Armie Hammer has been on the Hollywood map ever since his breakout role as the Winklevoss twins in David Fincher’s 2010 film The Social Network. Just five films and a handful of TV stints (including a string of episodes on Gossip Girl) into his career, he began to walk a path that took him into would-be franchise-starters (The Lone Ranger), heavy dramatic/historical fare (J. Edgar, The Birth of a Nation) and lighter romps (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).
In Free Fire, the new dark comedy thriller from British director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High-Rise), Hammer plays Ord, an arms dealer and possible psychopath who brokers an exchange of weapons for money that goes disastrously wrong and ends up in a bloody standoff in an empty Boston warehouse. Ord may seem reasonable yet tough, but there’s nothing quite normal about anyone in Wheatley’s 1978-set shootout, which also stars Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sam Riley and Sharlto Copley.
Hammer will also be seen later this year in Call Me By Your Name — which has already generated incredible buzz out of the Sundance Film Festival — and will work again with Wheatley (and reunite with U.N.C.L.E. co-star Alicia Vikander) on his futuristic monster movie Freakshift. And even though he came close to the superhero genre once before — he was signed to play Batman in George Miller’s aborted 2008 film Justice League: Mortal — he says there’s no truth to the rumors of him joining Green Lantern Corps for Warner Bros./DC, even though he toyed with fans on social media about just that very speculation.
Den of Geek: It’s my understanding that once Ben and Amy Jump (co-writer) knew that you would be involved, they started to tailor the character of Ord to you.
Armie Hammer: They said, “We’re going to make him a violent, sadistic, pot-smoking maniac, just like you.” And I was like, “You know, this is really working out great. I love it. Art imitating life.” No, really it wasn’t so much that Ord was tailored to me, it was the kind of thing where you get the experience of bringing all these actors and all these people together and giving them parts they love, and saying go do some research, go do whatever you want, and then come back and then we’ll all collaborate and get into a pressure cooker type environment and see what happens from there. So, these characters, which were so fleshed out on paper, came to life in such an exciting way because everyone there was responding to the great stuff that they were getting from everyone else.
Did you come up with your own background for him? He obviously sees himself as this cool customer.
Totally, totally. He’s one of those guys where it’s like he’s a cool customer because he’s just a complete lunatic. The backstory we came up … This is 1978, it’s supposed to be after Vietnam, so it would make sense that this guy, eight years ago, was in Vietnam. His name’s Ord, so maybe it was based off him working with ordnance and explosives, like this was his deal, so what kind of guy does that create? What kind of guy does that take to go, “Yeah, I want to put land mines through Vietnam.” You know, like, who is this guy?
It’s a guy that probably has been in situations where he should have died, several times, and by all intents and purposes has died. And in sort of the same way as in the novel The Short-Timers, it’s like everything else is a joke to him. The only thing that’s true is death, so fuck it, we’re in this warehouse and we’re just going to start shooting at each other. And you notice, as soon as the tension really starts to rise, Ord just backs up and goes and hides behind a van. He’s like, “I’m going to let these idiots shoot each other for a little while, smoke a joint. This is how we passed the time in Nam. I hear gunfire, I’m not unused to this, so just kind of chill, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And if a lot of them are dead I’ll go out and pop a few of them, and then go and maybe make my way out.”
Were you familiar with Ben’s previous films and was he on your list of directors you wanted to work with?
I’d seen Sightseers, and I absolutely loved it. This guy’s hilarious, this guy’s dark, this guy’s funny, I love him. And then they called and said, “Do you know who Ben Wheatley is?” And I said, “Yeah, he’s the Sightseers guy. Yeah.” “Go watch Kill List, go watch A Field in England, go watch his movies.” And I did, and it was like, “Oh my god.” They go, “Well, he wants to talk to you because he has a part in one of his movies that he’d like you to do.” I was like, “Yes. Tell him I said yes.” They go, “No, no, no, no, no, wait a little. Skype with him first.” I go, “No, no. Just tell him I said yes. Let’s do it.” And fortunately it all ended up working out well.
