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Jeremy Lee Renner was born in Modesto, California, the son of Valerie (Tague) and Lee Renner, who managed a bowling alley. After a tumultuous yet happy childhood with his four younger siblings, Renner graduated from Beyer High School and attended Modesto Junior College. He explored several areas of study, including computer science, criminology, and psychology, before the theater department, with its freedom of emotional expression, drew him in.
However, Renner recognized the potential in acting as much through the local police academy as through drama classes. During his second year at Modesto Junior College, Renner role-played a domestic disturbance perpetrator as part of a police-training exercise for an easy $50. Deciding to shift his focus away from schoolwork, Renner left college and moved to San Francisco to study at the American Conservatory Theater. From there he moved to Hawaii and, in 1993, to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, Renner devoted himself to theater, most notably starring in and co-directing the critically acclaimed "Search and Destroy." He pursued other projects during this time as well, landing his first film role in 1995's Senior Trip (1995). After several commercials and supporting roles in television movies and series, Renner captured the attention of critics with his gripping, complex portrayal of the infamous serial killer in the 2002 film Dahmer (2002). Renner's performance, which earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination, is especially remarkable for painting a humane and sympathetic, yet deeply disturbing, portrait of the title character.
In 2003, Renner took a break from small indie films to work on his first commercially successful movie, S.W.A.T. (2003), with Colin Farrell. In 2005, he played the leading role in Neo Ned (2005) as an institutionalized white supremacist in love with a black girl, winning the Palm Beach International Film Festival's best actor award. Renner's pivotal supporting roles in 2005's 12 and Holding (2005) and North Country (2005) earned him accolades from critics, and his 2007 turn in Take (2007) garnered him the best actor award at California's Independent Film Festival. Also in 2007, Renner played a leading role in the horror film 28 Weeks Later (2007) as well as a supporting role in the underrated Western epic The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), with Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt, and Sam Rockwell.