Ten Long Years Of Trying To Make Armie Hammer Happen
How many second chances does a handsome white male star get?
Back in 2007, 19-year-old Armie Hammer was readying himself to become a movie star. No matter that his roles, at that point, were limited to quick one-episode stints on Veronica Mars and Desperate Housewives, and a part as “Lead Prefect” in an adaptation of My Friend Flicka. Hammer already had the height, the side part, and the old-fashioned good looks that would lead directors to compare him to the likes of Gary Cooper.
He also comported himself the way people who have grown up with money often do: with confidence and charisma, or if you’re being less generous, like a little bit of an asshole. Hammer had just been cast in George Miller’s doomed DC Comics adaption Justice League: Mortal and was a perfect young Bruce Wayne, even if some in the press remained dubious. “Armie Hammer (his actual, SAG-registered name) will play Batman,” the St. Petersburg Times reported. “We guess being 6-foot-5 and having a weird name makes you qualified to play the Dark Knight.”
When the movie was called off, Hammer and the other stars — including Adam Brody as The Flash, DJ Cotrona as Superman, and Megan Gale as Wonder Woman — were already deep in pre-production training. Suddenly, their path to instant stardom was over. In the aftermath, the careers of those other would-be superheroes (save Common, slated to play Green Lantern, who had an established musical career of his own) failed to bear fruit; Brody, arguably the most famous at the time of casting, has all but disappeared from Hollywood. But not Hammer, whose career has evaded certain doom for nearly a decade.
He’s gone on to star in failed Westerns, spy remakes, fantasies, and historical epics. His blockbusters flop; his prestige pictures fall flat. The Lone Ranger was one of Disney’s greatest summer bombs of all time. Plans to make The Man from U.N.C.L.E. into a sprawling franchise disappeared. His attempt to redirect his career with The Birth of a Nation faded from Oscar favorite to a blip on the awards season radar.
Yet he and his publicity team have never given up trying to Make Armie Hammer Happen. This year, they are spinning out a publicity campaign around his role in the likely Oscar contender Call Me by Your Name that attempts to retroactively reinterpret his choices, his failures, and his career.
According to this logic, it’s not that Hammer’s a bad movie star. It’s that movie stardom isn’t for Hammer: He’s too quirky to fit into the mainstream roles available to him, and so much more than the sum of his handsome parts. He might look, as Mirror Mirror director Tarsem Singh put it, like who you’d draw if you were going to draw a prince. But Singh also pinpointed his deeper appeal: “I’m not talking about a Disney Prince,” he told Details. “There are undertones.”
Yet for the bulk of Hammer’s career, those undertones have been overlooked and overshadowed by the mainstream — and altogether unremarkable — Hollywood narrative around him.
There are fetish undertones, like his documented affection for BDSM and ropes. Gross undertones, like his obsession with talking about how many times he got ringworm as a child. Meme-able undertones, mostly from the adorable way he dances in a now-viral clip from Call Me by Your Name. Queer undertones, like the way he talks about “falling in love” with the film’s director on set. Paired with his performance in an Oscar-bound film, these undertones, largely organically surfaced by the internet, have the potential to finally Make Armie Hammer Happen.
Or so the current narrative goes. But is Hammer truly a unique star who’s finally finding his niche — or simply a beautiful, pedigreed white man who’s been allowed, in a way that few others in Hollywood have, endless attempts to discover it?
Armie Hammer’s first significant magazine appearance came in 2009, in a Vanity Fair spread of “Fortune’s Children” — 38 heirs and heiresses, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, heralded as “the next generation of some of the world’s greatest fortunes.” Hammer’s page is located in the back of the spread, after the Mortons and Bloombergs and Bloomingdales, and features a photo of him playing a guitar in a bathrobe, staring whimsically into the distance. His “Heritage” is listed as “Great-grandfather Dr. Armand Hammer, the controversial Occidental Petroleum tycoon.” Under “Education,” there’s a quote from Hammer: “I tried college at UCLA. I gave it a fighting effort and I just couldn’t do it.” Under “Occupation”: “Actor — currently appearing on Gossip Girl.”
