Jeremy Renner Talks Recovery, Muscle, Grit, and Mayor of Kingston

“BREATHE.”

She says this to the man as he bench-presses what feels like a Buick, his face scrunched, spittle flying through his pursed lips, his biceps and pectorals bulging. When she lets loose that single word—Breathe—he forces out a thundering exhale, then sucks back in, inhaling all the air in the neighborhood. She knows when to tell him to breathe. She knows how important it is for him, and when she says “Breathe” she doesn’t scream it at him like a football coach. She says it just loud enough for him to hear over his grunts, and over Dua Lipa on the Bluetooth. (His daughter’s playlist, always.) A command, but gentle.

She runs a gym in town, Amp Fitness, but comes here to the four-car garage of his rented McMansion to train him four days a week, sometimes five. And the garage is triiiiicked out. Power Plate Rev bike and Move vibration platform, full rack of Hampton free weights, hyperbaric oxygen chamber, two Weider adjustable dumbbells, something called a glute-ham developer, and various other machines, bands, straps, weights, and balls.

All for him.

preview for Jeremy Renner | Gym & Fridge

And Cat? The one telling him to breathe? She’s the most important part of this makeshift gym. A sprite in black spandex, five and a half feet tall, maybe a hundred pounds with the ponytail, could kick your ass. She knows what happened to his body. He’s been here in this house in Sewickley, where the Pittsburgh money lives, for almost five months. He arrived in early January, one year after the accident, and Cat Cantella has been here almost every day with him, whenever he can fit training in his shooting schedule.

The man being told to breathe is Jeremy Renner, and he’s here doing season 3 of Mayor of Kingstown, his white-knuckle show about a good man running a mean town and the hope and failure and compromise and faith and fear that fuel his daily survival. Renner is the whole show, in almost every scene of every episode, and he needs energy, he needs strength, he needs his hips and ankles and elbows to move the way they should. He’s always had a charming, herky-jerky way about him that makes him irresistible to watch: He cocks his head, tugs at his lapels, swaggers in his walk. But his body is different now. The first day of shooting, January 8, 2024—one year and seven days after the accident—he was filming a scene and found himself walking on ice wearing dress shoes, and he nearly wiped out. He thought seriously about calling off the whole damn shoot and going home.

jeremy renner breaker

WHEN THE ACCIDENT happened, there was no breathing at all.

He and his nephew were clearing snow from the driveway on New Year’s Day, a brilliant Nevada morning. Inside, his nine-year-old daughter and a shitload of cousins and the rest of the family were getting ready to go skiing. He stepped down from the cab of the 14,000-pound PistenBully snow groomer. When you’re a movie star with Renner’s success and wealth—six Marvel movies; two Academy Award nominations, for The Hurt Locker (2008) and The Town (2010)—and you’re a DIY kind of person, you own a couple of these and a bunch of other machines to help clear the 30 to 60 feet of snow that falls each winter. He needed to talk to his nephew, who was standing in front of the machine next to a pickup truck they had just pulled out of the snow. As they shouted back and forth trying to figure out how to maneuver the rigs, the PistenBully rolled forward. Renner, in a nanosecond judgment call, tried to jump back up into the cab to shut it down. But the groomer operates on huge tank treads, and they were moving, and his foot got caught. The massive treads pulled his body under the machine’s weight.

And:

