Prince Charming, The Lone Ranger – whatever the square-jawed character, Armie Hammer’s ready to put a unique spin on it.
Hammer’s latest role is as the not-quite-so-stalwart object of Snow White’s affection in the deconstructionist romp “Mirror Mirror.” Here's what he has to say on his rocketing career, which has shot up faster than a silver bullet.
Were you game for going all out for this, to bring the sillier side of this charming prince to light?
Yeah, it was fun, man. It was fun just to get to go to that place where it's not like you're doing a heavy drama, where you have to show up on set in the right headspace and focused on your work. You're making a movie where you're play-fighting and you're playing with swords and dwarves and giants and this and that. It was like a fun escape for the kids.
When you read the script and saw that you literally had to lick Julia Roberts’ face, what did you think?
I don't remember if licking her face was actually in the script or something that we just kind of came up with on the day, but either way that was the first day of work and my first day of working with her. So, I was like, 'Yeah. Nice to meet you. Are you ready?' That was basically it.
A good ice breaker?
A good ice shatterer. I remember the first time that I licked her she threw her heard back and did that iconic Julia Roberts laugh and I remember just being, like, 'Wow. OK.'…I think if you're intimidated by her it's because you look at her and you think of everything that she's done, all the movies, all the accolades, all the this and that, everything she's earned which is great. She has earned them all, most definitely, but when you work with her she's just professional, she's sweet, she's on it, she never didn't know her lines. She always knew exactly how she wanted to stand and how she wanted to do this. She was specific about everything. It was like watching a professional who's been doing something for a long time, but actively perfected what they were doing. She's smart. They'll put a lens on and she'll go, 'What size lens is that? Oh, okay, so I have to hold this up here instead of down there. Got it.' You're like, 'Wow, she really just knows everything.' She's just paid attention since she's been doing this.
What's it's been like for you in the last year, year and half going from one phase of career to this other level?
Well, fortunately I've been so terrified by the work that I've had to do, like in terms of not messing up when I'm standing next to Johnny Depp, or not forgetting this, or doing a good job on this line. I've been so distracted by that I haven't been able to get caught up in all of that. So fortunately I've just been motivated by the fear of failure, to not be distracted and just focus on the work.
You seem to have a healthy attitude towards Hollywood, as if this business is a fairy tale and it's not real. Can you talk about that?
I was having a conversation with someone on set about this, where it's like if you're an actor on set someone will come up to you at some point during the day – it's a given – and go, 'Can I get you anything?' And they're not coming up to you to say, 'You're so special. You're so awesome. What can I, a humble servant, do for you?' What they're saying is 'Look, as soon as they're ready to shoot this scene if they have to wait five minutes because you ran off to get a sandwich, that's going to cost them $35,000 for just not shooting when they could be shooting.' There's a number for how much it costs per second and it's really high, so you get these people on set who go 'Can I get you something, because you can't leave this spot?' Someone will bring you a water or something like that. It's easy to lose track of the fact that they do that because they need to keep track of you, and not because you're ‘special.’ Then all of a sudden these people get off the set and they realize, 'Everybody should ask me if I want something! I want a Perrier – not a Pellegrino!' or whatever it is. It's easy to see how these monsters are kind of created. So I try to just step back from all of that and just keep it as a whole, a whole thing.
What's it like being first on the call-sheet for a $200 million western like “The Lone Ranger?”
You'd have to ask Johnny Depp. [Laughs] But I can tell you that to play the title character, at first it was a ton of pressure, I'll be honest. I remember nights before we started shooting just laying in bed, going, 'How much does this cost? What's it called? Oh, man – that's me. What about this…?' You just kind of work yourself into these ridiculous tizzies, but that's only because you're doing it to yourself. As soon as I got on set for the first day and we got the first day of shooting out of the way, I remember at lunch going back to my trailer after eating and just kind of going, 'This feels just like making a movie. This is what I love. This is no different,' and it's really not. It's a bunch of dudes in a room with a camera doing what they love. It's the smallest feeling big movie that I've ever been a part of. This feels smaller in scale because of the attention everyone is putting into the most minute detail than even 'Snow White' did. It's at least twice the size, but it feels like a small, big movie.
Is the Lone Ranger just far enough in the back in pop culture consciousness that you can invent a lot of new stuff, or are you sticking to a template that's been established?
I'll say this: diehard fans of 'The Lone Ranger' will be happy because the story is there. Everything that you remember, the details about where this might've come from or why this came to be, all of that is there. But it's also now put into a package that a kid who has never seen Clayton Moore rear up on a horse will go, 'Whoa – The Lone Ranger is really cool!' It's going to make everyone happy, but more than that, it's the relationship between Tonto and The Lone Ranger and the sometimes rub and the sometimes odd couple…it's a buddy comedy. It's like a huge action/adventure buddy comedy.
Johnny, like Julia, has become iconic as well. Was he intimidating to work with at all, or did you have an easy chemistry with him right away?
Yeah. He's just a fantastic guy. He's Johnny Depp. He's one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, but at the same time he's great. He's there for the work. He's there because he's excited about the movie.
Have you enjoyed learning the daring do, the fencing for this and the shooting for that?
Yeah, that's one of the perks of this job – not only do you get to go to amazing places all over the world, but I was learning to sword fight and now I'm learning to throw lassos and shoot pistols and ride horses. Who knows? On the next one maybe I'll learn something new. It's fun. You get to be a jack of all trades, master of none, but you still get to jack around a bit.
Last year you got to be a part of the long awards season march with 'The Social Network.' This year you had your own personal nomination for ‘J. Edgar.’ How was it different to have the spotlight on you?
It didn't feel too different, other than the fact that it was incredibly encouraging and it was an honor to be nominated by my peers from SAG and stuff like that. That was fantastic, but I was equally excited when our whole movie got nominated. There was a whole group of us, the whole thing. So, it didn't feel too differently. It still felt great to be noticed and included. But I'd be fine having a January or a February where I don't have that much to do.
Is it easier now since you did, say, 'The Social Network,' which was your first big thing? Doesn't it get easier?
No. You'd think it would, but it doesn't get easier at all. If anything it gets more difficult. Before 'Social Network' nobody knew who I was. If I messed something up, it was like, 'Oh, yeah. He wasn't very good in that.' And you move past that. If you were an artist, the bigger the show the more people are going to see your art and the more people have a chance to critique your art. That's why when I did 'Mirror Mirror' I was really nervous because I was branching out and doing something that I hadn't done before, just being goofy on camera. Whereas I looked at it just like having fun and being goofy someone else might look at it and go, 'Bad acting.' That's a possibility. Compared to Sir Laurence Olivier maybe this wasn't an acting masterpiece from anybody, but that's not what we were going for. We were making a fun movie. I mean, it's still more pressure. Every project is more and more pressure. I remember the first audition that I ever got nervous for was because I was scared about the outcome. It's kind of like you get more and more scared about the outcome the bigger it gets and the more important the outcome gets.
How gratified are you that the Winklevii are a part of the culture now?
I can sleep better at night now. Honestly, I have not really thought about those guys since 'Social Network,' except when I saw that pistachio commercial. Then I just kind of went, 'Huh?' That's really about it.