Jeremy Renner Rides Solo

Credit: Photographs by Simon Emmett

If you want to hang at Jeremy Renner’s place, you need to follow a few simple rules. The rules are displayed in a five-by-seven picture frame atop Renner’s bar, a marble topped walnut number he installed himself, stocked with enough Bulleit to give Kentucky the year off. There are five rules in all— printed in block capitals and superimposed over one of those red no smoking circles:

Do not fuck with Ava.

No social media.

No photos.

No glass by the pool.

Nothing in JR’s butt.

Ava is Renner’s four-year-old daughter, his only child, and the center of his world. The ban on photos and social media, he says, means “I didn’t invite everybody on Snapchat or Instagram.” Glass by the pool is an obvious safety hazard. As for JR’s butt? 

“That’s a joke,” Renner says, laughing. “But also, don’t put anything in my ass. I really don’t want that.” 

When Renner is at home, which these days is often, he spends a lot of time at the bar, with its imperial views of his lush backyard. “The bar is the focal point of the house,” he says. “The only problem is these windows are heavy as shit, so to be able to open them. . . .” 

With that, he presses a button, and the large glass panes emit a hydraulic whine and start motoring upward, like a garage door. “ I spent so much dang money on this,” Renner says. “But when you open these up and the waterfall kicks in” — five waterfalls, to be precise, cascading down to Renner’s lagoon-like pool — “you kind of capture all this.” He punctuates the sentence with a sweep of his hand — the king on his barstool throne.

Renner’s place is a Frank Lloyd Wright–style number built in 1964, set deep in a canyon in the Hollywood Hills on a quiet cul-de-sac with no cell service. It sits on its own man-made plateau, with no houses on either side; his nearest neighbors are actors Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, who live down the hill. But you can hardly see their house through Renner’s thick pines and 30-foot tall bamboo. “I’m not too big on city views,” he says. “So instead I’m just surrounded by these old-ass trees.”

Renner calls his house “the Nest” — first because it feels like being in the treetops and second “because it ties in to Hawkeye,” the avian, bow-and-arrow-toting comic book hero he plays in Marvel’s Avengers movies (and the role that probably helped pay for this house). Renner likes that unlike his colleagues Thor or Iron Man, Hawkeye isn’t “a guy who flies around with a hammer or does intergalactic stuff.” He’s just a hardworking dude who shows up, does his job, and goes home to see his family.

You could say the same about Renner. He grew up in blue-collar Modesto, California, where his dad ran a bowling alley and his mom worked at a poultry-processing plant. He stumbled into acting at Modesto Junior College, and he’s not sure what would have happened if he hadn’t. “I still would have left Modesto — unless I got somebody pregnant,” he says. “I had a lot of friends who did that. Who knows? If I didn’t find the acting thing, I might have three divorces and a mullet, driving a forklift.”

Actor Sam Rockwell, one of Renner’s good friends, met him while filming The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. “He was at a bar in Calgary, kind of crouched over a whiskey,” Rockwell recalls. “He had this sort of West Coast machismo, an old-school Steve McQueen thing. It’s cool to have guys like that in the movie business, because they’re not around much anymore. Renner’s good on a motorcycle, he’s good on a horse, he can drive a car. He’s just a dude.”

For the first 15 years of his career, Renner’s stern looks and gritty bearing won him roles as a parade of scumbags and psychopaths: skinhead, child molester, con man, serial killer. But then in 2008 and 2010 came the one-two punch of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (in which he starred as a bomb tech in Iraq) and Ben Affleck’s The Town (in which he played a bank thief in Boston). Renner carried one film, stole the other, and earned Oscar nods for both. An overnight success at 40, he responded by going all-in on Hollywood, signing on to not one or two but three massive franchises — The Avengers, Mission: Impossible, and The Bourne Legacy, in which he replaced original star Matt Damon.

The work took its toll. “I was fucking exhausted,” Renner says. “In four years, I slept in my own bed maybe two months. I didn’t see my family, didn’t see my friends. I spent four birthdays in a row with my assistant. It was a glorious time — but it was a long, long run. By the end of it, I was toast.”

Not that he has any regrets. “It was all things I wanted to do,” he says. “But I wouldn’t do it over again.” He looks down the hill at Pratt’s house. “Chris is kind of on that train right now. I couldn’t go on that train again.”

Renner is dressed in heavy boots, slim-cut jeans, and a brown suede work shirt unbuttoned over a navy tee. At 46, his face is handsome but aged, with a boxer’s nose and a cop’s squint. He’s one of those actors like Sean Penn who always look a little rough, as if he might still be coming off a bender from the night before, and also a little dangerous. Like a guy who has seen some shit. “He’s a little bit of an anarchist,” Rockwell says. “When you’re around Renner, adventure is soon to come.”