“It undulates, because there’s four sections of tires with these metal tracks—it pulls it like a tank. I remember every undulation. I remember my head cracking on the thing and it just pressing on me—it’s exactly like you think it would feel. An immovable object and a crushing force, and something’s gotta give. But thank God my skull didn’t fully give. And then it kept going. Undulate, undulate, undulate, undulate. Cheekbone broke, eye socket broke, and then from the crushing of getting run over by the machine, my eye bulged out. I could see my left eyeball with my right eyeball. I was screaming for a breath. I needed to shove all my energy of air out just so I could suck air back in. There was no breathing happening. It was a muscle I had to use to press, and it’s hard to use your stomach muscles when you have 14 broken ribs and a popped lung. I don’t know this at the time—I just needed to get air. I was going through the checklist of my body, figuring it the fuck out. The first five minutes were about how I’m going to breathe. Then after maybe ten minutes, my neighbors are there, they called 911, and I got my nephew to hold my arm in a position where—because apparently my ribs are jabbing me and poking my lung. Mind you, my leg was twisted up like a pretzel—didn’t feel that shit! I’m thinking, Ooo, shit, that’s gonna hurt later. Ooo, that’s my eyeball—that’s kinda weird! I’m like, Shit, I wonder if this breathing trouble is just a cramp. Let me just get this breathing right, and then I can go tell the family we’re not going skiing today. But then I started getting really tired. My heart rate’s going lower, lower, lower. Huooohohh, huooohohh, just this exhaustive breathing for 45 minutes. But with the exhaustion there was almost peace. The EMTs arrived and I thought, I have to give my body up to them, because I’m cooked. I’m not getting up. These aren’t just cramps. I’m not gonna walk back down the driveway to see my family.”

jeremy renner tank by jung maven shorts by abercrombie fitch

Benedict Evans

Renner’s voice catches in his throat.

“I’m not gonna take my daughter skiing today. Or all the kids that were waiting for me. I can’t kid myself anymore. I have to give it up and just focus on breathing. Focus on breathing. Focus on breathing.”

Renner’s neighbor who had called 911 watched the EMTs working. There was blood on the snow under Renner’s body. The man could see Renner trying to breathe, wheezing and moaning, slower and slower, and then not seeming to breathe at all. The one eye closed.

That was when, the man told Renner later, “you went away.”

He remembers only shards of the next hours and days: fragments of the helicopter ride, switching from one room in the ICU to another, hearing the words “life support.” Six days in the first ICU, six days in the next. “What a fucking disaster, dude. Showering, going to the bathroom—everything was a disaster,” he says. “Whooooooooo! They give you medications so you don’t go to the bathroom, so you get constipated. And you pee in a jar. It was awful. That’s when you know things aren’t going great—you’re peeing in a plastic jug. It took me 17 minutes to get out of bed. I was happy to sometimes sit up and push myself into a chair and move a little bit. But a shower—everything took like half a day. I couldn’t get stuff wet. Your hair gets super greasy and gross and you stink, but I had all these staples I couldn’t wet, and I wasn’t going to fucking risk infection. So I had sponge baths.”

“My heart rate’s going LOWER, LOWER, LOWER. Huooohohh, huooohohh, just this EXHAUSTIVE BREATHING for 45 minutes.”

Months later, Renner would text a doctor friend a list of his injuries:

Broken bones: total count 38+

Ribs – 6 broken ribs in 14 places

Pelvis – 3 breaks in lower pelvis

Right Knee – 1 Hoffa Break in Femur, displaced distal femur, 3 screws inserted

Right ankle broken 1 – 2 long screws put in boot for walking – WB ok

Left leg – Tibia broken – 1 rod put down leg. boot for left leg to wear in bed to keep neutral. NWB – non weight bearing

Left ankle broken – 1 – 2 screws in ankle and for walking

Right clavicle broken – 1

Right shoulder blade cracked – 1

Face – eye socket, jaw, mandible broken – 3 breaks: rubber bands and soft foods

Hand – left broken. 1 Fracture is slight and splint needed. Option for surgery was declined by Jeremy and doctor agreed with choice to let self heal

Wrist – 1 left wrist fracture

Left toes – 3 breaks – 2 middle toes broken and 1 left side of foot cracked.

Other:

Lung – Collapsed and bruised lung

Liver – Pierced from rib bone

Head – major laceration back of head is stapled shut

Ear drum – right ear can’t hear

Knee – major strain to right knee (unknown extent)

Eye – contusion and impact to left eye

jeremy renner breaker

“I HAVE TO get better than I was today. That’s all that fucking matters. I’m not setting a high bar here.”

This is what he does, how he thinks. He devises ways to view his situation from unexpected angles, angles that might be helpful to him. He thinks his way out of thoughts, changes his point of view, trains his brain to take left turns. His father was a theologian who also ran a bowling alley where Renner grew up, in Modesto, California. He introduced Renner to all kinds of religions. (“I tried ’em all. I was in the tent with snakes. I was at Mormon summer camps. Little bit of everything. It’s not for me, but at least I got all that information.”) Renner studied psychology and theater, and he remembers the concept of fear being a significant part of both disciplines. He spent years writing down specific fears—success, intimacy, loss, sharks, heights, whatever—then exposed himself to each one in an attempt to crush it. “I made them tangible so I could own them and they wouldn’t own me,” he says. He earned a master scuba-diving license and swam with sharks, that kind of thing.

