Jeremy Renner is earning his action man stripes in Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, released in cinemas on Monday, December 26. The actor talks about death-defying stunts and how he'll cope with the attention from his next project, replacing Matt Damon in The Bourne Legacy.

By Kate Whiting.

There's a moment in the new Mission: Impossible film where, just after they've survived being shot by Russians as their car plunges into a river, Jeremy Renner says to Tom Cruise: "It's really happening isn't it?"

The line could equally describe his career.

Just as Renner's character Brandt learns to be a field agent from Cruise's Ethan Hunt, so too is The Hurt Locker star beginning to earn his blockbusting action man stripes.

Next year sees him starring in The Avengers and taking over from Matt Damon in the fourth film in the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy, so it helped that he got to learn from the best in the business when it came to stunts.

"I think he might have an iron stomach or something - he's fearless," says Renner of his co-star. "He really set a high bar in how to approach a movie like this.

"Its like being a 14-year-old boy in the back yard playing. When do you get to do this as an adult? The opportunities are amazing! It was really, really fun," he adds, grey eyes gleaming.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol sees lone wolf Hunt forced to work as part of a team. When a bomb goes off at the Kremlin, the Impossible Missions Force are blamed and the President initiates 'Ghost Protocol', effectively making the agency defunct. Without any resources, Hunt has to try and clear the agency's name and prevent a nuclear attack, while leading a group of fellow IMF fugitives whose motives aren't entirely clear.

Hunt is particularly suspicious of Renner's character Brandt, an analyst pen-pusher with some rather surprising skills: "There's definite friction between the two characters and it does get heated," says Renner, cryptically, refusing to give away anything more.

The big budget film took the cast, which includes Simon Pegg reprising the role of Benji Dunn from the third film, all around the world, from Russia to India, via Dubai.

Having made his name - and been Oscar nominated - for his performance as a bomb disposal expert in Kathryn Bigelow's film The Hurt Locker, 40-year-old Renner was wowed by the epic quality of making an action movie: "The scale of what we were doing was huge, there were so many people on this film! It was a small city essentially, travelling around the world, shooting this thing."

Renner watched in awe as Cruise pulled off his most spectacular stunt to date at the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, as Hunt scales the outside of the 828m building using suction powered 'gecko gloves'.

Compared to that scene, Renner's later stunt where he throws himself down a fan shaft must have seemed a doddle.

"You know, I figured anything I was doing was a fraction of what Tom was up to, so when I was watching him do his stuff I shut up, listened and learned," he says, grinning.

The team of four, completed by Paula Patton as Agent Jane Carter, all had to endure months of training with a stunt co-ordinator to build themselves up for the fight scenes, which proved invaluable for Renner, as he was preparing to take up the baton from Matt Damon as the lead actor in the next Bourne film.

Although called The Bourne Legacy, it won't actually feature Damon's character Jason Bourne. Instead, Renner reportedly plays Aaron Cross, an operative from a covert Government programme, even more deadly than the brainwashing Treadstone which Bourne went through.

"We treated the job of doing stunts as if we were athletes - we would ice our bodies like football players do.

"You have to be really on top of your game physically, just so you don't get injured, because that can get very expensive for the production if you have to shut something down because you get hurt.

"Tom got me on a really great programme to stay in shape, but more importantly, he taught me how not to get injured. That was the best advice I got from him, which continued on all the way down to Bourne."

As hard as he tried, there were inevitably knocks and bruises.

"Oh you get banged up!" he laughs stoically. "If you don't get banged up then you aren't working hard enough! When you're in a lot of fights, swinging [punches] and getting thrown to the ground 15, 20 times in a row, you get hurt. You just have to keep going."

Renner was hand-picked by producer Cruise and director Brad Bird, for whom MI4 was a change from his work on Oscar-winning animations The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

He went to meet them at the imposing Paramount offices in LA.

"There was no script, so they had to talk me through the movie and what the part was all about. During the meeting, I think I tuned out. Their mouths were just moving and I was sitting there thinking, 'This is so awesome, I'm in a room with Brad Bird, Tom Cruise and thinking about doing this movie'

"And they're like, 'Yeah, it's going to be great' and I said, 'Yes, it sounds great, now I'm outta here, see you guys later'. Then I called Tom about 15 minutes later and said, 'Yes, of course I'd like to do it'."

It seems 2012 is going to be the actor's year, as he's playing bounty hunter Hansel alongside Gemma Arterton's Gretel in March, and Hawkeye in The Avengers in April, before he stars as Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy.

But he's humble about his burgeoning career.

"I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know what the reaction's going to be. But I'm having a good time doing them, that's for sure. I'm certainly not abandoning what I've done in the past - I'll always continue to do small, interesting movies, that's important to me."

More roles are bound to come piling in, but now, he just wants to have a holiday.

"I'm going to do five movies in a row, so I want to take a break and get some footing back to have the energy to go out and do the next job. It stresses me out to think far ahead and Mission is the most important thing to me right now.

"There are loads of things I'd like to do. I'd like to go fishing! I'd like to sit and eat a hamburger and do nothing! But we'll see what comes..."

Extra time - Jeremy Renner :: Jeremy Lee Renner was born on January 7, 1971 in Modesto, California.

:: His first film role was in 1995's National Lampoon's Senior Trip.

:: He received Oscar nominations for his performances in Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker and earlier this year for Ben Affleck's thriller The Town.

:: He's reportedly not in a relationship at present, and has been quoted as saying he's too busy for a girlfriend.

:: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is released on Monday, December 26