“Reading it [Arrival] you weren’t thinking about aliens, the global size of it or anything like that,” Renner said of the film’s screenplay. “It was called The Story of Your Life before it was called Arrival. It came from a short story and was told through the eyes of this woman, who is a linguist. When I got to the end , I realised I had to re-read all those scenes to fully get it. The rug-pull at the end really captured me.”
Arrival follows linguistics lecturer Louise Banks (Adams), who is haunted by memories of her daughter, a cancer victim. She is tasked by the government to make contact with and decipher the intentions of alien beings who have landed at various locations around the planet. Joining her in this mission is scientist and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Renner). The pair face a race against time before the military takes its own form of action.
“Reading it again, I didn’t want to know too much and play it too smart,” Renner said. “I had to focus on the character and find an entry point into math and physics.
“We had a lot of people helping, and I knew binary pretty well from studying Computer Science beforehand, but I wondered how we make people give a s**t about zeroes and ones.
“Denis Villeneuve and I found ways to make Ian a human. I made him different to the stereotypes. He has an excitement about the aliens landing and that was a great way in.”
The film challenges the audience to ask “What if…?”, and throws up some bleak visions about our collective response to first contact. Renner explains why this was a big reason for him taking on the film.
“The way it happens, and how everything stops is something we always think about. What do you do? Are you just glued to the TV? Do you run to the site? I would be curious.
“The director was a big reason for doing it also,” Renner said. “I was a fan before. Amy was the bigger reason, though. I didn’t know what I was doing in it, but once she reached out I knew I had to do it.”
Renner and Adams previously worked together on American Hustle, but they have know each other for decades.
“I’ve known her professionally and personally for a long time,” Renner said. “We are very similar in terms of where we are and how we got here. She is a pleasure to be around.
“We both found fame later on in our careers, although I first met her singing karaoke in 1999, and then gradually we started making our way forward. After fifteen years we got to make American Hustle. My baby is three-and-a-half and she has a child of a similar age. We have similar perspectives now.”
Speaking of how being a father has changed him, Renner is candid about how he now approaches work and life in general.
“I’ve gone from being a selfish c*nt, which I had to be, to now being all about my child. If you get in the way of that, well then, ‘Up yours’. I’m going around you. I’m so glad for that as it makes life very clear. Everything else pales in comparison.
“It’s hard to speculate what would have happened if I had the money and success early, but when you see kids with trust funds and so on you see what might be. I might be the same jerk that I now judge. I would probably be an absolute jerk, a drug-addict, or dead.”
Renner is particularly fond of one of his smaller films. In the factually based Kill the Messenger (2014), Renner plays the investigative journalist Gary Webb, who uncovered a CIA conspiracy to import crack cocaine to fund Nicaraguan contra rebels.
“That film meant a lot to me. I got to know a lot I didn’t previously know. I was from that area [central California], and I knew nothing about it. I learned a lot about journalism, and the style Gary Webb did which is pretty much dead now. I respect that side of it a lot. It’s depressing we don’t have that now.
“We have Snowdens and social media, but I don’t think there is a bandwidth or time for the balanced articles that require a lot of thought. It is a lot of effort and people don’t have the time and patience for it.
Having that impact on people, the fulfilment of my job comes from the ultimate idea of making someone think and possibly change their approach. Stirring something in an audience member, and I’m one of those people still, is an amazing feeling. You get that with live theatre all the time, that instant connection, but it can happen with film and music, too.”
Renner has travelled all over the world while making and promoting his films. It’s something he enjoys doing, and he told us about some of his favourite places to visit.
“I’ve been all over making movies, which is a blessing because before when I earned some money, all I ever wanted to do was travel. Two places that really stick out in my mind are Iceland and Montreal. I want to go back to the Philippines too.
“Our schedules [as actors] are quite restricted, but when you’re out somewhere for a while you get into the rhythm of places. I prefer being in one spot and get a grasp of the community. Somewhere like India, which is completely different, you can’t just bounce in for a week and get that sense of the place. Montreal was great. I had so much fun filming Arrival, it didn’t feel like it was work. I love that place.”
Renner confirmed that he will be working on the next two Avengers films, reprising the role of Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton, and returning opposite Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 6. It’s all a far cry from his early days when acting was the farthest thing in his mind.
“I figured out that acting was a job from the stage,” he said. “I got bit by that bug, and I knew straightaway it was for me after playing the scarecrow in a production of The Wizard of Oz. It was therapeutic and a great form of escapism.
“I fell into it because my dad gave me the advice to go and fail. Get your studies out of the way and then go try it. I was into computers and wanted to get my undergrad stuff done and then tried [acting] in my second semester. I never thought about it until now, but going into that classroom for the first time was terrifying. Now it’s just exciting. All nerves go out of the window, because it is all about finding the truth now.”
Arrival is on general release now