"Kill The Messenger" is out in theaters now. The film makes for a dextrous retelling of a story that is already quite well know in the journalism world: Gary Webb's "Dark Alliance" articles, about the C.I.A. and its connections to the drug trade, and the destruction of his life that followed. HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Renner about preparing for the film, what we can expect from Hawkeye in "The Avengers: Age Of Ultron" and why running can be really hard sometimes.
Tell me about learning Gary Webb's methodology. What did you do to figure out who this man was beyond his tragic legacy?
There were a lot of rabbit holes he went down. Gary finding the story was really kind of dumb luck. So, to start, I had to find who Gary was as a man, and as a father and as a husband. Then I had to move on to who he was as a journalist. A lot of things kind of define us as human beings. But as man, a lot of times our work defines us.
You think career is more closely tied to identity in men?
With Gary, his passion for his work ran very deep. So, I started with that and then moved on to how he worked. It was the most important thing in his life to him, outside of his family, and as far as his methods and how he went about finding things, it's more about what he wrote about and how he wrote things. And sometimes that got him into trouble. We also wanted to put that in the movie, to show his flaws, that he wasn't perfect and his story wasn’t perfect and his writing wasn't perfect.
He was victimized, but there's a certain level of accountability that you have to excuse for, say, The Los Angeles Times, doing their very public fact check on his work.
That to me is also what sets up Gary to be a hero or to be heroic, because he’s flawed. Not because he’s courageous and brave. Maybe that’s heroic, but it’s not a hero. Gary Webb is a man who owns his flaws and understands his attributes are also his flaws. His tenacity, his stubbornness, his self-righteousness, those are all adjectives that are kind of mushed together. There’s a lot of grayness in the definitions of those. Some of those being very grey and some of those being the antithesis of grey for him. He gets in his own way because he’s so self-righteous. But that’s what makes him a great journalist. That’s what makes him a shepard and not a sheep, and makes him a really fascinating guy to understand and know.
In this post-Ferguson world, what do you think Webb's story says about the way we treat journalists?
There’s a lot of relevance now, and it’s hard to put a square peg in a round hole, comparing Ferguson to anything else. But there are certain parallels for sure that happened there. I mean just look at the communication age that has transpired between 1995 and now in 2014. It’s crazy. When we couldn’t find Bin Laden -- what was it 2004, the search for him? Can’t we just sort of Google map that motherfucker on our phones now? It’s so random.
I wonder what the impact of current technology might have been on Webb's story.
The power of technology’s changed so much, and it’s really changed how media is even viewed. A lot of things have changed, but I think what hasn’t changed is the accountability and the responsibility in journalism, sensationalism happened then just as it happens now. Now, there’s a lot of nude leaked photos of celebrities. Then, it was a Monica Lewinsky scandal and before that it was something else. You know, sex is always sold. But there’s accountability and responsibility in journalism and I think, sadly, it gets overlooked and, for whatever reason, Gary uncovering this garnered him a lot of attention. I think it’s a shame on media and big media, and I think there are a lot of people that got upset, because papers got scooped and big interests weren’t very excited about what he was finding, and didn’t further the story, but used the story against him and made him the story.
Speaking of the nude photo scandal, what are your thoughts there? Do you think you have it easier than women in Hollywood?
Well, I’m not a girl, so, and I don’t think anyone wants to see me naked. And then there would have to be naked photos of me, anyway [laughs]. So, no I don’t think I’m safe. I don’t think anyone is ultimately safe, but there’s also something good about that: It’s harder to hide. If you have something to hide, you’re doing something wrong, I guess.
Even with nude photos?
When it comes to celebrities that’s a different thing; that’s private life, those are stolen photos and personal life, that’s kind of ridiculous. But people in public eye, meaning people doing public service, not celebrities. You know, people who are public servants, they’re accountable and responsible for their own doings and what happens, so it’s harder to hide nowadays, I think.
