MANILA, Philippines – Jeremy Renner must be exhausted these days.

You could say that two-time Academy Award nominee (Best Actor for 2009’s “Hurt Locker” and Best Supporting Actor for 2010’s “The Town”) has been giving his acting chops quite a workout. Then recently, Renner has discovered new sides to his acting persona.

Midway through 2011, Renner unleashed his inner avenger and had a cameo in “Thor.” Jumping on the superhero bandwagon—by way of Marvel Universe, no less—Renner plays Hawkeye, whose very short  “Thor” appearance is just a teaser for his character’s full debut in 2012’s “The Avengers.”

But before he gets busy putting his superhero skills to go use, Renner takes on the impossible with no less than Tom Cruise, appearing alongside the Hollywood A-Lister in the upcoming “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” As Renner has found out, being in a film with Cruise is no walk in the park.

Cruise (who reprises his Ethan Hunt role) seems to have a death wish and prefers to do his own death-defying stunts—including climbing the side of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. “And he pushes you to do it, too,” Renner relates incredulously.

“There was the opportunity to do so many things physically that I’ve never done. I had to get into really, really great shape and I was doing Filipino Stick Fighting—and I didn’t know what that was—and Muay Thai. I’m doing it for five hours a day, fighting, training and then doing all this stuff on a wire,” he shares.

Despite having no experience with wirework, Renner recalls learning a lot and having a blast on location. “[Burj Khalifa] is twice the size of The Empire State [building],” he exclaims.

“It’s surrounded by proper skyscrapers with 70 floors—there’s a lot of big skyscrapers ‘round there—but they look like a little model of the city down below you. It’s the craziest, craziest thing and [quite an] amazing view. I hear they’re building one that’s going to be bigger than that in Saudi Arabia! Jeez is it high up there! It’s pretty spectacular.”

It is fortunate, then, that he isn’t afraid of heights. “That itself ain’t a big deal: it’s like standing on this coffee table and looking down. [But] if the fear of death starts creeping in and some jerk wants to play a joke on you, give you a little shove — that’s what I’m afraid of,” he relates.

When hanging out the side of a tall building exposed “pretty much to my lower groin” and having to catch Tom Cruise, the issue of trust becomes paramount.

“I’m connected by a belt with a wire and all I have to do is trust this wire is not going to break, this belt’s not going to come off,” Renner recalls. “Doing that the first time was a bit nauseating for about 30 seconds. After taking deep breaths, and triple-checking, quadruple-checking my wire is safe, [it became] like, ‘Woo, this is awesome!’”

According to Renner, Cruise—who is also a producer in the film—has set “a really high bar that challenged me as an actor and as an athlete: he got me into a really great physical program that obviously he’s been on, got me in the right mind set to be able to do the things I needed to do.

He would bend over backwards, do anything for any of his actors to make this the best experience.”

He likewise extols Cruise’s “collaborative” and “inclusive” nature, and describes him as “really, really gregarious and generous with his time; he just makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room.”

With director Brad Bird at the helm, Renner describes the movie as such: “I certainly felt like there’s a lot of ‘The Incredibles’ in this movie. You know, that’s a tremendous piece of cinema. And you definitely feel like you can take that, and the last ‘Mission: Impossible,’ and maybe a little ‘Ratatouille’ and throw [all] that against the wall then you get ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.’”

Renner is currently shooting “The Bourne Legacy” through to February 2012, replacing Matt Damon as Jason Bourne.

Comparing “Mission” to “Bourne,” he points out, “They’re very, very different pieces of cinema, both meant to entertain. ‘Mission’ is a bit more fun, more smiles in it… it’s a popcorn movie.”

Renner has indeed busted out of the character actor mold and thrown himself into these strong franchises. How he hasn’t collapsed doing a string of movies with physically demanding roles is impressive.

He says with a laugh, “I mean, how could you say no to these movies?!”

And adds, “If I want to do a big movie, these are the movies I want to do, and I got lucky… As long as I can make it honest and truthful and challenge the material—it’s got to be three-dimensional characters or I’m not interested.

I feel like all these movies are. I hope there’s humanness [that audiences can] connect to [with], that’s all that really matters.

“And the fun part comes when you get to see the result of it. I got to see ‘Mission’ for the first time and my mouth was wide open,” he says.

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” opens locally on Dec. 15.

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