While the past year has introduced Modesto native Jeremy Renner to fatherhood, don’t expect the actor to begin starring in children’s movies anytime soon.
The two-time Academy Award nominee returns to the big screen next in another decidedly adult feature, the acclaimed crime caper “American Hustle.” Set in a swirling world of corruption and cons, the film is loosely based on real-life FBI operations of the late 1970s and early 1980s run in New Jersey. The fictional account follows a con man, his mistress and wife (Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively) who work with an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to target a powerful Jersey mayor (Renner).
“I don’t think my daughter will see any movies I do for a long, long time,” Renner said in a phone interview from New York the night after the film’s U.S. premiere. “(Parenthood) is not going to change what I do. It changes how much I do. I am certainly very cognitive now of where things shoot; I don’t want to be away from my family like I was for the past several years on the franchise run.”
Renner, 42, and his ex-girlfriend welcomed a baby girl, Ava Berlin Renner, in March. Still, the Beyer High graduate and Modesto Junior College alum said kiddie films don’t fit his personality. “I don’t have a very Disney spirit, anyway,” he joked.
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Indeed, his track record is spiked with drama, action and darker roles, from his breakout performance in the 2002 indie “Dahmer” to his Oscar-nominated turn as a bomb squad sergeant in 2008’s “The Hurt Locker” and his place in the 2012 mega-blockbuster “The Avengers.”
Now, as slick political operative Carmine Polito, Renner gets caught between the cons and the feds in “American Hustle.” Renner said it was the film’s Oscar-nominated director, David O. Russell, who attracted him to the role. Russell has helmed such films as “Three Kings,” I Heart Huckabees,” “The Fighter” and last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”
“I am a big fan of his, the quirkiness of his movies, and I love his perception of human behavior and character,” Renner said. “There was no character when I signed up. But the way he spoke of the character got me to do it.”
There also was the stellar cast Russell assembled. Each of the leading stars has at least one Academy Award nomination, Renner included.
“It’s always a lovely thing to do and a learning opportunity to work with people like that,” Renner said. “It felt pretty easy working together. It was not an easy movie to shoot. It was a 180-page script. It’s not a movie studios make these days – a dense script and a dense story. But there’s a lot going on, which makes it very exciting for audiences to watch.
“ For us to make sense of it requires a lot of work throughout the day. We were improvising and making stuff up all the time. But working with such talented people is easy.”
The cast includes Lawrence, 23, who won an Oscar for her last collaboration with Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook,” and has become a media darling of late thanks to her starring role in “The Hunger Games” franchise and her down-to-earth public persona.
“She is very, very grounded – especially from such a young woman,” Renner said. “She’s got really great parents, a lot of her is because of them. She’s a very grounded girl, but also from youth, trust and natural gift, she’s also pretty fearless. She’s pretty much like you’d think she’d be – a really sweet, sweet gal, a wonderful person. When you work with her, it’s just, ‘Let’s just do this.’ ”
Most of Renner’s scenes were with Bale’s con-man character, Irving Rosenfeld. Bale, who leads the “Batman” franchise, is nearly unrecognizable in the film as a balding, pot-bellied grifter. Bale recalled improvising together with Renner during a press conference for the film.
“Jeremy does a wonderful job as Mayor Polito,” he said. “I remember doing a scene with him, it was a tiny little scene, but we would just keep rolling. And that’s very nice. I know my character, leave me be and we’ll sit here and have a conversation as the character for 20 minutes if you want. We’d just keep rolling and it would end up being a seven-minute-long take, whereas originally it probably would have been 30 seconds. So we did that a lot, and David really loves that, that ownership of your characters.”
Bale’s transformation – follicular and otherwise – wasn’t the only one for the film. Co-star Cooper sports a tight perm and Renner favors a sky-high pompadour. The hair, it should be noted, was all Renner’s.
Next up for Renner will be a return to some big-name roles. He’ll be back as Hawkeye in the second installment of “The Avengers,” slated to begin shooting in early 2014, and then he has both another “Bourne” and “Mission: Impossible” movie in the works after that. It will be the first repeat performances for Renner. Coming back to those blockbuster roles poses its own challenges.
“It’s exciting and exhilarating and daunting,” he said. “I’m very excited for the idea of these things actually happening. I know they are happening at some point. But I don’t think I’ll really believe it until I’m actually on the set doing it. You know, I’ve been in this business for so long, there are lots of ways things can go. Those are all months and months, ahead for me. You probably know more than I do.”
While the logistics and details of billion-dollar franchises like “The Avengers” and “Bourne” may be out of Renner’s hands, he is taking control of his own destiny in other ways. His recently formed production company, The Combine, will release its first film next fall.
Renner also stars in the drama “Kill the Messenger,” which is the true story of a San Jose Mercury News reporter who became the target of a smear campaign after exposing a CIA scandal.
“I saw (the movie) this morning in editing and we’re working away on getting that finished up,” he said. “That’s a pet project for us – me and the production company I started. It’s our first movie out of the gate. I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far.”
Renner said his work in franchise films affords him the luxury to focus on smaller projects, like “Kill the Messenger.” The movie also stars Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia and Rosemarie DeWitt.
“It’s the brand, the kind of movies I really want to be doing consistently outside of the franchise work,” Renner said. “It’s a true story. There is an exciting world here, a world that is very interesting and still worthy of being on a big screen. TV is so good now, we thought, why not do a TV show, but for film? That’s kind of where we’re going with the company.”
Yet a return to regular TV probably isn’t in the cards for Renner. While he has dabbled with the medium, starring in 2009 in the short-lived cop show “The Unusuals” for ABC and appearing on everything from “Angel” to “CSI” and “House,” he said committing himself to small-screen stardom is too difficult on his schedule.
Though, he said, he is considering jumping back in briefly with a possible appearance on comic Louis C.K.’s cult show, “Louie.” C.K. has a supporting role in “American Hustle.”
But on his immediate schedule are the holidays. He plans to have family and friends over to his Los Angeles home.
“The holidays are all about family, and there’s nothing better than Christmas with kids,” he said.