But Renner also has a way of surprising you. Elizabeth Olsen, his co-star in the new film Wind River — a taut crime drama set in the snowy wilderness of Wyoming — met Renner several years ago while filming Avengers: Age of Ultron. “I used to think of him as this kind of grumpy, funny dude who, like, stretched a lot,” she says. “But what I got to see making [Wind River] was a much more sensitive, full-rounded person.” 

Before filming started, for example, they were rehearsing some stunts and Olsen found herself holding on to Renner as they hurtled down a mountain on a snowmobile. “We were about 1,200 feet up, and there’s this steep, steep drop — almost like we’re going vertical,” she recalls. “We’re in a cloud, so we can’t see the bottom. And I’m behind Jeremy, squeezing him and telling him, ‘Please slow down.’” Olsen thought Renner was the kind of guy who’d gun the throttle just to mess with her — and he does have a reputation as a prankster. But, instead, he eased off and talked her through her fear. “If someone doesn’t screw around with you in those moments,” she says, “all of a sudden you really feel safe in their hands.”

“You want coffee or anything?” Renner asks. He pours us each a mug the size of a Big Gulp, black, and we head out to his patio, where he sits at a long table and lights a yellow American Spirit. His hands are large and callused: Even after he’d made it as an actor, he had a lucrative side hustle renovating houses, and his ropy forearms and sturdy grip suggest a man who knows his way around a sledgehammer. His fingernails are large and pulverized — except for the one on his right pinkie, which is coated in a shimmery pink. “My daughter,” Renner explains, holding it up in the sunlight. “Glitter sparkles.”

Ava is with her mom this week, so Renner is getting some errands done. He’s got some guys coming over to show him some gear for his recording studio, and later this afternoon he has a tuxedo fitting before he heads to Cannes for the Wind River premiere. “I try to get all my work stuff done when I don’t have the baby,” he says. “Because when I have the baby, everyone else can fuck off.” (As for the two slender brunettes chatting in the living room, one in denim cutoffs, the other in a Batman T-shirt that just barely covers her bikini bottom? “That’s Jess and Alison,” Renner says. “They’re just friends.”)

Renner’s backyard has a serious Asian vibe — bonsai trees, a koi pond, a Buddha, a gong. “I love Japan, dude,” he says. “I got a lot of inspiration from there — and the house had kind of a Zen thing going anyway.” He planted Japanese maples and added the walls of bamboo. He also outfitted the whole place with solar panels. “I redesigned every square inch,” Renner says proudly. “I did way more than I ever would if it was a spec house.”

He’s done a lot of spec houses. Renner’s house-flipping started 15 years ago. He’d been knocking around Hollywood for a while, paying the bills with Bud Light commercials and guest parts on forgotten ’90s shows; between gigs, he’d work the makeup counter at Lancôme. Then in 2002, he landed a supporting role in the ’70s cop-show reboot S.W.A.T. — his first major studio film. 

Renner had only $200 in the bank. But he’s a master at knowing a financial opportunity when he sees one. He used his S.W.A.T. contract to get a loan, and he and a good friend, an actor named Kristoffer Winters, went in together on a modest three bedroom in Nichols Canyon, about a mile from where we are now. They paid $659,000 for the house, added a patio and some landscaping, and sold it a few months later for $900,000 — more money than they’d ever made in their lives.

From there, Renner and Winters invested in bigger and bigger properties, from a 1940s Spanish-style place near Laurel Canyon (bought for $915,000; sold for $2.4 million) to a 1924 Greek Revival in Hollywood (bought for $1.5 million; sold for $4 million). Winters oversaw the interior design while Renner handled “the exterior finishes and the flow.” They often lived in the houses while renovating them, usually without electricity or running water. When Renner was nominated for an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, he had to brush his teeth before the ceremony in a Starbucks bathroom. Still, he always knew he’d be OK in Hollywood because even if things didn’t go well, he could just say, “Fuck it. I’ll go build a house.”

In 2009, as the rest of the real estate market bottomed out, Renner and Winters had one of their best years ever. Then in 2013, they pulled off their magnum opus — a 10,000-square-foot Art Deco mansion above Beverly Hills that they bought for $7 million and sold for an eye-popping $24 million. Even Marvel paychecks aren’t that big.

