Sony Pictures Classics
Most people first became aware of actor Armie Hammer when he played identical twins in David Fincher’s The Social Network. People mostly noted that Hammer had the rugged build, good looks and charm to play a superhero. For better or worse, that superhero ended up being The Lone Ranger opposite Johnny Depp as Tonto. After that, Hammer was cast in Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which allowed the filmmaker to poke fun at British spy clichés, but that also didn’t do very well business-wise.
Anyone ready to give up on Hammer, just needs to watch Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name to see the actor shine as Oliver, a 24-year-old exchange student visiting Northern Itally in 1983, who hits it off with his teacher’s son, played by newcomer Timothée Chalamet. Written by James Ivory, it’s an amazing period coming-of-age film unlike any other we’ve seen, but much of the love for the movie comes from what Hammer brings to the character of Oliver.
The Tracking Board got on the phone with Hammer earlier in the week for the following interview. Earlier that day, it was announced that Hammer would be appearing in his first Broadway play Straight White Men, so we asked about that, too.
I’ve loved the movie since I first saw it at Sundance, and it already has a cult following, if you can believe that. I mean it’s only been open for 10 days, but people love it, and they’re seeing it many times, so congratulations.
It’s very surreal, the amount of people who are talking about the film considering that it’s technically only in four theaters.
I have a friend who saw it as Sundance, and he saw it maybe six times before it actually opened. He went to every New York screening possible, saw it at the New York Film Festival, the whole thing.
Wow. Well, thank you very much. It was an amazing experience to get to be a part of it, and it was just such a wonderful thing to work on, both on a personal level and a professional level. So now to have people appreciate something that we loved doing so much feels, well, definitely better than the alternative.
It came to Sundance kind of as a surprise. I feel like it was one of a hundred and something movies playing there, but Sony Classics picked it up beforehand and people saw it, mainly because of Luca and Sony Classics and because you and Michael were in it. I’m not sure anyone realized they’d be discovering this new talent in Timothée.
No, it’s amazing, and I think everybody is so genuinely shocked to see such an emotionally intelligent and mature performance from someone who seems so young but really is such an old soul. I’m so glad that people are starting to see just exactly how talented and amazing Timothée is because he deserves every single accolade and every bit of credit he’s getting. He’s one of the best scene partners I’ve ever worked with. If I could do every movie with him, I would. It’s sort of like that thing where if you play tennis or if you even play ping pong with someone better than you, it elevates your game. And that’s what it felt like when I was working on that movie.
Sony Pictures Classics
What was your way into the character? Did Luca send you the script or did you already know the book?
The genesis of our relationship started about seven years ago where we had a meeting at his place. He came into town and I think he’d seen Social Network or J. Edgar or something, and he wanted to sit down and talk. And we sat down and honest to God, had one of the best meetings I’ve ever had. We sat for probably three hours and we discussed everything from music to Proust – really everything – and it was just one of the meeting where, as an actor, you walk out of it and you just think, “Yeah, I nailed that meeting.” Then I didn’t hear a peep from him for six years. Then he calls my agent and said, “I have a movie for Armie,” and then he and I had a series of chats and by the end of it, I came to the realization that there was no way I couldn’t be a part of this project.
Oliver’s an amazing character and you really stepped into that role and created something pretty amazing with him. Did you spend a lot of time developing him with Luca or did you just go by what was written in the script?
I mean, we had such wonderful source material. André’s book is incredible. We also had such a beautiful James Ivory script, and then we were really fortunate to have a lot of time in Crema before him. I got to be out there for about, maybe a month? Maybe a little bit more? Somewhere around there before we actually started shooting, and that was all time that we would sit around Luca’s kitchen table and discuss the script, discuss ourselves, discuss the nature, discuss emotions, really kind of everything, and it all percolated into that. Also, I had done a lot of research on my own. I have a professional researcher who I work with, and I have an acting coach that I work with, and we did a bunch of work here before I went. I went and just added on to that and just built it and built it and built it, and ended up coming up with this character that we felt was beautifully complicated and human.
Is that common to have that kind of time to develop a character? Or is that rare? Or is it different for each project?
I don’t know. You know, it’s hard for me to say what the status quo is because I’ve had it both ways. I’ve had it where I sign on to something and they go, “Okay, great. They need you in three weeks,” and you don’t really have the much time to prep. But then I’ve also had other things where I signed on to something, and it sat for a year before anything happens, so it all depends on the project.
I read the script first. Then I went and read the book. Then I went and read the script again. Then the book, then the script, then the book, then the script, then the book, then the script, then the book-
Yeah, I probably read the book a dozen times, and then read the script God knows how many times, so he grew on me. He’s one of these guys where, I think, like Elio, misunderstood in the beginning, is this sort of overly confident, gruff guy who just breezes in and out of situations and doesn’t give a sh*t about anything. There’s a wonderful undercurrent to this character, where it took me a while to realize that even the way he said “Later,” wasn’t just out of an abundance of confidence, it was because- He really only said it to Elio. And it was only in moments where it was the two of them. And then there was zero distractions and zero other people around. And nothing to hide from the fact that “I’m now feeling something that I don’t understand and it makes me uncomfortable, and I have to get out of here. So I’m out. Later.” And that’s sort of where it came from. So at first, I didn’t understand all that, and then I just had to spend more time with the character and really dig in deeper to him, peel him back a little bit.
I was about Elio’s age in 1983 and we all said “later” back then. It wasn’t that uncommon. I’m not sure if you were even alive back in 1983.
That’s true. I did a bunch of research on what it was like to grow up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and what it was like to live in a smaller Northeastern town, and what it was like to be Jewish at the time, when it was a little more anti-Semitic, and it definitely was anti-Semitic, especially in Italy. It was great to get to go back and listen to the music and immerse myself in the epoch a little bit.
