15 Things You Learn While Hanging Out With Armie Hammer

By
Photo: Amanda Demme

The words tumble out of Armie Hammer’s mouth so fast that sometimes they hit their mark before you realize what he’s even said. That attribute made Hammer perfect to play Oliver, the grad student who beguiles young Elio (Timothée Chalamet) in Luca Guadagnino’s Italian romance Call Me by Your Name, since his character often ducks out of every scene with a tossed-off “Later,” and leaves Elio behind to parse everything said and unsaid between them. It also means that Hammer simply packs more words into every minute than anyone I’ve ever interviewed, and he told me plenty of great stories I just didn’t have room for in this week’s profile. Here, then, are 15 more of them.

1. He made a crazy election bet with Luca Guadagnino.
Yes, we’re all familiar with the time that Armie Hammer expertly ethered James Woods on Twitter, but for my money, Hammer’s most cutting clapback came last November. Shortly after Donald Trump’s election victory, a frustrated Hammer tweeted, “Our new president elect is the man the KKK endorsed. I’m going to bed.” The next morning, a random twitter user by the name of “bobokoko2” replied, “He didn’t seek their endorsement, nor did he embrace it. Quit changing the narrative to fit your political view.” Mere minutes later, Hammer wrote back, “What part of the narrative did I change? They did endorse him. Adjust your hood so you can see better.”

Adjust. Your hood. So you can see better.

With that terse tweet in mind, I had to ask Hammer what he was going through on Election Night. “I was officially depressed,” he said. “It was as depressing as anything I’d ever seen, and I’ve been more depressed since.” Making matters worse was that he had made a “way too big” bet with his Call Me by Your Name director about the election’s outcome, and he found himself on the losing end: “That was rough. My whole reasoning for taking the bet with Luca was, ‘We’re not at that place as a country. I know we’ve got our problems, but it’s not possible that we’re that bad.’ And boy, have I been proven wrong!”

So what were the terms of the bet that Guadagnino and Hammer had made? If Hillary Clinton won, as Hammer had been certain she would, then Guadagnino would have to fly Hammer to the city of his choosing, put him up at a beautiful hotel for a few days, and join him for dinner in that city’s best restaurant. When Trump won, as the more fatalistic Guadagnino had predicted, Hammer found himself unable to finance that same prize for his director. “I was like, ‘Let me be honest with you, I cannot afford to do this bet right now. I just can’t! I’ve only done small movies for the last few years. It would literally bankrupt me, and I need to buy diapers tomorrow.’” Hammer has since bartered Guadagnino down to a Hermès sommelier set, which still costs a pretty penny: “I have now learned why they say, ‘Don’t make bets with Sicilians.’”

2. There’s one topic Hammer has never broached with his director.
Hammer and Guadagnino told me about their intense bond while filming Call Me by Your Name, which Hammer described as “falling in love.” What was it about Guadagnino that he so responded to? “In all honesty, I’ve never met a more astute student of human emotion,” said Hammer. “The complexity and duality within every human, he just gets it. He’s just a fucking genius, I don’t know.”

I’ve had conversations before with Guadagnino where he discusses actors, and it’s uncanny how well he can zero in on the locus of a star’s appeal, laying bare what makes that actor tick. It’s more than just a party trick: Guadagnino is simply that good at reading people. I wondered, then, if he had ever analyzed Hammer to his face. “I think he knows that if he would describe me to me, it would crush me,” Hammer said with a laugh. “He’s never even tried, and I’m so appreciative.”

3. Hammer didn’t meet Timothée Chalamet until they were both cast.
Though Call Me by Your Name lives or dies based on the connection Hammer has with his co-star, incredibly, he never did a chemistry read with Chalamet. In fact, the two actors only met once they were both in Italy to begin work on the film. “That might just be part of Luca’s genius,” said Hammer. “He said he just picked people who he loved, and knew that would be enough. As a control freak myself, that would scare the shit out of me.”

Fortunately, Hammer and Chalamet got along like gangbusters. “Timmy is, without a doubt, the most emotionally accessible human being I have ever come across in my life,” said Hammer. “You say something to him and you watch the entire thought process play out on his face. He is a completely open book, which is why you can end the movie on a seven-minute shot of just his face. I couldn’t do that!” Though Chalamet is just 21, Hammer said he more than held his own in their scenes. “I was as impressed with Timmy as a scene partner as I was with anyone I’ve ever done a scene with,” he said. “I know he’s going to be able to maintain that and foster that, and I can’t wait to see what he does as a performer.”

