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This is Prince Charming talking, relishing an out-of-character moment
. For the past three months he's been brushing up on his noblesse oblige and playing a role that seems all but genetically determined. "If you had to draw a prince," says Tarsem Singh
, the director of the still-untitled Snow White adaptation, "you'd draw this guy.
But I'm not talking about a Disney prince. With Armie, you know there are undertones."
So far, Hammer's one-for-one in the nuance department. His two-way rendering of the contemporary American alpha-douche in The Social Network was instantly iconic.
Dropping Aaron Sorkin's lines like Ivy League daisy cutters, Hammer portrayed Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the identical-twin Olympic rowers who claimed that Facebook was snatched from them by their Harvard classmate Mark Zuckerberg. Hammer plays not one complete asshole but two, nailing all the physical and linguistic tics produced by the twins' hulking sense of privilege and entitlement. When Hammer-as-Winklevoss wears a robe, it's as if to say, This is how an asshole wears a robe. When Hammer-as-Winklevoss rips into a burger, it's as if to say, This is how an asshole eats meat.
Hammer-as-Hammer, on the other hand, bounds out of the minivan looking like a member of the Hollister SWAT Team.
He's wearing flip-flops, green-and-yellow board shorts, and a slate-gray T-shirt. "You've gotta meet the stunt guys," he says, brimming with enthusiasm. "They're weapons experts, ex-firefighters, rodeo riders, Cirque du Soleil performers, wushu masters. A couple are famous for parkour—you're not even going to believe what they can do on their stilts."
Hammer tosses off some gag parkour moves, then turns to me: "You're doing the warm-up with us. You can't just come to stunt training and not train." He means to be just one of the guys, having never developed the sense of exceptionalism that typically accompanies massive wealth. If his trainers sweat, he's going to sweat, and he wants me to sweat too, just so nobody thinks I'm a hack. Or a dick. The suggestion is protective. Hammer's great-grandfather and namesake, Armand, grew Occidental Petroleum from a three-man operation to the fourth-largest oil-and-gas company in America. But Hammer's self-confidence is gentler than his blue blood might suggest, less type-A, more Caribbean. When Hammer was 7, his father moved the family from Dallas to the Cayman Islands. "My parents started a school and a radio station down there, but I had no clue about that," he says. "I just knew I got to grab my machete, get on my dirt bike, and ride wherever I wanted. If I was hungry, I'd cut down a coconut." Hammer lived in the Caymans for five years. "I don't think I put on a pair of shoes the entire time."
Hammer is barefoot again as we join the stunt team, running in circles around the repurposed auditorium, the floor of which is covered with a giant padded mat. The running turns into running jumping jacks, and running while kicking our knees up high, and running while nearly kicking ourselves in our own asses with our heels. Some pelvic thrusting follows, and, finally, a series of stretches that are harder for Hammer than for everyone else because he's six feet five. He's sweating profusely but seems otherwise unfazed. Actually, he's still thinking about those stilts, which he desperately wants to strap on. "The deal is," he says, his foot over his head, his knee near his ear, "the day this shoot is over, I'm getting up on those things and nobody can stop me." He understands the anxiety and liability issues surrounding what he now is—here, for the first time, a leading man, opposite Evil Queen Julia Roberts and poisoned-apple victim Lily Collins—but he could do without the kid gloves. "They're always like, 'But you're not wearing shoes!' And I'm like, 'Huh? Just shut up and hit me.'"
The stilts, it turns out, are titanium, three feet high, and loaded with compressed air that makes even a simple jump look like an event at the X Games. Four stuntmen are strapped into them, doing front flips, side flips, and 720-degree spins. "These guys can run as fast as horses," says Hammer, taking off his shirt and revealing a tuft of chest hair he recently had to fight to keep. "Julia had a line about how smooth my chest is," he says, "and it's not. So the producers were like, 'Okay, just shave him.' And I was like, 'WHOA. I spent 25 years earning this chest hair. I'm wearing purple tights and a codpiece, so, please, let me keep my manhood.'"
