Jeremy Renner isn't planning on playing a superhero forever.
"I don't want to be 55 years old and in tights, for god's sake," the actor, who plays Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, told BuzzFeed News with a laugh. "But in the next four years, it's nice to know that I might be slinging an arrow here and there."
The intriguingly frank 43-year-old is currently balancing a few giant film franchises, not all of them involving hosiery. In addition to playing Marvel's master archer, who will next be seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Renner's reprising his role as field agent-turned-analyst William Brandt in Mission: Impossible 5, and he is also set to return as Aaron Cross in the follow-up to The Bourne Legacy.
Appearing in some of the biggest movies around adds up to a gratifying moment in the spotlight for a talented actor who toiled for years in television pilots and acclaimed but underseen movies, from 2002's Dahmer to 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Since his unmissable breakout turn as an adrenaline-addicted bomb disposal expert in Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning 2008 film The Hurt Locker, which nabbed him his first of two Academy Award nominations, Renner's been very canny about moving between action tentpoles and smaller features like American Hustle and The Immigrant. That balance is important to the busy actor, who's squeezed in a few days in New York to do press for his latest movie Kill the Messenger, based on the true story of investigative reporter Gary Webb.
But this movie, which opens in theaters on Oct. 10, is of particular importance to Renner: It's the debut project from The Combine, the production company he and his partner Don Handfield launched in 2011 with the goal of making smart character dramas with cinematic twists. The common refrain is that those are exactly the sort of movies Hollywood has lost interest in making in our era of franchises, reboots, and reboots of franchises. But Renner believes there are still plenty of people who are hungry to see them. "We don't have to do the studio movies and put on capes all the time to make money," he said. "I think there's an audience for movies like this and for movies like The Hurt Locker and The Town. People want that."
Producing his own projects, as well as others that he won't necessarily act in, also means that Renner will be able to have films he's passionate about ready to go for his breaks between blockbusters. And the first of those passion projects, Kill the Messenger, is a tense, tragic, well-acted drama about the rise and fall of Gary Webb (Renner), who wrote a series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 about the CIA's support of Nicaraguan Contras using cocaine smuggling to fund their cause in the '80s. They were highly researched, controversial pieces that bigger newspapers tried to discredit, and when Mercury News pulled back on the story too, it ruined Webb's career as a journalist. He committed suicide in 2004, but his work has since largely been vindicated.
The movie, which also stars Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, and Michael Sheen, paints Webb as a driven but sometimes difficult man who has trouble letting go. And that's part of what drew Renner to the story. "He was threatening because he didn't care," the actor said. "He was a guy that had the tenacity and perseverance and courage to do those things, where other people might be afraid of stepping on somebody else's toes. That's kind of how I look at things — not that I say, 'Fuck you,' to everybody, but I'm going to do it my way. You like it or you don't." He also sees Kill the Messenger as particularly relevant to the current atmosphere as it's about "the importance of investigative reporting, and the accountability that is needed with the government."
"We need more Gary Webbs in the world," he added.
We also need more Jeremy Renners, at least if we want to keep seeing mid-level movies about the kind of grown-up concerns that have become more likely to be confined to television in recent years. Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta, who got his start in independent film but who's now better known for his work on Homeland, points out that A-list leverage is often the only way to make projects like this happen these days. "You have to have a movie star, a guy like him, to get this film greenlit," he said. And even then, "it's very much the indie model — people doing it because they believe in the project. It's not just a job. This movie was not big budget. People deferred their fees."
In launching a production company, Renner joins the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Will Smith, who've all gotten directly involved in putting films together themselves, rather than waiting on studios. "Thank god for them," said Cuesta. "They have the most clout to get these things done now, because these small films, unless you're making them for under a million dollars, you need a movie star to get the financing."
The Combine has a few projects in the works, including a Steve McQueen biopic that Renner's looking to star in, a movie about the largest bank heist in American history, and a rally racing drama. But Renner also seems happy with his current blockbuster-heavy career, and doesn't express the same frustrations that some of his superheroic co-stars have about being locked into a multi-picture contract. "Where I come from, to know you have a potential job in the future is a wonderful thing," he said. "Then, you know, I can go do a couple of smaller movies and cool things because I know this big one's going to be coming out."
Then, Renner added with a laugh, "There's a great blessing to have a franchise... or several. It's great to know you're going to be working in the future — that's an amazing thing! It's not a guarantee, mind you. There are no guarantees."