Renner's Legacy

13 August 2012 | 4:29 pm | Guy Davis

“A script that opens up the world and offers a character like Aaron Cross, I’m going to find that interesting. It’s more excitement than reservation, I suppose, because of the possibilities.”

Right now, Jeremy Renner feels like a shark. After more than a decade as a character actor adding gritty texture to supporting roles in films like 28 Weeks Later and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he gained a higher profile with his compelling performance in Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.

Joining the ensemble casts of blockbusters like Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and The Avengers only enhanced his standing (as did Academy Award nominations for his performances in The Hurt Locker and Ben Affleck's crime drama The Town), and now the 41-year-old actor is taking centre stage in The Bourne Legacy, an action thriller that expands the world established in the three Bourne movies starring Matt Damon as the titular amnesiac secret agent.

The taxing Bourne Legacy shoot was smack in the middle of a two-year, five-movie run for Renner, a run that included mega-productions like Ghost Protocol and The Avengers – in fact, he went straight from filming Legacy to playing sharpshooting archer Hawkeye in The Avengers without a day off – and while he admits he was concerned about his ability to keep up the pace he wasn't about to turn down any of the opportunities that had come his way. “If I don't keep going, I'll die,” he smiles. “But I am taking a break after all this.”

Watching Legacy, it certainly seems like he's earned it. As Aaron Cross, an operative in a top-secret Department of Defence program called Outcome (similar to the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs in the previous Bourne films), Renner convincingly does his fair share of running, jumping, kicking and punching as he tries to keep himself and Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) one step ahead of the assassins dispatched by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), Outcome's pragmatic head honcho.

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Working with the likes of Weisz and Norton, as well as writer-director (and Bourne franchise veteran) Tony Gilroy were “huge, huge checks on the list of reasons to go to work”, says Renner. But just as much of an incentive was the chance to bring Cross to life.

“I have to connect with the character some way, find how they resonate with me and find a way in,” he says. “Matt had a really great character but he was slightly trapped in that [Bourne] didn't know who the hell he was. That was a difficult task – how do you create a character when you don't know who you are? You're constantly at the mercy of what happens around you, you're thinking all the time but you're sure what or why you're thinking, and there's something interesting about that. It's wide open in a different way.”

Cross, on the other hand, offered a palette of personality traits for Renner to work with – there's steeliness offset by affability, with an underlying desperation and even ruthlessness when it comes to achieving his goals. There's a bit more happening than the traditional action-figure poses.

“Well, they're human traits, aren't they?” says Renner. “They're genuine personality traits, and that's what I gravitate towards and connect to in a character. The storyline offered Aaron Cross the opportunity to really exist as a human being, not someone constantly running and gunning...well, not immediately anyway.”

And Renner never really felt daunted by taking on a series so synonymous with another actor. “It's easy for me to say no if they offer me Jason Bourne; that's a character that has already been played brilliantly by another actor who is a friend of mine,” he says. “But a script that opens up the world and offers a character like Aaron Cross, I'm going to find that interesting. It's more excitement than reservation, I suppose, because of the possibilities. You could pit Cross and Bourne against each other, you could have them work together. If there are any thoughts about the future of it, leaving avenues open is what's most important. They have to make sense, though. If they don't make sense, you might as well just kill everybody in one movie and be done with it!”

The Bourne Legacy opens in cinemas Thursday August 16.