Like much else about his charmed life, Armie Hammer’s handwriting is perfect — all swooping loops and exacting peaks, like something from a bygone era. I’m paging through one of his obsessively maintained notebooks while we idle at a red light in his black pickup truck, American-built and high off the ground, much like the 6-foot-5 actor himself. On this cloudless, late-summer afternoon, as he drives on the Pacific Coast Highway to his favorite Greek spot in Malibu, I flip the pages — diligent notes pertaining to Martin Ginsburg, husband of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom Hammer will portray in an upcoming biopic of the Supreme Court justice starring Felicity Jones. “That’s what happens when you grow up on a British island,” says Hammer, 31, after I remark on his meticulous penmanship. “You have mandatory cursive classes.”
He’s referring to the Cayman Islands, where he spent a good chunk of his childhood. His father had never laid eyes on the Caribbean tax haven until it showed up in the 1993 Tom Cruise movie The Firm; but so entranced was he by what he saw, he decided to relocate the family. If that rings odd, then you probably did not grow up in the same bubble of extreme privilege as Hammer, great-grandson of Russian-Jewish oil tycoon Armand Hammer. His namesake (his full name is Armand Douglas Hammer) graces landmarks and buildings all over Los Angeles. Case in point, our journey begins at Holmby Park in Beverly Hills, home to the Armand Hammer Golf Course. “They were going to turn it into high-rises in the early ‘80s,” explains Hammer. “So my great-grandfather just gave them an endowment.”
As irksomely perfect as his existence may seem, Hammer’s journey from the “fucking paradise” of the Cayman Islands to movie star (a label that makes him bristle) has faced its fair share of false starts. After his breakthrough playing the Winklevoss twins in 2010’s The Social Network, Hammer has struggled to emerge as a bankable leading man. There was his starring role in 2013’s The Lone Ranger, for which Disney lost $200 million, leading to studio head Rich Ross’ ouster. Two years later, he co-starred with Henry Cavill in the underperforming The Man From U.N.C.L.E. And his performance in 2016’s The Birth of a Nation, a role some thought could earn him a best supporting actor Oscar, was overshadowed by a rape scandal involving its director and star, Nate Parker.
But 2017 could turn out to be Hammer’s perfect year. He currently stars in Call Me by Your Name, a sultry art house film set mostly within a 17th century Italian villa. In it, he plays Oliver, an American academic in his mid-20s who embarks upon a sexually charged affair with the 17-year-old son of a professor (rising star Timothee Chalamet, also in the white-hot indie Lady Bird). The movie, based on the novel by Andre Aciman and directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash), was rapturously received at Sundance and Toronto, with Hammer garnering early awards buzz. Little could he know that a typhoon of sexual misconduct claims would soon submerge Hollywood, potentially heightening sensitivity to a film about sexual discovery that involves a teenager. Burned before, Hammer is ready for any curveballs. “Given my history,” he says, “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”