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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

I was able to sit down for a couple of years and pump out a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.

hurt_locker_posterBelieve me, the irony of talking to Jeremy Renner of THE HURT LOCKER in a restaurant that was located right next to an armed forces recruiting station was not lost on me.

Meeting Renner while he was finishing an English muffin and his eggs, the man powered through 1:1’s whilst pounding his breakfast, was one of the more remarkable events with those I’ve interviewed this year as he seemed so pleased to be there talking about the film. As well as he should because THE HURT LOCKER is every bit as good as you’ve been hearing for a few notable reasons:

1. It tells a powerful story without ever leaning on manipulation in an unfair manner

2. It has moments of true tension and thrills that seem to go on an unnervingly long while

3. Jeremy Renner is at once commanding, arresting and likable in every regard

There’s a moment when Renner has to try and free a man who has come into contact with a suicide bomb. The whole sequence is shot so well that you ought to be ashamed if for one moment you don’t think it’s thrilling, frightening and exhilarating. And the whole film is littered with these kinds of powerful scenes and speaks to the strength of the material, the director and Renner’s ability to navigate the waters of being part badass and part savior.

Meeting him in person was a thrill if for no other reason than this movie confirms my sense that Renner simply makes a movie better. 28 WEEKS LATER was, without question, made better with him in it and now THE HURT LOCKER succeeds because he sells us, the audience, that he is a bomb technician that is the same time crazy and completely in control of every situation. You absolutely need to see this film in the theater this summer as you can’t match its emotional punch.

CHRISTOPHER STIPP:  I know this is the tail end of a long press junket and people are now starting to talk about this movie with greater frequency. You did this movie because you believed it in but what do you think of how well this movie is being received so positively?

JEREMY RENNER: It’s better than a stick in the eye, I’ll tell you that.  It’s pretty amazing.  It really, really is.  Across the board to get so many people to respond to that I’m kind of speechless when it comes to that.  I’m not a big fan of reviews but I’m certainly a big fan of people watching it and being affected by it.  I don’t care if they love it or hate it but I care if they are affected by something.  To me, the best kind of cinema is if I think something or feel something different or it’s dialogue afterwords, but also being entertained.  That’s my favorite kind of cinema and that’s the kind of cinema I like to do and I feel that this movie does that.  Get your heart pumping, get you thinking and it astounds me that people dig it so much.  It’s a weird feeling.

the-hurt-locker_1231882171_640wCS:  Mark Boal helped write this film.  He’s phenomenal at removing the political elements by simply focusing on characters.  With the flood of war movies that have come out his have stood out because he’s able to separate that.  When you first got the script and met with Mark, did he break it down and tell you that he wanted this film to be specifically about these guys and their job and not focus on the ancillary aspects?

RENNER: That was more Kathryn conversations I had initially and then I got into talking with Mark about it later on.  I actually spent more than a year with them before starting shooting.  Initially when I first read it I thought I hope there is no weird secret sneaky sodomizing message happening here because there is no place in art – politics does not belong in art.  Leave it to Obama and everybody else to be in politics.  Cinema is for other things I think.  I just don’t think that’s OK.  So that was squelched very quickly after I talked to Mark and Kathryn about EOD and the focus about that job.  There’s so much interest in that alone, you don’t have to put in any extra message to try and make the film more important.  It’s already important because of this job that nobody knows about.

STIPP:  I just read that among those in it EOD means EveryOneDivorced.  It’s completely stressful.  I think it’s funny that they look for people that are emotionally stable yet on the backside of it, something happens.  What did you find out through the course of your training getting ready for this – I read numerous interviews already that you said when you put on that suit it lowers your IQ completely.  When you talked to these guys, why do they do what they do?  They want to be helpful and want to help their country but deep down what’s the driving force?

RENNER: Everyone is different.  If you talk to race car drivers their reasons are different as to why they do what they do.  That’s what separates them as individuals.  That’s what makes them individuals.  It’s what fuels us to do what we do.  For some people it was a pay upgrade, and for some people, it interests them.  Why?  There’s a thousand reasons.  It’s very specific things for them.  It’s so cinematic this movie and coming up with reasons why they do it we tried to make it as realistically as possible.  It sounds so un-cinematic to say, “I want a pay upgrade and better benefits when I get out of the Army.”  Do you know what I mean?  That sounds so unromantic.  But that’s the reality.  For some it’s because they are lifers, they’ve done four tours and they are in it.  A lot will become civil servants.  There is something inside of them that they feel, and I can only say what they feel.