It’s a tidy encapsulation of the foundation of Hammer’s image as “rich asshole” — and he’s spent the last decade both leaning into his pedigree while also straining to separate himself from it. Early in his career he was cast, repeatedly, as a version of this rich asshole: first in a three-episode arc of Gossip Girl, in which he cheats on his girlfriend with Serena (Blake Lively), then cheats on Serena with his girlfriend; then, most famously and definitively, as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. He was playing different genres of the same breed: that artfully tousled chestnut hair, that teenage ease in the suit jacket. “When Hammer-as-Winklevoss wears a robe, it’s as if to say, This is how an asshole wears a robe,” Details declared in 2011. “When Hammer-as-Winklevoss rips into a burger, it’s as if to say, This is how an asshole eats meat.”
There had been other roles before Gossip Girl (Hammer played Reverend Billy Graham in Billy: The Early Years) but those didn’t show up in the Vanity Fair spread or the dozens of profiles and interviews that popped up in the wake of his scene-stealing turn in The Social Network. Instead, interviewers revelled in the posh details of his youth: He was born Armand, after his 90-year-grandfather; he drove around in a “pedal car” at his grandfather’s house; he lived in Dallas and, soon after, the Cayman Islands. (“My dad saw the movie The Firm and he thought it looked like paradise.”) “I love art,” Hammer told Details. “I used to have a painting of Gorbachev that was given to my family by Gorbachev.”
In interviews, Hammer was very careful to undercut any suggestion of privilege. Every mention of the Cayman Islands — both then and in the years to come — is followed by one of Hammer’s ringworm. “I swam and fished and had something to do in the water every day and rarely wore shoes, to the point of getting ringworm a couple of times,” he told New York Magazine in 2001. “Isn’t that disgusting?” He mentioned ringworm again to Details in 2011, to Town and Country in 2012, and to both Entertainment Weekly and Nylon Guys in 2013.
The Details profile — his first cover — even sought out secondary interviews to attest to how normal he was. “If you didn’t know his name,” Aaron Sorkin told the magazine, “you’d never guess Armie came from privilege — and I don’t think he’d want you to guess it. He’s a humble, hardworking actor, a friend who’d jump in front of a bus for you.” Or, as Lily Collins, his costar in Mirror Mirror, explained to Entertainment Weekly, “You’d never know he came from such a prestigious family. He doesn’t make that a part of who he is at all. It’s really important to him that his last name isn’t the thing that got him where he is.”
Hammer had spent time in the bit-part trenches before getting cast as Batman and the Winklevoss twins. But the privilege that afforded him a path to stardom is neatly papered over with tales of a Hammer, back from the Caymans, out of touch and dicking around. He sold Playboys in the eighth grade, packaged with bottles of lotion, and stashed them in the bushes at school so he wouldn’t get caught. He got kicked out of high school for setting lighter fluid on fire. His “two semesters” of UCLA were actually two semesters of signing up for UCLA Extension classes and never showing up. But Hammer was firm that he and his wife Elizabeth Chambers, formerly a journalist for E!, were never supported by his family money. “I support myself,” he said. “My wife and I together, it’s all our household. I’m really proud of that.”
After The Social Network, Hammer found himself a hot property — and was almost immediately cast as Clyde Tolson opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood’s 2011 J. Edgar Hoover biopic J. Edgar. “It’s been an amazing year for me — it’s exactly what I always wanted to happen,” he told the Wall Street Journal. His character’s relationship with Hoover is suggestively queer, and, very briefly, explicitly so — prompting Hammer’s first man-on-man screen kiss. But Hammer deftly handled questions about the novelty or strangeness of the event. “It just felt like kissing,” he said. “I also had to shoot a machine gun in the movie, but nobody asks about that.”
Hammer’s response is a far cry from the “no homo” caginess that often accompanies straight stars’ commentary on playing queer roles — a posture he’s maintained in the years since, leaning into the queer subtext of his relationship with Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino, much to the delight of fans. But back in 2011, press around J. Edgar was careful to note Hammer’s heterosexuality — and masculinity. Chambers literally showed up halfway through his interview with New York Magazine. “Wife!” Hammer greeted her. “Best friend,” she replied, before “falling into an embrace of kisses.”
