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Interview

Why Armie Hammer Almost Turned Clint Eastwood Down

Why Armie Hammer Almost Turned Clint Eastwood Down
Fresh off playing the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network," Armie Hammer gives an outstanding supporting performance in Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar." It's a performance that almost didn't happen, because Hammer initially turned down the audition.

His agent called and told him "J. Edgar" casting director Fiona Weir wanted him to audition for the part of Clyde Tolson, J. Edgar Hoover's trusted adviser and lifelong companion. Hammer read the script and thought it was great but didn't understand the character. "He didn't make sense to me," says Hammer. "I didn't get why Clyde stuck around and took Edgar's hot-and-cold abuse. I didn't understand the depth of their love and the complications of their relationship."

Hammer passed, telling his agent that if he couldn't understand it, he wouldn't do well in an audition. Weir persisted, telling him "Clint" really wanted him to audition. "I was like, 'Okay, well, now that you use his name like that, I guess I have to come in,' " jokes Hammer.

He turned to some of his older, gay friends to help him understand Tolson and Hoover's complex relationship—what it was like to be a man in love with a man in a time when such a relationship was completely taboo. Then, he went into Weir's office and asked questions for an hour and a half until he felt comfortable enough to have her put him on tape. A week later, he got a call that Eastwood wanted him for the film.

Hammer hired a researcher to help him dig up as much information as he could on Tolson and Hoover. Hammer—who has studied with such teachers as Lesly Kahn, Brian Reise, and currently Deborah Aquila—says he is big on studying and preparation. He approaches acting as intellectually as possible. "I know it's an art of emotion," he says. "But if you're just doing it for emotion every time, it can be wild, cumbersome, and unwieldy, or it might not work. If you truly understand intellectually who these people are or what their deal is—not what they did but why they did it, their headspace—I find it's easy to occupy them."

Meeting His Match

Although his onscreen relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Hoover, was filled with subtext and connection, the two only had one rehearsal before shooting, when DiCaprio invited screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and Hammer over to his house. "We didn't even put things up on their feet," recalls Hammer. "We just read through the script and discussed some scenes. Basically, we both came up with our characters and showed up to set. We didn't even have a discussion about how in love should these guys be or is there any connection. We didn't address it, which I thought was appropriate because they didn't address it. The characters would have never addressed it. It was always like, the elephant in the room. I think that worked out well. But also working with Leo made it so easy. It's like, if you're playing tennis with someone that's better than you, it elevates your game, you know?"

For the emotional fight scene, Hammer says he and DiCaprio approached it with as much seriousness and effort as they could bring. "There's so much that I got to do in that scene, which was great," he says. "It's so rare that you get a scene that well-written, where it's like you start at one place and end in a place totally different while taking a huge detour. It was amazing getting to smash glass against the wall and scream and fight and just the fake blood and everything. It was a really intense day."

Eastwood Style

After working with director David Fincher, known for doing take after take and leaving his actors exhausted by the end of the day, being directed by Eastwood was a change of pace. "They couldn't be more polar opposite," says Hammer. He compares watching Eastwood direct to watching a master glass blower make a vase: "They don't look like they're trying hard. They're just chill. They'll talk to you while they're doing it. Then all of a sudden they're done, and you have a perfect vase. That's what it's like with Clint. It's like it doesn't require effort for him to do what he does. You think that you're not working hard enough, but in reality you just have to learn how to trust him."

Eastwood decided that when it was time for the actors' faces to age, they wouldn't use CGI but instead would act through latex masks. On the first day of wearing the mask and makeup (which took eight hours to apply), Hammer discovered the challenges. He spent time looking in a mirror, figuring out how to make himself look like he was naturally smiling, squinting, and grimacing. "I had to learn how my face worked," he says. "You have to emote much more to get what you're trying to get across to come through a quarter inch of latex that's superglued to your face."

In true Eastwood style, no coaches were hired to help the actors with mask acting. "Figure it out on your own. Figure it out as you go. But you better figure it out quick," Hammer says. Even though it was challenging, Hammer was thrilled with the decision. "It felt really nostalgic," he says. "We got to make a movie the old-fashioned way, without computers and all the nonsense that goes into it. The movie looked exactly the same as if they shot it in 1950. It was an old-school, nostalgic movie that an old-school, nostalgic director made."

Outtakes

Had a dentist inject his whole mouth with Novocain to simulate what it would be like to try to talk after having a stroke.

Didn't meet Eastwood until two days before filming: At the DGA Awards, Kevin Spacey, executive producer of "The Social Network," introduced them after finding out they hadn't met.

Says his first day on set was terrifying: "I was sitting in between Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Lance Black, and Dame Judi Dench. I was like, 'What the hell am I doing here?' But you can't make a diamond without pressure, you know? Knowing I was up against these legends, it put the fear of failure into me, so I had to overcome it."

Upcoming roles include Prince Andrew Alcott in "Mirror Mirror" and John Reid/The Lone Ranger in "The Lone Ranger" opposite Johnny Depp.

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