You can take the boy out of Modesto, but (despite opinions and snarky remarks to the contrary about our little berg) you can't take Modesto out of the boy.
That was the pleasant undercurrent Saturday night as Oscar-nominated actor Jeremy Renner returned home for a benefit at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
Renner, 39, was interviewed in an "Inside the Actor's Studio"-type format on stage at the Gallo Center by retired Modesto Junior College theater professor Jim Johnson
Johnson also happens to have the lofty distinction of being the Beyer High graduate's very first director, dating back to the early 1990s when Renner launched his acting career on the MJC stage.
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He never had pondered the idea of becoming an actor prior to taking his first acting class there, Renner told the sold-out crowd.
Renner appeared at the Gallo Center fund-raiser, he said, because he's been wanting for some time to help out the arts venue. His parents and siblings live in Modesto and, as it turns out, so does a big piece of the actor's heart.
When asked near the end of the show Saturday if he'd ever consider moving back to Modesto, Renner fairly sheepishly replied, "In some ways, I've never left."
I can't help but be impressed by Renner's continued support of his hometown. Modesto does not, after all, have a glowing reputation outside the Central Valley.
It would be easy for him to publicly distance himself from the region. Instead, he speaks equal parts fondly and honestly about the town that bore him; he loves Modesto for what it is and what it made him into, but realized after his time at MJC that it simply did not offer him what he needed -- a chance to turn acting into a career.
So he took himself out of Modesto and into Los Angeles and started a long, hard struggle to what is now pretty darn close to the top of the acting community. An Oscar nomination earlier this year for his star turn in Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker" is what put him there.
He's currently enjoying more magnificent reviews for his supporting role in Ben Affleck's critically acclaimed "The Town," a film that has gotten hints and whispers of Oscar hopes for itself.
How cool would it be to be in back-to-back Oscar- nominated movies? And how rare?
Renner's appearance last week was the fledgling staging of a Hometown Heroes series (next in line is Olympian Suzy Powell) being put together by the Gallo Center, whose administrators were equally impressed with Renner.
He was utterly gracious from the beginning of the evening to the end, according to chief executive officer Lynn Dickerson.
Renner signed memorabilia, shook hands, took pictures and was a joy to be around, Dickerson said.
"Every time I thanked him for doing this, he said, 'No, thank you for letting me.' He was great," Dickerson said.
Renner even brought along a musician friend, Brother Sal, to open the show on piano, warming up the crowd with his wonderful deep and gravelly voice.
And, as it turns out, I managed to miss the best part of the evening. Renner, Sal, his family and friends went to Clayton's after the show for an evening of more music and camaraderie.
Saturday also marked the big Clayton's farewell -- the upscale Modesto restaurant is closing its doors and owners will reopen a more comfort-food-oriented eatery in its place -- so the crowd was big and the night was rousing, according to a little bird who also attended.
They sang, they drank, they laughed.
Me? I went home and did a load of laundry and watched reruns of "House Hunters." What's up with that?
The next evening, Renner and his pals left Modesto and he was
en route to Prague, where he's getting ready to shoot the fourth installment in the "Mission: Impossible" film series.
So Renner will have worked with Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt (in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford") and now Tom Cruise. Soon, he'll be shooting Marvel epic "The Avengers" with Robert Downey Jr.
Did I mention something earlier about being close to the top of the acting community? Maybe he's even closer than we think.
Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.