June 19, 2003 -- What's Up With Jeremy Renner (allbusiness.com)

How you know him: His biggest credits to date are the well-reviewed indie Dahmer and Season Two of The It Factor. His role in the upcoming S.W.A.T. should boost his profile. He’s about to shoot the lead role in an independent film called Neo Ned, in which he plays a white supremacist who falls in love with a black woman, played by Gabrielle Union, while they’re both patients in a psychiatric ward.


His first gig: It wasn’t your average acting job. “The police academy needed actors to train cadets,” Renner recalled. “I was studying criminology at the time and I figured it would be pretty cool for $50 bucks. It was a lot like Cops. They came into a house for a domestic violence call, and I was just told to fight back, so I spit at the cadets, cussed, and I even kicked one of them in the balls.” Renner continued the cadet training and theatre in San Francisco for a while before he decided it was time to move to L.A. He came with three goals: “One, to be in a film; two, to be in a film large enough to play in my hometown of Modesto; three, to get a good part where people could recognize me.” When he arrived in L.A., Renner sent out 20 headshots from a test shoot his friend had done. Four agencies responded, and after meeting with them, Renner chose Progressive Artists, even though he didn’t know anything about Hollywood at the time. “I just went with my instincts,” he said. It took Renner a year and half to accomplish his original goals?with a supporting role in National Lampoon’s Senior Trip?but recently, after nine years with Prog, he moved to the William Morris Agency. “My career is growing, and I needed to go somewhere that could create more opportunities for me,” Renner said. “There is no bad blood.”



Holding his interest: Before making a living as an actor, Renner paid bills as a makeup artist on sets three days a week; he spent the rest of his time auditioning and taking acting classes. “I had a lot of auditions and callbacks,” he said. “I even turned down some auditions if I didn’t like the part. I never settled, because then I would feel like a whore selling my soul. I didn’t care if it was a student project or whatever, as long as I felt passionate about the part I would audition. I would ask myself, Can I learn something from the character? Is it valuable? Do I want to tell this story? I’m in acting because I want to affect somebody, mentally or emotionally, from the time they come in to when they leave.” And even though Renner had an agent, he still submitted to casting opportunities in Back Stage West. “I was a ball-breaker,” he said. “I tried to get anything I was interested in.” He paid a price for his passion: “At one point my power went out, so I was reading scripts by candlelight. I bounced my rent checks, and I was crashing on my friend’s couch.”


Attitude adjustment: Renner said it took him almost a year until he could go into auditions with confidence. “It was so different to go from theatre to film. I had to learn intimacy, subtlety, and when I learned those I finally grew up. At first I was nervous and I would be fumbling around and shaking. But, at every audition I went into, I would find a nugget of confidence and grow from that.” He impressed one casting director so much that she kept calling him back in to help her read. “I learned a lot from doing that. Mainly I learned there are many reasons why you might not get a part. I mean, I was fired from a set once because the director didn’t want a blond, he wanted a dark-haired guy.”


Renner also kept performing in plays. “I didn’t wait on a phone call. I’ve done a lot of theatre ensembles, leads, musicals, everything?so I went back to something I have confidence in. That was huge.” A run of Search and Destroy?which filmmaker Barry Levinson liked so much he gave money to keep it running?attracted a manager, Beth Holden Garland. “I signed with her because she could provide me with more opportunities for film, which was great, because my agency dealt mostly with television,” said Renner. He believes managers are useful “only if it presents more opportunities, like mine did.” Renner also studied his craft: “I took one auditioning class because I didn’t know shit when I came out?I didn’t even know what sides were. Then I stumbled into this class taught by Julie Ariel, and I have been taking that off and on for five years. That is when I started to grow. I fell on my face at first, but I learned you have to take risks. You have to believe in what you are doing.”


Killer role: When the chance to play serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer rolled around, Renner rose to the challenge. “For the audition I didn’t even work on the lines, they gave me 23 pages, so there was no point in even working on them. I just worked on the physical and emotional aspect of the character, like the voice, face, inflections. I jerked off to twisted shit so I could get that sick mentality. Then I went into the audition with my face buried in the lines, but I was the character so it didn’t matter. That’s a lot different than a comedy character, where you have to hit the lines and beats.”


Clearly, Renner has reached this level on his own terms, and though he’s still in his 20s, he said he’s accomplished enough that he could “die at any moment with a smile on my face,” which, he said, is success. “I had opportunities to do things that would be very successful. I could have been in a boy band, I’m not going to say which one, but you know who they are, and I passed on it. It’s harder not to sell out, but it pays off more in the end.”