Chambers also showed up to the Details interview, and got called out while waiting in the wings of a 2010 appearance on the Today show. “Armie had one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to, when he married his gorgeous Elizabeth last May,” Kathie Lee Gifford, a longtime friend of the family, said on air. “I mean, they are the Ken and Barbie of the world.” Hammer went on to describe, down to the brand of the sweatshirt and the type of sandals, what Chambers was wearing the first day he met her. “Oh, that’s love!” Gifford exclaimed.
Any threat of emasculation was counterbalanced with tales of Hammer’s bachelor party. In one profile, his “eyes brightened” as he described this 10-day event, which he nicknamed his “ATF Weekend”: “We spent a couple of days gathering brush, chopping down trees, building this huge thing, and soaking it with gasoline. We filled a giant tequila bottle with gasoline, too, and put it right on top of the pile. Then I stood back. A long way off. And I blew the thing up with a machine gun.”
Amidst all this manliness, Hammer was cast opposite Johnny Depp in Disney’s long-germinating adaptation of the classic television series The Lone Ranger. Depp was the A-list star, but Ranger — with a budget of $215 million, released in prime summer blockbuster territory — seemed like it would finally be the film that launched Hammer into actual stardom.
Hammer’s publicity machine went into overdrive. Nearly a year before the film’s release, Hammer was on the cover of Esquire, heralded as a long-awaited return to real-man stardom. “Movie stars used to be big,” the article inside proclaimed. “Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne: redwoods among men, all of them, towering over audiences at twenty-four frames a second. Armie Hammer is big — he’s six five and built like an Abercrombie greeter — and he’s handsome in the high-Wasp way your grandmother would have considered ‘movie-star handsome.’” Perfect, in other words, to play a role in a film whose racial politics (including the casting of Depp in “redface” as Tonto) dated back to the 1950s.
But those discussions, as well as the movie’s massive belly flop, were months in the future. The current task was selling this guy to an audience who might not know him, or only know him as the Winklevoss twins. Thus a flurry of profiles in Elle (ladies), Town & Country (rich people), Cowboys & Indians (mild racists), Men’s Health (jacked dudes), Playboy (regressive dudes), and Nylon Guys (hip dudes!).
The same points — hammering home his relatability, his quirkiness, his I’m-not-a-douche-ness — were reiterated and reinterpreted for those intended audiences. The writer in Elle noted that “there might not be another man whose physical description is so worthy of romance-novel cliches,” but in reality, he is “a late, golden-retriever-like man-boy, who sees to be having some trouble fitting his long legs even in this oversize booth.” In Town & Country, “he seems determined to not be pegged as an elitist, so he talks about friends who have Jeeps with no doors and Yosemite Sam mud flaps.” In Playboy, he talks about being a “gun appreciator” and exploring his submissive side when it came to sex with his feminist wife.
But no amount of cool bro-ification of Hammer could save Lone Ranger, whose failure felt foretold before the movie hit theaters. The immediate strategy was to blame critics and others in the industry who “doomed” the film by writing about its cost overages and an early shutdown. Depp declared that “the reviews were written when they heard Gore [Verbinski] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and me were going to do The Lone Ranger”; Hammer added that critics had tried a similar strategy with World War Z, and then turned their attention to Ranger. “They decided to slit the jugular of our movie,” he said. “They’ve been gunning for our movie since it was shut down for the first time. I think that’s probably when most of the critics wrote their initial reviews.”
But Hollywood would never give up on a guy that handsome, that tall, that white, with a jaw that square.
But as the Los Angeles Times noted, critics do not, and cannot, write reviews that early. What’s more, Hammer’s comments, along with similar accusations from Depp and Bruckheimer, were part of a larger narrative intended to salvage the reception of the film. That posture came across as bitter, not to mention false — especially to anyone who had seen the deeply mediocre film. The movie was ill-advised; Hammer wasn’t going to be a movie star; just let it be. Maybe he’d do well in extended cable?
