Why Everything Is Peachy For Mr Armie Hammer
The Oscar-tipped actor on Hollywood after Weinstein and the reason his mother might not see his best film yet.
This, as everyone keeps telling him, is Mr Armie Hammer’s moment, and the 31-year-old actor is carpe diem-ing the heck out of life right now. As awards season kicks off, he finds himself the star of the year’s most universally acclaimed film, in a career-defining role that is sure to propel him from generic leading man to Hollywood’s hottest property. After a 10-year career of notable supporting roles in some very good films (The Social Network, Mr Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, J Edgar) and starring roles in some downright turkeys (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Lone Ranger), his performance in Mr Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is the one that has catapulted him into the big league.
Mr Hammer plays Oliver, a young American academic who joins a classics professor and his bohemian family in their Italian summer house in 1983, to assist the professor with his research. The professor’s teenage son, Elio, played by the prodigiously talented Mr Timothée Chalamet, becomes infatuated with Oliver and, as it turns out, the feeling is mutual. What transpires is a beautiful story of fleeting summer love, played out against a backdrop of intoxicating landscapes, lavish breakfasts, bike rides, lake swims and stolen kisses.
“I know I sleep better at night, and I feel better in myself if I am doing a project that I am passionate about”
Mr Hammer and Mr Chalamet spent the month before filming acclimatising to the culture of rural Italy, living in the location and building up the kind of natural intimacy that makes Call Me By Your Name so compelling. “Some of those Italian countryside towns are lost in time,” says Mr Hammer. “It’s like La Dolce Vita. When you want peach juice, you just go out and make it. You take your pitcher, you go and sit somewhere beautiful and you just enjoy your juice.” If you’ve seen the film, you’ll appreciate why all this talk of peaches is making me blush as we share a pizza in a fittingly Italian restaurant on Los Angeles’ Abbot Kinney.
“There is something really beautiful about a life that is stripped down, simply having the bare necessities, [such as] time,” says Mr Hammer. “Nobody is rushing anything. You are just free to enjoy everything in the moment. I came back to the States thinking that is exactly how I wanted to live my life, but then the rat race starts all over again. The world now is so quick paced. Someone sends you an email and expects you to get back right away. There is a lot of pressure. Back then, you could call someone’s house phone, and if they didn’t pick up, you’d be like, right, well, I’ll call them in a couple of hours.”
He takes a gulp of his beer and wipes tomato sauce from his mouth. “These characters in the movie, I don’t think, would ever have really fallen in love with each other if they had cell phones. They would have been on Grindr, talking to their friends on WhatsApp, and they would have never really connected because they never would have needed to.”
Mr Hammer himself is an avid tweeter (or at least he was until he recently deleted his Twitter account), and brilliantly shut down septuagenarian actor Mr James Woods, who said of the age difference between the two characters in the film, “they chip away at the last barriers of decency”.
“Didn’t you date a 19 year old when you were 60…….?” retorted Mr Hammer in a tweet that subsequently went viral.
In the film, there is nothing seedy about the love affair between Oliver and Elio. We see them kissing in doorways, staring longingly, play fighting, running through the rain. The sex is tender, and many of the advances are made by the younger man. Mr Hammer acknowledges how rare it is to find a story about a gay male relationship set in the 1980s in which no one dies or is crippled with shame and self-loathing. Perhaps most surprising of all is that Elio’s parents embrace the affair and even encourage it.
Mr Hammer says the effortless dynamic he and Mr Chalamet share on screen “really developed naturally over time. We had the luxury of spending all day, every day together before filming started, as we were basically the only native English speakers there. We weren’t doing a lot of rehearsals before the movie started, so we would meet up at night at my place, and we’d go over scenes.”
Mr Guadagnino is known for his immersive, unconventional approach to filmmaking. Mr Hammer has spoken in the past of feeling like he was falling in love with the director, because the experience of working with him involved a level of trust and commitment beyond anything he’d experienced previously. “I have never been pushed like that before,” he has said. “So much of what that movie was about was accessing a certain emotional vulnerability, and sharing that with somebody. I think everyone’s life changed because of it.”
