Jeremy Renner has played a lot of heroic characters, from “Avengers” bowman Hawkeye to William Brandt in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.
Despite the selfless act of putting his life and family in danger to uncover a government cover up, he doesn’t consider his latest role as the real-life journalist Gary Webb in “Kill the Messenger” to be a hero.
“We have to be clear about how you define heroism,” he says. “I feel like that shifts for me after doing this. … I wouldn’t consider him a hero — just because you’re brave doesn’t mean you’re heroic. … I think, specifically to Gary Webb, he’s only a hero because he’s flawed and because he owns his flaws and accepts that’s who he is.”
amNewYork spoke with Renner about the film, opening Friday.
Did you know about this story before signing onto the film?
Not at all. I liked the script, it was a true story, and that was amazing, and realizing that it all happened 70 miles from where I grew up. Why don’t I know anything about this?
What did you do to try and capture Gary?
Anytime you play someone that existed, or exists, you’re given a road map already, so it’s easier at first. Then as you go down the rabbit hole with this road map, you realize you can’t stray off the map when you run out of answers to your questions, cause they exist. You can’t just make it up. That’s where some of the limitations come in, and it makes it more challenging and I like that challenge. So with Gary, there’s enough material from the script that was well researched from Peter Landesman, he’s a journalist and screenwriter. The family gave me a lot of home videos and access to anything I needed from them. I didn’t have any conversations with the family until the last week of shooting, and I wanted it that way. But I had access to stuff, so it was easy for me to research enough and ask questions of other journalists about what the job is like so I got a good grasp of who Gary was through those avenues.
What is the key to playing a journalist?
I wanted to know what the day to day life was like, what the work life was like, the players involved, the characters. That was more important to be, because ultimately there’s a lot of research going on, as investigating reporting goes, in my experience. That’s not very cinematic, nor is it really fun or interesting to watch — someone just rifling through microfiche. OK, this is boring, and people will be walking out of the movie. What we can do, is do that in a way with the players. That’s why I want to more about the editor, how is the editor involved, how much are they involved. All that helped a lot and informed me of who Gary was as a journalist.
Can you relate to Gary?
I can relate to his stubbornness, I can relate to his tenacity, his perseverance, I can relate to his self-righteousness, his flaws, his fearlessness and his courageousness. There’s parallels in those sorts of adjectives that I think we have. But very different is the selflessness of his job and the very selfishness of mine, but at least I was able to grab onto a few qualities of his.
What can you tease about ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’?
I have a lot more to do in the movie. I know there’s a lot more of the Avengers being together. I’m going to be just as surprised when I see the movie when any other person sees it, because I feel like I’m a small spoke in the giant wheel of The Avengers. I think it’s going to be really, really exciting. But I can’t really give any information about it.
Would you be up for a Hawkeye spinoff?
A Hawkeye spinoff? Sure. It would have to be the right reason to do it. But knowing how Marvel could put things together, yeah, there would be a way. I don’t ultimately know if they would do a Black Widow solo, or a Hawkeye solo. They’d probably do a version of us two, maybe. But I don’t know. It’s above my pay grade to even think about those things. If that’s what they want to do, I’m sure they’d come up with a really great idea.