But Hollywood would never give up on a guy that handsome, that tall, that white, with a jaw that square. He needed to recalibrate and lie low after the press barrage of Lone Ranger. So Hammer disappeared for the rest of 2013 and the entirety of 2014. When he showed up with his wife for a charity gala in April 2015, Lainey Gossip wrote a brief post reminding readers that “He was supposed to be a thing, wasn’t he?” “And then he made those puppy noises in Mirror Mirror and after that he went down with Johnny Depp on the embarrassment that was Lone Ranger and just like that, the heat was gone.”
A few months later, there was a half-hearted attempt to reignite the Hammer embers with a cameo in the Entourage movie. Playing “himself,” he threatens Vince Chase for dating a girl he once dated and teases the “boys” for eating salad — Bro Hammer in full effect. And then: nothing. No prominent interviews, no magazine covers. There was a bit of red carpet, some junket conversations, a half-hearted game of “Never Have I Ever.” It was a curious amount of nothing, given that he was starring in one of Warner Bros.’ big investments, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., released in August 2015. There were, essentially, no more attempts to Make Armie Hammer Happen.
U.N.C.L.E. struggled immediately, opening at No. 3 behind Straight Outta Compton, which earned a whopping $60.2 million in that first weekend, compared with U.N.C.L.E.’s $13.4 million gross. The tongue-in-cheek spy caper would go on to earn $109.8 million internationally on a $75 million budget — not a total flop, but not a success, either. The movie is actually quite fun; Hammer and his costars, Alicia Vikander and fellow handsome almost-leading-man Henry Cavill, are good. The film’s lackluster grosses were primarily the result of weird placement (at the end of the summer) and misguided faith in an audience’s desire to see a television show from the ’60s, with an inscrutable name and two hot but bland dudes, adapted for the big screen.
But it wasn’t as if Warner Bros. had dumped the film. Indeed, its advertising buys for U.N.C.L.E. were the highest in Hollywood, with at least $31.4 million spent on television ads alone. Why, then, did Hammer effectively not promote the film?
In hindsight, it appeared Hammer was very much over it. When he signed on to the film in April 2013, Tom Cruise was attached to play the role that would eventually go to Cavill. Hammer had finished filming Lone Ranger, but it wouldn’t hit theaters (and bomb) for months. He was a leading man in the making; of course he’d sign on for what, at the time, seemed poised to become an extended franchise. But then Cruise dropped out, purportedly because of shooting conflicts with the fifth Mission: Impossible (which would later decimate U.N.C.L.E. at the box office), and was replaced by Cavill, best known for playing Superman and being a junior-varsity Tom Cruise.
In the past, Hammer’s performances had always been buoyed by the movie-star gravitas of his costars, whether DiCaprio, Depp, or Julia Roberts. But one demi-star plus another demi-star did not make a whole. As Variety critic Peter Debruge explained, “Cavill and Hammer have each toplined major tentpoles before, so it’s something of a mystery why neither makes much of an impression here, but there’s a curious vacuum at the center of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that almost certainly owes to its casting. The actors behave more like mannequins than men.”
In refusing profiles and in-depth interviews, he also refused to endorse, or even participate in, the myth of his own stardom. No more pretending he was the next big thing on the cover of a men’s magazine: He wasn’t. And so he left big-budget movies behind, seeking an altogether different route to Making Armie Hammer Happen: indie martyrdom.
“Indie martyrdom” is what faltering stars do to restart their careers or the narratives about them. It’s a way of showing that they’re devoted to acting, and the art, and not embarrassed to do it for minor money, without all the bells and whistles of a major studio production, because what they really care about is craft. Or, you know, winning an Oscar and regaining their position of lost prominence. Usually, the star inhabits a role that contrasts with or undercuts their existing star narrative: the pretty girl is cast as an ugly one (Charlize Theron); the comedian is cast as a villain (Robin Williams); the hunk is cast as a perv (Jake Gyllenhaal). The role works to retexture the star’s existing image just enough to make them seem interesting — but not so drastically that they can’t return to mostly the same sort of roles, and image, that they had before.
Indie martyrdom is a relatively recent phenomenon, largely because you need indie films capable of making prestige-y splashes in order for it to work. John Travolta was one of the first to successfully pull it off, effectively jump-starting his broken-down career with Pulp Fiction. Since then, it’s worked for Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Michael Keaton (Birdman), and Matthew McConaughey (True Detective). A more complicated version has worked for Colin Farrell, who went indie with In Bruges and has stayed there, becoming indie director Yorgos Lanthimos’s muse, and for Jake Gyllenhaal, who started indie, got pulled into mainstream stardom, and has since returned to the type of roles that first made him interesting.