Creating a safe, happy space for his actors has resulted in a flawless track record of stylish works such as I Am Love and A Bigger Splash and visceral performances from stars willing to do anything for the Italian auteur, who is likely to win his first Oscar in February.
Mr Hammer and Mr Chamelet were cast separately, though. What would have happened if there hadn’t been a spark between them? (For the record, both are straight.) “It would have been a totally different movie,” says Mr Hammer. “I think that we all just had so much blind faith in Luca, that if he didn’t feel that we needed to meet beforehand, then that was OK.” Mr Hammer approached playing a gay man as he would any other role. And it’s not his first time. He shared a kiss with Mr Leonardo Di Caprio in 2011’s J Edgar, when he played the protagonist’s secret lover. He was entirely unfazed by the prospect of playing a gay character again, this time in a love story, and says there was no difference in terms of conveying desire between two men than between a man and a woman.
“Love is love,” he says. “I feel like making this movie has freed me up in so many ways. I no longer have to subscribe to the societal expectations of being a straight white male. The more a child travels, the less they are likely to be racist or xenophobic. This was like travelling, but just in an emotional capacity.”
Next summer, Mr Hammer is performing in _Straight White Men _on Broadway, a play about the “crisis of masculinity”. Written by Ms Young Jean Lee, the first female Asian-American playwright to be produced on Broadway, it follows three brothers grappling with their own privilege as they visit their father for Christmas. It will be Mr Hammer’s first big stage role and is a bold move. Considering the Oscar hype for Call Me By Your Name, presumably he is finally being offered the leading-men roles many actors would die for.
“I made a decision to back out of the whole studio system a few years ago,” says Mr Hammer. “It was a machination of people just trying to make money, as opposed to making art. When you are studying acting, they talk about the way a movie can impact you as a performer, and I never really found that to be the case [with big-budget movies]. They were great to make and I had the best experiences of my life. But with Call Me By Your Name, I was pushed. I’m the one who has got to do it, working a 16-hour day, doing it all over again the next day. There has got to be something in it for me; it’s my life. I’d love to do a huge movie and be able to have a huge house, but at the end of the day, I know I sleep better at night, and I feel better in myself if I am doing a project that I am passionate about.”
Mr Hammer is textbook handsome: tall and broad in a Waspish way, with a chiselled jaw and icy blue eyes. He comes from a wealthy background. He spent his early years growing up in the Cayman Islands. His father, Mr Michael Hammer, was in the oil business and owns various companies, including a gallery and TV production company in LA. In many ways Mr Hammer represents peak privilege, when compared with the likes of Mr Jon Hamm, who had to slog his way to the top, waiting tables between auditions. But he navigates this with reassuring self-awareness.
Mr Hammer says he never felt the need to apologise for his background. “There is that misconception that, ‘Oh, you grew up in a wealthy family so you must have got it easier.’ I probably had opportunities that other people didn’t have. But I guarantee that other people didn’t have [parents] beating into their skull that they were the ‘representation of the family’. That was not the easiest pill to swallow. People might look at me and think my life is so perfect, but everybody wrestles with the same demons.”
Mr Hammer’s mother, Ms Dru Ann Mobley, was the strict parent growing up. “My dad is a big kid,” he says. “He’s the life of every party. He’s gregarious. He can win anyone over in conversation. He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. He’s fantastic.”
How does he think they would have reacted if he had had a gay relationship with an older man as a teenager?
“I don’t know. I know what I’d hope, but I don’t know. I am excited for my dad to see Call Me By Your Name. I think that he would have the capacity to get it and be proud of me for doing this work.” As for his mother seeing the film… “It’s always awkward to say, ‘Come to this movie where you can see my ass and watch me give a blow job.’ My mum is more conservative. I don’t know if she’ll see it.”
