With his latest pic, “The Hurt Locker,” unspooling at both the Venice and Toronto film fests, Greg Shapiro is taking his producing career a step further.

The Iraq-set action thriller — shot in Jordan and starring Jeremy Renner, with Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce and David Morse in smaller roles — is Shapiro’s most dramatic and action-packed film to date.

Shapiro was also responsible for popular stoner pic “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

Although he admits that his choices are “eclectic,” being that way is intentional.

“As I grow older, my tastes become a bit more commercial and mainstream. But I don’t think I will ever get away from doing small, interesting projects. As a producer, you don’t want to feel like you are stuck in one genre.”

Shapiro says he was drawn to “Locker” for two reasons: “Everything always starts with the script. But in this case, one of the driving forces behind my decision to do the film was not only the script but also because Kathryn Bigelow was attached to direct. I really respect her work.”

Bigelow says, “We had the script and the financing, but we were hovering in a blinking green until Greg helped create a cast synergy that gave us the greenlight.”

Venturing outside his comfort zone to work on the action drama wasn’t daunting to Shapiro. Taking risks is how the producer got his start.

In his third year at UCLA, Shapiro decided to leave collegiate life in order to become Nick Nolte’s assistant. The two formed a friendship that ultimately led to Shapiro’s first two producing gigs: on 1999’s “Simpatico,” followed by “Investigating Sex” in 2001.

However, it wasn’t until 2002 when Roger Avary’s “The Rules of Attraction” was released that Shapiro felt he had his “breakout” film.

“That was the first time that I produced a movie by myself,” Shapiro recalls. “Roger taught me that it is very important to lock arms, march forward, have solidarity with your director and do whatever it takes to get the movie made.”

Together with Mandate Pictures’ Nathan Kahane, Shapiro put his newfound wisdom to the test in 2004 with the first installment of “Harold and Kumar.” Now the producer is working on the franchise’s third pic, which like the first two are to be written by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

Also on his upcoming slate are “The Rum Diary,” an adaptation of a novel by Hunter S. Thompson to be directed by Bruce Robinson and starring Johnny Depp; “The Undisputed Metal Lords of Glenwood Lake,” written and directed by D.B. Weiss; and “Detachment,” written by Carl Lund, to be directed by Tony Kaye and starring Peter Sarsgaard.


AGE: 35

PROVENANCE: Palos Verdes, Calif.

INSPIRATION: “Nick Nolte without question. He is extremely creative, and he spent a lot of time working on and developing scripts and his parts. Seeing that process informed my approach to production.”