Hammer didn’t have the career highs or length of any of those stars. But he was facing a dead end after his big-budget movies continually failed to deliver — even those, like Mirror Mirror, directed by indie directors like Tarsem Singh, who was the reason Hammer signed on to the picture in the first place. (“The Cell is one of my favorite movies of all time.”) To change the conversation about him, he needed a small movie that would make a big splash. Cue The Birth of a Nation.
In the wake of director Nate Parker’s publicity implosion, it’s hard to remember just how much hype surrounded The Birth of a Nation. When it premiered at Sundance in January 2016, it was the talk of the festival, subject to an all-night bidding war, eclipsing even Manchester by the Sea, which Amazon had purchased for a record-breaking $10 million, in terms of buzz. Parker — who directed, starred in, and co-wrote the film — had spent years raising the funds to develop his screenplay, which dramatized the historical slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. The initial reviews were fawning. The Oscar course was set.
Parker was poised to receive the bulk of the praise and prestige, but others in the film — including Hammer, who played an insidiously benevolent slave owner — would be caught up in its wake. At Sundance, there was Hammer, onstage at Eccles Theater for the standing ovation; there was Hammer, giving quotes about the importance of the work and the arduousness of the filming. “It sucked, it was not fun,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “There were definitely days when Nate had to stop what we were doing and remind us why we were all here, because everybody felt the emotional burden of it. But at the same time it was a story that needs to be told.”
When Birth of a Nation premiered at Sundance, details of the 1999 rape allegations against Parker and the film’s cowriter, Jean McGianni Celestin, were already quietly circulating online. The publicity team for Fox Searchlight, sensing those allegations would become an issue during awards season, decided to address them head-on in interviews with Deadline and Variety, both published on August 12. The fallout from those interviews — and subsequent reporting, in which the details of the alleged assault and its aftermath became public knowledge — effectively sank the film, which grossed just $15 million at the box office, and squashed its awards campaign.
If Hammer had hoped for whispers of a Best Supporting Actor campaign, those disappeared entirely. His other indie turn that fall, a small part in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, was a nonstarter. Free Fire — directed by indie darling Ben Wheatley, and costarring Brie Larson — barely received a US release, ultimately grossing just $1.2 million stateside. Mine, a military thriller purchased in July 2016 for prospective theatrical release, went straight to VOD. His starring performance in Final Portrait, a biopic directed by Stanley Tucci that premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, wasn’t even released in the US — and is still unavailable on VOD.
Five indie films, no hits. But there is still hope for Call Me by Your Name, which began filming in May 2016. Adapted by James Ivory, best known as half of the Merchant Ivory film partnership, from André Aciman’s canonical 2007 novella of the same name, the film follows a nascent romance between Hammer’s character, Oliver, an American grad student in Italy for the summer, and his graduate professor’s 17-year-old son, played by Timothée Chalamet.
Call Me by Your Name became this year’s Sundance darling, providing Hammer with a neat symmetry to the buzz of the year before. There he was, onstage after the film’s first screening, watching as yet another of his films earned a standing ovation from a who’s-who of film critics and industry insiders. Vulture said that the festival had “fall[en] in love” with the film, which felt like a “landmark.” “Hammer turns in his best work since his breakout dual role as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network,” Kyle Buchanan wrote. “This movie will forever stay with me,” Hammer said.
Where Hammer’s other attempts at indie martyrdom have failed, the Make Armie Hammer Happen campaign affixed to Call Me by Your Name is thriving. The publicity push for Call Me by Your Name began in September, with twin covers — one with Hammer, the other with Chalamet — of GQ Style, along with a much-circulated photo of Hammer staring soulfully at the camera in an oversize brown sweater.
At the same time, Hammer made headlines for replying to a retweet, by actor James Woods, of a criticism of the age difference in Call Me by Your Name. Hammer’s response (“Didn’t you date a 19 year old when you were 60…..?”) was affirmed by actor Amber Tamblyn, who wrote, “James Woods tried to pick me and my friend up at a restaurant once. He wanted to take us to Vegas. ‘I’m 16,’ I said. ‘Even better,’ he said.”
