In 1998, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were the awards season's biggest success stories. When they won Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, the best friends' exuberant acceptance speech was the highlight of the show.
Now, that golden moment could go to Best Actor nominee Jeremy Renner. A working actor for more than 20 years, Jeremy's breakthrough role arrived in the form of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, a tense portrayal of an elite bomb squad's sacrifice and heroism in Iraq. Jeremy plays soldier Will James, an explosive ordinance disposal specialist who risks his life every day to disarm bombs.
Ben just finished directing his second film, The Town, in which Jeremy also stars. The two men decide to talk Oscar® one-on-one at Chez Jay, a Santa Monica watering hole where Oscar winners and nominees like Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty and Frank Sinatra were rumored to hang out. "I really believe in him," Ben says. "I think he's great."
Ben: You got nominated for an Academy Award®, congratulations. ... You're taking your mom [to the ceremony]?
Jeremy: I'm taking Mama.
Ben: That's very good. I tell you, I took my mom to the Oscars. Just [want] to caution you to set some boundaries because then Mom starts thinking she's going to go everywhere. You know, every premiere, every press junket.
Ben: Have you shown [The Hurt Locker] to any troops? Have you gotten any reactions from servicemen and women?
Jeremy: Yeah. I'm going to be sitting next to a bunch of families who have lost their sons or daughters. It's heavy. I mean, it becomes [where] it's not a movie anymore. These are people's lives that we're talking about. The biggest compliment I got, I think, was: "We know it's not an EOD training film, but damn, did you capture something, an idea of what we go through in a day. That's pretty awesome. It's something I can show my wife and she has an understanding kind of about what we do."
Ben: You grew up in Modesto, California. What was that like? Was that like a rural area?
Jeremy: Yeah, kind of a small town. It's a great place to grow up and a better place to leave. Not to dis on it, but when you're 19 as a young actor, I didn't have a lot of influences. So I had to get out. And now it's one of my favorite places because all of my family's there.
Ben: So you go back much?
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah, a lot.
Ben: And you were the scarecrow in the [1990 Modesto Junior College performance of] The Wizard of Oz. How were you in that show?
Jeremy: [Laughs] I think I was pretty good. It was fun. You get to sing and dance. Playing for 1,500 kids, it was great. It made me want to be a dad and realizing that that's not going to happen for a long time.
Ben: For a long time, really?
Jeremy: Yeah, a couple steps would have to happen. But you're a daddy now.
Ben: I am a daddy. Do you want to be a father? Do you want to have kids?
Jeremy: Tell me, how does it work with two kids?
Ben: It's great, but don't do it if you're not ready. It's a full-time job, it's a lot of work. But kids make it worth the whole thing.
Ben: Do you have women throwing themselves at you since you've been nominated?
Jeremy: I think people definitely treat me a little bit differently. Men and women, both. It's all over the place.
Ben: Do you feel different? The Academy Awards represent the thing that you work your whole life for.
Jeremy: See, I didn't. Maybe I did in the back of my head, but I never had the dream that a statue was going to define who I was. I love the idea of that. I want to do the work that got me that.
Ben: Do you have any satisfaction, any of that feeling that says, "That feels really good"?
Jeremy: Oh yeah, when they announced, I didn't think that it was going to mean that much. But it was the most pure high you could ever feel. I'm sure you felt it. But for me, at 39 and doing it for 20 years, it was just exhilarating. My face hurt, I couldn't stop smiling for a week. Then there was a terrible crash that happened and I just cried for three hours. Now, what I really kind of take away from it—'cause we've already won in so many ways for this little movie—is how lucky am I?
Jeremy: Something I haven't experienced in this that you have is actually being at the awards. Is it unlike other awards that I'm sure you probably went to?
Ben: For me, I just went there and there were all these legends I had never met. It was just an incredible, overwhelming experience. I've gone like, "What am I doing here?" That's sort of the feeling I kept on thinking, "Is that really Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars?" I had just watched it from my couch in my $700 apartment two years before.
Jeremy: When you won your Oscar—which was awesome—Jack Lemon calls your name. So what happens to you, to your body?
Ben: Yeah, it was Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon. I gave really a terrible [speech]. We were young; it was just panic. It was like, "You say something." I wish, if anything, I would have written something or said something differently because I can't remember. I was in some jumble of panicked, just a complete nightmare of repeating myself.
Jeremy: But isn't that okay?
Ben: I guess.
Jeremy: On reflection, you wish you could be eloquent?
Ben: I don't need eloquent, just coherent.
Jeremy: Where are you going to be on Oscar night?
Ben: Just at home.
Jeremy: If my mom's sick, will you be my date?
Ben: [Laughs] Your mom would drag herself out. I'd wear a dress for you, anytime.