Renner figured it would probably take him a decade or so to meet those goals. As it happened, he achieved them on his first job — as an underachieving teen in the 1995 high-school comedy "National Lampoon's Senior Trip."
But if he thought success would unfold in a predictable fashion from there, life had other plans. Four years later, Renner was living by candlelight in his apartment because he couldn't afford to pay his electric bill. And 10 long years and two dozen mostly minor film and TV appearances after that — well past the point when many reasonable people would have abandoned the acting dream — his career suddenly took off with his Oscar-nominated turn as a single-minded Army explosives expert in the 2009
"It was like you're playing baseball your whole life and then you suddenly get on a team and go to the World Series," Renner reflected one afternoon this summer, perched on a stool at a bar in his sprawling home in Hollywood, a house once owned by director
At 43, Renner is no longer the new guy, but he continues to carve out one of the most improbable acting careers in a city full of them. A leading man with the rugged looks and slightly off-kilter sensibility of a character actor, he finds himself in the enviable situation of balancing roles in a number of the industry's biggest franchises — the "Avengers," "Mission: Impossible" and "Bourne" series — with smaller dramas like 2010's
In "Kill the Messenger," Renner plays newspaper reporter Gary Webb, who published a series of investigative stories in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 alleging that throughout the crack epidemic of the 1980s, drug-trafficking profits were used by the
Over the years, Webb's work has been reappraised and largely vindicated. In 2006, the L.A. Times published an op-ed by journalist Nick Schou, whose book about Webb, also titled "Kill the Messenger," was the eventual basis for the new movie. Schou wrote that while there were "major flaws of hyperbole" in "Dark Alliance," they ultimately "had more to do with poor editing than bad reporting." Then-L.A. Times Managing Editor Leo Wolinsky (who is portrayed in the film by
Despite hailing from close to where Webb's story unfolded, Renner was unfamiliar with the history before the script came along. (The closest he ever came to the story, he said, was when he auditioned for a "This Is Your Brain on Drugs" public-service ad early in his career.) What interested him was less the political aspect of Webb's saga than the personal one.
"Pointing the finger at the CIA or Ronald Reagan or whatever — that's a very complicated net to cast," Renner said. "What I liked about the story is you could personalize it to one human being that really got screwed over. I love all that cinema of the 1970s, and that's what this felt like to me. It resonated with movies like
Director Michael Cuesta, who among other credits earned an Emmy nod for directing the pilot episode of
"I'm not discounting any of his [franchise] work, because he's a movie star, and that's what movie stars need to do to finance these kinds of films," Cuesta said. "But we haven't seen him play a mature guy with a family and a passion for his calling in life, and he is perfect for that. His face communicates so much in the quiet moments, you don't have to have any dialogue."
"Kill the Messenger" costar
It hasn't always been easy. Renner, who is shooting the fifth installment in the "Mission: Impossible" series and will reprise his role as the bow-and-arrow-wielding superhero Hawkeye next year in "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," admits he felt overwhelmed when, after years of just getting by, he suddenly found himself inundated with a string of high-profile, high-pressure offers, including inheriting the "Bourne" franchise from
"I was doing 'Mission: Impossible,' then
In conversation, Renner, whose parents managed a bowling alley in Modesto and divorced when he was 10, comes across as no-nonsense and unapologetically rough around the edges. (A singer-songwriter and guitarist on the side, he's interested in possibly playing outlaw country singer Waylon Jennings in a biopic.) "I'm very aware of all of my flaws and strengths as a human being and very content with them," he said. "I'll be the same with
In fact, Renner met President Obama at a private event in Beverly Hills in 2012, and his lack of a filter was on full display. "I probably said some very offensive things," Renner said. "I said something about how he should strap on an 'Avengers' costume: 'You know, you could get some votes, dude. Sling a bow and arrow around you and people will start liking you.' That's OK, he laughed."
While Webb's life came unraveled in the wake of what seemed to be his biggest triumph, Renner — who recently got married for the first time to model Sonni Pacheco, with whom he has a 1-year-old daughter — is trying to keep all the balls of his success in the air as gracefully as he can. And now he has a new goal.
"The plan was always that I would retire when I'm 45," he said. "Now mind you: My definition of retirement doesn't mean I'm not working anymore. It just means I will have acquired enough work and value in my life to where I don't have to worry or shape a career or invest in anything."
If Renner has learned anything about Hollywood at this point, though, it's that sometimes you need to tweak your goals a bit — and the retirement idea is no exception. "Maybe when I'm 50," he said with a wry grin.