As an actor, what are you looking for when you work with a particular director? What do you think it’ll bring out in you by working with a Ben Wheatley, or a David Fincher?
For me, it’s more like I want to learn how they did it. I want to watch their process, I want to see how they work, I want to see how they operate, I want to see how they create on film and on screen what we do on set, because it doesn’t always translate. Especially on a movie like this where everyone has such a good time, and everybody really enjoys themselves, that can sometimes be a recipe for disaster for a movie.
Is the acting process different in an ensemble as opposed to a film where it’s just two or three main characters?
It’s distributed weight. Less to carry on yourself. More to enjoy, more to react to, more to work with, more to play with, more people to give looks to, all that stuff. It’s a lot of fun.
What was physically the most arduous part of this?
Just crawling around on the rubble, and to try this and try not to trip. Trying to walk like you weren’t tripping when you’re trying to look cool, all that stuff. Everybody got bumps, everybody got bruises, everybody got roughed up in some way, but masochistically we all loved it because we were having such a good time at work. We were loving what we were doing, we were having such a good time working with Ben, we were having such a good time after work when we’d all go to pubs together. I mean, it was really a fun process.
Was it also fun to work mostly with practical effects and (fake) live ammo?
Yes. Yeah. It was a lot of fun working with real weapons, it was a lot of fun doing all that stuff. That being said, I’m really happy that there weren’t projectiles coming out of the rifles when we were shooting. Although, you know, it’s funny, man, it’s hard to shoot a moving target, so it just feels really realistic when people aren’t hitting with pistols at a distance. It’s fun, it’s fun to watch.
Just before I came in here to talk with you, a story went up in which you were asked about the Green Lantern rumors and you said that you hadn’t heard a thing, and that you were basically trolling the fans a little with it. Does it surprise you how quickly something like that can just sort of blow up online?
Man, it’s amazing how quickly everything moves now in this sort of digital age where there’s trends, and there’s worldwide … that whole thing. It’s nuts, man. It’s certainly kind of funny and weird in sort of a sociological experiment way to end up in the middle of it for a second, but I felt the volatility of it where I was like, “I’m not playing these games anymore. I feel like this could turn.” Which everybody knows it can. The monster can turn on you, so I was like, “I’m out of here. I’m out, this is like whatever.”
Having said that, you almost played Batman almost 10 years ago. Is it interesting to see them sort of reboot that Justice League idea now, 10 years after you came this close to it?
I think they’ll stop rebooting it the minute Batman stops making them money. I think that’s really what the decision’s come down to, is, “We’re going to lose the rights, we gotta do this, we gotta make some money off the blah blah blah blah.” It’s all business, I guess.
Would you want to get involved if they were to approach you to play Green Lantern or something like that?
I don’t know. I never really planned to do a movie like this, like a period kind of pulp film. I never planned to do something like Lone Ranger, or something like J. Edgar. I’ve always just kind of stuck to the adage of “do the best you can with whatever you get,” so who knows? I wouldn’t say that it’s the thing I’m seeking out, but also I would never say, “Oh, I would never do anything like that.” It all is just so circumstantial.
People have written extraordinary things about Call Me by Your Name. Were you excited about the prospects for that film and for people to see that when it comes out?
I was really excited, it was a terrific project to get to work on and a terrific project to be a part of, so for the reaction to be positive is like icing on the cake after getting the experience of making the movie. I love (director) Luca Guadagnino. We’d actually spoken before about trying to work together and it didn’t actually work out, and then this came along and it was … I read the book and was just blown away, then had such amazing conversations with Luca about this book, this life, everything. It was amazing. I was an incredible experience all around.
What are you doing next?
I’m doing Freakshift with Ben. But I’ll let Ben do all the talking about it.
Free Fire is out in theaters this Friday (April 21).