It’s the sort of Twitter conversation that, in 2017, makes heroes out of otherwise unremarkable Twitter celebrities. But it also helped launch what has since coalesced into a sort of Cult of Hammer — a new, if unexpected, route to Making Armie Hammer Happen. Take the Vulture post, published just days later, entitled “11 Delectable Armie Hammer Stories.” It simply lists examples of how Hammer has narrativized himself in ways that are kooky or weird or simply non-Hollywood: “He insists he doesn’t have a trust fund,” “He was on the receiving end of nonconsensual knife play,” and the most delectable of all, “He once liked a bunch of bondage tweets,” referring to Hammer’s Twitter penchant, written up by Cosmopolitan in March 2017 under the headline “Armie Hammer keeps ‘liking’ BDSM Twitter Posts and Doesn’t Know Everyone Can See It.”
Faving the BDSM tweets — all pretty tame, as far as BDSM goes — provided the sort of seemingly authentic moment that celebrities at once yearn for and fear. Far more than The Birth of a Nation, it gave his banal star image the lovable texture it so desperately needed. Suddenly the Twittersphere seemed to feel the same way about Hammer as it did upon hearing that Chris Evans was dating Jenny Slate, or figuring out Chris Hemsworth had improvised the best joke in Ghostbusters. It’s like finding out your favorite candy bar also has fiber.
It was the best thing that could’ve happened to Hammer’s career. Coupled with the James Woods tweet, it transformed him into a sort of meme-able internet hero, a mannequin onto which readers could drape their fantasies, whether they be of a feminist hero or a queer icon. Actors become stars not through narrow definitions of who they are and what they mean, but when who they are and what they mean can be expanded and subtly customized to each person. It’s particularly true today: Traditional PR never Made Armie Hammer happen. The internet, picking and choosing the parts of him that were actually exciting and interesting, did.
With Hammer’s image newly expanded, it was the perfect moment for him to quietly suggest ways to fill it — or offer a reinterpretation of past attempts at stardom. “All of a sudden, I realized I was being shoehorned into something that was different than what I expected or wanted out of this business,” he told Vulture. “When you’re sitting in an acting class when you’re young, they tell you about the ideal experience on a project, where you work on a movie that challenges you and draws something out of you. But you don’t get that on big movies.”
Not because Hammer had to, this suggests — but because he wanted to. It’s difficult to determine the extent to which that’s really true. Every career trajectory in Hollywood is a combination of available options and personal volition. But that profile made it easy to root for Hammer, who, in a Hollywood Reporter cover story released a week later, elaborated the thesis further: His movies, even the good ones, just never seemed to work out.
He reiterated his feelings about the “bandwagon” of “let’s destroy this movie” that surrounded The Lone Ranger, and alleged that the scandal surrounding Nate Parker was “orchestrated for sure” by someone “who had a competing film for the Academy Awards, who decided to release all of the phone records and information.” (The phone records and court documents were public record, and surfaced after Parker discussed the topic himself in early press for the movie).
“Nate had stuff in his past, which is heinous and tough to get beyond. I get that,” Hammer continued. “But that was when he was 18, and now he’s in director’s jail. At the same time, the guy who went and won an Academy Award has three cases of sexual assault against him.” (Hammer was referring to Casey Affleck, who, in 2010, settled a lawsuit brought by two women alleging sexual misconduct, and won an Oscar for his performance in Manchester by the Sea.)
Here, Hammer is once again narrativizing his career: unjust Hollywood, that’s why Armie Hammer didn’t happen. He’s even scared it’s going to happen again, as Call Me by Your Name, and the sexual dynamics within, has become shadowed by various allegations hanging over all of Hollywood, including Kevin Spacey’s harassment and abuse of young and underage men. “Given my history,” Hammer said, “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Looking back at Hammer’s career, it’s fascinating to see just how much agency and independence he claimed for himself growing up, contrasted with how little he says he has had over his working life. He made the decision to drop out of high school; he made the decision to go into acting; he made the decision to not take money from his parents. Hammer liberated himself from his history and the duty that might accompany it, attempting to forge a path for himself the same way that any other actor would in Hollywood.
