Jeremy Renner's Shot at Playing Hero

Jeremy Renner
Jeremy Renner
 Kurt Iswarienko

The say-anything new star of "Bourne" wrestles a wolf, box-office hopes and rumors about his personal life as expectations mount on the two-time Oscar nominee to save one franchise (that Matt Damon left behind) and help jump-start another (Marvel's "The Avengers").

This was eight or nine months before he was signed in July 2010, because no script or director was in place when Penn made his push. Renner's casting, along with that of co-star Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, was announced at that year's ComicCon by director Whedon.

"I had a general meeting with him just when Locker was gaining steam," Feige remembers, reveling in Renner's ability when they came to shoot. "He doesn't just have the guts to do the stunts but also a level of knowledge and skill that's impressive. He can even talk about 'pick' points -- where a wire attaches to your body when you're pulled through the air."

Feige was on set for a sequence in which Renner had to leap from a two-story building while turning and shooting an arrow toward the camera. "That was him, not a stuntman. And it was impressive. He's got this great intensity and is very focused."

As is typical with Marvel films, the actor received a mere six figures for Avengers (he also did a cameo in Thor) but will get more if Marvel exercises its option to feature him in up to six additional films.

That Renner is right on the brink is hardly overstatement. He has a long career as a Marvel star in his grasp and a potential second franchise in Bourne, a dream scenario for any actor. If Renner continues with Bourne (he's agreed to two more films), the $5 million he received for Legacy will zoom to an asking price of $10 million-plus -- and might reach as much as the $20 million Damon received for the series' most recent outing in 2007.

Stardom already has allowed Renner to take a break from the real-estate business that kept him afloat for many years, buying and renovating properties, though he says it's a passion -- and a lucrative one -- he plans to keep pursuing. In 2009, Renner and Winters sold a Hollywood estate they'd renovated for more than $4 million; they had bought it a year earlier for $1.55 million.

"I'll always build houses," he notes. "I'm about to buy another one; there's one close to my house and another at the top of Coldwater Canyon, and I love that." His current home, which once belonged to director Preston Sturges, has been rented out while Renner films, meaning he's spending his nights on a Murphy bed in his office.

This is just one of the many interests that pulls him in different directions, occasionally giving him a scattered quality that contrasts with his intensity. He has plans for properties and says he may do a run on Broadway of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with his Avengers co-star Johansson (if Ridley Scott doesn't hire him for his upcoming The Counselor). He also just finished filming James Gray's Low Life, in New York.

So even as Hollywood eagerly awaits to anoint him, one must wonder if it is a crown he even wants.

He says, at minimum, he won't be held back by fear. "That emotion even conquers love, and that makes me sad," he reflects. He spent eight years trying to analyze the roots of his old fear -- "finding out what I was afraid of, what stops you in your life, what gets in the way."

Though studios, his handlers and the entire town may be consumed by the primal emotion, Renner says: "Fear is just not a part of my life -- so much so that if it's involved in somebody else's life and they're close to me, I won't be around them."

With his usual dispassionate nature, he adds: "The star thing, the celebrity thing, is new to me. I don't want to be a good celebrity, a good f--ing star. I want to be a good human being."

SUMMER PUTS TALENT TO THE TEST: The industry will be watching these three actors as a key role in a blockbuster can make, or break, a rising star

Channing Tatum: Thanks to recent hits The Vow and 21 Jump Street -- and a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live -- Tatum's on a roll. Now he needs to keep the momentum building with the one-two punch of G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Magic Mike.

Brooklyn Decker: Does the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl have star potential? Two movies, the ensemble comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting and the sci-fi extravaganza Battleship, could answer that question.

Tom Hardy: Critics applauded his bruising turn in last year's Warrior, but he isn't a household name. The villain's role in The Dark Knight Rises could change that -- if that mask doesn't get in the way -- followed by the drama Lawless.

FRANCHISES THAT HAVE SWITCHED STARS: Although recasting is always risky, Bourne won't be the first to attempt it. In fact, these big series all successfully installed fresh faces.

James Bond: The granddaddy of all film series, it has seen six actors play OO7 since Sean Connery set the template with 1962's Dr. No. The producers even have perfected the art of turning the baton-passing into a major publicity event.

  • Die Another Day (2002): $432 million
  • Casino Royale (2006): $594 million

Jack Ryan: Alec Baldwin first stepped into the shoes of novelist Tom Clancy's intelligence analyst. But negotiations for a sequel broke down, Baldwin went to Broadway to star in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Harrison Ford took over.

  • The Hunt For Red October (1990): $201 million
  • Patriot Games (1992): $178 million

Batman: After two movies that Tim Burton directed, Michael Keaton decided not to continue when Warners brought in Joel Schumacher to give it a lighter touch. Val Kilmer donned the mask for one film and then was followed by George Clooney.

  • Batman Returns (1992): $267 million
  • Batman Forever (1995): #337 million

Alex Cross: Morgan Freeman played novelist James Patterson's detective in two movies. Lionsgate, which is relaunching the franchise in October, first talked to British actor Idris Elba but then turned to Tyler Perry, who is setting aside Madea's housecoat.

  • Along Came a Spider (2001): $105 million
  • Alex Cross (2012): TBD
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