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Jeremy Renner (who is up for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in THE TOWN) got his cinematic acting career started as Mark “Dags” D’Agastino in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S SENIOR TRIP, and while most people think that THE HURT LOCKER was the actor’s breakout role, it was actually his turn as the titular serial killer in DAHMER that got him attention—and helped him land later parts in S.W.A.T., NORTH COUNTRY and 28 WEEKS LATER. Here are Renner’s thoughts on Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s follow-up and the character he played in the well-received sequel.
Jeremy Renner wasn’t looking for a horror film. The actor doesn’t even much like the genre, but he’d seen 28 DAYS LATER on the advice of friends and loved it. And so when the opportunity came up for him to audition for a role in 28 WEEKS LATER, the actor who first broke out in the title role of DAHMER jumped at it. He met with returning producer Andrew Macdonald and then read for Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who had assumed the directing chores from Danny Boyle and co-wrote the script.
Soon enough, Renner was in London, co-starring in 28 WEEKS LATER as Sgt. Doyle, one of the U.S. soldiers who has come to the UK and been tasked with maintaining order as London gets ready to repopulate in the wake of the rage virus that killed millions. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that the sickness hasn’t been eradicated, and when the infected multiply exponentially, Doyle races the clock to save himself and several others—among them a military medic (Rose Byrne) and the two young children (Imogen Poots as Tammy and Mackintosh Muggleton as Andy).
“I initially read for the role of Flynn, the role that Harold Perrineau actually ended up playing, the helicopter pilot,” Renner says. “It was a very weird, difficult audition, because the entire time I was just talking into a walkie-talkie about nothing, really. So I remember feeling terrible after meeting them and reading for them. And I always wondered why I didn’t go in for Sgt. Doyle, because I’d connected with that role when reading the script. Apparently, after I left the room, Juan Carlos was like, ‘I think [Renner] is Doyle and [Perrineau] is Flynn.’ I didn’t know that for sure, but it ended up working out. They said, ‘Man, how would you feel about playing Sgt. Doyle?’ And I said, ‘Perfect, I’m in.’ ”
Renner explains that the 28 WEEKS LATER script appealed to him for several reasons. One, it builds on its predecessor rather than merely copying it. Two, all of the characters possess different points of view and react differently. And three, it consistently poses the same basic challenges to all of its protagonists. “It asks, ‘What would you do in that moment if you were this person? What would you do in that moment if you were that person?’ ” Renner notes. “All of these characters answer those questions in different ways. Doyle does pretty much what, hopefully, I believe I would do in the same situation, if that was me. I love the aspect of it being a sort of heroic and selfless role. I knew that there would be very little dialogue. Doyle doesn’t say a lot, but he has to communicate a number of things, and I felt like I could try to convey it without saying too much. And hopefully that comes across.”
The character Renner initially auditioned for looms large in the sequence that Renner describes as the film’s most complex and draining. It involves Flynn—who has had to make a choice of his own to help Doyle—trying to land his chopper in a field as hordes of the infected pursue the group he’s attempting to save. “That whole sequence was done a number of times in single takes, where the copter flies in, comes down low, one of the guys jumps on, there’s some dialogue and then it goes up in the air again and flies around, and the infected chase us,” Renner recalls. “That was a long take, and it was sort of arduous. Just to get that helicopter going after it landed, they had to start the rotors up again every time. There were a lot of people around. As soon as the helicopter was flying over the infected, those people had to drop down to the ground, because so much of it was going to be done with CGI. So it was really complex and time-consuming. It took a whole day, and we had rain problems as well.”
28 WEEKS LATER presented other challenges as well. For example, Fresnadillo had a very specific vision for the film, but the Spaniard—who’d done the much-admired feature INTACTO—hadn’t shot a major movie before and his English wasn’t all that great at the time he filmed 28 WEEKS LATER. Renner chuckles when recalling how well Fresnadillo was able to communicate what he wanted from the actor on the set. “I don’t believe anything was truly that profound in terms of his [specific] direction on the set,” Renner notes. “What was profound was our dinners together and our discussion about what we wanted to do with this character and with the film, how he saw it and I saw it. He’s very collaborative about things. As far as the language barrier, his directions were funny. That’s something that made it difficult, but he’s a very affable, likable man, and very emotional. And he got exactly what he wanted.”
Moviegoers will decide if what Fresnadillo wanted and got is enough to entertain them, but it certainly sounds as if it was plenty for Renner. “I have seen the finished film several times, and it’s been an easy one to promote, my friend,” the actor says. “I’m very, very, very excited about it. I believe the fans are going to get more than they’re expecting, and they’re going to make some new fans with this one as well. It’s a really spectacular piece of cinema. It grabs you in the first five minutes and doesn’t let go. It’s an amazing ride.”
Although Renner won raves for portraying the notorious serial killer in DAHMER—elevating, along with David Jacobson’s carefully considered writing and direction, what could have been just another true-murder exploitationer—the actor didn’t find viewing the finished project to be nearly as enjoyable. “That was a tough film, man,” he sighs. “It was a really difficult one for me to watch, as you can imagine. I don’t think I’ve watched it all the way through, ever. I would get to the point of the drilling through the head and that would always freak me out, and I’d turn it off. I actually have seen the whole thing, just not in one sitting. I was definitely happy with how it turned out. It was a very interesting take on a slice of life, on a fascinating and terrifying man. I was happy with what we came up with.”
The critical response and eventual DVD success of DAHMER left Renner and his collaborators “happy and surprised,” especially given the tight financial circumstances under which it was made. “We were swiping credit cards to finish the thing,” he reveals. “The engine on that thing just kept going and going and going. We showed Blockbuster, I don’t know, a couple of scenes and a mock trailer before we were even done with the movie. It was like, ‘All right, here’s half the money. We’ll give you the other half. And, by the way, we’re going to release it on DVD in October.’ Once that happened, it hit theaters and it rolled out, and then the DVD was huge. It just kept going and going, and it spun completely out of control—in a good way.”
Some might say that the latter description also applies to actress Asia Argento, daughter of horror legend Dario, with whom Renner briefly worked on her second turn as star and director, the morbid drama THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS. “That was a tough gig for her,” he remembers. “I knew Asia before I did that, and I literally just worked one day on it. I had discussions with her about how difficult it is to direct and star in something—and I don’t think she’ll ever do that again.”
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