Jeremy Renner must be out of breath by now: Between filming action epics 'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol,' 'The Bourne Legacy' and 'The Avengers,' he has been run ragged for your entertainment over the last 12 months. While fans will have to wait to see those last two films, 'Ghost Protocol' hits theaters on IMAX screens around the country this Friday (with a national rollout to follow next week), with Renner matching wits with star Tom Cruise. (Whom he is not taking over for, by the way.) The twice Oscar-nominated actor also has a Steve McQueen project in the works, in which he's slated to play the King of Cool, although there's still no script and he's prepared to hand it over to an even more famous actor, should McQueen's family decide they "hate his guts."

Where were you when Tom Cruise was hanging precariously from that tower in Dubai?
The first time I saw it, I was on the ground, just looking up, when he was rehearsing it. There were some days we had off because they were spending all day with helicopters getting shots, flying around the thing. The building's so tall that anywhere you were in the city, you could see it and there was this little speck swinging all around it. You would look and think, "Look at that guy!" I'd be walking around, forgetting about him and then shopping, getting a drink and then look up and go, "There he is, still going at it." Better him than I. God bless him.

There has been talk that you're going to take over the franchise, so will this be you climbing tall buildings and hanging by a thread in the next movie?
No. People are going to talk all they want. It's Tom's baby. He's the face of the franchise and will always be. If he wants to go make another one and they want to invite me, then I'd be happy. But I can't say whether I live or die or whether I'm good or bad. It's also why I love the character, loved this part. It's a blessing to be part of the franchise.

But you'd like to come back for another go-round?
I don't know, people have first got to see this one. It's got to be successful. They're not cheap to make. And then there has to be desire for Tom and Paramount to do another one. If they want to get a script together and throw my character in, then, hey: great.

Do you have a contract for another one?
Yeah. If they so choose to use that. Or they can tell me to piss off. You know what I mean? It's their call. Like any other franchise, you want to keep the possibilities open. What if people hate the character or the character doesn't work out? All that any of us could focus on was the task at hand. And it was a big task to overcome.

But you are taking over the Bourne franchise?
Yep. I'm the lead of 'Bourne Legacy.' Not taking over Bourne, to clarify. People get that misconstrued.

Right, you're playing a totally new character, not Jason Bourne.
Yeah, yeah. Matt Damon will always be Jason Bourne. Matt Damon isn't in this movie. Jason Bourne isn't in it, but it's still a Bourne movie. People ask me, "How does that work?" They don't get it. They just have to see the movie. They'll see the congruency and there's a new set of characters.

Are any of the existing players coming back?
Yeah, I think there might be an overlap of a few things.

Will we see Joan Allen again?
I can't speak to any of those things, because I couldn't be certain. That's a whole separate part of those movies. [IMDB lists Joan Allen and Scott Glenn among the cast, with Albert Finney "rumored" to return.] It's the same writer [Tony Gilroy] through all of them and our writer is also our director. It has the same action director that we have for second unit that was also on 'Mission: Impossible.' So it has that sort of continuity. And then how it's shot, the pace of it, the tone, is very similar. It's very documentary-style, just like all of them. It has that intimate feel. Complete opposite of 'Mission,' which is a big spectacle movie. It feels like a small city on set. Whereas with 'Bourne,' you feel like you're shooting an independent movie. It's very intimate, just a camera lurking in a room while a scene happens. So it feels very small, even though it is a big, big movie. It has great tempo and great action and great, great character stuff. You'll know it's a Bourne movie. It's just not with Jason Bourne. It's a new program, new set of spies, new set of obstacles. But same sort of everything else, I think.

Did you learn Krav Maga, like Damon did?
No, I had to learn a lot of other things. [Laughs]. But with our fight team that's actually bled over from 'Mission' to 'Hansel and Gretel' and even ''The Avengers' and 'Bourne.' It's pretty much the same guys, all 8711. It's a stunt team that has different disciplines as their expertise and so there's a big mishmash of whatever works best. Especially when it comes to [playing] an agent, it's not about doing things that are necessarily flashy and impressive, it's about taking someone down as fast as you can. And as realistically as you can. That's been the great challenge, to do it and make it look you're really making it happen.

What's going on with your Steve McQueen project?
It's getting some legs now at this point. With James Gray turning in his first draft here within the next few weeks. I'm really excited to read it. I think [McQueen] was a really interesting human being, just to get to know in a different way than most people know him. That's kind of why I wanted to tell the story that I want to tell. It's hard to do a life story about somebody and make it interesting, you know? But if anybody's going to do it right, I think James Gray is the guy to go to. So if it all seems to come together, it'll come together.

Will it be a nontraditional approach to a biopic?
I don't know what the hell's traditional and what isn't. I'm a terrible guy to ask that question. The one script I read was good, but it wasn't great. There hasn't been a Steve McQueen movie, so why have it just be good? It needs to be great. I don't want to bash anyone by any means, because it was a really good script. But it was just talking all the things -- and I didn't know a lot about Steve McQueen -- I already knew about. And I don't know anything about him. So what are you telling here? It was like a one-sided journalistic view or something. It wasn't very broad. It didn't allow audiences into this human being, so let's get to know him in another way. As I study him a little more, [I'm finding out] what an interesting dichotomy of a human being he was. And how stingy and cheap, but generous. He was a constant oxymoron of himself. Even if he was fictitious, I'd think, "What an interesting character." So yeah, I would love to explore these inner workings of the King of Cool.

Do you have his family's blessing?
Yeah, I think James has been working with Barbara [McQueen's third wife] on it.

And they approve of you?
I haven't gotten that far.

But they don't hate you?
I haven't heard that either! If they tell me, "Hell no, we hate your guts," maybe we'll get Daniel Craig to get in there.

[Photo: Paramount]





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