Armie Hammer on His Family Legacy, Early Career & Following Up 'Call Me By Your Name'

By David Hochman | December 26, 2018 | People Feature

Eschewing the family fortune, Hollywood "It" guy Armie Hammer has found fame the old-fashioned way: on his own two feet.

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Oh, it was such a sleepy, idyllic town until Armie Hammer came along with those chiseled charms of his. Eighteen months ago, the Italian city of Crema drew occasional visitors for its sweet ravioli and the Gothic 17th-century bell tower in the piazza. But then something positively scandalous happened involving an overripe hollowed-out peach, and Crema was anonymous no more.

If you’ve seen Call Me By Your Name, you’re aware of the indelible moment in which Hammer plays erotic muse to last year’s juiciest moment in film. To sidestep spoilers, let’s just say that Timothée Chalamet, Hammer’s young costar in the coming-of-age drama, discovered a fruit-forward way of quenching his desire for Hammer’s character. Heaps of award nominations (including a Golden Globe nod for Hammer’s performance) and a global invasion of drosophilalike movie tourists followed.

“I went back to Crema after Call Me By Your Name had already come out, and walked into the duomo, which had been so calm and lovely when we filmed,” Hammer, 32, says, shaking his head a little in the courtyard of a Hollywood hotel. At 6 feet, 5 inches with bright blue eyes and a polished smile, the movie star in the conversation is impossible to mistake for someone else. “A few girls were standing together looking at their phones, and one of them looked up at me and just went, ‘Holy f---! There he is!’ And I thought, That’s it. Everything’s different here now.”

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You could say that about Hammer too. The actor noticed a change at the Oscars last year. The first time he attended, in 2011, to support The Social Network (through the magic of split screens, Hammer played both of the Winklevoss twins, who claimed the Facebook idea was theirs), he felt lost in the blur. “You’re on the red carpet looking around at all the insanity going, ‘What the hell?’” he says. “It was like being in a car accident.” But last year, the experience was one to savor. “I walked into a situation where suddenly I’d done a lot of work with a bunch of different people, and it was all, ‘Hey, how are you?’ ‘Oh, wow, great to see you.’ ‘Isn’t this fantastic?’”

Hammer’s orbit continues to widen. This season, he appears opposite Felicity Jones and Justin Theroux in On the Basis of Sex, a biopic directed by Mimi Leder about the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Hammer plays Marty Ginsburg, a husband-of-the-century type who cooked and cleaned, and also argued cases alongside his wife in support of her pioneering legal career. “I talked to a lot of Marty’s law students and family members, and said, ‘Be totally honest—he couldn’t have been as great a guy as we’re making him out to be,’ and they all said, ‘You’re right. He was better.’ What the hell do you do with that as an actor?” Hammer obviously figured it out: The role is getting early Oscars buzz in the best supporting actor category.

Hammer portrays another dedicated family man in Hotel Mumbai, based on the terrorist attacks in 2008 at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India. It costars Dev Patel. Hammer’s character has to make a Sophie’s Choice-style decision about whether to protect his wife or the child he’s separated from. The production shot in Adelaide, Australia, shortly after Hammer wrapped on those magical months in the Italian countryside. “I went from riding a bicycle in paradise and drinking wine at lunch to getting chased down the hallway by guys with machine guns,” he says. “At a certain point, you just go, ‘Acting is a really weird job.’”

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On the surface, you would think Hammer could have chosen any career—or none at all—and done quite well for himself. It’s not just that he clearly won the DNA lottery; he’s good-looking enough to attract giddy triple-takes even among the blasé hipsters at the hotel. But Hammer is also—brace yourself if you haven’t heard—part of a storied dynasty. His great-grandfather was the Russian-American petroleum baron and philanthropist Armand Hammer, whose name is emblazoned upon buildings and institutions such as the Hammer Museum and Armand Hammer Golf Course in Los Angeles. This is the tycoon who traded caviar and furs with Vladimir Lenin in exchange for American wheat shipments and later bought the company that manufactures Arm & Hammer baking soda, mainly because he got a kick out of the name. Google around and you’ll see images of adorable little Armie—born Armand Douglas Hammer—on Great-grandpa’s private jet.

What’s interesting is how the family legacy shook out. Armie’s parents, Michael Armand Hammer and Dru Ann Mobley, now divorced, relocated the family to the Cayman Islands from Texas and Los Angeles when Armie was 7 and his younger brother, Viktor, was 5. Although the Hammers are mostly of Jewish descent, Armie’s parents identified as Christian evangelicals, and, while in the Caymans, founded Grace Christian Academy, which the Hammer boys attended, and the Christian Communications Association, a not-for-profit Christian radio station. When Armie announced he wanted to pursue a life in show business and left high school to follow his acting dreams, he was effectively disowned for the decision. Ironically, Hammer’s first significant role, at 22, was in a biopic of the young Billy Graham. “When I first got into this, the reaction was basically, ‘Are you out of your mind?’” Hammer says. “But when [my parents] saw how hard I was willing to work and how passionate I was, and that this wasn’t just a fad, they said, ‘OK, we get it.’”

Hammer insists he’s been independent financially since he was 19, and that’s been a prime motivator as he’s shouldered his way through hits and misses (The Lone Ranger and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were supposed to be his megabudgeted star vehicles; they weren’t.) “I’m so thankful that from a young age, I’ve never had to take anything from anybody. You never get to take money without something attached to it, so I didn’t want those encumbrances. I wanted to live my life without anyone telling me what to do, and that’s meant everything.”

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Hammer and his wife of eight years, food TV personality Elizabeth Chambers, have a daughter, Harper, 4, and son, Ford, 2, who travel on locations with Hammer when he’s not dadding around L.A. “I do a good portion of the school runs, and I cook breakfast for everybody every morning because it’s not like I have a 9-to-5—and also, I love it,” says Hammer, who collects vintage typewriters and won’t say no to a good cupcake (the couple owns two high-end bakeries in San Antonio, where Chambers grew up, and Dallas).

In between the cooking and baking, Hammer finds time for Hollywood. This year, he appears opposite Dakota Johnson in a horror-thriller by British-Iranian director Babak Anvari. “I play an empty shell of a man who works at a dead-end job at a dive bar in New Orleans, which was surprisingly enjoyable to do,” Hammer says. He’s also starring in a remake of Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film, with Lily James. The film shoots in London, which, unlike that serene village in Italy from Call Me By Your Name, maybe—just maybe—can handle “the Hammer effect.”

Categories: People Feature

Photography by Mike Rosenthal; Styling by Mark Holmes; Grooming by KC Fee at The Wall Group; Shot on location at Villa Carlotta, Los Angeles