A day after sitting down with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, director of the upcoming 28 WEEKS LATER, I was again lucky enough to talk to another of this exceptional film's participants - Jeremy Renner. Renner portrays Doyle, an American sniper who, at a crucial point in the film, makes a critical decision that changes the lives of many of the film's characters. He's essentially the film's "hero," although no one is above reproach in 28 WEEKS LATER.
Renner, who I spoke to over the phone for a good 20 minutes (not all of it makes it into this interview; you don't want to know about my mother's love for his performance as Jeffrey Dahmer, do you?), is a talkative, very enthusiastic guy who was more than happy to discuss the different challenges he faced on this film. He was also nice enough to not freak out when I brought up his very first work - a "National Lampoon" movie (he's actually proud of it). But we'll get to that in a bit...
Is this a marathon for you right now?
Yeah itís kinda crazy. I canít feel my legs! (Laughs) Itís a high-class problem, my friend, itís a beautiful day in New York, Iím sitting here in Central Park, overlooking this pond, everyone is laying out. Nowís a good time.
And weíre both hard at work, talking on the phone.
You portrayed, famously, Jeffrey Dahmer; you were a slimy villain in S.W.A.T; you brutalized Charlize Theron in NORTH COUNTRY. Does it feel refreshing to be playing a good guy for a change?
Yeah, the process is really the same. I donít go into playing a villain going ďOh Iím a bad guy, I canít wait to do bad things.Ē Doyle could be an awful person, but heís not - itís choices that he makes. The approach is the same for me, whether itís playing good guys or bad guys.
But itís also nice for people to see that Iím not just a slimeball, by any means... I definitely welcome playing other roles, for sure.
How much research did you do to prepare for the role of Doyle?
I didnít have to do a lot. The main thing I was concerned about - the most work I had to do - was sitting down with Juan Carlos and just really trying to use a limited amount of screentime and make it about the humanity. The thing that was so amazing about the first one is how much humanity they got into it. And this one is such a - itís 28 DAYS LATER on steroids - thereís so much action, and itís in your face, and itís unrelenting which is awesome, but we really had to be very adamant about what we had to do to convey these people as people. And not these gun-toting, sniper marines. Theyíre human beings. That was our main focus.
Thereís a great little scene, only about a minute long, where the snipers are all talking to each other over the radio, and theyíre kindíve ragging on each other, busting each otherís chops. Thatís a good way to convey their humanity...
Yeah exactly that was one of the parts, and the other one that came up was when Doyle is peering - not pervertedly - into all of the rooms of the people (living in the building across from his post). And one guyís watching t.v., somebodyís doing push-ups, people are having sex, and he sees kids jumping on their beds. It's the mentality of this sniper who has a very lonesome job, and you have these relationships - or connections, seemingly - with these people through a high-powered rifle.
What was it like working with Juan Carlos Fresnidillo? Seemed like a really quiet, contemplative guy.
Yeah, heís all those things, heís very affable, and you know, he could direct traffic and I would watch it. Heís such a talented human being, and we really, really got along. Most of our work was actually just going to dinners and talking about what we wanted to achieve. And as far as the language barrier, Iím sure for a lot of people it mightíve been difficult, but for him, he gets across what he wants to get across. I would definitely work with him again in two seconds...
Are you a horror movie fan in general?
Not really, I mean, horror fans are hardcore fans, man. Juan Carlos definetly satisfied the hardcore fans. I like story, and character. Kind've like ALIEN and ALIENS, those are brilliant movies. You look at JAWS, thatís a terrifying movie because of what you donít see, and even look at DAHMER, thatís terrifying because of what you donít see... Itís the movies that are gratuitous just to be gratuitous, with the torture and the SAWíS - those things donít interest me.
I was talking to Juan Carlos about the feeling of tragedy thatís in 28 WEEKS LATER, and how tough it is to balance that heavy feeling with a movie thatís trying to be a rollercoaster ride...
I think it kindíve balances itself out, because people get the sense that it could really happen, you know? You ask yourself the question ďWhat would I do in that situation?Ē Thatís just because of the world weíre living in nowadays, weíre talking SARS, bird-flu... A bunch of these are very passive diseases, but terrifying, nonetheless. Then you look at something like rabies, which has been around... Itís very unlikely to happen to humans, but it HAPPENS, you know? Thatís a huge fear. The only thing Juan Carlos really had to concentrate on was satisfying horror fans, and we have a huge franchise, and a really wonderful idea: a very plausible, scary disease.
Itís a big follow-up with a lot of expectations. Do you feel any pressure there?
Yeah, certainly. But I remember reading the script, and it was so different from the first, and everything I loved about the first didnít happen in this one. So was I a little scared, yeah, but after I talked to Juan Carlos - not at all. And then after seeing it, forget about it (laughs). I hate to say that itís better, because itís like comparing apples and oranges. But for a sequel to be equal to the first - I think itís that and then some.
You and Harold Perrineau, who plays your friend, have a very believable comradery despite the fact that you share very little screentime together.
Yeah, itís definitely a difficult thing. I think it was one of the more difficult jobs for the director and us as actors - because we have very little screentime together, thereís only one scene where we actually WERE together. All the stuff where weíre talking over the walkie-talkies, that was very difficult, because Iím talking to nobody. All that dialogue where Iím talking to him when Iím on the roof - he wasnít even cast yet! So Iím just trying to think of my best bud on the other end of this thing. And Harold is amazing, another one whoís just so affable and likable. He made that job very very simple.
Youíre no newbie. I think most people think DAHMER was your first gig, but you were in a movie called NATIONAL LAMPOONíS SENIOR TRIP.
(Laughs) That was my first job ever! I was in L.A. for like a year and a half...I very strong-willed, and very pig-headed, so I had three goals when I went down there, to make me feel like "I did it." I wanted to be in a film. I wanted to be in a film that was big enough to play in my small hometown so my family could see it. And I wanted it to be a role that was large enough that I didnít have to explain what role I was playing, like ďIím the guy in the red shirt.Ē So I ended up getting a lead in this movie, and it is what it is, itís a bit of a cult film that some people love. Do I love it? I donít regret it, I mean, it was an amazing experience for me to do, for my first job. I remember kissing the ground after my agent said ďYouíre going to Toronto for 8 weeks.Ē I just started crying!
Thank you very much to Jeremy Renner for being nice enough to talk to me. 28 WEEKS LATER comes out MAY 11.