And yet, for all that personal volition, Hammer’s inability to make himself happen — until now — has never, at least according to him, been his own fault. To blame: the blockbusters he agreed to star in, the critics who panned his films, the activists who doomed his indie breakthrough. Not to blame: an industry calibrated to produce films for men who look like him, or his own judgment in choosing the films that he did, or the director against whom those claims were levied. Armie Hammer didn’t happen for 10 long years because, according to his logic, the system was stacked against him.
Well, of course it was: The “system,” whether Hollywood or American capitalism in general, is stacked against basically everyone. But a small few, including Hammer’s own grandfather, figure out how to manipulate and survive it. What seems to annoy Hammer, then, is that he struggled the same way everyone else — the way women and actors of color in particular — struggle: with shitty options, with publicity that pigeonholes you, with people who only care about your looks, with machinations beyond your control.
Countless stars have fallen into Hammer-like career trajectories and never recovered. Many of those women, spit out by mainstream Hollywood, have crafted nuanced second acts on television, or figured out how to monetize their lifestyles. But none have been afforded the sort of second, and third, and fourth chances that Hammer has been. That’s a privilege afforded men like Hammer’s costar Johnny Depp, or Matt Damon, or Ben Affleck, or Michael Fassbender, or Bradley Cooper, or Ryan Reynolds — or even, in a slightly different way, Mel Gibson. No one gets second chances in Hollywood the way straight white men do.
No one gets second chances in Hollywood the way straight white men do.
Call Me by Your Name is a lovely movie, and Hammer’s performance is one of the lovely, if less remarkable, things about it. But in a moment ripe for holistic re-evaluation of the way careers are advanced and protected in Hollywood, it’s worth contemplating why, and how, Armie Hammer has been given the time and space to finally happen. “I’ve heard the ‘This is your moment’ speech so many times,” Hammer told the Hollywood Reporter while walking around a Los Angeles park that bears his grandfather’s name. “The way I look at it is I’m building a collage of my work. Call Me by Your Name is going to do what it’s going to do. And then the only thing I really care about is: Can I get more work afterward?”
Of course he can. What an idea: to have others consider your work not in terms of individual performances, but as an overarching body of art. To continue to have your words, and opinions, and looks hold value and weight, regardless of your past decisions or missteps. It’s the sort of freedom that accompanies privilege, in all of its various manifestations, inside of Hollywood and out of it. It thrives on its immunity to interrogation and its own invisibility; it naturalizes the accolades and infinite chances bestowed on its recipients.
Hollywood has always been a place where people of all different classes and backgrounds have flocked, hoping to realize their dreams of stardom, no matter the odds against them. If you had that special something, you’d rise to the top. It’s a very American idea, at once idealistic and rooted in a blind faith in meritocracy. Stardom is often unpredictable, but it rarely, even today, happens without significant support from the publicity apparatus at large. Stars aren’t born; they’re made — and who gets the opportunity to get “made” has everything to do with who controls the industry that both benefits from and relies upon them.
A post-Weinstein Hollywood isn’t just about naming and removing abusers. It’s about illuminating the processes that have, for decades, allowed Hollywood’s interior logic — about who gets second chances, who’s allowed to be a star, who’s allowed to kiss or have sex scenes, who can “handle” a big budget, what sort of stories will resonate — to endure and to excuse itself.
That doesn’t mean boycotting Call Me by Your Name, a film that operates outside that logic and deserves to be evaluated independently from its star, in the same way Hammer has repeatedly asked not to be judged by the movies he appears in. But it does call for us to interrogate the Hammer narrative built upon it — and the narratives of so many other male stars, directors, and producers who’ve been afforded not only the benefit of the doubt, but the confidence that their work is valuable, is worth investing in, is worth taking a chance on, no matter their past failures or inexperience.
Ultimately, the problem isn’t that Armie Hammer was given this many chances to happen. It’s that the system that ensured those chances — along with those given to so many other white men — also withholds chances, leeway, and faith from those who need and would benefit from them most. ●