How do you like your Armie Hammer? (Besides next to you, feeding you charcuterie and white wine, gazing meaningfully into your eyes?)
The six-foot-five breakout seemingly sculpted out of a Redwood has found his chiseled jawline in high demand of late.
Maybe you happened to catch him in Bond mode in the surprisingly enjoyable and under-appreciated Man From U.N.C.L.E., spicing up the whole firing-guns-and-filling-out-suits thing with a fun Russian accent. Perhaps you had a chance to catch his dramatic chops in Birth of a Nation, which features a bold supporting turn from the 30-year-old star, before the film got swept under the rug in a dust of controversy.
Or it could be you prefer the blatant and beautiful—not to mention blissfully unapologetic—Tom Ford fetishizing of his impossibly good looks in Nocturnal Animals.
Consider them all cracks in some intangible Hollywood leading man ceiling that Hammer has seemed destined to burst through since his attention-grabbing double act as the towering, petulant Winklevoss twins in 2010’s The Social Network—an inevitability that became strangely stalled when high-profile projects didn’t hit with the force one might have expected.
The Oscar-bait biopic thing that seemed surefire—life story of J. Edgar Hoover directed by Clint Eastwood in which Hammer would play the former FBI director’s alleged life partner—was the rare Eastwood miss with critics, awards voters, and audiences, though Hammer scored a Screen Actors Guild nod for his performance.
He played the titular The Lone Ranger in a massively expensive Johnny Depp blockbuster that must have sounded like a great idea at some point, though the film became one of the biggest financial flops in recent memory.
And as for his turn in the comparable commercial bomb Mirror Mirror, we maintain that Hammer’s full-throttle goofy spin on Prince Charming should’ve been a Supporting Actor Oscar contender, should the Academy have ever paid attention to comedy (or family films, for that matter).
But now, with two very different films showing off two very different Armies—this weekend’s action comedy Free Fire and this summer’s gorgeous gay romance Call Me by Your Name—he finally seems poised to bring the, ahem, Hammer to that superstar ceiling once and for all.
When we talk ahead of Free Fire’s release, Hammer is struggling to remember the chronology of shooting all of these films during the last 18 months.
“I had a lucky streak,” he says. “I feel really, really, sort of like…” he starts, then pauses. Because he really doesn’t want to say it. He knows how it’s going to sound when he says it. He doesn’t want to be that actor, that guy. But he’s not sure if there’s another word, and so he does. “Really sort of blessed,” he finally says, and then almost apologetically, “if you will.”
Armie Hammer’s almost torturous reluctance to speak in clichés or, worse, sound insufferable epitomizes exactly the kind of appeal he’s honed. He’s so handsome and so gregarious that he’s precisely the kind of guy you’re supposed to hate, but can’t resist attraction to—that whole “you both want to be him and be his best friend” kind of thing.
He has the confidence befitting “that guy” but also an easy magnetism. He’s the one at happy hour who, even with cheap Bud Light and loud music competing for their attention, always has the entire crew enrapt while telling his stories.
And Armie Hammer has great stories. He tells Jimmy Kimmel about doing a press tour in Russia, getting hammered (heh), and waking up in Paris, and about the time he accidentally showed a hairstylist pictures of himself nude when he was trying to show off photos of his baby girl.
It’s a sense of humor that we venture hews closely to the character he plays in Free Fire, which is likely why his turn as a sharp-witted criminal who helps orchestrate an arms deal that goes violently, cartoonishly awry comes off so charming.
“Hopefully I’m a little bit less sardonic,” Hammer laughs. “If somebody gets shot in the ass I’m not sure I’d laugh. Maybe scream and run in the other direction. But there’s probably got to be some level of art imitating live, and vice versa.”
The film, directed by Ben Wheatley (the bloodhound behind Kill List), is an orgy of bullets and accents and polyester. It’s set in an abandoned Boston warehouse in the ‘70s, where an IRA buyer (Cillian Murphy) is attempting to purchase weapons a bumbling South African named Vern (Sharlto Copley, a riot) in an exchange mediated by Hammer’s Ord.
The handoff is soon hijacked by wry insults and bruised egos, pulling the trigger on the film’s ensuing slapstick gunfire: a bunch of hapless bozos with seemingly endless ammunition and no aim, each transforming into variations on The Walking Dead as shots taken seem to only chip away at the characters’ apparent nine lives.
The comical immortality is actually realistic, Hammer swears. “You get shot in the shoulder, in a movie you die. In real life it’s not really the case. In this instance, you have these injuries play out in real time. Some people get injured in the way that it would take you 40 minutes to die from something like that.”
Ord is craftier than the litter of armed imbeciles he presides over, which not only means that he has the smarts to outlast the rest of them—“As soon as he sees people start to go out he goes, ‘I’ll probably just hide for a bit and let them shoot each other and then pop out at the end, grab the briefcase of money, and get out of here’”—but also gives Hammer a chance to show off his deceptively strong comedic timing.
It’s something that’s been on display before. (Again, watch Mirror Mirror and laugh and swoon and laugh again.) But here he dishes out an arrogant superiority that, given his looks, plays perfectly.
It’s an entirely different look than the one surrounding Hammer’s other big upcoming project, Luca Guadagino’s Call Me By Your Name—and not because the former film finds Hammer pulling off an impressive beard and the latter a perfect suntan.
The film premiered this winter at the Sundance Film Festival with a planned summer release and definite awards push—including for Hammer’s performance as a graduate student who stays with a professor’s family in Italy for the summer, eventually falling in love with the professor’s teenage son.
It’s based on the 2007 book by André Aciman, the kind of book that its fans, particularly in the gay community, are fiercely protective of, making the rapturous response it received in Park City all the more remarkable. Not only did the parties involved not screw it up, but they took a provocative, poignant, almost unspeakably sexy literary romance and enriched it with a cinematic translation that was sun-soaked, careful, and intense.
Hammer is certainly aware that the film is playing in different times than Brokeback Mountain did 10 years ago, infamously losing the Oscar to Crash, which many blame on latent homophobia from voters. Still, critical accolades don’t always translate to Academy love, even now—see the Best Picture snub for Cate Blanchett’s Carol as proof of that.
At least based on early reactions, Hammer is heartened by the touched response to the gay love story. “Even if they have any sort of great summer romance, whether it be homo or heterosexual,” he says. “The thing that was impressed on me from everybody I talked to is that it felt so much more like a human story than it did a specific genre or particular kind of movie.”
He brings up what might become the film’s defining moment, a speech delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays the professor, when his son opens up to him about his love affair. It’s a monologue that is so progressive, so enlightened, and so accepting, that Hammer can’t wait for the film’s release, if nothing else, just for people to hear it.
“May we all remember and be able to quote Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech at the end,” he says. “It boils down to that. It makes you wish that all of our parents watched it when we were born.”
Perhaps this is how you like your Armie Hammer. Probably, it’s definitely how you like your Armie Hammer: About to be a very big deal, giving credit to his co-star, and talking about the power of love.
The gazing meaningfully into your eyes thing, though, that’s still non-negotiable.