After much anticipation, the fourth title in the Bourne series has finally arrived, with The Bourne Legacy hitting cinema screens on Monday, August 13. Jeremy Renner is taking over from Matt Damon as the all-action lead, and reveals all about the spy-inspired way he was told about the role and why he almost turned it down.

By Susan Griffin

When Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass decided to step down from the phenomenally successful Bourne series, the question on everyone's lips was: Is this the end of Hollywood's coolest spy franchise?

The espionage films began a decade ago with Bourne being pulled unconscious from the sea in The Bourne Identity.

Over the course of two more films, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, audiences followed Bourne's journey as he discovered his own identity and the CIA mounted an increasingly desperate manhunt for their super-spy.

The trilogy earned almost one billion US dollars at the global box office with 443 million alone hauled from the last chapter but, while there was a thirst for more, the film-makers faced a conundrum if they wanted the story to move forward.

Bourne had gone public about the US government's intelligence programmes before disappearing off the radar at the end of the last film, so there had to be a new protagonist if the franchise was to continue.

Step forward Jeremy Renner, the 41-year-old Californian actor who plays new secret agent Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy.

"Aaron Cross is a guy who wants to fit in and be a part of something. He's completely the opposite of who Jason Bourne was," explains Renner, his 5ft 10in frame fitted in jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket.

"Bourne was just trying to find out who the hell he was, but Aaron Cross knows exactly who he is. He knows what he wants to do and that's being a part of this team."

Meanwhile, Tony Gilroy, the Bourne franchise screenwriter, sits in the director's chair vacated by Greengrass.

In this next chapter, Gilroy has pulled back the curtain to expose a darker layer of intrigue and audiences will discover there are actually a variety of intelligence programmes of which Bourne was only part of one.

As Renner explains: "This film just expands on the original concept. It's running parallel with the story of The Bourne Ultimatum, that's happening at the same time, so it really opened up the parameters and the perspective on what that universe is."

To say more than that would ruin the surprise the filmmakers have worked so carefully to keep a secret.

Renner even received the script in a suitably spy-like manner. "I was shooting Hansel and Gretel in Berlin and it was very secretive," he recalls.

"They didn't trust me enough to send it over so they literally flew somebody out.

"I got a knock on my door at midnight and this script slid in and they just said, 'Call me when you're done with it. You've got about two hours'."

He'd already had initial discussions with Gilroy, who'd reassured him he wasn't expected to play Jason Bourne.

"It was an instant 'no' if that was the case. Who wants to do that? Matt will always be Bourne," says Renner, but he admits there was still one area of concern.

"I had to consider what it would do to my personal life but creatively it had all the elements that I die to do at work."

Until 2008, the actor had enjoyed relative success in indie movies such as Dahmer, in which he played the notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and supporting roles in North Country with Charlize Theron and horror sequel 28 Weeks Later.

Then along came the Iraq war movie The Hurt Locker, followed by another Oscar-nominated role in Ben Affleck's The Town.

Now he's starring in huge action films like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol opposite Tom Cruise and Avengers Assemble with Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L Jackson. By his own admission, he feels "the luckiest guy around".

"It's nice to be able to work and it's even nicer when people see your work. When it turns out well and does well at the box office, it's even better. It's a wonderful feeling," says Renner who worked in theatre and television before making the move to film.

But he's relieved that immense fame came knocking in his late thirties rather than his teens.

"I've been working for 20-odd years in this industry and you just have a different skill set, I suppose.

"You have a greater sense of self, so I'm glad that any recognition's happened a little bit later on in my life."

And though he might be in the upper age bracket of movie action stars, he's fitter than ever, having just finished playing Hawkeye in Avengers Assemble when he began work on The Bourne Legacy.

"I was probably in even better shape for Aaron because I just had more time to train," he says.

And given the adrenaline-pumped action sequences the Bourne films are renowned for, he had to be in peak condition. "I had to do things that couldn't be faked, like the fighting," he says.

Then there's the scene where Cross is practically walking up a vertical wall. "We had to do that about 20 times or so. It got exhausting. I think they ended up using the second take," he laughs.

Ever game for a challenge, a bare-chested Renner even dunked himself into the icy waters of the Canadian Rockies for the film's opening sequence.

"You can't prepare for freezing temperatures and I remember the water and the beard as I came out was frozen by the time I got to shore."

But it wasn't the fighting, or the ice, or that proved his biggest challenge, it was shooting an incredible motorbike chase through the streets of Manila.

It wouldn't have been so bad, he says, but he had co-star Rachel Weisz on the back.

"That made me, not hesitant, I was just very concerned. I didn't want to hurt her," says Renner, himself a motorbike enthusiast. "That was the only thing I was terrified of."

Renner says he'd "love" to do another Bourne movie if this one does well but there's plenty to keep him busy in the meantime - renovating houses, for example.

"It's been a part of my life for a long time and I don't plan on giving it up. These are homes and lifestyles that I help provide for people," he says.

He also has his new production company The Combine, through which he hopes to produce and star in a biopic of the late actor Steve McQueen.

"Instead of just being the painter, painting the house, now I'm a guy contracting the house. That's what producing a movie is like, having a little bit more say in the matter," he says.

"I think there's a great pipeline for amazing cinema that doesn't mean 150 million dollar massive franchises and I'm willing to put in the legwork for it."

Not that he minds the odd franchise, obviously. Aside from The Avengers and Bourne, there's talk of him taking part in Mission Impossible 5.

"That's news to me sister! I don't know anything about that." He's laughing but his blue, wide-set eyes are giving nothing away.

You sense it would take the skill set of Aaron Cross to delve any deeper.

Extra time - Behind the scenes

:: While writing the script, Tony Gilroy travelled the world looking for locations he could write into the film.

:: Filming panned South Korea, Canada and south-east Asia while the movie's stage work was shot in Queens, New York.

:: Renner wears a fake beard in the snow scenes as growing one would have put shooting out of sequence.

:: The opening scene is a deliberate echo of the one in The Bourne Identity.

:: The stunt driver used during part of the Manila motorbike chase is the same one used to drive the Bat Pod in the Batman movies.

:: The Bourne Legacy is released on Monday, August 13