It’s hard.

They would explain to me that they would become teachers or firefighters or police officers or something like that.  Something where they feel like they are doing something important.  Something where you feel like you are helping people – where you can give something.  As you can imagine that is very gratifying to a human being.  You sleep well at night and think if I died tomorrow I feel like I made a mark on the planet.  And, I feel like I’m OK.  I think that’s the driving force.  There’s nothing wrong with staying home and driving a fork lift for Costco.  My cousin is doing that right now.  Nothing wrong with that at all.  I wish I was doing that and it was making me happy because being an actor – there’s nothing really that great about it.  I have an amazing life but he knows when his vacation is and there is just good and bad with everything why people do what they do.  Sorry for the long-winded answer but it’s hard to explain that.  If someone can figure that out…..it’s pretty complex.

65thvenicefilmfestivalhurtlockerphotocall7z6eybo8amxlCS:  So what is it about your character?  You see these movies where you have the maverick – the “You’re out of line, soldier!” cliche – it sort of begins that way because you want to sleep with unbarricaded windows where the mortars might come in, but there’s that moment, that sniper moment, which was not only genuine but it was heartfelt.  How important was that to you to show that sort of swagger but then show that element of, “I’m here because I really want to make a difference and I want to protect my crew as well?”  How hard was it to strike that balance?

RENNER: It was written so brilliantly but also had some things that needed to be done without words.  And Kathryn was really great at capturing those things.  We vibed together so well, even though I rarely saw her because the sets were so big. Why we got along so well is because she is a painter, she’s a genius.  She’s such a voyeur and will capture all the little things hopefully that I thought I was giving (with Anthony) and we would dialogue about these things – they didn’t just happened that day a lot of times  -  but those aspects to James were really important.  Those sniper scenes – they were really important for my relationship with Anthony’s character and Brian’s character – really important.

More important than that, to me, was the relationship with the boy.  That really elevated my character to me.  It humanized him more.  It made him weak.  There’s a downhill spiral for him.  He goes way out of line at that point – putting a face to death at that point.  The black suit guy at the end – so much is very telling and it informed me as the actor playing that role what that was.  On paper is one thing, but doing it, being a part of it and reacting to it, that always gives me a map how to play the character.  I feel it’s instinctual at times.

CS:  Years ago I talked to a guy who made the documentary, GUNNER PALACE, about some guys who served in Iraq. The director mentioned that some guys who used to travel the highways in Iraq with their guns pointed out the window that when they come home, it’s almost like muscle memory, where they had to re assimilate to civilian life. When your character comes back and he’s standing in that cereal aisle,  I get it, but I think Kathryn captures that perfectly how guys can go into that situation and come home and pick out cereal.  Did Mark or Kathryn have that conversation that this guy is going back because this is what he wants to do, this is what he knows how to do, that real life just isn’t going to cut it?

RENNER: That was my first question to Kathryn after I read the script.  I hadn’t even met Kathryn.  I was in London and I read the script and couldn’t put it down.  I wrote three pages of questions and answers about this character and about this movie, ideas, thoughts, a lot of different things.  So when I talked to Kathryn my first question was, “How do you want your audience to feel at the end of this movie as he’s walking into the sunset essentially back in the war? ‘Maybe I’ll tell you, maybe I wont’, it doesn’t really matter because it’s how anybody would feel about it.”  You just said.  So that told me a lot and just to be sure we were on the same page that’s what I took from it.  This is what’s he was going to do, this is what he’s good at, this is what fulfills him.  It took away the adrenaline junkie, the suicide aspect, check those off because those weren’t apart of him.  There might be a rush he gets from doing it but he enjoys what he does.  Like a downhill skier, there has to be a rush doing that.  But, is there a risk of death?  Probably slim going 80 miles an hour on two ski’s but you are doing what you love.  That’s enthralling.  That’s invigorating.  At first James feels like a thrill-junkie.  But, that’s not the case.  You realize that it becomes about the art of what he’s doing.  That’s why he saved all the bomb parts.  All these things were very informative as to what this character really is.

the-hurt-locker-002-450CS:  And I’m glad you fought for that little nuance with him collecting the little bomb parts. These were brilliant choices and if you had a say in keeping that in, I think it’s important.  It’s who he is and who he wants to be.   And it’s interesting towards the end where you save the life of Owen and shoot him accidentally and he says are you doing it because it’s a thrill for you and it is hard to try and reconcile that it wasn’t.