4. Hammer needed a creative muse for that dance scene.
As he made clear in our profile, Hammer wasn’t keen on filming Call Me by Your Name’s glorious dance scene. “Like any actor or artist, I definitely have my moments of feeling self-conscious,” said Hammer, who self-describes as “so gangly.” The fact that the scene was filmed without music — the Psychedelic Furs song “Love My Way” was added later, in postproduction — only exacerbated his embarrassment.

If Chalamet hadn’t been nearby, Hammer isn’t sure he could have shed his inhibitions. “He had to basically console me to help me get through the whole night,” said Hammer. “He’s so fucking free and open! When it was my coverage and he wasn’t even on shot, he would just be dancing over someone else, enjoying himself, having a good time. Watching him be so free every time, I was like, ‘Okay, that’s what this needs to be for me. This moment has to be a demonstration of Oliver really in his body, not worrying about anything and just letting himself go.’”

5. He’s game for a Call Me by Your Name sequel.
Since Hammer speaks so passionately about his experience shooting Call Me by Your Name, I asked him how he would feel if Guadagnino reunited the actors for a follow-up film, as the director has expressed interest in doing. “Anything he wants to do, I’m in,” said Hammer. “If it’s a sequel to this, that’s hilarious. I don’t know how you’d do it.” Hammer tossed out a few ideas for what could happen in the second film, mulling over whether they could expand the epilogue from André Aciman’s book that’s not used in the movie. Then he shook his head and pointed at a fruit plate on the table: “Whatever it’s about — it could even be a movie about this plate covered in limes — as long as it’s Luca, I would still love to do it.”

6. His great-grandfather may have been a Russian spy.
Hammer plays a Jewish character in Call Me by Your Name who wears his Star of David proudly. In real life, his father’s side of the family hails from Russian Jews, but to borrow a phrase from the film, they were “Jews of discretion” who didn’t advertise their affiliation. “It was always a big deal in my family that we were Russian, more so than anything else,” said Hammer, who has his last name inked in Russian on his wrist. “My great grandfather Armand was Jewish, but he didn’t even get his bar mitzvah. He was gonna be bar mitzvahed, and then he died the month before. That’s case in point of how it all kinda went.”

The great-grandfather Hammer is talking about, a globe-trotting oil tycoon who ran Occidental Petroleum Corporation until his death in 1990, was labeled by some biographers as a spy for Russia. I asked Hammer what he’d heard about the matter. “He was as much a Russian spy as he was an American spy,” he said. “He was the kind of person who went all over the world and had connections with all kinds of people, so it would be hard to imagine that when he got back to either America or Russia that someone didn’t come up to him and say, ‘Hey, can I ask you questions about what you saw?’ And I bet he was like, ‘Sure, if I can get this from you.’ He was a deal-maker.”

7. Hammer’s parents have quite the origin story.
I asked Hammer how his parents met, and I’ll let him tell the story in full for you, because it’s a very Armie Hammer story.

“They met on an airplane,” he told me, “but they weren’t supposed to be seated next to each other. It was more serendipitous than that. My dad was supposed to be on a flight, went to the airport, and got hammered and passed out. He missed his flight, woke up, and was like, ‘Oh God, I have a meeting!’ So he had to go to all the airlines and he got the last seat available on this tiny airline called Muse Air, which doesn’t even exist anymore. He’s tall — six-foot-two — and extremely claustrophobic, so after sitting in this middle seat for a while, he stood up and said, ‘I’m so sorry, everybody, but I really can’t do this. Is there anybody who might be willing to switch seats with me?’

“And the person next to my mom was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll switch seats with you.’ So he sat next to my mom, who was traveling with her boyfriend at the time, though he was asleep for the whole flight. After they’d been talking for a while and hitting it off, my dad was like, ‘Is that your boyfriend?’ And my mom said, ‘Nope.’ And that was how it all kind of started.”

