The new face of "Bourne," Jeremy Renner made his name as a character actor. But between this film and "The Avengers," he's having a movie-star moment.
NEW YORK CITY - 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 opened Friday, is going to be Renner's movie-star movie. Even though the actor has appeared in some of the biggest films of the past year or so, including "The Avengers" and "Thor" (as Hawkeye) and alongside Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol," the innovative "Bourne Legacy" is all about Renner.
"I guess I'm the face, or one of the faces, of the franchise now, and not in among a big ensemble," the actor said, "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 that 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."
Living up to the legacy
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 were also 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."