Loss was a big one. The earliest was probably when he was about 12 and a young cousin died from crib death. He lost three aunts and uncles to cancer in their late 30s and 50s. Loss was always a fear on Renner’s list of fears, until it wasn’t. “I realized you can’t fear loss,” he says. “You can mourn loss. You should fear not being able to mourn loss. If you don’t feel bad after the loss, then you didn’t spend the time to connect with the person. Shoulda, woulda, coulda—fear that. Dive more into people. Love them fully. Don’t dip your toe in shit.”

jeremy renner has a full gym at the house he is renting in sewickley pennsylvania where he is filming season 3 of mayor of kingstown he works out daily with trainer cat cantella and walks and runs as often as possible tank by jung maven shorts by abercrombie fitch sneakers by brooks running

Benedict Evans

jeremy renner has a full gym at the house he is renting in sewickley pennsylvania where he is filming season 3 of mayor of kingstown he works out daily with trainer cat cantella and walks and runs as often as possible tank by jung maven shorts by abercrombie fitch sneakers by brooks running

Benedict Evans

This is what he does, how he thinks. “The only thing we can control in our lives is our perspective” is a bit of Buddhism that has become a mantra for him since the accident. He says it all the time—in this interview, in his new campaign for Brooks running shoes (the man doctors said would never walk again has a campaign for running shoes), to anyone who asks how he’s pulling off his improbable recovery.

The answer he’s come up with—to the incessant questions about how he’s doing it—is that it’s for his family, for his friends (all of the Avengers among them) who surrounded him, and for the strangers around the world who sent him notes and cards and Instagram Stories.

“When I got conscious, my family was there, squeezing my toes and shit. I woke up and they’re all at the foot of the bed, and I signed that I was sorry. I said give me a pencil—I was fully intubated, got the giant hose in me—I wrote, ‘Holy fuck. I’m so sorry. I love you all so much.’ Seemed like a weird thing to say, but that was the driving energy of me waking in the first place, brother.”

Renner is the oldest of seven children. There are always kids everywhere, and aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. He woke up feeling he owed them—for not being able to take the kids skiing that day, for making them worry, for a lot of things. It’s hard to explain. “I can say I’m fuckin’ sorry, and they know what I mean. They’re just as gangster for me as I would be for them,” he says loudly. “They’ll murder people for me, my family. I got a stronnnnng, deep-love-running family, and it’s even deeper now. We have a big, big, big, big family on both sides. It’s giant. Too many presents to give. I don’t even know all their fuckin’ names. No joke. I’m like, Who the fuck’s this one? And so, fuckin’, I’m not letting anybody get hurt on my watch. That’s why I put my fuckin’ own life on the line for my nephew. I’m not gonna let that thing fucking crush him! Fuck. That. Not happening. I couldn’t live with that. If it was the other way around, if I didn’t get back on that thing and then it crushed him? [He shakes his head, sounds almost pissed off.] Mm-mmm. I would not be a good man right now. I would not be a good man. I’d be fucking haunted. Can you imagine? But also, I didn’t do it knowing I’d get hurt, man. I figured, No problem, I got this. I’ll just dive across these tracks, shut off a button, piece of cake!

“I’d rather GO TO JAIL WITH ROBERT DOWNEY JR. than go do something AMAZING BY MYSELF.”

