The “Kill the Messenger” Interview
with Kam Williams
Jeremy Renner starred in The Hurt Locker, which won a half-dozen Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow). For his portrayal of Sgt. William James, he received many accolades, including his first Academy Award nomination, in the Best Actor category.
The following year, he was again an Academy Award nominee, this time as Best Supporting Actor for his performance as James Coughlin in The Town, directed by Ben Affleck. Moviegoers worldwide also know him for his starring roles as Hawkeye in The Avengers, as William Brandt in Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and as Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy.
Jeremy’s breakthrough movie role was as Jeffrey Dahmer in Dahmer. And his other films include American Hustle; The Immigrant; Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; 28 Weeks Later; Take; North Country; S.W.A.T.; and Neo Ned.
Here, he talks about his new film, Kill the Messenger, directed by Michael Cuesta. The two previously collaborated on 12 and Holding which was nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards’ John Cassavetes Award.
Kam Williams: Hi Jeremy. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Jeremy Renner: Thank you, Kam. My pleasure.
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I’ll be mixing in my questions with theirs.
JR: Okay, great!
KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Oh my God! Oh my God! You made a movie about Gary Webb. Thank you. Wow! You are ripping my heart out right now. I am not going to cry. I just forgot what the heck I was supposed to be doing today. Jeez! I’m giving myself permission to cry a little. Jeremy, to me, this is one of the most important stories of the Modern Age. And the way Gary’s life was systematically destroyed—not just by the CIA but by the newspapers that mindlessly colluded with them—makes me weep for all time. His book, “Dark Alliance,” is one of my most treasured possessions. She asks: Mr. Renner, did either your role in Kill the Messenger or The Hurt Locker change the way you regard the world or our nation?
JR: Yeah, but not in a political sense. Just five minutes ago, I was talking to someone else about The Hurt Locker’s not being a political movie, whereas it could have quite easily been spun into one very heavy-handedly. Kill the Messenger is a little more obviously a political picture, but I didn’t really want politics to weigh-in on that, even though I might have my opinion and thoughts about it. I think politics and religion are personal belief systems that have nothing to do with anybody else. That’s where I stand. And I don’t like to make movies that try to force people to change their opinions. However, while the backdrop of Kill the Messenger involved politics and journalism, what was important to me was the underdog story. I love to watch an Everyman rise to the occasion under extraordinary circumstances, like in David and Goliath. I think that universal theme resonates with almost anyone, since most people are trying to do the best they can. Like The American way. I pride myself in sort of representing that, as an actor, especially with Gary Webb coming from the same area as I. It was a tragic situation all the way around, and a big story that’s impossible to tell in two hours, which is why we focused more on Gary Webb personally.
KW: Lisa also asks: What did you learn by immersing yourself in Gary’s life story?
JR: I’d always been on the other side of journalism, just being asked questions. This afforded me a chance to learn a lot about newspapers, satellite stations, and the work of an investigative reporter, and how they get a story. But what I still really enjoyed the most was learning about Gary Webb’s personal life as a father and husband, as well as a journalist.
KW: Lisa’s last question is: Do you think Gary committed suicide, or do you think he was killed by the CIA?
JR: I have an opinion about it, but I don’t care to address that on the record. I’ll let the movie speak for itself. What matters more to me is what other people think.
KW: David Roth thinks that since you’re one of the producers, you must feel pretty passionate about this project. He asks: Why do you think this story took a back seat to the Monica Lewinsky scandal?
JR: [LOL] The Monica Lewinsky story… [Laughs some more] and I do say this laughing… is just more entertaining to follow. Dark Alliance was talking about the CIA connection to cocaine and crack as opposed to blow jobs, which was a lot easier to swallow, no pun intended. [Chuckles]
KW: David also asks: Why didn’t you include Webb’s decline and death in the film, since it was under such suspicious circumstances?
