Playing the skilled bowman Hawkeye in the “The Avengers” earned Jeremy Renner worldwide recognition.
Now, Renner stars in “Kill the Messenger,” a special effects-free movie that trades intergalactic battles for arguments over a desk.
“Kill the Messenger,” a more cerebral story of newspaper reporting, might seem a leap down in stature for the two-time Oscar nominee. Renner doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m thinking of how, as a performer, can I be as truthful as I can,” Renner says. “This is movie that needs to be seen. This is a story that needs to be told.”
The story, which also lured Renner as a producer, examines the career and personal rise and fall of San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb. His story on how the CIA turned a blind eye to drug dealers because the profits were used to arm rebels in Nicaragua, initially earned the journalist high praise. Eventually, the journalism world – including his own newspaper – turned on him over his methods at covering the story, ending his career.
Renner was attracted to the role because the film takes a story with global implications and boils it down to a tale of one man who believes he’s doing the right thing and examines how long he can hold on to that belief when the entire world sees him as a liar and a fraud.
Although Renner grew up in Modesto – not that far from where Webb’s story unfolded in San Jose – the actor had never heard of Gary Webb before seeing the movie’s script. The fact he didn’t know anything about the story was another reason Renner wanted to make the movie.
He knows movie like “The Avengers” are important for their entertainment value. But he believes films like “Kill the Messenger” are needed to shine a spotlight on events and people who might not be well known.
“Kill the Messenger” is a different kind of role for Renner, who has been in “Hurt Locker,” “The Town,” “American Hustle” and “The Bourne Legacy.” Because he was playing a role based on a real person, he entered into the project with a feeling of great responsibility to perform at the best of his ability.
He was given access by Webb’s family to home videos and other materials, which gave Renner enough information to on how to play Webb both as a journalist and as a family man. Renner never felt like he knew the role 100%.
“I raise my hands in victory only because his wife, Sue, and all of the kids watched the movie ...,” Renner starts to say, but pauses as his emotions get the best of him, “and they were very proud. I’m so happy they are happy.”
One part of Webb’s story that Renner could not fully understand was how Webb could become so obsessed with a story that he didn’t stop even when it put his family in danger. Renner understands being obsessed with something, but as a man who loves his family, he has a hard time understanding what would push someone to go to such deadly extremes.
He reconciled Webb’s actions by deciding it was this dogged determination that separated him from a lot of other reporters: he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from getting this story.
He didn’t realize it at the time, but Renner had done some prep work to play Webb when he made the 2008 film, “The Hurt Locker.” His conversation with war reporters and photographers gave him an insight into all of the relationships that are formed – such as with a reporter an editor – through covering a story.
“I also found out how much bureaucracy and corporate influence there are with newspapers,” Renner says.