I was taken aback when greeting a very energized Armie Hammer. Almost immediately I was blinded by his chompers. “Teeth can be this white?” I thought. Yes, they can be. In-person, there’s a movie star quality to Hammer, not only because of his teeth, although they play a big, pearly role. Even at the young age of 26, he has a movie star quality. It’s easy to see why he almost played Batman for George Miller all those years ago.
Maybe it’s because of Hammer’s appeal that filmmakers want to give him a beating on screen. With Gore Verbinski‘s The Lone Ranger and Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror, Hammer took his fair share of body blows. Not many people would’ve pegged him as the physical comedy type after the success of The Social Network, but here he is, now in a big Disney tentpole spending most of its running time getting knocked to the floor.
Which is what can happen to you if you get too close and look directly into those teeth. Fortunately, I had a pair of sunglasses for our talk.
What’s it like walking onto a set with Verbinski, Depp, and Bruckheimer? They’ve worked together so much there must be a real rapport there.
Definitely. They are a tried and true team. They have proven themselves through many different trials and have come away victorious a bunch of different times. And they know exactly what they are doing. So to get to be a part of it, to get to work with that team and make a movie with those guys, it was great, mostly because they were just so inclusionary. There was never a time when they were like, “Oh, no, no, new kid. We gotta go figure this thing out.” It was always all of us together.
This being your first time in that kind of big enviroment, were there any surreal days?
Totally. It seemed like every day when we showed up and they’re like, “Oh, we’re going to throw you out of a train. Oh, no. You are going to ride a horse to the train. Oh, no. Now we’re going to let you get hit by the train. Oh, now that…” You know, it’s like every day was surreal. Every day was a trip.
Is it always fun? I imagine the wirework isn’t always enjoyable.
The harnesses were a little uncomfortable, but at the same time it’s all fun. Like, all through the entire thing there wasn’t a day when anybody woke up that was like, “Oh, no. we’ve gotta go to work again today.”
[Laughs] How long was the schedule?
About 10 months. It was definitely long.
During those 10 months, what kind of energy does Verbinski bring to the set? Did you have room to play?
Indefatigable. That guy is ready to go all the time, always on speed, always standing, always making shit happen. He’s really like a…he’s an involved director, which is great.
What about for action, too? Is it a little more rigid there?
A little bit. He’s seen each one of these scenes and each one of these sequences 10,000 times before we start shooting it. So he knows exactly what it needs to look like. He knows exactly where the camera has to be and he will put it right where it has to be and do it until it’s right, which is great.
And he can have a distinct eye, like a lot of directors you’ve worked with. Does the camera feel very present when you are on set?
Yes and no. As an actor you have to ignore the camera in all ways, no matter what. But you still have to be aware, “I can’t turn my back to the camera. I can’t do this to the camera. I have to do that. I have to keep this high enough.” It just felt more like he came up with amazing shots, that he would say, “Now I want the camera to move at this height, this way, this many feet, while this moves this way, and this rotates underneath.” You just think, “There’s no way we are going to be able to make this work.” And sure enough he’d pull it off.
Is he more in line with David Fincher or Eastwood when it comes to takes? Or somewhere in between?
He’s so different from both of those guys. But he does more takes, I think, but just because they are more involved. A lot of the setups he does are more involved. The camera has to hit this, this, this while seeing this, and then that guy do this, and then that guy do that. So there’s a lot to do. So that’s probably why we did more takes.
He gives actors a lot of freedom, which is really nice. If you are doing something that he thinks could be better or isn’t working the way you are doing it, he’ll say, “Why don’t we try it like this or that?” But if you are doing something and it works he just lets you do your thing.
Even though you are on these gigantic sets and big movies, does it ever feel like intimate on set?
All the time. Yeah, that was the most amazing thing. It just felt like the largest scale independent movie we’ve ever done, because it was just about the actors on set making this work. It wasn’t about the budget. It wasn’t about the studio. It was just about doing a good job.
You mentioned how he had an idea for everything he wanted to do. Right when you signed up, did he show you exactly what the movie was going to be?
Kind of, yeah. Pretty much. He had all the things planned out, costumes and all that kind of stuff. I was glad I didn’t have to wear baby blue like the original Lone Ranger.
What was it like putting on that mask and everything? Is there ever a day where it may have felt a little goofy?
It felt goofy at first. Oh, yeah. For the first week it was like, “I feel like I look ridiculous.” But then, by the end, I was wearing that mask so much it felt more comfortable to be in it than not.
There is a little of that goofiness to the last 30 minutes, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. In those moments, how big would Verbinski let you go?
If you tell a bunch of actors to just go as big as possible, very quickly it just gets out of control and just becomes broad. So it became a very delicate line that we had to toe if we want this to be big and we want it to be funny, but it can’t be broad and it always has to feel real. So it was like a balancing act.
This is your biggest movie to date. Do you plan on going to see it with an audience on Friday night when it opens?
I’m going to go to the premier. I don’t think I’ll go see it with an audience.
Have you ever done that?
It just sounds self-indulgent.
[Laughs] How do you feel about your own work? Can you watch yourself?
No. I can’t watch myself objectively. I watch myself going, “Why’d I do it like that?” Or, “Ah, I should have done it like that.” Or, “Oh, that’s beautiful there. I remember when we were shooting that and the sun was going down.” Or, “Oh, I remember when we were there James fell on a cactus.” It’s hard to watch myself..
The Lone Ranger opens in theaters on July 3rd.