About the Avengers: Renner’s time playing Hawkeye in the MCU will always be a defining experience for him, more as a human than as an actor. Anthony Mackie visited the hospital within days of the accident, when Renner was still on life support and could see only out of his right eye. Paul Rudd came. Sam Rockwell came. Robert Downey Jr. FaceTimed him repeatedly, joking that it didn’t matter if Renner felt like shit, only that he looked great. The Avengers actors truly are as close as they seem to be on social media. “Oh, fuck yeah, it’s a real thing—it’s not just for Instagram. We fuckin’ hate that shit,” he says. “No, we have a family chat and have for a long time. When you work with people—look, we all went through a culturally significant experience together. And there’s divorces and marriages and babies; a lot of stuff happened in these 12 years. In the films, we look like we’re at a costume party, and there’s ridiculous props and we’re doing these ridiculous things, but it’s also beautiful because we’re all connected. There’s a brotherhood or sisterhood or whatever the heck you want to call it. I just call it love. I love every one of them. I’d rather go to jail with Downey than go do something amazing by myself. I’d rather get in a car crash with Evans.”

jeremy renner breaker

“BITCH ASS BITCHES!”

Renner laughs as he yells this across the garage to Cantella. He’s just finished a set of punishing biceps curls with 50-pound dumbbells. (Those would be the bitch-ass bitches.) He and Cantella are jamming through the workout. “Four months of abuse,” he says, play-punching her in the shoulder. “Physical, mental, emotional. But I feel great and I look great!”

It always starts with at least 30 minutes of stretching, because his hips and knees and ankles still need help achieving and maintaining enough flexibility to do things like, you know, walk. Every morning when he wakes up, he makes an espresso in his Jura coffee machine, the kind with a screen and you just press “Espresso”—one of the few items in the McMansion that belong to him, that he made sure to bring. (Another being an electric piano for when his daughter, Ava, visits.) He takes the espresso out to the garage, puts on a red-light mask that sends infrared light deep into his facial tissue (for skin health), and sits on a Syedee machine that looks like a torture device from a medieval prison: a seat, close to the floor, legs spread in front of him. He hand-cranks a wheel in the crotch that slowly increases the angle of his leg-spread, wider, wider, wider, and while he’s doing this he is jamming a Power Plate Pulse—it looks like a handheld drill, but where the drill bit would be there’s a metal nub vibrating fiercely—into his hips, his inner thighs, his outer thighs, his glutes. It freaking kills—again, he’s jamming a vibrating metal nub into his leg with all his strength. And he is drinking the espresso and enjoying the red-light mask. Every morning. First thing, before playing the mayor of Kingstown for the next eight hours.

“And even still, on the car ride to work, I can cramp up again,” he says. “Then I get there and sit in the makeup chair for another 45 minutes—cramp up again.”

jeremy renner as mike mclusky in episode 1 season 3 of mayor of kingstown streaming on paramount, 2024 credit dennis p mong jrparamount

Dennis P. Mong Jr. / Paramount+

Renner’s gritty portrayal of Mike McLusky drives Mayor of Kingston, and he says season three is the best yet because he’s more emotional.

l r derek webster as stevie and jeremy renner as mike mclusky in episode 1, season 3 of mayor of kingstown streaming on paramount photo credit dennis p mong jrparamount

Dennis P. Mong Jr. / Paramount+

Kingstown is a nasty opera telling the intersecting stories of people looking out for themselves. At the center is Mike McLusky (Renner), a kind of fixer who looks out for everyone but himself while back-channeling every problem in town. He’s hard and cold and doesn’t smile, and everyone comes to him.

That first day this season, they were in a cemetery and it didn’t get above 40 degrees. “That’s when the joints lock up a lot easier,” he says. “I was pretty fucking fragile when we started on January 8. We’re walking around on ice, and I have no energy. I was falling asleep. But I think it’ll be the best season yet because of it. Don’t get me wrong, Mike’s still Mike—he’s still the guy you want as your friend. But it’s more emotional, because I’m more emotional. Because, dude, the last thing I wanted to do—to be honest with you, I almost pulled shoot and doing this show—was fiction. Like, Oh wait, I don’t give a shit about fiction! Bullshit words and bullshit stories and bullshit character. It’s all bullshit. I gotta live in real reality here, because these bones and these joints—and I gotta go say fake lines and fake words and pretend to be . . . what? I got no time to fucking pretend, man! So here’s how I shifted it, because I only have control of my perspective: I’m coming to Pittsburgh to recover in my body and get better every fucking day, and I’m gonna do this show on the side. Instead of it being the other way around.”

jeremy renner breaker

HE IS SITTING on a couch in the basement of the Sewickley rental. A family of ten could live down here. There are just two days left of shooting on Kingstown, tomorrow and the next day. No idea what his call time is tomorrow. (“We’ll worry about that tomorrow.”) He’s finished his workout for the day and wears a white V-neck T-shirt, blue sweatpants, and white sneakers. In his hand: a bottled protein drink.

“Look, I’m 53. I’m on the downslide of trying to gain muscle,” he says, feet up on the coffee table. “You get atrophy, testosterone level’s at 300, no growth hormone in me at all—everything’s going on a downslide. Protein helps with the muscles, so I’m on a higher-protein diet. The more strength I have, the more energy I have to keep going. People ask how. How do you do this? You just put in the work, man. Love yourself; be confident in yourself. How do you find confidence? You take one step, then you take another step, and then guess what, Hot Sauce? You’re walking! You know what I mean? You breathe out, then you breathe in, then you breathe out. Well now you’re breathing!”

jeremy rennertank by jung maven shorts by abercrombie fitch

Benedict Evans

When something happens to you like what happened to Jeremy Renner, you feel people looking at you differently. They look at you as if you have some knowledge they don’t have, some wisdom they can’t fathom. And the truth is, you probably do, but it feels weird—people complimenting your strength, asking questions about “how,” examining your answers for some secret to life. Survivors don’t have secrets. There aren’t any. But they can choose to change something about themselves after whatever happened—after the snowcat accident, the child vanished by crib death, the cancer before 60, the fill-in-your-blank.

What changed for Renner? For one thing, he wasn’t so great at receiving love before all this.

“I’m a tough guy to love, I think?” he says, ending the sentence in a question. “And I think my family and people put all that aside. There’s a lot of people that love me. And I had no idea. I had to learn how to receive all this love, and it’s not easy. From people you don’t even know, even. Why is this accident such a thing? But then I said, Fuck, stop asking why. Just receive it. I was famous for having a bow and arrow; now I’m famous for overcoming something as a man.”

There is one last thing, though. He pretty much died out in the snow, went on life support, and remembers it. What does he remember about dying?

“Oh, God. I’m NOT having another BAD DAY EVER, dude.”

“Let this body die. Trust me: It was way better being out of it. Being dead,” he says, roaring in a laugh. “But I’m glad I’m here, and I’m going to keep feeding what you take with you: those shared experiences with those you love. It’s eternal, and you take it with you. It’s connected. There’s no time, place, or space. It’s magnificent. It’s the mind’s eye. Not your vision. You don’t need vision—you’re dead. Vision is part of the stupid body thing. But the mind’s eye you take with you. You see in your mind—that’s being dead. That’s what it’s like being dead. What you can visualize with your eyes closed. It’s awesome. It’s awesome! And by the way, everyone’s in it! It’s what your imagination is. It was joy. It was exhilarating peace. Exhilarating peace. You’re connected to everything all at once. All the love from the third-grade teacher you fell in love with to the everything all at once. All that’s there. Continual. Perpetual. In perpetuity. It’s infinite. It’s magnificent.”

He laughs again, drinks the drink, wipes his lips, wipes his whole face with his once-broken hand.

“Oh, God. I’m not having another bad day ever, dude.”

He looks over at me and doesn’t talk for a good couple of minutes, which is a long time. He just inhales deeply through his nose, exhales through his mouth. Breathes in, breathes out. In, out. In, out. Continual. Perpetual. Infinite.

Breathe.

jeremy renner mens health cover july august 2024

Benedict Evans


Fashion direction: Ted Stafford
Styling: Melissa Yancey
Styling assistance: Lindsay Mayfield
Hair: Kimi Messina
Makeup: Tracy Ewell
Production: Reese Randall
Executive Producer/Director: Dorenna Newton
DP: Daymon Long
Cam Op: Alden Roth
Sound: Chris Bell
Editor: Elyssa Aquino
AP: Carly Bivona
AP: Janie Booth


Get Jeremy’s look: Jung Maven tank; Abercrombie & Fitch shorts; Brooks Running sneakers; John Hardy for Todd Snyder necklace.


This article originally appears in the July/August 2024 issue of Men’s Health.

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