RENNER: I know.  We all had a difficult time shooting that scene.  First of all we had the helicopters going very loud and we were all disagreeing – the words were getting in the way.  It was being a thrill junkie mania or something – some of the words really bothered me – but let it be what it is – he’s sitting on a gurney pissed off, shot.  Maybe he says something that he means, maybe he doesn’t mean it.  But, yea, it could rub you the wrong way, it rubbed me the wrong way.  When he’s screaming at me, I thought we were understanding.  I thought to me people understood this character more.  But people are going to take what they want to take and see what they want to see.  It’s interesting that you point that particular moment out.

CS:  And one of the cool things is that you are very musical with your characters.  Not sure if you did it for this guy like you have for other characters you’ve played – made a mix tape.

RENNER: Yeah.

CS: I’m interested to hear what kind of mix tape you gave this one…

(Jeremy reaches into his pocket for his iPhone)

RENNER: It might be on my cell phone.  I loved the play list so much I kept it for the gym or….

CS:  Doyle (from 28 WEEKS LATER)?

RENNER: Doyle?  That wasn’t so memorable as The Hurt Locker.  Let me see if I have it.  I know that Muse is something I listen to all the time on it.  (He scans his phone) Where are you play list?

CS:  What does it help you do, making that tape?

RENNER: It can put me in a specific mind frame.  Put me in the right emotional state.  Music to me really lifts a moment.  If I’m not feeling connected, it can certainly connect me in a lot of different ways.  Sorry.  I love music so much.  Muse is a big one.  I like Patsy Cline.  You wouldn’t think that would be music for The Hurt Locker but in my mind this character is such an odd thing and James is alone on an island and an oddity himself, alone in his suit.  There’s something really different about him.  Somebody else might be jamming out to Zeppelin and he’s just – there’s just something interesting about that.  And Moonlight Sonata – always had the headphones when I had the suit on to find a place of peace.  So different things put me in different moods.

65thvenicefilmfestivalhurtlockerphotocall7g7ayaxgichlCS:  I would have figured the character for some Nine Inch Nails.

RENNER: Yeah, I had some of that on there.  The Muse that I had on there was some hard hitting stuff.  Some Radiohead.  Very tense.  Some AC/DC.  Bouncing around in the Humvee rocking out to AC/DC.  It just feels right.

(Laughs)

RENNER: Some 50 Cent – bouncing around.  It just put me in a different mood.

CS:  I know I have to wrap it up…one of the last questions about the movie – I was so impressed when I saw it that this wasn’t shot in Toronto but right in the heart of the middle east.  It was something that could easily have been done on a back lot somewhere but this was filmed overseas.  How was it in that area?  It was a brilliant masterstroke of whoever said, “We should actually do this over there where it would feel more genuine.”  And it does do that.

RENNER: The movie was to be made or broken, shooting in Amman, Jordan.  We were lucky to get that.  It could have been shot in Kuwait, which would have been fine or Morocco, which would have been great.  It was like a character in the film.  It made our movie.  We  could have done this in Bakersfield or in the desert in California or in a sound stage but the movie wouldn’t have been the movie that it is.  No matter how great Kathryn is, no matter how great the performances by these actors are.  Being in Amman, Jordan we just had to do it there.   It was absolute hell.  I wouldn’t want to do it again but I’m so glad we did it.  It was the most important thing.  We were shooting this movie with plastic guns but it didn’t matter because the surroundings were so real.

It was reality.

I wasn’t in fear of my life but this is as close as I ever want to get to war.  And it’s also a beautiful place.  The Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the treasury, riding camels.  This was really cool being there but hell to shoot there for us because we weren’t shooting in great locations.  We were shooting in refugee camps.  It felt a little weird.  If I’m an Iraqi and I escaped to save my family from the war  - usually those people have money.  Now you see Humvees rolling through.  That’s weird – I don’t know how to feel about that.  It was really interesting.  I learned a lot.  I learned so much.  Invaluable information for sure.

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