza The Avengers: Age of Ultron, along with (rumor has it) Captain America 3, and a spin-off film; there’s the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise, opposite Tom Cruise; and, last but not least, more Bourne films. Oh, and on top of all that, he has a 19-month-old daughter, Ava Berlin, and recently—and clandestinely—married the baby girl’s mother, Canadian model Sonni Pacheco.
In between the blockbusters, the 43-year-old managed to slip in Kill the Messenger. Directed by Michael Cuesta (Homeland), this based-on-a-true-story tale features Renner as Gary Webb, an investigate reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who publishes a series of articles dubbed “Dark Alliance”—alleging that the CIA financed the Nicaraguan contras by distributing crack in the ghettos of Los Angeles. Despite winning a Pulitzer, Webb’s series ignited a media war, with numerous other outlets like The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times (with the help of the CIA) aiming to discredit his reporting. He was demoted at the Mercury News, and left the paper in 1997. Seven years later, he was found dead with two gunshot wounds to the head in what was ruled a suicide.
Kill the Messenger, in theaters Oct. 10, showcases Renner’s most gripping turn since his Oscar-nominated performance in The Hurt Locker. The Daily Beast sat down with the very busy actor at the Greenwich Hotel in downtown Manhattan to discuss his myriad projects over coffee.
I hate to use “passion project,” but Kill the Messenger does seem like just that for you.
Passion project in that this isn’t an easy one to get made, and that’s why I had to hop on as a producer to help get it made. I was shooting The Avengers and slingin’ some bow-and-arrow when I read this thing. It started off as a movie that I really wanted to do—this David-and-Goliath tale that I was really drawn to—and then it became a movie I had to do. I met Michael at this hotel and he had some heat coming off of Homeland, and I liked the energy of Homeland and started to get the feel of the movie.
What’s a problem or issue today that you feel isn’t being covered enough in the news?
Oh, wow. There are loads of them. Why I steer away from media in general is because I’m sickened by what gets attention—like sensationalism, hacked celebrity phones, etc. It makes me feel terrible to be a human. What’s a headline anymore? We can say we’re at war, and then it’s something else that comes up two days later, and then it’s gone. A lot of it has to do with technology, too. I think it’s a travesty for our youth that we’re born with cellphones in our hands and have access to all the information that adults do. You didn’t earn it, and you don’t deserve it—it just fell in your goddamn lap. Information should be earned. What is actually earned today?
Right. Growing up, you used to have to do things like ask people for directions instead of just looking it up on your smartphone. Technology has made us more solitary in some ways.
Right! What’s going to happen when the Internet just shuts down? What are people going to do? “Oh no, my Google Maps is down!” It’s such a strange world we live in. And people are just being flooded with headlines, and information. I have a hard time paying attention to the news because it’s just a constant flood of stuff.
A lot of news today is punditry. It’s no longer just giving you the news straight, anything and everything needs some sort of bizarre commentary—or slant—attached to it.
I hate that. “Here’s a penny for your thoughts…” Get out of here! I don’t give a shit about your opinion! Punditry is completely ridiculous, as is speculation. Why are you speculating on things? Just deliver the news and report the facts. But with the 24-hour news cycle now, they just use speculation as filler until they actually get some real news to report on. It’s why I can’t really watch the news, man.
At this point, a little boy approaches Renner and says, “Are you Jeremy Renner? Oh my God…” before requesting a selfie. Renner obliges.
[Laughs] My daughter can do a selfie… she’s fuckin’ 19 months old! It’s amazing.
Are you getting any sleep these days? Do I? No. I almost never get any sleep. I get about 2, 3 hours a night.
You got married too, right? On the DL?
Well, yeah, everything is “on the DL” to me. The reporter just asked and I didn’t lie, I just told her. And she said, “How come no one knows you’re married?” and I said, “Nobody asked!” Why’s it your goddamn business? Everything in my life I should just scream out to people? Everyone’s got their own relationship with the media and mine is… uninvolved.
You mentioned the celebrity hacking scandal. Is that a concern of yours? That someone will hack your phone?
