While shooting “Call Me By Your Name,” Armie Hammer acted naked alongside Timothée Chalamet, but moviegoers won’t get to see every detail. Hammer plays twentysomething academic Oliver, who engages in a passionate love affair with Chalamet’s teen Elio over the course of a languid summer at an Italian villa. Nevertheless, due to a combination of no-frontal-nudity clauses for both actors and creative decisions by director Luca Guadagino, the movie’s sexual imagery doesn’t go beyond Hammer’s rear end — and he’s relieved.
“I have a daughter who will one day go to junior high and it somewhat terrifies me, the idea that people would tease her, like, ‘Here’s a picture of your dad’s dick,'” the actor said after his film screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival, which has become an early harbinger of the awards circuit. “We definitely shot more than you see.”
Still, Hammer said “Call Me By Your Name” was all about pushing beyond his safety zone. “We spent several days shooting this movie completely nude,” he said. “After the first take you really how silly all the nerves are that you’ve built up about this thing.”
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In the months since “Call Me By Your Name” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, much has been made about the tender chemistry between its leads, the intelligent script by 90-year-old screenwriter James Ivory, and the way Guadagnino frames the romance in nonjudgmental terms. The buzz around its more-salacious moments — an erotic encounter between Chalamet and a peach chief among them — belies a lush, poetic romance that never plays like a provocation.
So when conservative actor James Woods accused the movie of “quietly chipping away the last barriers of decency,” Hammer generated headlines when he shot back on Twitter: “Didn’t you date a 19 year old when you were 60…….?”
The exchange followed him on these early days of the Oscar campaign trail. Hammer air of confidence fades to a sheepish grin when asked about the digital showdown. “He made a comment about our movie and I acted out, said something back, and I was not expecting it to take traction like it did,” Hammer said. It’s the only thing I’ve done that’s ever gone viral. Had I known it was going to happen, I probably would’ve avoided the whole thing.”
However, that’s not an expression of remorse; he’s lost patience with leering questions.
“I don’t regret saying it because I agree with my own sentiment, I stood up for myself and I’m fine with that,” he said. “I did an interview where someone said, ‘Timothee has to grab you in the movie, how did that feel for you… to have a man grab you intimately like that?'” he said. “I was like, ‘Can I ask you a question? Have you asked every woman who’s ever had her boobs grabbed or been slapped in the ass the same question?’ It’s all part and parcel with this whole thing. When you’re doing this scene, you don’t think like, ‘I just got my dick grabbed by another man and it feels crazy.’ It feels like you’re just doing whatever you’re supposed to be doing in this scene, bring truth and honesty to it.”
Hammer’s convictions reflect a notable shift in his career trajectory, away from the obvious hunks of studio’s leading roles to more daring, auteur-driven works. After he surfaced in David Fincher’s “The Social Network” as the comically empty-headed musclemen known as the Winklevoss twins, he seemed like a natural star-on-the-rise, inevitably poised to take charge of innumerable blockbusters. While Hammer argued that “I never got pigeonholed as the stud of the moment,” he acknowledged that after Fincher’s movie, there was a concerted effort by people around me to be like, ‘Oh, he’s tall and big, we’ll make this kind of leading man.'”
So he showed up opposite Johnny Depp in “The Lone Ranger” and rounded out the ensemble of Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” remake, and found his stardom receded in the process. “It just never worked,” he said. “Every time we took a shot, it just never worked. Whether it was Lone Ranger or whatever, it was this concerted effort to make me into this thing. It was never why I got into the business in the first place.”
Instead, he returned to a director-first approach, with recent collaboration highlights including Tom Ford on “Nocturnal Animals,” Ben Wheatley on “Free Fire,” and now Guadagnino on “Call Me By Your Name.” The strategy seems to be working: Hammer delivers an absorbing, full-bodied performance in the movie that both plays off his old-fashioned movie star looks and enriches them with new kind of sensuality rarely explored on American screens. (It also puts him near the front of the pack in the supporting actor race, alongside Willem Dafoe in “The Florida Project.”)
“I sat around like every other actor in acting class, dreaming of a role like ‘Call Me By Your Name’ that pushes you, challenges your perspective and makes you grow as a person,” he said. “I feel like this film truly did. I just made a concerted effort to just do the movies I really wanted to do and work with the directors I really wanted to work with.”
That’s not to say he won’t consider a return to studio movies for the right opportunity. “Let’s be honest,” he said. “If someone came to me and said, ‘Hey, we have this awesome franchise that’s a great idea and you could probably buy a pretty sick house if you do it,’ I get that. But it’s also not the mode I’m in right now. I’d rather learn, grow and push myself right now.”
Still, he has confessed in more than one interview that he was nervous to play Oliver, a character far removed from his own life as a straight guy with two kids. “I knew it was going to be a project that would push and require a lot more from me than I really have to give,” he said. “You’re not standing in front of green screen, you’re not doing some big action, you’re not doing some big stunt. It’s two people being incredibly naked and vulnerable with each, literally and emotionally, on camera. I was like, I don’t know if I can do this as an actor, if I have this capability.”
Guadagnino talked to him into it. “After several great conversations with the director about how fear and desire are really part and parcel of the same thing,” he said, “I realized that if I’m going to commit myself to being an artist and making movies for the rest of my life then I need to find things that push and challenge me.” He also had some previous experience playing a gay man onscreen, most notably as Clyde Tolson opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Hammer said. “I’ve done it several times and I don’t have any more preoccupation with that than playing anything else. That’s part of the fun — you’re an actor, you get to play people who aren’t you.”
Despite his willingness to take risks, Hammer projects the easygoing movie star charm of an actor on the rise, keen on confirming his fans’ best hopes about him. He speaks with a gentle baritone (famously described by Vulture’s Hunter Harris as “Jon Hamm’s voice, if Jon Hamm’s voice were dipped in honey”) and maintains a casual tone. “Here’s the deal, dude,” he said. “I had the experience of making this movie and it was incredibly similar to what you see on the screen — this beautiful, hot, languid experience. If other actors don’t want to push themselves creatively, and only want to do things that are part of their wheelhouse, then that’s fine. That’s totally up to them. But that’s not the way I want to go about it.”
He’s currently in the process of acting opposite Felicity Jones in “On the Basis of Sex,” a Ruth Bader Gingsberg biopic in which he plays the Supreme Court Justice’s husband. “It’s hard to argue that there’s a stronger woman who’s had more to do with gender equality over the last 40 years than her,” he said. “I play the husband who does all the cooking and cleaning and stays home with the kids. And by the way, he was totally fine with that”.
Hammer’s assertive demeanor was already showing early signs of wear, as awards-season fatigue took hold. He showed up in the Hamptons a day after “Call Me By Your Name” played at NYFF; within 12 hours, he would be in London, appealing to BAFTA voters. He was frustrated with visiting so many film festivals without getting a chance to watch other new movies. The one wants to watch the most is “The Square,” Ruben Ostlund’s Cannes-winning art world satire. Still, he danced around the opportunity to complain about the intensity of Oscar season, even as his weary eyes told a different story.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to pour your heart and soul and sweat equity into a movie that really doesn’t have that much behind it,” he said. “We shot it in the middle of nowhere in Italy, it was this thing that no one really was that interested in. I thought the script was one of the most beautiful scripts I’d ever read, so to go through all that and all the effort we put into it, then have it appreciated by people and have people want to see it and think it deserves this recognition, is an incredible feeling.” Then he leaned forward to emphasize one last point before getting dragged off to another event: “I can tell you, from experience, that this is far better than the alternative.”