By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
Chances are you never really took notice of Jeremy Renner till he was Oscar nominated for Best Actor in the 2009 film “The Hurt Locker.” But at that point in his career, Renner was already a journeyman, having broken in halfway through the 1990s with small parts in TV movies and series. Well before “The Hurt Locker,” he had already been on the big screen as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the little-seen film “Dahmer,” and was the cowboy who sat around a campfire singing – singing! – in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” In recent years, Renner, 45, a wiry little guy who kind of glides when he walks, and often talks very quickly, has been a busy man, nabbing another Oscar nomination for “The Town,” and joining three franchises – “The Avengers,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Bourne.” In “Kill the Messenger,” he plays Gary Webb, the journalist who broke the story of the CIA’s connection with the sale of crack cocaine in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, and in turn had his career destroyed and was supposedly driven to suicide. Renner recently spoke about the film and Gary Webb, and just a bit about music.
Q. What got you interested in doing this film?
A. The script came to me while I was shooting “The Avengers.” I read it and thought, “This is great! I love that it’s a true story, and an important story.” I also loved the idea of being in a journalist’s world, and the ripple effect of the story. I was like, “Hold on a second, this happened around the corner from where I grew up, and I don’t know anything about it.” I started investigating it and digging a little more, and I read the book [by Nick Schou], and I said, “Yeah, I think I’ve gotta get this on the big screen.”
Q. So you signed on as star and first-time producer. Were you one of those hands-on producers?
A. Ultimately, once we got everything rolling, I couldn’t really do a whole lot because I’m pretty much in every frame. But assembling the team, casting, getting Michael Cuesta to direct, making phone calls, and begging people to come in and do a part, was my hands-on part of it.
Q. You can make comparisons to how Gary kind of blew the whistle on the CIA by tying them into the crack epidemic on the West Coast back then with what Edward Snowden was doing recently in leaking classified information.
A. There are huge similarities and relevance to what’s happening now. I just don’t consider Gary a whistleblower. He was an amazing investigative journalist, who really dug in but didn’t get the support of his paper. There are other Gary Webbs out there, and we need more of them. Of course, huge sacrifices come with that.
Q. Did you bring much of yourself to the character?
A. Just sort of making different sense of things. For instance, what the motorcycle in the film represented to me and represented to the screenwriter. Gary rode a 1985 Interceptor, the same kind of motorcycle I ride in the film. As an avid rider myself, to get away from all the noise, and go out on the open road, is like nothing else. It wipes out all white noise and represents freedom. When you’re on the road, it’s escapism – from your family, from work, from whatever it was. I guarantee that’s not what the screenwriter openly meant that to be. We had a really great script, one that probably had too much information. We had to simplify some of what’s a really complex story. Like do we really care about this guy, and whether to feel bad or not about what happens to him.
Q. You met with Gary’s family during the filming. Did you speak with them about whether they were convinced that it was suicide?
A. I didn’t ask them directly, but [his wife] Sue did say that he was really depressed. I don’t think they were ultimately surprised, I guess. In the “psychological science” part of my brain, I found that it was impossible for him to do that, but then on the other side was this guy who had nothing to look forward to. I’ve been depressed. I’ve been in really bad moods when things weren’t going well. I’ve even had a gun in my mouth. But could I really do it? I don’t know. That’s something to ponder.
(Note: That statement was followed by about five seconds of uncomfortable silence in the room.)
Q. OK, so let’s lighten things up a bit. You used to play guitar and drums and were in the band Sons of Ben. Is there any time left for music these days?
A. I don’t get the time to go out and play, but I jump in with a buddy here and there. Music is a huge part of my life, and I love it. I don’t get to really pursue it, but I’m singing and playing piano now. It’s easier to carry around a little keyboard.
Check out Jeremy Renner singing during an appearance on “The View”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ3PR52d8zU
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Jeremy Renner delves deep in Kill the Messenger’
By Ed Symkus