I mean… if it were a few years ago, I’d have a bunch of naked pictures of girls. But now, the only pictures of naked girls on my phone are of my baby! And hey, if you take pictures of my naked little baby girl, I’m coming after you. I’m going to hurt you. I’ll hurt you. [Laughs]
My friends and me rented your first movie when we were kids: National Lampoon’s Senior Trip.
[Laughs] That was my first job! “Let’s do some Van-Dammage!”
It took a long time for you to really break through. Was that tough on you?
The only thing that was tough was I was getting really frustrated because I just felt like I never got my chance at the plate. The things I got I did my best with, and things like Dahmer and The Hurt Locker ended up being my chances to swing for the fences.
Are you going to hook up with Kathryn Bigelow again?
I’d love to. At some point we will. She’s very particular about what she wants to do. I thought Kill the Messenger might be a good thing for her and I slipped it to her early on, but I think it wasn’t her bag.
You were also in SWAT early on, which has the most ridiculous plot ever. It’s basically just some guy announcing he’ll give people $100 million to bust him out of jail, which then propels every gangbanger in the greater Los Angeles area to come for him.
[Laughs] Yes! Exactly.
And your buddy Colin Farrell just got True Detective.
That’s right! And Justin Lin’s going to be directing that. It’s going to be cool, man. I think Colin will be really great.
Did you gun for True Detective at all?
No. It would be interesting. I don’t have the time to do it, but the idea is interesting—that television model is basically just doing a movie, essentially, where you bang out 9, 12 episodes. The Netflix model is interesting, too, where you just shoot out all the episodes, and you’re not tied to it for so long. Plus, on cable you no longer have to whitewash the story and appease the masses, so the narratives are getting more interesting. I think cable is where it’s at, and it’s sort of crushing cinema and the movies because you can pound out a whole season of a show at home in a couple of days.
Another thing cable seems to be doing better at is creating interesting roles for women. I know some people, like Jessica Chastain, have come out and complained about how there should be more female superheroes anchoring Marvel films, and how there should really be a stand-alone Black Widow movie by now.
Sure. I absolutely agree. I love strong female characters, and I think it’s really important. Another reason why I got involved with Kill the Messenger is that there are strong female roles in this, and I actually wanted them to be stronger than they ended up being in the movie—like my editor in the film, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Strong female roles in cinema are hugely important to me. A lot of them seem to just service the guy, and it’s a travesty. You need to strike a good balance between the men and women in a movie, because that’s when things really ignite.
That was one of the cool things about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film gave pretty equal heft to Captain America and Black Widow.
Right. I think that’s why they want a Hawkeye/Widow movie so bad.
I heard that you’re in Captain America 3.
Oh, that’s a rumor all right! I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know it’s going to start shooting in March. I haven’t had any official conversations about doing it or not.You’re wrapped on Avengers: Age of Ultron, right?
We have to do some pick-up shots here and there, but for the most part. Hulk has a more prominent role, and I have a more prominent role. There are a lot more scenes of the entire Avengers gang together—both in and out of the cape, so to speak. It’s making me become a total fanboy. It’s pretty fun to be a part of.
How much of yourself did you sign over to Marvel? How does it work?
I think most actors will sign on to do, like… Captain America 1-3 and then The Avengers 1-3, and then you’re done. For me, I signed on to The Avengers 1-3 and then Hawkeye, in case they want to do a Hawkeye spin-off.
It’ll be cool to show your daughter these superhero movies when she grows up. “Dad is a superhero… you need to listen to Dad.”
[Laughs] When she’s a teenager I’ll say, “Watch The Town. This is your Dad. Behave.”
What’s going on with this upcoming Steve McQueen biopic you’re attached to?
Yeah. I’d love to do that. We’re putting it together, and it’ll probably be a couple of years before we get going on that. The McQueen film will probably be in the next four years. He’s just an interesting person because everything that he is he also isn’t; he’s the complete antithesis of himself. He’s supremely confident, and incredibly insecure. We’re taking these incredibly iconic images of Steve McQueen and telling the stories behind those images.
And your Bourne sequel is still happening?
Absolutely! They made it more exciting when Paul [Greengrass] and Matt [Damon] got back into the mix, and finally cracked a story idea for them to come back into it. I think they’ll be separate movies, and then the idea is for us to either team up, or be adversaries.