After the release of Marvel’s Avengers, Jeremy Renner made it pretty clear that he wasn’t thrilled by Hawkeye’s lack of really anything to do… or, if Hawkeye was doing something, it was acting like a zombie in service to Loki, who had hypnotized Hawkeye early in the film. Renner revealed that he and director Joss Whedon had discussed a specific arc for Hawkeye for the first film, an arc that was completely scrapped (an arc Renner won’t reveal because it’s still possible that it may be used in future movies). In other words, this wasn’t quite what Renner had in mind when he signed up to play Clint Barton, a bow and arrow-wielding, sometimes hero, sometimes villain, who has a rich history in the comic books, but had just been movie scenery up to this point.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Renner arguably has the biggest role in the film, to the point that Hawkeye’s backstory is fleshed out and he’s been given what just might be the best line any Marvel movie up to now. When talking to Renner — even after a grueling and, yes, controversial press tour — he seems really happy. Avengers: Age of Ultron is, finally, Renner’s movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I spoke to Renner on Tuesday morning, just a few days after the Internet exploded with scorn towards both he and co-star Chris Evans after an off-the-cuff joke about Black Widow’s possible promiscuity. In the past when situations like this happen, it’s not uncommon for an interview to either be (A) canceled or (B) put under tight publicist-observed scrutiny. To Renner’s credit, not only was the interview not canceled, but when I answered my phone, the first words I heard were not from a publicist, but instead, “Hey, it’s Jeremy.” And, although it was unfortunate, it’s at least somewhat understandable how something like that happens, as Renner explains.
Renner also gives us an update on his possible next Bourne movie, talks about Tom Cruise’s airplane stunt in the upcoming Mission: Impossible sequel, and discusses his first film, National Lampoon’s Senior Trip — in which his first co-star was Tommy Chong. As you probably can guess, there’s a marijuana story involved.
I’m almost afraid to ask, but how is the Age of Ultron press tour going this week?
This week is okay. It’s good to be stateside and kind of on this time zone.
Everyone has had their controversial moment.
I’m happy to hear it’s going okay this week. Last week, how did you find out that people were upset?
The information superhighway. The internet, I suppose, and publicists and people calling.
Those press days can be a grueling experience with how many times you have to do those kind of video interviews.
Well, exactly. Anything can be taken out of context and especially if you get more loose-tongued as you’re on three hours’ sleep, three days running. I don’t know, whatever. Things come and go to the next thing. I focus on what’s important in life for me, and that’s what I can do. That’s all I can do.
From now on, when someone asks, “Will Hawkeye get his own movie?” you can answer, “Yes, it’s called Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
[Laughs] That’s right.
As a Hawkeye fan growing up, I was very pleased.
Yeah, there were some key parts in the first script when it came to me that I hoped would be in it. We were shooting it and once it was done, I was like, “Oh, man, I hope this stuff made it.” I was so grateful — thrilled, really — when I read the script for the first time. And I was excited as Joss was to figure out, heck man, who Hawkeye is. We shot the end of the movie the first week — we’re shooting in Italy — and it’s that scene with the bow and arrow line…
That’s the best line in the movie.
It’s a really funny line. And we decided to punt that to a soundstage in London because we’re in the middle of all this action, all this stuff, jumping off of cars… it’s a beautiful set. We decided, “Let’s kind of massage this a little bit,” because this is the first time he’s really talking and has a personality and it’s really kind of a funny thing, so let’s not rush this. It’s the first time Hawkeye has shown some personality of some sort.
Joss Whedon has mentioned he’s a big Hawkeye fan, but then you watch the first movie and it’s like, He is?
I remember the note he gave me on the first Avengers, “Sorry we couldn’t put in what we talked about.” Writing these movies are almost impossible. He said, “You’re going to be in the movie a lot, but we’re not doing what we talked about.” I’m like, “Alright, cool.”
What had you talked about doing?
Oh, I can’t talk to you about that because it’s something that could still happen. Yeah, it was really cool, man. He had some really cool ideas, but we couldn’t implement them on the first one.
After the first Avengers came out, you went on the record that you weren’t thrilled with the way Hawkeye was portrayed in the first one. That could have went a couple of different ways, but you got a bigger role. Where you worried they might just cut you out completely?
Well, look, it’s not like I was ever worried about anything, I just wanted to understand where the character was. You know, the thing with the first one was that I get zapped and become Loki’s lackey, so you become like a robot in a way. So, I was only disappointed because — heck, I still got to work a lot and I got to be in an Avengers movie, which is awesome and be a badass; that was awesome — but I just didn’t understand who the guy was and that’s what I was really excited to get. Because I’m a Hawkeye fan and I wanted to get into it a little bit and see what he was about. But that’s the only reason I had any disappointment, if anything, in the first one. In this one, you get a really great, cool understanding of this guy’s plight and I think it’s fantastic. I love it. It’s why I signed up a good five, six years ago; it was for this moment.
In Age of Ultron, you get to address Hawkeye’s role in the first film. When Scarlet Witch is doing her thing, Hawkeye is the only one who escapes her hypnotizing powers, which Hawkeye points out. Was that line always in the script?
I think that’s a Joss thing, that everybody else gets hit by Scarlet Witch… not this time, buddy. That’s a huge vindication and that’s all Joss making that happen. And, also, it was really great to be part of the team this time in a really big way, because we’re all together a lot in this one. In the last one, wow, I saw Downey maybe twice during the entire shoot. It was mostly me and Scarlett on the first one.
They’re beginning filming on Captain America: Civil War. When do you have to show up?
They start shooting soon, yeah. I start toward the beginning of it. That’s going to be a giant movie, Civil War, man.
It’s almost another Avengers movie.
Kind of, yeah. A little bit. A little bit.
Were you on set when Tom Cruise was strapped to an airplane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation?
I was not on set that day, no. Yeah, I was watching from a monitor.
Was he nervous?
I don’t know, man. [Laughing] He was probably scared at some point.
I’ve just never seen anything quite like that.
I know. I love Tom for his ingenuity and courage to do those things for cinema.
What’s the status of your next Bourne movie?
For me, I don’t know, man. I know Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass had an idea to continue Jason Bourne’s trajectory. With Aaron Cross, I’m not sure. There are some ideas being kicked around, but I know they want to continue it for sure. But, I’m not sure really anything more than that. I know they want to — I’m sure there’s a desire to make another one. And I’d be happy to do it, it was definitely a really fun movie to go shoot and I’d be happy to do another one. But, I think Matt and Paul Greengrass are supposed to be gearing up to do one pretty soon.
In your first movie, National Lampoon’s Senior Trip, you co-starred with Tommy Chong. What was that like?
[Laughs] That was amazing, man! You pretty much get what you think you’re going to get on that.
Tell me a Tommy Chong story. I have to know.
Well, it’s pretty much like, I couldn’t believe it, it’s real. You see his trailer and he’s playing guitar, so I go over to see him and he’s got his guitar out. I have my guitar and we start playing a little tune and I’m watching him play his thing and he asks me if I wanted one little thing [laughing], and he closed the door and it’s a big puff of smoke coming out. It’s Cheech and Chong, dude. A big puff of smoke is coming up out of his trailer, like having a hash fire or something. I didn’t even know what that is at the time or what was going on. All I know is that he’s a lovely, lovely guy. And he’s always smiling.
Welcome to Hollywood.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.