JR: We did, actually. We have a very beautiful, long tracking shot. We replicated the morgue photo, and we originally had it bookending the beginning and end of the movie. But it felt too heavy-handed, and made what we were saying glaringly obvious, which wasn’t how we wanted the movie to be. So, we took it out, and put in a little text at the end saying what happened, instead of showing all that stuff. We wanted to be very delicate about showing what happened to Gary Webb as opposed to going, “Eff you, CIA! Eff you, government! Eff you L.A. Times and the San Jose Mercury News! It’s not about shooting all these other people down, because I don’t think there’s just one bad person to point at here, at all. The tragedy is really on Gary Webb and his being victimized by uncovering something that was ultimately true.
KW: Sangeetha Subram says: Your performance in Kill the Messenger was sensational! I also loved you in The Bourne Legacy also. She asks: Is there one actor or actress that you would say has inspired you?
JR: Thank you, Sangeetha. Jeez! Most of the people I’ve worked with have inspired me. I’ve been lucky to work with so many great actors. Speaking of the Bourne Legacy, Rachel Weisz was someone I’d been trying to work with for so long. She’s amazing! I love Emily Blunt, too. She’s another one of my favorites. But there are loads and loads of them. It’s a long list.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: You’ve achieved leading figure status and you also do wonderful ensemble work—how different is your focus for each kind of different ‘space’ on the screen?
JR: The focus, I suppose, is the same. The requirement of time is not nearly as demanding, but the work is the same whether you work one day or a hundred days on a movie. You still have to bring a fully-realized, three-dimensional character to the screen. So, the work is the same, it’s just that the responsibility of carrying the movie is lightened.
KW: Harriet also asks: How do you put your own imprint on a movie that is based on a true story, you’ve done a bunch of them, when you already know your character’s motivation and outcome?
JR: I guess it’s a subjective thing. If I’m playing a real-life person, I’m beholden to the truths of who they are or who they were, if they’re dead. It’s easy, but then there are limitations to that, because they’re a known figure. If it’s something I’m creating, it’s free game. So, I guess truth is really the ultimate decider of what it is.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
JR: I feel like we’re constantly remaking movies, but they just have different titles. I believe there are twelve stories that we retell over and over again thematically. I’ve never thought about remaking a film, but I’ve probably already done it. [Chuckles]
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
JR: It’s usually the other way around. They ask a question I wish they wouldn’t ask. [Laughs heartily] But I welcome any opportunity to answer a question I’ve never been asked before. But I don’t know what that is. You’re asking me to divulge something I don’t really want anyone to know about me, but I don’t want anybody to know anything about me. [LOL]
KW: Here’s one you might never have been asked: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JR: [Chuckles] I can’t tell that story. I was running around naked in my mom’s high-heeled shoes. I was a tyrant. I was always disappearing a lot, like a ninja.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
JR: Breakfast. Anything for breakfast. It’s my favorite meal.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you at this stage in your career?
JR: The same thing as ever. The same principles that did with my very first job: to be challenged to grow.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
JR: I suppose I can get a little loose on the red carpet, but I’m not wearing a suit at home where I’m relaxed and a bit more of a goofball. Who I am as a person is a pretty down-to-earth, simple, simple man.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
JR: To be with my daughter.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key qualities do you believe all successful people share?
JR: Tenacity, perseverance and fearlessness.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
JR: Flying is always a good one.
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be? You were a makeup artist before you got your big break, right?
JR: Yeah, I was a makeup artist for a little while, instead of waiting tables. I’d probably be a teacher, a musician or a real estate developer, which I’m already doing.
KW: What instrument do you play?
JR: Drums, guitar and piano, and I sing.
KW: Can I find you performing on Youtube?
JR: There’s some stuff from SNL and from when I was pressured to sing on some talk shows.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JR: If there’s anything else that makes you happy, please go do that. But if this is what you love, and what you want, make it your Plan A, and don’t have a Plan B. Don’t plan to fail.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
JR: As complicated.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Jeremy, and best of luck with Kill the Messenger. And I hope to speak to you again about your next project.
JR: Yeah, yeah. I really appreciate it, Kam.