8. At first, his acting career was a bust.
Hammer dropped out of high school in 11th grade to pursue acting. “I knew I wanted to make movies because it was the one thing I was obsessed with,” he said. Still, it took him a little while to get his career into gear. “My life mostly consisted of fucking around and not taking anything seriously, probably as a defense mechanism because if this didn’t work out, then what?” said Hammer, who was living in Los Angeles as he attempted to ply his trade. “I’d go to an acting class now and then and do auditions, but did I do much work on it? Nah. I thought I’d smoke lots of pot, watch movies, and call it research. And nothing happened.”

At age 19, things came to a head for him. “I didn’t work at all until I got a call from my agent one day and she said she was gonna fire me,” said Hammer. “She said, ‘You’re my only client that doesn’t work. Why would I keep you?’ I was sort of confronted by the idea that I could lose what I wanted to do, and it shocked me. I got that taste of fear and failure for the first time, so I was like, ‘What do I have this week?’ She told me there were four auditions. I said, ‘Give me until the end of the week, and if nothing happens, then fire me.’ I knew what I wanted to do and it was slipping away, so I buckled down in a really intense way and worked my ass off that week, and ended up booking all four jobs.” While that was a major turning point in how he treated acting, Hammer still laughs at the obvious revelation that dawned on him then. Oh, it just takes hard work? Why didn’t anybody tell me this? And someone probably did, but I didn’t listen because I was an idiot.”

9. You almost got an Armie Hammer superhero movie.
One of the four jobs Hammer booked that fateful week would change his life: He was cast to play Batman in an early version of Justice League that was supposed to be directed by George Miller. Sadly, the film fell apart in 2008, right as it was about to go into production. Miller would go on to shoot the action classic Mad Max: Fury Road, which has only further inflamed fan imaginations about the superhero movie he left behind. “For a long time, I was like, ‘How great that could have been!’” Hammer said. Now, though, he’s relieved the opportunity passed him by: “As a 31-year-old who’s been through a lot since I was 19, I wouldn’t want to watch a 19-year-old Batman. I’d be like, ‘Who’s this spoiled rich kid who wants to play dress-up?’”

The fact that he was even cast in the film at least opened up more doors for Hammer, and he says that’s good enough for him. “I used to be upset we didn’t get to do it, but everything happens exactly as it’s supposed to,” he said. “I still have a lot of learning to do about this, and it’s a constant pursuit for me. If I had been that successful right out of the gate, I would have thought I already understood it all. I know that I wouldn’t have turned in a great performance, or even a good performance — it would have just been whatever. So I’m glad.”

10. He’s sanguine about his follow-ups to The Social Network.
David Fincher’s 2010 Facebook drama helped put Hammer on the map, and as his dual performance as the Winklevoss twins earned critical plaudits, Hammer’s colleagues started to gas him up about the future. “I was like, ‘What’s going to happen next? This is so exciting!’ And nothing happened for a long time,” Hammer recalled. “Unless you’re a Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone where everything takes off after that, it doesn’t happen often, or regularly, or even infrequently. It almost never happens.”

Aside from a SAG-nominated supporting role in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, Hammer followed The Social Network with films like Mirror Mirror and The Lone Ranger, which treated his good looks and old-fashioned masculinity as a near-parodic element. At the time, he felt he had no choice but to embrace those roles: “’You’re gonna pay me how much? Yeah, okay, let’s do it! Look at this, I’ve made it!’ And then, none of them actually worked.”

11. But don’t get him wrong: He loved The Man From U.N.C.L.E., too.
Guy Ritchie’s 2015 spy movie is an underrated gem that bombed at the box office but has since built a cult following. Hammer starred as a Russian agent opposite Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander, and he still counts the movie as one of his favorite filming experiences. “It was glorious,” he said. “White-tablecloth lunches and amazing meals all across Europe and hanging out with Guy Ritchie, who’s the coolest fucker in the entire world.” Still, Hammer felt like he had hit his limit when it came to making big studio films. “I was so happy and having a great time, but at the end of the day, I wanted to finish a project feeling like I had almost been transformed as a person. You only get that on movies where you have an exceptional amount of skin in the game and everybody is there pouring sweat and really sacrificing to get it done. That just wasn’t the experience on Man From U.N.C.L.E.

12. He’s wild about his wife.
The day after I interviewed Hammer, I met his wife Elizabeth Chambers, who had accompanied him to a black-tie event. She was so self-possessed, arrestingly curious, and glamorous in a silver-sequin dress that I felt like I should look at her through eclipse glasses. This is the woman who shut down Leonardo DiCaprio as though it were a casual pursuit. The room bends to her.

