Jeremy Renner Talks James Gray's Period Pic 'Low Life' & Reveals Developing Steve McQueen Biopic Will Go Beyond What You Already Know

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by Todd Gilchrist
November 30, 2011 10:07 AM
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With “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “The Avengers” scheduled for release in the next year, A-list stardom seems inevitable for Jeremy Renner. But the actor, who made his name in independent and ensemble projects like “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town,” insists that he is interested in a wide variety of opportunities, not just the ones with the biggest box office potential. Speaking to The Playlist during press rounds for 'Mission: Impossible,' Renner explained he’s eager to start work on a project co-written and directed by James Gray, first announced over the summer.

“What a great opportunity,” Renner said Monday. “I mean, it’s an amazing story. And I do it such injustice by giving it three words, but it’s James Gray, man, and it’s Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, some of the best talent out there.” He indicated that part of its appeal is that its content is different than the action-oriented projects he’s currently undertaking. “It’s not an action movie, which at this point, from where I’m sitting, is kind of a nice thing; I can actually take a break on my body, and just focus on just work, and the character and stuff.”

Renner indicated it was also a film that doesn’t demand the same sort of production time and machinery of some of his current ones. “That’s refreshing, and to work with that caliber of talent is really exciting,” he said, going on to reveal that his character is not necessarily a lead. “And it’s a small role - it’s something we can shoot in a very short amount of time. There’s a pimp and a whore and a magician, and I get to play the magician, in a really cool, early 1900’s immigration movie - Ellis Island.” Another project Renner has been associated with is a biopic about Steve McQueen – the iconic American actor, not the British artist and filmmaker – also written by James Gray. Other than McQueen being the coolest human being who ever lived, Renner indicated that the project appealed to him because he has an active hand in putting it together. “I’m involved in developing it,” he said.

“It happened because a script came around and they asked maybe if I wanted to look at it and potentially maybe play him,” Renner explained. “I thought it’s interesting, and obviously, I loved his movies, [but] I wouldn’t say like I was a massive fan of him, by any means. I’ve seen probably like three of his movies. But then as it came around and I started to study him more and realized wow, what a dichotomy of a human being.”

Renner said that the script explored both sides of McQueen’s personality, but he wanted the film to get inside his head, not just recap his accomplishments or document what most of his fans already know about him. “He’s really, really interesting, outside of what most know him as, like you just said, the King of Cool or the coolest human being that ever lived or whatever it is. But he was also the most insecure guy that ever lived, and all these other things that undercut what we know him as. So that was really interesting to me - I mean, I don’t care if that’s a fictitious character or if that’s a real person. I thought the script was just sort of a retelling of what everybody already knows about him. So I thought, that’s really kind of boring and didn’t do him justice.”

“So that’s why we’re developing this thing,” he continued. “For instance, there’s a photo of him where a butcher in the shop is bandaging up his hand. And the movie set’s around the corner, and he’s just preparing to do a stunt, or just did the stunt of the famous bike jump - or whatever the heck it was. But everybody knows about whatever that stunt is. So why talk about that? I want to know what that conversation was between that butcher and McQueen in that butcher shop.” Renner indicated that Gray is still developing the film, but he said that they’re aiming for a story that balances his public and private lives. “I mean, you can’t avoid that, but I’d rather have [his career] be the backdrop of his life, and to see what is it like to walk into a room and everybody stares at you because they know exactly who you are. Not a lot of people know what that feels like. So let’s let people into that world. I think an inside sort of look into his life as a human being could be fascinating, so that’s what we’re exploring.

Meanwhile, Renner said he hasn’t seen the script, but admitted that it’s intimidating to think of stepping into McQueen’s shoes. “I’m already imaging it to be almost impossible,” he confessed. “But I’d love to take on the challenge. It’d be an honor.”

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" opens on December 21st.

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