Actor gets praise for pic with passionate fan base

In “The Hurt Locker,” he spent much of his time covered head-to-toe in a protective suit, with a small window for his eyes. In “The Town,” he wears a series of masks, to hide his identity from authorities.

Yet if Jeremy Renner continues to stand out in prestige projects, he’ll be easy to recognize.

The 38-year-old native of Modesto, Calif., has been working professionally since 1995, with scattered success. His most notable role before “The Hurt Locker” was in 2002, when he starred in “Dahmer,” the grim biopic about the dietetically challenged maniac.

But when director Kathryn Bigelow tabbed him to play Sgt. Will James in her nerve-jangling look at specialists who defuse bombs in Iraq, it helped clear the way on the often-treacherous Hollywood career path.

“As soon as it was released, I started to hear from people more and more,” Renner reports. “When it was finished and people in the business started to see screenings, there was more attention. Even before the film came out, I got an Independent Spirit nomination. I said to myself, ‘How did this happen?’

“From then on, a lot of things started to happen. I felt really lucky that there was this awareness in the business. It’s pretty fantastic.”

The breakout experience came with a price, however. Renner says the cast, crew and production team on “The Hurt Locker” all created a supportive and collaborative atmosphere, and the military personnel he consulted with were gracious and generous. But the shoot was not always a blast.

“The physical part left the biggest impression,” explains Renner, who adds, “I still get a little punchy when I bring it up.

“Then it became emotional,” he recalls. “By the end, it was spiritual. I learned a lot and grew as a man. I don’t really remember acting. Everything was chaotic and difficult. We didn’t see cameras most of the time. We just had our characters down and knew what we wanted to do.”

His recent experience on “The Town,” director Ben Affleck’s yarn about bank robbers in Boston, has been considerably less stressful.

“This feels so right,” Renner says. “Everybody on the set is lovely, and working with Ben sets the tone. It’s like shooting a short film with a really good buddy of mine. It’s a flashy role with a lot of bank robbers. We wear different masks every day. It’s good fun.”

P.O.V.

Lucky Break: “That I get hired. Every time I feel lucky. ‘Dahmer’ was a big milestone and helped me in a lot of ways. I probably wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without that.”

Favorite Film: “‘Braveheart’ pops into my mind. I like the graphic war element. It takes place in Scotland and England, and I love English history. (Cinematographer) John Toll is amazing. It’s a gorgeous film. I’ve seen it 35 times.”

Five Years From Now, I Will Be…: “I hope to be doing what I love to do, and still working.”

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