“She’s got stones,” Hammer agreed with a big grin. They met years ago when Hammer had planned a Los Angeles “adventure day” with friends consisting of multiple museum trips and a journey to a hidden gun range. His friend invited Chambers to join them, but she had a stipulation: “She was like, ‘If we’re gonna do this, I’m gonna drive.’ And he said, ‘That’s all right, I’ll…’ and she said, ‘No. I’m driving.’” Perhaps it was for the best, since Hammer was in no state to argue once Chambers arrived. “I remember she pulled in and got out of the car,” he told me, “and I felt like I’d been knocked over.”

Chambers had a boyfriend when they met, but Hammer was as undeterred as his parents had once been: “Our friendship continued to grow and grow until one day when I was like, ‘I can’t be friends with you anymore. You’ve got to break up with your boyfriend, and we’ve got to start dating.’” She did, they did, and they’ve been married since 2010. Has Hammer ever run into the man he stole her from? “No, but I would love to,” he said. I asked Hammer to tell me what he would want to tell him. He thought about it for a long time, then looked at me earnestly. “At this point now, in my life and how far I’ve kind of come, I would honestly just be like, ‘I’m really sorry, dude. I know that probably really fucking sucked. I know that you were upset and I totally get why, so I’m sorry.’”

13. He just finished filming a Ruth Bader Ginsburg movie.
In the just-wrapped Mimi Leder film On the Basis of Sex, Felicity Jones plays a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Hammer was cast as Martin, husband to the future Supreme Court justice. “They just had this amazing marriage where they were able to always fill any void that showed up,” said Hammer. “If someone needed to do something, the other one would step in and assume the responsibility. It was this really healthy symbiosis.”

Hammer delighted in how their marriage subverted traditional 1950s gender roles. “Martin was the supportive husband who stayed home and cooked and cleaned and took care of the kids,” he said. “And this part isn’t even in the movie, it’s something I discovered later, but Justice Ginsburg decided at one point that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore, and Martin said, ‘Go do what you need to do.’ She says, ‘Well, I’m going to Switzerland for a month.’ And he’s like, ‘Fine, go have fun. Knock yourself out!’”

What ultimately persuaded Hammer to do the movie? “As the husband to a very strong woman and the father to a soon-to-be very strong woman, I loved the idea of women shaping history in, to borrow James Brown’s term, a man’s world,” he said. It helped, too, that Leder was so certain that Hammer should play the part that she flew to Oakland — where he was busy filming an indie called Sorry to Bother You with Vulture faves Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, and Steven Yeun — in order to convince him. “She really won over my pride on that one,” Hammer admitted. “I was like, ‘I’m in!’”

14. He’s seen Luca Guadagnino’s next movie.
Hammer has talked about his jealousy when Guadagnino moved on from Call Me by Your Name to shoot his remake of Dario Argento’s horror classic Suspiria, which stars Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson and will be released next year. Guadagnino recently showed me a minute of the movie, which looked intriguingly different from the original Dario Argento version and, in some ways, felt like a triangulation between that film, Guadagnino’s sensibility, and Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Hammer, however, has seen the whole thing.

“It’s awesome, I loved it. It ticked a lot of my boxes,” he told me. “It’s also so different than everything Luca has made. It’s the antithesis of Call Me by Your Name: It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s austere, it’s moody, it’s broody … it is evil! Full-on evil!” Was it easy for Hammer to let go of the grudge he’d held against Suspiria for wooing Guadagnino away? “Even though I’m unable to be objective about our movie, and I’m unable to be objective about that movie, I’m still like, ‘Ours is better!’” He grinned. “Whatever, I’m loyal.”

15. He doesn’t care how awards season shakes out for him
Call Me by Your Name is expected to be a major Oscar player, and Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg are guaranteed nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Hammer, on the other hand, delivers such a seemingly natural performance as Oliver that some voters may not realize how much of himself Hammer poured into the movie. Whether or not he is nominated for his first Oscar, Hammer is fine with the outcome.

“The fact that this is a passion project that people respond to is awesome, but at the end of the day, I’m firmly committed to the idea that the experience of making the movie is actually what it’s about,” he told me. “Whatever accolades or awards come for the movie is icing on the cake, and the cake itself is delicious. I don’t need anything other than the cake.”

15 Things You Learn While Hanging Out With Armie Hammer