When Mr Hammer returned to Los Angeles (where he was born) from the Cayman Islands aged 12, he struggled to fit in at school. “It was a big adjustment, to put it lightly,” he says. “I didn’t know who Nirvana were, or who the Lakers were. I had been living in a little bubble. I think the first two years I was in LA, I cried myself to sleep almost every night. Growing up in the Cayman Islands, the worst thing I ever got called was a white boy. I came to a place where kids were just vicious. I had long blond hair, a slight accent, I was a bit different. It wasn’t kind.”
He registers my “tell me more” face, takes his phone from his pocket and scrolls through his photos until he finds one – and yes, I can confirm his hair is longer than was acceptably cool in the 1990s. He wants to show me his green hair phase, but can’t find the picture. Instead, he comes across a picture of a younger, chubbier Mr Hammer. He has gelled his bleached hair into perfect little peaks and he is holding a puppy, perhaps a shih-tzu, right up close to his cheek and smiling like a cute emoji. “I don’t even know where I found that dog,” he says, shaking his head. “It certainly wasn’t mine.”
Mr Hammer might look like he was born a prom king, but in high school, the reality was different. “I never really had friends,” he says. “I had acquaintances, but school wasn’t really my place.” He says he only really found it once he started acting. It explains why he is so relentlessly positive about every film he’s been in, even those he acknowledges weren’t his greatest work. He really does love the job. “I’ve never made a big movie and walked away from it going, ‘That sucked.’ Never. I really loved every single day of it.”
These days, Mr Hammer lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, Ms Elizabeth Chambers, a TV presenter and CEO of Bird Bakery, and their two children, Harper, two, and Ford, 10 months. And finally, he’s popular. The couple love to host parties. Mr Hammer is a keen chef, but only if it’s something (“mostly meat”) he can make on the “outdoor cooking apparatus” he built himself. “My wife and I were never going-out kind of people,” he says. “Almost always we stay in, cook, have music going. The preparation and cooking of it will take hours. I am a nerd about it.”
As for being fashionable, he says, “I don’t know if it’s so much that I’ve found my style groove or I’m like, ‘Fuck it.’ Today, for lunch, he’s wearing a grey T-shirt, blue jeans and black Converse. “I used to love dressing up for events, and now I dread wearing a tux. Basically, these days, if I am not wearing shoes, you know I am comfortable.”
Mr Hammer’s next project is starring opposite Ms Felicity Jones in a biopic about Ms Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pro-abortion justice on the supreme court. He plays her husband, Marty. “I made this film for my daughter,” says Mr Hammer. “I want her to have stories of strong women who changed the world from their own ironclad will. I don’t think there are enough of these out there.”
He is pleased that in a post-Weinstein Hollywood, things are changing for women. “It seems like this shift is happening,” he says. “The people in power are no longer free to abuse it recklessly, which is great. For so long it was expected that the powerless would just take it.”
For the record, Mr Hammer has never felt vulnerable or been taken advantage of. “I’ve never had any pressure to perform sexual favours,” he says. “You’re around it, but thank God I have never had to deal with it first hand. I’ve heard stories. To my own detriment, and negative credit, I never said anything or did anything about it.”
Does he think the world will be a better place for women by the time his daughter is an adult? “I am at the ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here’ point,” he says. “I don’t even know if the world is going to survive that long. Stephen Hawking says that we have got about another 100 years left.” I must look doubtful, because he whips out his phone again and googles it, and sure enough there is the Wired article proclaiming our doom.
We discuss the future of humanity, as we have both just finished reading Mr Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, about the next phase of evolution. Please note, Mr Hammer does not want to live for ever. “These guys in Silicon Valley trying to beat mortality? I think it’s a weird, crazy ego trip,” he says. “There is something nice about the memento mori. You get one round. That makes it all the more special. I’ve got friends who are really involved, inside that tech world, going to life-extension doctors. Every time I hear it, I am listening, but I think, why? I don’t even take vitamins. It requires a lot of self-importance. I am sure people can balance it, but it doesn’t feel necessary to me to get to 200.” Which makes sense. Mr Hammer is in the white-hot centre of as good as it gets. Why would he want to live for anything but this very moment?