Back to "Kill The Messenger." You started your own company so you could create this film. What pushed you to do that?
People weren’t throwing money at “The Hurt Locker” or “The Town” even. I mean, Warner Bros. will make maybe one of those movies in a year, and then they’ll go on and make Batmans and all these other things. The same with every other studio. So, in order to protect my career and have quality control of the material I was wanting to do, I started a company that would either develop the material or be out there looking for material that is going to want me to go to work, to be challenged, and that’s what we’re finding. "Kill The Messenger" is the first movie that we got made within the company that sort of represents me as an actor, me in the company and what we want to continue making. They’re not always, you know, important movies or as heavy, some are much more entertainment value, but it’s still all along the lines of those "Hurt Lockers," "Towns," "Kill the Messengers" and those sort of things. You know, thought-provoking, entertaining and fun. They’re movies the studios used to make and they want to make, but it just doesn’t make good business sense for them now.
So, you're more drawn to smaller, more nuanced roles?
The only thing that was different for me back then that was better was that I was known, but I still had anonymity. That’s it. I like where I’m at. I like being able to get to make the choices I’m able to make and the sacrifices -- my privacy, that’s a small price to pay, my cross to bear, and I’m happy to do it.
Up next you have "The Avengers" sequel. You were pretty vocally unhappy with the way Hawkeye played in the original. What's different now?
My frustrations were, I think, what the fans' frustrations were and what Joss [Whedon's] frustrations were. That poor guy. He’s amazing. He’s a very good friend of mine; I’ve known him for years. It’s his frustrations. He’s the one who had the toughest burden, the biggest burden of them all, to write a bunch of franchise players. I mean, it’s unbelievable that he was able to come up with that and then have the movie turn out like it did. So, I think he was happy enough to now focus on, knowing that, "Oh, I’m Joss Whedon! Guess what, I did do that! 'Avengers,' was able to conjure the impossible, and now I can do it again and feel confident that we can give Jeremy what I wanted him to do in the first place." So, it wasn’t just my frustration. I think it was everyone’s frustration. There’s just not enough room to introduce the character and we need to introduce the character.
So the character is effectively introduced in "Age Of Ultron"?
There’s a lot revealed more in this one. Clint Barton is Clint Barton. Hawkeye is Hawkeye now in this one. It’s been really exciting to dive into the character finally after all this time. And I had a lot to do. There were some centralized storylines that I was involved in and that was exciting, being around the cast for a lot of this movie. Everything that worked in the first one is exponentially better in this one. We were all together in the first one and we got a lot more of the Avengers together in this one. The comedy worked, the action worked, it’s gonna be ridiculous. It’s gonna be ridiculous. Look at that with "Guardians." Can you believe that?
I know! I'm so happy it's doing so well.
So am I! SO AM I! I love it. It just made me go back to being a kid, when I was a fan of “Star Wars’ and “Indiana Jones” and all those movies that I loved as a kid.
It has such a great sense of humor, which is part of what makes Joss Whedon's work on "The Avengers" so genius.
Right, not being campy about it, but having a little wink at it works. It’s working.
One last question. What's the hardest thing you've had to do on set. Is one particular thing that stands out?
I always say and I stand by it that the most difficult or dangerous thing to do on camera is running. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true, because it’s the simplest thing. If you rolled your ankle, which is easy to do, or you just fall, you’re not running anymore. Then there goes your number one or your main guy, who can’t even walk, let alone run. So, you don’t think that’s a very difficult thing, but you’re running, you’re not paying attention, you gotta shoot, you’re running maybe on an uneven surface, and it’s easy to roll an ankle and then, guess what, you’re like hobbling, not running on the next take. So, who’s replacing you? Nobody. And there’s no wires you’re wearing or pads you could wear. You’re just running. So, because it’s not a dangerous thing, it is a dangerous thing. That’s what makes it dangerous.
This interview has been edited and condensed.