Renner likes flipping houses for the same reasons he enjoys making movies: the collaboration, the element of risk, the hustling to be on time and under budget. He’s a solution finder, a problem solver. “He’s very tactile,” Winters says. “He can sit and talk to the electrician for hours. Or he’ll go on and on about doorknobs.”

All of this came together in his current place, the first one Renner renovated for himself. He calls it his forever house: If he has it his way, it’ll be the last place he ever lives. “It was 100 percent his vision,” Winters says. Renner spent $5 million redoing it — adding guest rooms and hiring an architect who helped design the San Diego Zoo to redo the pool. “It’s a lot,” he admits. “But if I had to sell it, I would make money.” He smiles. “But I’m not going to.”

Back inside, Renner takes me on a quick tour of the Nest. He points out details he’s especially proud of, like the recessed baseboards (“which is not common”), the woodburning fireplace (“you can’t build ’em anymore”), the glass-encased bathrooms (“it’s like you’re showering in the damn trees”), and the pulsating control room that houses all the security and electronics (“the brain of the house”). The whole place is filled with light and is even bigger than it looks outside. “You hear it’s 9,000 square feet and it’s got 10 toilets, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, it’s a mausoleum,’ ” says Renner. “But it’s really homey.”

Walking through the house, it’s hard not to notice that Ava’s toys are everywhere — a stuffed fox under the coffee table, a pair of pink-and-teal Rollerblades wedged under the couch. It all seems to emanate from her bedroom, a Hurt Locker–esque explosion of stuffed animals and clothes. We stand outside her door, and Renner skeptically regards a four-foot plush giraffe.

“She’s got too much shit,” he says.

Renner was 42 when Ava was born. “It was like seeing The Matrix,” he says. “In a second, everything just opened up and made perfect sense.” He named her Ava because it’s “a classic Hollywood name” but also because it’s a palindrome, like Renner. He has custody every other week, he says, and the rest of the time she’s with his ex-wife, Sonni Pacheco, a former stand-in he met on the set of Mission: Impossible. Pacheco lives down the hill from him, and Renner says they’re cordial enough to do the handoff with no drama. “That’s my number one thing as a parent,” he says. “Continuity and consistency.”

I ask him the most fun parts of having a daughter. “Everything’s fun, man. Especially at this age.” She loves dance, gymnastics, musical instruments, swimming. Renner tries to keep her from being too girly: “Like this Christmas,” he says, “she got a princess castle, but she also got a tool set.”

Renner takes out his phone and pulls up a video: It’s Ava, towheaded and adorable, lying on her back underneath her miniature piano, banging on the strings with a plastic hammer. Behind the camera, Renner asks her what she’s doing. “I’m tuning my piano!” she shouts.

Friends say Ava is everything to Renner. “She has her daddy wrapped around her finger,” Winters says. “The few times in life I’ve seen him cry were because he missed something of hers — whether because of work or because it wasn’t his turn.”

In Wind River, Renner plays a hunter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who teams up with a greenhorn FBI agent (played by Olsen) to solve the murder of a young woman on Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation. His job is complicated by the fact that he’s an emotional wreck, still mourning the death of his daughter a few years earlier. It’s a fantastic performance, one of Renner’s best: Sadness and anger play across his face as he swallows his words the same way he’s been swallowed by grief. “Taylor [Sheridan, the screenwriter and director] explained it to me in a really interesting way,” Renner says. “He was like, ‘I wanted to see what happens when you take a piece of granite and a bar of steel, and you smash them together.’ That made a lot of sense to me.”

The script sat in Renner’s pile for a year before he got around to reading it. “I wasn’t trying to work too much,” he explains. “But my whole team was like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to read this thing.’ So I finally begrudgingly sat down and read it, and I was like, goddamn. The themes in it, and what I was going through in my life — I just couldn’t say no.”

At the time, Renner was coming off a pretty brutal custody fight. He and Pacheco had split the previous year, and the divorce got gnarly. Pacheco accused Renner of fraud and claimed he’d endangered Ava’s life by keeping unlocked guns around the house. Renner reportedly alleged that Pacheco was a negligent mother who’d admitted to marrying him only for his money and a green card. The fight dragged out for months, splashed across the tabloids and TMZ. “It was awful,” Renner says. “Airing dirty laundry, the mudslinging. I don’t give a fuck about my feelings. But do what’s best for the baby.”

Our tour ends down in Renner’s master bedroom, a gigantic suite with two bathrooms and huge walk-through closets on either side. We stand in one closet, full of his dress clothes — suits and ties, watches, vintage Louis Vuitton luggage, and an entire drawer just for sunglasses. Renner looks a little embarrassed. “It’s designed to be his and- hers,” he says. “This was the ‘his’ closet, and then the girl’s would be, like, dresses.” But when we walk over to that closet, it too is full of Renner’s stuff — T-shirts and jeans and motorcycle jackets. “I fill up this whole stupid thing,” he says. “It’s kind of pathetic.”