It seems every time Hammer is slated to wear anything other than tailored clothing there's a problem. With the Snow White film, it was merely the absence of a chest-hair rider in his contract. But his role as Batman in George Miller's Justice League dematerialized in pre-production in 2008 when the movie was scrapped. The same could happen with the title role in Gore Verbinski's on-again, off-again Lone Ranger reboot. Luckily, starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in next month's J. Edgar, he wears mostly FBI-appropriate suits as he portrays Hoover's G-man love interest.
"Banana is the safe word," announces Hammer's body double, Kyle, and suddenly, the bestilted stuntmen begin the fight sequence in Scene 21, in which the sword-wielding prince is attacked by giants. They run through it over and over, each time faster than the last, with Hammer ducking, spinning, pivoting, swirling, and lunging—fending off men on titanium stilts who do flips and split jumps over his head.
After a couple of dozen runs, the stuntmen give Hammer a round of applause. "Okay," he says, "can we work on some aerial stuff? Some side flips?" When he finally stops his tumbling a few minutes later, Hammer's knees are bloody, but he doesn't seem to notice. During the grueling three-hour-long session, he never says banana. Instead, when it's done, Prince Charming is back in the van, cooing into his phone. "Hi, sweet wife," he says. "Hi, perfect soulmate." (lol barf)
It's easy to imagine how Armie Hammer could have evolved into a real-life Sorkinized Winklevoss. An overprivileged asshole eating meat; an über-entitled prig in a robe. In reality, he was almost an itinerant screwup. When he was 12, his family moved from the Caymans back to Los Angeles, where he had been born. "I went from a place where everybody was friendly to a city with no trees to climb. No crabs to catch. No machete. I had long hair and an accent. I didn't know who Nirvana was. I didn't know what the Lakers were." Hammer changed private schools three times, getting expelled from one for writing his name in lighter fluid outside the building and setting it ablaze. He dropped out of high school to act, possessing the desire but not the work ethic. "I figured it all out when my agent threatened to drop me," he says. "I went to three auditions that week. I worked my ass off for the first time and got all three parts." Where lesser oil heirs have ended up coining the term firecrotch on TMZ (Brandon Davis) or appearing on Celebrity Rehab (Jason Davis) or doing whatever it is that Balthazar Getty does, Hammer has ascended to a higher plane: Just eight months after a stint on Gossip Girl, he was working with David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin in The Social Network, then with Clint Eastwood and DiCaprio in J. Edgar.
Like his great-grandfather, Hammer is proving deft at making the most of a moment. "As a fluke," he says, opening an IPA back on the roof deck of his rental in Montreal, "my great-grandfather hit one of the largest oil reserves in California." This marked the rise of Oxy, meaning, in industrial terms, that Hammer has more in common with the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, and, yes, the Gettys than he does with the Winklevi. "If you didn't know his name," Aaron Sorkin says, "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."
Hammer starts in on beer two and his genealogy. "My great-great-grandfather Julius," he says, "founded the Communist Party in New York." But the real macher was his son Armand, a doctor who traveled to the Soviet Union in 1921 with pharmaceutical supplies after a typhus outbreak. Because of the Hammers' party ties, Lenin requested a meeting. "Armand became tight with Lenin," Hammer says. "We have a lot of written letters: 'Comrade Hammer, How are you? I have missed your face.'"
The scion of Vladimir Lenin's oil-baron pen pal has a tattoo: his family's name on his inner left wrist in Cyrillic letters. I see it as he punch-cuts a Macanudo cigar. "When Armand was unloading the supplies," he says, lighting up, "Lenin asked, 'What do you want in return?'" Armand wanted art. "So Lenin told Armand: 'Sure, go down to the Hermitage. Take whatever.' And so he walked through the museum. 'I'll take two of those. I'll take one of those. I'll take all your Fabergé eggs.'"
"I love art," says Hammer, sending up a puff of smoke. "I used to have a painting of Gorbachev that was given to my family by Gorbachev."None of this is matter-of-fact.
Hammer knows most family lore doesn't involve multiple instances of Kremlin-schmoozing. "Hoover hated my great-grandfather," Hammer says. "He referred to him as a Soviet agent of influence."
Ironically, the younger Armand Hammer is cast in J. Edgar as Clyde Tolson, Hoover's right-hand man, confidant of five decades, and lover.
