Jeremy Renner plays reporter whose life was ruined after uncovering Iran-Contra

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Jeremy Renner portrays the late investigative journalist Gary Webb in “Kill The Messenger.”

NEW YORK — For Jeremy Renner, playing investigative reporter Gary Webb, whose “Dark Alliance” series in the San Jose Mercury News in California in 1996 blew the cover on the Iran-Contra drugs-for-guns scandal of the Reagan Administration a decade earlier was one of the most challenging roles of the Oscar-nominated actor’s career. The film is “Kill The Messenger” and it will hit theaters Friday, Oct. 10.

In real life, Webb’s career and life was basically destroyed by a coalition of major news organizations — including the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, upset about being scooped in the story — and the Central Intelligence Agency, which fed the bigger papers information to unfairly discredit Webb and his sources.

When Renner was told he obviously doesn’t shy away from tough roles, the actor laughed during a recent phone interview. “I actually require that to go to work. I don’t want to go in and be bored.”

Renner not only portrays Webb, he’s also a producer of the movie and worked hard to bring it to the big screen. When asked the biggest challenge of making “Kill the Messenger,” the California native didn’t hesitate. “Simply getting it made. That’s the first thing. Also finding the right cast and then getting everyone scheduled. That was tough.”

RELATED: Richard Roeper’s review of “Kill the Messenger”

As for creating the character of Gary Webb, Renner admitted that too was a big challenge. If he could have met the journalist (who committed suicide in 2004, having never been able to find a job as a reporter after leaving the Mercury News in 1997), Renner said he would likely have wanted to learn about the more personal aspects of Webb’s life — even more than details about uncovering Iran Contra.

“I would have asked simple things,” said Renner. “What made him laugh? What did you fight about with your wife? Did you ever go to bed angry — ever? … Very personal questions like that. It’s those basic questions and the revelations that come from asking those kinds of questions that contribute a lot to creating a character.”

An adding intriguing aspect of “Kill the Messenger” for Renner was the fact Webb operated as a journalist in the part of central California where the actor grew up. “Coming from the area around Modesto and Sacremento and San Jose. That’s where I’m from. I found that strangely coincidental.”

The process of digging into a story about a man like Gary Webb, also made Renner more respectful about the field of investigative journalism in general. In an age when so people have uncovered stories that challenge people’s faith in government, the actor said, “This film is coming out at a great time, in my opinion. I want to stress this is not so much about villian-izing the people involved in Iran-Contra and covering up what they did, but I think it’s more about celebrating investigative reporting. It shows how much we need it. We need it today more than ever!

“If a reporter is getting pushed back from people he’s going after, chances are there’s a big reason their pushing back, and likely have something they want to hide.”

That said, Renner pointed out that even though this film takes place in the mid-1990s, so much more is available to investigators today than even 10 or 15 years ago. “The technology that’s out there today is so much better. With the internet and social media, it’s much harder for people to hide things. It would be interesting to see how Gary’s story would have developed back then, if he had the technology available to reporters today.”

While Renner strongly believes in the need for investigative journalism and the need to constantly shine a light on those in positions of power, he’s not so sure it would have been the right career for him, if he hadn’t chosen to be an actor.

“I enjoyed playing Gary Webb, but I don’t know if I have the tenacity or the perseverance to be a reporter like he was. It was fascinating to jump into that world and into his shoes for a time, but I don’t think I could do it for real.”

Renner chuckled as he mused about a comparison between the life of an actor and that of an investigative reporter.

“As actors we’re often so selfish. It’s often all about you, which is really kind of awful. Investigative reporting on the other hand is very selfless. To be exposed to that world gives you a certain perspective on life — and that is good.”

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