For the first time, Renner looks a little lonely. He bought this house before Ava was born, when he and Pacheco were still a couple. There must have been a period when he pictured the three of them here together, growing old as a family. But now it’s back to being just him, and Ava half the time.

Renner says he would have loved to have more kids. “I’d like to have eight running around,” he says. “A gaggle, a little clan.” He thought about having another girl and naming her Hannah, also a palindrome. “But at this point,” he says, “that’s not in my future.”

I tell him you never know, but he shakes his head. “It takes two,” he says. “Doing it alone is not fun. You want to share the experience. You kind of want a partner. I’ve done so many amazing, cool-ass things in my life — but I think as we get older, there’s more value in doing something with somebody.”

Back on the patio, Renner switches to Marlboro Lights and talks about the future. Now that he’s no longer a real estate magnate, he’s finding other ways to occupy himself. His production company, the Combine, has several projects in development, including a Steve McQueen biopic (Renner would play McQueen) and a Doc Holliday TV series (Renner would play Holliday). Last year the company released its first film, which Renner wasn’t in, called The Founder, starring Michael Keaton as legendary McDonald’s chairman Ray Kroc. The movie got early buzz as an Oscar contender, but it was pushed back several times and was ultimately kind of a bust. The disappointment still stings: “Michael was tremendous in it,” Renner says. “But these days, unless you put on a cape and fly around, it’s tough to get asses in seats.”

Speaking of which: The new Avengers is filming soon. It will be Renner’s fifth time donning the Hawkeye suit, and he insists he’s looking forward to it. The movie shoots in Atlanta through the end of the year, and after that, he says, “I can kind of do whatever. But I’m not itching to do three movies next year.” One movie he is doing is an animated film called Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad, in which he plays a fox named Swifty. “It’s so fun — and I get to sleep in my own bed,” he says. Plus Ava can see it, which is a first. “I won’t even let her watch Avengers,” he says. “The only reason she knows I’m Hawkeye is I’m on her pajamas.”

Renner’s tuxedo fitting is soon, so it’s almost time to leave, but first he wants to show me some of his toys. We start in the garage, with his collection of motorcycles: a replica Norton Commando (one of just 50 built); an electric-powered Zero; and two Triumphs, a Speed Triple and a new 1,200cc Thruxton. Then his cars: the Porsche 914 he’s been rebuilding for a decade; his 2012 Tesla, which he says is the first new car he’s ever bought; and a futuristic looking Acura NSX supercar, a gift from Acura (which does product placement in the Avengers films).

And finally, in the driveway, there’s his Ford F-150 Raptor. “I love that big, ol’ truck,” he says. “It’s a beast of a rig — the thing is just silly. But I need it for Tahoe. It’s essentially a work vehicle for the ranch.”

The ranch is Renner’s biggest toy of all. He bought it three years ago and just finished renovating it: a stone-and-timber cabin on six acres near Lake Tahoe, across the Nevada state line. (Officially, Renner’s a Nevada resident, which he admits is partly “a business decision.” Nevada has no state income tax.) “It’s like Camp Renner up there,” he says of the spread. “All these little outbuildings and trees, clean water and air.” He’s been teaching Ava to ski. And, of course, there are more toys: ATVs and UTVs, motorcycles and snowcats — all the goodies a working-class kid from Modesto could want. (In the words of a wise man: “He has too much shit.”)

“I always wanted that shit as a kid, and I could never afford it,” Renner says. “So I just said, ‘Fuck it. I deserve it.’” 

Renner’s newest acquisition is a giant tour bus, with bunk beds, a shower, and a full kitchen. It’s fun, but it’s also an investment. Never one to miss an angle, he plans to use it on set, instead of a trailer, and have the studio pay him rent. “So they pay me to have my own trailer that I like better,” he says, grinning at the deal. “Over a couple of years, it’ll get paid for, and then I’ll have this great thing my daughter and I can tool around in and see the country.”

I ask him why he thinks he’s always working angles like this — the real estate, Nevada, the bus — and he cracks up. “Because I was always broke as shit!” 

Recently, Renner bought the property next to his in Tahoe, an additional three acres. It was a preemptive move. He was worried a developer might build condos on it, so he swooped in and got it before someone else could.

Of course, being Renner, he already has plenty of ideas about what to do with it. “I’ll be developing it soon,” he says. “But not now.”