The movie is no Brokeback Mountain on the Potomac, but it does deal with a complicated and high-stakes attraction between two men charged with keeping secrets for a living. When he was initially offered the part, Hammer balked. "It wasn't the gay aspect I had a hard time with," he says. "When I first read the script, it didn't make sense why Clyde would stay around—because 99 percent of the time he's just taking abuse. But then it was explained to me: When you get that little glimmer of hope—like Tolson did—that simple kiss on the forehead, it all seems worth it and you stay.
"Tolson was the only man who treated Hoover like a human," Hammer says, finishing off his cigar. "They had lunch together every day and dinner together every night. Without exception, never missed it."
In Eastwood's estimation, Hammer delivers "a sleeper performance" worthy of attention and acclaim."
Armie's like a throwback to that era,"
he says. "When Hoover started the bureau, he was 22. At 22, I don't think I knew anything. But Armie's more like those guys, with that ambition and maturity. He's very young but already a full-blown man."A full-blown man with a firecracker of a wife.
Hammer tells the story of how he and the 28-year-old Texas-born TV journalist Elizabeth Chambers once unwittingly exchanged guns for Christmas.
"I gave her this little .22 revolver," he says. "She got me a Sig Sauer P220—a great .45 automatic."
It's Saturday night and we're drinking on the back patio at Le Bremner, a packed new restaurant in Old Montreal. Hammer is wearing shorts, flip-flops again, and a dress shirt he accidentally threw in the spin cycle, making it a dress shirt no longer. After dinner, Chambers, in espadrilles, short lacy shorts, and a white blazer, joins us with her father, Bill. "He's a real cowboy," Hammer says. "Do you want to punch him in the stomach? You should feel his abs. I'm not even joking."
He watches admiringly as Chambers describes how she sassed DiCaprio during the filming of J. Edgar. "I actually met Leo when I was modeling in Tokyo when I was in high school," she says. "He hooked up with my roommate. When I saw him on set after all those years, I said, 'Tell me you're not an asshole. Do not make me hate you for the rest of the shoot. She was Spanish—you took a bath your first night together. (lol wtf?) What's her name?' And he goes, 'Marta.'"
This wasn't just his wife being cheeky, Hammer assures me. "Texas women are incredible. They're like, 'I love you, I'm sweet, I'm kind, but don't fuck with me, because I'll stab you.'"
The two met in 2006, at a West Hollywood gas station. Chambers had a boyfriend at the time, and for the next couple of years—until Hammer told her, on the night of the first presidential debate in 2008, to get rid of him. He had prepared a speech over the course of a string of sleepless nights, and it worked.
They married in May 2010.
Hammer's eyes brighten as he describes his bachelor party, a 10-day affair he calls his ATF weekend. Starting in Dallas, then road-tripping nearly 1,000 miles around the state, Hammer and his gang of six chugged beer and tracked wildebeests. The culmination of the event was a giant bonfire. "We spent a couple 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."
Chambers says her husband's best quality is his lack of ego,
which is evident as Hammer reflexively shifts from talking about himself to telling me about the missus. "Elizabeth broke out of Japanese jail twice in Tokyo while trying to report a piece," he says. "It was two weeks before our wedding. That's my favorite story."
The night is winding down. We've eaten oysters, lobsters, crabs, and meatballs. We've drunk cocktails, Verdicchio, Armagnac, and more cocktails. But Hammer isn't done. "A nightcap? Bourbon?"
After asking the bartender for her cocktail recipes, Hammer reaches for his wife's hand and helps her up from the table. It's a gentleman's move. For all of his swagger, Hammer, the proto-Prince Charming, is aware he exists in the story only for the sake of a girl
—and maybe for the waitstaff of the restaurant we've been keeping open with our drinking. On the way out, Hammer flip-flops around the place as the floors are being mopped, thanking every last person who made our cocktails, brought our food, cleared our plates. This is a man with old-school manners—and liquor tolerance.
Seemingly, Hammer isn't the least bit drunk.
The staff at Le Bremner is asking for him to return, and soon, as if he had just saved the kingdom. Hammer waves goodbye one more time. "Thanks again," he says. This is not how an asshole eats.
This is gratitude. "I could have turned out that way and run in those circles," he says as he ducks to fit his frame through the doorway. "But I'm glad I didn't. Besides, I have too many real friends, and this wife, who—if I ever acted like that—would smack me so hard, right in the mouth."