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In Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jeremy Renner stars as Hansel, the legendary figure of fairy tale lore, here envisioned as a grown-up bounty hunter out to stop a |child-snatching hoard of witches by whatever means necessary. Joined on the screen by rising star Gemma Arterton (as the eponymous Gretel) and Famke Janssen (as the evil witch, Muriel), the film marks the Hollywood debut of Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola and Renner’s big-screen follow-up to his most recent hit, The Bourne Legacy. A two-time Academy Award nominee (The Hurt Locker; The Town), Renner has appeared in more than 20 films – including The Avengers and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – and today makes his home in Los Angeles. He spoke to Steven Goldman.
What attracted you to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters?
I received the script with a one- sheet they’d attached to it, kind of like a mini-poster. It was Hansel and Gretel, this really cool, dark image with a witch burning in the background, and the logline that it’s a continuation of their story, but it’s now 15 years later and they’re bounty hunters who kill witches for a living. I thought, ‘well, I’d go see that movie’. More importantly, I also wanted to do something that was fun. A lot of the work I’ve done has been movies that are somewhat realistic, true stories or heavy dramas. I wanted to do something that was just fun.
Why do you think Hollywood has taken such a renewed interest in fairytales?
Part of it is that we have the technology now to create these worlds that these authors had written for us so long ago. They are rooted in mythology and there is always a really interesting, deep theme in them. They’re also just great, fun worlds which work on a big screen.
How did you prepare for the role?
I had just finished Mission Impossible, so I was in good enough shape. But this was another form of fighting. I had to get beaten up pretty good in this movie. It was kind of like taking a gymnastics class – tumbling, diving, rolling and just getting used to your body flopping around and hitting the ground safely – that sort of thing. So the physical stuff I wasn’t that concerned with. I actually spent more of my time with Gemma (co-star, Gemma Arterton), trying to ground the movie in our brother-sister relationship.
Tell us about the production. I understand you shot the film in Germany, is that correct?
In Berlin. It was exciting to shoot there at Babelsberg Studios and be in that part of the world where the fable actually has its origins. While there’s some CGI in the movie, it’s not a lot compared to (other films).
We built all the sets – all the costumes, the witch stuff, everything involved practical effects, rather than things created in a computer. The troll character, for example, is an animatronic. Tommy (Wirkola), our director, really fought for that kind of thing. It really made the movie and it made it a lot more fun to shoot.
What was the biggest challenge?
Not getting injured was a pretty big one (laughs). And for Gemma as well. We had a great stunt team and everybody looked after us. But just running through a forest, it’s really easy to just roll your ankle and then you’re done. You’re not even walking then.
Did you get hurt at all?
You get banged up here and there, but that’s part of the job. If you don’t get a few bumps and bruises, you’re not doing your job.
Hansel & Gretel is a 3D movie, but it’s not your first 3D film, right?
Right, but it was shot in real 3D. We shot in real 3D with a real 3D camera which is, well, it’s huge, it’s cumbersome, it’s quite a pain, on the production, on the crew, on the actors.
It’s big and it costs a lot more money. For a lot of us, it was the first time working with a real 3D camera and you can see why people would rather convert (from 2D to 3D in post production).
But the result is much more beautiful. We didn’t use it in every shot, mind you – for all the action sequences we used smaller cameras. But we used it to really immerse the audience in proscenium shots, to capture the depth of the trees with the fires in the foreground, etc, to make the experience much more immersive.
What did you think when you first put on Hansel’s black leather jacket?
Honestly? I hope I can move in this thing (laughs). It’s beautiful. It’s cool. They made these things really well. I mean, they’re authentic and they’re awesome. They did a really good job. But I said beforehand: “You go any further with this stuff, just make sure I can move in it, because that’s what was required of me in the role.”
Tell us about your director, Tommy Wirkola. I understand it’s his first big Hollywood film.
First big film, yeah. He had a smaller movie, Dead Snow, that I thought was really interesting.
He’s a quiet guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s not specific in what he wants. And he gets what he wants. He’s also a wonderful collaborator which made the set very fluid – whoever had the best idea, that’s what we did.
And your co-star, Gemma Arterton?
Finding the right gal was important. When I saw her photo on the board I asked: “Who is this?” Because we could be brother and sister, physically, it was also important to me that we could kind of look alike. She had sent in a tape and we all sat down, looked at her work and were like, “She’s phenomenal”. We spoke on the phone and after 30 seconds, I was sold – she couldn’t be more lovable, creative, thoughtful and smart. I also knew I’d learn a lot working with her.
When did you first decide you wanted to be in films?
I stumbled across acting in college and then around 1992 I decided to come to Los Angeles. I wanted to give film and television a go, because I knew it would be tough to make a living in the theatre.
You didn’t have the easiest time when you started out. Did you ever consider throwing in the towel?
No, because I loved what I was doing. Even being broke, there’s a wonderful freedom in that.
The only downfall throughout all of that was maybe I’d become more selfish, because all I had to focus on was me, my next meal and my next audition. My world was very small. But I never thought of doing anything else because I’d found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt very lucky for that.
What were the impacts of The Hurt Locker, The Town and Bourne on your career?
There have been a lot of different milestones for me along the way. My first movie in ’95 (National Lampoon’s Senior Trip) and Dahmer (2002)… Hurt Locker, of course, was another massive one. It was a little movie that got a lot of recognition and then just had a life of its own. If you’d asked any of us at the end of shooting that movie what we thought, it was like we thought we had a great mini-series or something on our hands. After that, a lot more opportunities came in. Bourne was the result of what happened from The Hurt Locker and The Town.
Was it intimidating taking on the Bourne franchise?
I did have to take pause, even if it was just for one day, to consider how that would shift my personal life and my career as well. Of course, that was just an exponential explosion. You’re suddenly sort of everywhere around the world. And then also there’s being the face of it, versus Mission Impossible or The Avengers where I’m part of an ensemble. This was me. I knew that it was going to change a lot of things.
You have several films in the pipeline at the moment. Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to?
Well, one that’s already done and will come out probably at the end of this year is Lowlife, with Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard; it’s a smaller movie, beautiful, independent. And then I’m doing an (as yet untitled) movie with David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook).
I start pretty soon – it’s with Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper, so I’m very excited about that. After that, I’m supposed to do one of my favourite scripts that I’ve read in a while, called Imagine. It’s lighter in tone, with Al Pacino and Julianne Moore. Dan Fogelman, who wrote it, is going to direct. It’s his first movie.
So that’s the plan for now. We’ll see what happens after that.
Will there be a Hansel & Gretel sequel?
I don’t have a crystal ball on that. We’re just trying to get this movie out. We want to see how this does. We set out to make one good movie. Of course, we left it open ended…
What do you hope audiences will take away from it?
Like a great roller-coaster ride with amazing 3D effects, I just hope people come out with a big smile on their face. – Paramount Pictures