How 'Tag' Made Jeremy Renner Cooler Than an Avenger

Tag Still 3 -Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
Director Jeff Tomsic looks back at how his first movie nearly got derailed when his star broke both his arms on day three: "My whole life flashed before my eyes."

For Hawkeye fans disappointed the hero did not show up in Avengers: Infinity War, it's possible that Tag will provide a little comfort.

While Renner's Hawkeye is affectionally joked about by fans as the least powerful member of the Avengers, he gets to play the most powerful person in Tag, where he stars as the most athletic and elusive member of a group of friends (based on real-life pals) who spend the entire month of May playing tag. Renner's Jerry Pierce is the one member of the group who has never been tagged, and whose friends plot to finally get him after decades at his upcoming wedding.

Despite Renner's action bona fides, Tag proved to be an unexpected challenge. On the third day of shooting, Renner broke both of his arms, with 40 days still left to shoot.

"My whole life flashed before my eyes. We really didn't know whether we were going to keep shooting the movie at that point," recalls director Jeff Tomsic, who is known for his TV work on shows such as Broad City and is making his features debut with Tag.

He spoke with Renner from the doctor's office and walked the actor through what the rest of the day of shooting had been scheduled to look like.

"I realized everything I was describing used his arms and was physical. There's a long pause at the end of that description and he was like 'OK' and then he came back and kept shooting and shot the whole movie with two broken arms," says Tomsic.

The team got around the injuries thanks to greenscreen casts that were replaced in post-production.

"Pretty much every action sequence you see, Jeremy has two broken arms. You have to imagine him looking like a badass and being a badass at the same time, because he was doing that with a broken left wrist and right elbow," says Tomsic.

Tomsic was tasked with assembling an ensemble cast for the film, with his stars including Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, and Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher and Annabelle Wallis. In a conversation with Heat Vision, the filmmaker discusses managing that sprawling cast and how Renner deserves the credit for his character coming off as so cool.

Jeremy Renner is more of a badass here than as an actual superhero in The Avengers. How did you manage that?

I give all credit to Jeremy. He's pretty cool. The funny thing about working with him is he's such a normal guy and pretty silly. He comes in and makes a bunch of jokes in the monitor. And then we'd put him in and you call camera, he would just turn ice cold. We called him the precision instrument, because he could basically do anything. A thing I would practice for three months and there's no way I could do, and Jeremy would just do it perfectly, like a professional stuntman himself.

The movie has very stylized slo-mo/action moments, where you hear the inner monologue of Jeremy's character has he goes through a gamut of emotions. How did you capture those facial expressions?

The camera is running so fast, I would have to give him three expressions to make in like a second. I'd have to be like, "look thoughtful, then angry and smiley. You’ve got to do that in a second and a half, because that's going to turn into ten seconds of screen time."  It was nearly impossible what I was making him do. He knew in his head every time, "I didn’t get the smile at the third beat. Let me try it again." You'd watch it and it'd happen so fast and it looks totally insane when you are watching someone go from angry to smiley to serious again in a second. It looks like someone has a facial tick. But slow it down like you see in the movie, it looks perfect. He's performing at hyper-speed.

Who was the first person that you convinced to sign on out of this big cast?

Ed was the first person in on the movie. He was one of the first people I met, and he felt so right for that character. He's sort of like Ed. He's a guy with a huge heart and so nurturing and gung ho and loves everybody.

Did you have to work logistically to accommodate schedules for these actors?

I had almost everyone for run of show. Jon, Jake, Ed, Hannibal, Isla and Annabelle, they were all there every day of the shoot. And Jeremy came in and out, because he was also shooting Avengers. Jeremy is the only one we had to work around, because he was shooting another movie at the same time and was also releasing Wind River at the same time. But it all worked out. The nice thing is we started with Jeremy and sort of finished with Jeremy. He got the feeling of being there with us the whole time. I wish he'd been there every minute of it, because he's a delight, but he's also a busy guy.

Have the real group of tag guys seen this movie?

Some of them have seen it, some of them haven’t, but they’ve been so supportive. And they came to set, and one of the most rewarding moments of making the movie was them sitting there, giggling at the monitor. After I called cut, I walked over to them just to see what they thought, and they said, “This is us. This is exactly us.” And I was so happy, because you never know when you’re fictionalizing someone’s true story, what’s going to come of it, or how they’re going to feel about it. Because inevitably you’ve got to change things based on just making a whole story fit into 90 minutes. They really felt like we captured the spirit of this thing.

One of the ten guys who played the game is … a priest in Montana. He was very hesitant to be part of an R-rated comedy … I put their photos at the end of the movie, and he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to show himself there. And so he called me and asked me what he should do. And I was like, “Father, I don’t know how to give you guidance on whether or not you should be in an R-rated comedy or not. I’ve never been in this position. But you answer to a higher power than I do, and I think the only way you can make this choice is by screening the movie.” And he was like, "OK." I sent him a link to the movie, and almost within the runtime of the movie, he emailed me, “I’m in.”  

This movie is about keeping in touch with friends. How do you maintain your own friendships?

When I pitched the movie, and I made this book to present to Toby Emmerich and the guys at New Line and Warner Bros., the first page of it said “This movie is for my friends.” And it had my kindergarten class photo in it with my friend Pete. … And I had gone through this whole process of making the movie and I was talking to [Pete] the whole time, but I hadn’t seen him outside the context of a wedding for two years. And then I was home in my hometown for the holidays and he came over and I showed him that pitch book, and he started crying. He had no idea that had made this movie specifically because I loved him and missed him. And I had forgotten that we hadn’t really been in a room together for a long time … Oddly, the answer to your question is that in this case, working and making this movie has really reconnected me to my friends.