Sony Pictures Classics
The scene with you dancing to the Psychedelic Furs is one of the scenes people are loving, because it seems so natural and free-flowing. I don’t know if that was your own choreography or you actually worked with someone.
When I was in Italy, I said to production that I wanted to talk to a choreographer because I didn’t dance in the early 80s, so I want someone who knows what that was like and the whole thing. They had this wonderful woman come out and she showed me a choreographed dance that she envisioned for the piece, but it started to feel to me like the antithesis of what the scene needed to be about. I definitely wanted to have the ‘80s inspired moves, but at the same time, not everybody in the ‘70s was dancing like John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever, you know? So it wasn’t so important to me to nail the time specific dance moves as it was to capture that feeling of completely letting go and losing yourself and just getting totally enraptured in the music and the moment, being in this place and just being free with your body as Oliver is. Someone who lives so deeply in his body, just being free and letting that go. Which is not something that I come by easily, so it was tough, but it was also a lot of fun to get to do.
It definitely worked, and it adds something to Oliver’s character that might not be conveyable by reading the book.
Yeah, well. Thank you, dude. I appreciate it.
Could you talk more about building chemistry with Timothée, especially in the way that Elio doesn’t like Oliver at first but you get closer as the film goes along.
Well, fortunately, our actual friendship didn’t follow a similar path. We really hit it off from the very beginning and really enjoyed each other’s company, and also really both were so excited to just get into this process in this tiny town with Luca. And just immerse ourselves and sequester ourselves in this film. I always say that when you watch the film, the same feeling that gets distilled into the hour and forty minutes or however long it is, is the same feeling that we lived in for months. So it was just this amazing process and Timothée and I both just loved doing it, and we really grew to love each other. I mean, I was just talking to him on the phone right before I talked to you, just catching up. We saw each other yesterday. Our relationship was fantastic, and he’s just so great to work with, and he’s so open and honest and emotionally raw as a person that it’s refreshing. He’s a special person.
I don’t know how much you read about yourself online or about any awards stuff. There’s been some talk about whether Oliver is supporting to Elio or the lead, because it’s really about the two of you. The two characters. I was wondering if you could talk about that.
I mean, you know the book, so the book is almost entirely the inner locution of Elio, and the movie itself is a little bit less of that, but it’s very much from the perspective of Elio, so I couldn’t be happier to support Timothée in his process and his character and be someone whom he got to bounce off of and be the person that he got to work with to show the world his talent.
Luca talked about making another movie with these characters. I know there’s a little more to the book that could be covered, but how do you feel about doing another movie with everyone in ten years or so?
If it takes me ten years to work again with Timothée and Michael and Luca, then I will be severely depressed. If I could, I would make every single movie with them.
Sony Pictures Classics
I guess that would be up to Luca, but you’re also working with Ben Wheatley again after being in Free Fire, which I saw right after seeing this movie at Sundance.
We haven’t actually done it yet, but it’s something that we’re developing, and I’m extremely excited to work with Ben again. He’s amazing. And I’m glad that you liked Free Fire. I really had a great time working on that, and he is such a unique and interesting director. I love his films so much, especially because each one of them, somehow is diametrically opposed from the last. So from Sightseers to A Field in England to Kill List to Free Fire. He seems like he can really tackle any genre or tone that he wants to, so we’ve definitely been talking about developing another thing together, and it looks like we might be able to do it, hopefully, beginning of next year. I mean, you never know with the independent projects. It’s hit or miss, so hopefully we do.
You’ve been in bigger studio movies like The Lone Ranger and Man from U.N.C.L.E., which I loved, but you’ve started doing these great indies. Have you found you’re drawn to one more than the other, or do you just feel like mixing things up?
Yeah, definitely, definitely. I love the process of working on an independent film because, more so than any other film… I haven’t exactly put my finger on it, but I think one of the reasons is independent films are so difficult to get made. From the inception of the idea to the last day of physical production, you have to win the lottery and get struck by lightning a hundred times. It really feels like a passion project for everyone involved, and everyone involved is just doing it because they believe in it so whole-heartedly, which is so refreshing. You also get to do more interesting things doing independent films. I can’t think of a large studio that would’ve made Call Me by Your Name, and this is a project that profoundly touched my life. I feel like it’s one of the best professional things I’ve ever done, in terms of me as an artist, just to get to be a part of that process. I don’t think you get that same experience in the studio system.
That being said, if you’re in the studio system, you can get a really big house. You know, that would be really nice, but at the end of the day, I’m conscientiously choosing to live my life as an artist and ridiculous as that sounds, this is the way I love to express my art, just making these movies with people who truly are passionate about.
Also, I read that you just lined up your first Broadway show called Straight White Men. What’s the drive to do something on stage and more high profile like that?
It wasn’t even that it was high profile. What it was is I feel like I pushed myself and challenged myself in so many ways I’d never done before on Call Me by Your Name, and I’d never done a play before. I have theater training. I say that everything I learned that’s worth knowing about acting, I learned from Deb Aquila and the Stella Adler method. All of my training is theatrically based, but no one’s ever asked me to do a play, and I haven’t had time to really go out and audition for things and stuff like that. Anna Shapiro, who’s been a director from Steppenwolf in Chicago, she reached out and said “Would you like to do this?” and it was just the right time and the right place, and it feels like something I’m really excited to do, challenge myself and push myself on.
Call Me By Your Name is now playing in select cities. and will expand into other cities over the next month or two. I hope to have my interview with director Luca Guadagnino up sometime next week.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor