20 Questions with Jeremy Renner

Jeremy Renner may not yet be a household name, but the 38-year-old California actor is winning accolades for his starring role in the Iraq war movie “The Hurt Locker.” Renner — who has built a cult following for his work in acclaimed independent movies and commercial flicks such as “SWAT” and “28 Weeks Later” — recently sat down with The Hill to talk about his latest role as a bomb-disabling technician in Iraq. With a tall cup of coffee (he did not sleep the night before) and a pack of cigarettes next to him, Renner talked about his aspirations in Washington and a political encounter he would not pass up.

 

How did you train for your role?
Most of the training was with Kathryn [Bigelow, the director] and digging out who this guy is, because that was most important. It was really fascinating to be able to go to Fort Irwin [Calif.] and hang out with [Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)] squad leaders. The training entails the bomb suit, understanding what that is and how to operate it and how to operate in it, [and] the psychology of what happens to you if you are in that suit for long periods of time.

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How long were you at Fort Irwin?
I was there probably about a week. And then I got to know the guys pretty well and got to hang out with them. I brought them back to my house in Los Angeles and dug a little more into their personal lives and why they do what they do. At Fort Irwin, they walk you around like it was Santa’s workshop, and they are all building bombs. … Really getting to sit down and talk with them individually over a beer was a lot different, and I got a lot of insight into that.

What interested you in the role in the first place?
I thought Mark Boal wrote a really fantastic script about a world that I knew nothing about — and I do not think I am alone in that. I don’t think most people know what the heck EOD is and what that job is, and that just happens to be pretty prevalent right now.

You’ve played law enforcement officers and military before, but what are the nuances of this role?
It’s all EOD. It’s all knowledge of high explosives, and how to render safe homemade bombs, essentially. Our tech on the movie … would be me. I did not want to be, because a lot of times I did not know the answer. … I knew enough, but not all I needed to know. I [was] making phone calls from the Middle East back to my guys back in California: “OK, I got some [detonation] cord and this and that and I do not think this is done right, there are no blasting caps.”

This has nothing do with soldiering. In “SWAT” and “28 Weeks Later,” that is when I became really good at holding a gun and shooting a gun and being accurate with a rifle.

Did you have a lot of people from the Iraq war zone coming in and out of Amman, Jordan, where the movie was filmed?
We got a lot of [Special Air Services] and Blackwater [contractors] and ex-Navy SEALs coming in and out. That was interesting. There were a lot of Iraqi refugees. It’s a collaboration effort and everyone had their part. Everyone informed everybody.

You said you did not know anything about EOD, but has the movie made you focus more on Iraq and what has been going on there? Or do you just see it purely as a role?
No. My awareness obviously is very heightened to it and gladly so. If the movie is important — movies are to strictly entertain, in my eyes — but if there is underlying importance, that is creating awareness for really unsung heroes of this warfare that we are in, [for] people who believe in what they do.

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You are screening the movie for veterans. What kind of feedback are you expecting? [The day of the interview, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) screened the movie for members of the military and their families.]
I am nervous. I really want to know what the guys think that I trained with, because I know them personally. I know they will pick it apart. I did a few Q-and-A screenings, and a few people would come up saying, “I lost my brother, or he was maimed by an [improvised explosive device].” That is hard to take. I’ve immersed myself into a world that I don’t know if I have a right to immerse myself [in]. I am just an actor. That makes me very nervous for this evening, to talk to people who are widows and who lost people who they loved in the conflict.

Is this your first time in D.C.?
I had been here once when I was much younger. I can say this is more my first time.

Are you meeting with any members of Congress while you are here?
I do not know what I am doing in 10 minutes. It’s been kind of whirlwind just for the movie. There are a lot of things I’d like to do while I am here. I think I would probably be back under different circumstances, probably more for education.

What kind of education?
Things I want to implement into high-school classes. A communication course, a parenting course, religion — because obviously it is too complicated. I studied psychology and communications in college, but why not start earlier? That was just something I have been pining for and hopefully something like that will take off.

Do you think you would get involved with the military community?
I am getting involved for sure. I am meeting with Bonnie [Carroll, the founder of TAPS].

If you were to meet a politician, who would it be?
The politics I don’t like … it’s probably because I do not understand them. If I were to meet a politician … I would love to meet Joe Biden.
 
Why?
He reminds me of my father [and] of my godfather — he is affable and kind of punchy, and I think it would be a really fun meeting.

So not President Obama or anyone else?
I mean that is just a given, of course. I might have better luck at meeting Joe Biden than President Obama.

The promotion for your movie so far has been pretty good. What do you expect for the wider release?
We’ll see if it gets out there. We already have enough wonderful reviews and people seem to really like it or talk about it.

What did you get out of this experience, as an actor and as a person?
It is more what it took out of me. I gave everything I had as an artist and almost as a man. It was emotionally and physically and spiritually draining by the end of it. Giving as much as it took out of me — it balances out. I got to experience things that most people would never ever experience.

What kind of things?
Who gets to pretty much experience war without actually being in war or risking losing their life? I got as close as I personally want to get to it. One thing to be able to sum it up: It is the ultimate pain.


To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Kris Kitto at (202)628-8539 or e-mail him at kkitto@thehill.com.