"This is not about the war on terror so much to me," explained Renner at the film's LA press day. "It was about an interesting job and fascinating characters to me. It could have been truly about bullfighters or bullriders or some job I'm not really familiar with, and I'd still think it's fascinating. And you throw in these characters and the whole thing and that's what it is to me."
Renner was totally unfamiliar with the Army's elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad before he was attached to star in The Hurt Locker, but once he got involved in the project, he met with the real men who perform this dangerous work. Although their work goes mostly unreported, this elite unit is responsible for saving the lives of countless soldiers and civilians.
Renner's character in the film, Staff Sergeant William James, takes over a unit and is viewed by his men as an unorthodox leader who disregards established safety procedures. In reality, Renner says the things his character does wouldn't happen in real life scenarios. "There was one guy that did this stuff. He would go up to 155 [artillery round] and see all this stuff and he would kick it. He'd say, 'Oh, it didn't go off. I won. Whatever.' That's how he thought, that's how he went about things. One guy though - that's not what normal EOD guys would do. Like the UN building where the car is on fire and they know there's no 155s in it, well they have a saying in the EOD - and I wish I could remember it - but, 'If you see me running, you better run faster.' If the EODs hauling ass, get the hell out of there. So they would be running the other way, unless however the President was inside that building. Otherwise forget it, run the other direction."
In order to get ready for the role, Renner also did weeks of intense physical training. But according to the actor, it was his time spent with the men who did this job that really helped inform his character.
"I only wanted to be informed about the movie we're making and have it be about EOD and not about boot camp," said Renner about his approach to tackling the character. "It was a great opportunity to sit down with these guys and pick their brain, and learn not as much about them and what they do - until you get a little bit more booze inside of them - because everything's, 'Top secret, top secret,' so I know I'm asking good questions. I'm like, 'What about those things at like Ralph's and the sensors and they open doors, why don't they just use that to set off?' They're like, 'It's top secret. We can't tell you.' Everything was top secret, so I knew I was asking good questions. So all those questions I asked when it was top secret, I asked again when they were in my apartment. Or not even just those, but just more personal questions because they're on base, they're very professional and very straightforward. But when I got a couple of the guys to hang out and just be human beings, it was really interesting and also very telling of like how they were."
"I remember we're sitting at a bar eating a burger, and this guy that I'm with is a monster of a dude. Just a linebacker-built of a guy and he's pretty nervous, and it's the middle of the day. I'm like, 'What's wrong, dude?' And he's like, 'I'm not very comfortable sitting with my back to the door.' And I'm like, 'Why?' 'I'm just thinking of an exit plan, which window I'm jumping through. I have like three exit plans already.' I'm like, 'Let's sit somewhere where you're more comfortable.' I'm sitting there having a beer, like, 'La-la-la-la-la,' but I'm noticing that he's tense. That's just telling to me of a thousand different things of what goes through his mind. That's interesting to me."
Getting into the character physically was an adjustment for Renner. As Staff Sergeant William James, Renner had to wear a special, heavy suit. "It was hell but it was... It's two things. It's informing and it was hell. It informed my character a lot," explained Renner. "Physically, I thought I was in good shape and then I'd find I was sore around the shoulders carrying the gun around. But then it just became an emotional and spiritual thing after the first week. I didn't feel sore anymore. "
It helped that Renner didn't have to stay in the suit for long periods of time while shooting The Hurt Locker. "I'd probably say about 45 minutes for the test - that was the longest I stayed in it. And then during the movie, I was in maybe 25 minutes, half hour. The helmet would come off for sure. I couldn't keep the helmet on for longer than 25 minutes because it was too hot. There's lots of parts to the suit, there's a diaper - there's all these thousands of parts - so a lot of times I wouldn't want to take the whole thing off but take the weight off of my shoulders and just wear the suspenders and the pants and the diaper. The diaper is Kevlor - the whole thing is to protect you from shrapnel. It's not really a diaper," said Renner, laughing.
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The Hurt Locker was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and is rated R for war violence and language.