I remember a time not so long ago when leading men in films exuded a charm and charisma that was undeniable. It may seem corny in our world of angst-ridden heroes, born of tragedy and wallowing in their own gloom, but a figure like the Lone Ranger was about as pure a hero as they came. Sure, he donned the mask after his brother was killed brutally and his enemies thought him dead as well, but he was already a lawman before he became the Ranger. He had a code that he never strayed from, and he sat tall while he dispensed justice. No daddy issues for this hero.
I mention all of this to say that the character of the Lone Ranger seems like one tailor made for Armie Hammer, the actor who plays the one-time John Reid in the re-imagined THE LONE RANGER, from director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and co-starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, from whose point of view much of the film is told. Even though I have some issues with this telling of the Ranger myth, I think what Armie Hammer is doing in this film is dead-on perfect, especially once he gets the mask on and hops on that white horse.
When coming face to face with Hammer, two things jump out at you: He's incredibly tall (he stands about 6-ft. 5in.) and he has a booming, crystal-clear voice that forces you to hang on his ever word. I was lucky enough a few years back to moderate a Q&A with Hammer, Jesse Eisenberg and Aaron Sorkin after a screening of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and Hammer clearly had the crowd mesmerized by his duel performances as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. He followed that up with solid work in J. EDGAR and a comedic turn in MIRROR MIRROR. He's gearing up to star as Illya Kuryakin, opposite Henry Cavill's Napoleon Solo in Guy Ritchie's take on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
I had a chance to chat briefly with Hammer recently, and he was as handsome and heroic as I remembered him from four years earlier in Chicago. He's also a supremely nice guy. Anyway, enjoy my talk with Armie Hammer…
Armie Hammer: Good to see you again, man!
Capone: I can't believe you remember.
AH: Yeah, of course.
Capone: It’s been a couple of years.
AH: Yeah, but it was my first press tour.
Capone: That's right. We didn't bring the you out as part of the introduction because we wanted the audience to think you were two different actors, which they totally did.
AH: Suckers, every last one of them!
Capone: The greatest bait and switch ever.
AH: [laughs] Yeah.
Capone: When you were getting ready to shoot for the day, just sit in your trailer playing the William Tell Overture on a loop while you were getting dressed to sort of psyche yourself up for the work at hand?
AH: That’s the romanticized idea. The reality was I was probably laying on the floor of my trailer with ice packs somewhere on my body just going, “Oh god, okay, what are we doing today?” They go. “Okay, we’re going to throw you out of a train, then we're going to drag you behind a horse, then rip you out of a building. Then you’re going to jump onto a moving horse. Then after lunch we are going to do this and that.” You’re just like, “Okay, let’s go.”
Capone: What was the most dangerous thing that you did?
AH: I think the closest that we actually came to dying--I mean actual death--was when we almost got smashed by the train. Tonto and John Reid are still chained together, and the train is rushing at them. Well the first time they did it, they just came in way too hot and jumped the safety wall and came about [the distance] from you to me, just smashing the shit out of me. So that was probably the scariest.
Capone: You probably did a lot of costume tests, but when you’re shooting and you put on the gear and the mask, and look at yourself in the mirror, what does that do to you mentally?
AH: I mean it’s hard to talk about it without sounding too ethereal and nerdy. It helps, man. It’s a big thing. You're supposed to be there and you’re supposed to be the Lone Ranger. That’s why you are there, to be the Lone Ranger. But every now and then, you might get it in your head like, “Oh man, I don’t have any milk. I’m going to need some milk in the fridge. Or do I have milk? I might have milk.” And then you catch your reflection, and you’re like “Right, right, right! I don’t need milk! I just need to kill bad guys!”
Capone: Once you accepted the role, what was your indoctrination into the Lone Ranger mythology. What did they give you? What did you research on your own?
AH: It was mostly done on my own. They offered me anything I would need, but I have a professional researcher who I work with. She’s like a bloodhound. I just put her on the trail and say, “Get me everything.” So I had the radio shows, the TV series, all the comics, the books on original Texas Rangers, books on the Comanche nation. I studied it all. I really wanted to know everything.
Capone: I talked to Gore about this a little bit, but I’m curious what your perspective is. In the original Lone Ranger radio show and TV show, he was like the perfect hero. He had this great code about not killing people and he was very much into equality for everybody.
AH: Total softy. [laughs]
Capone: I know, and it does feel old fashioned, but he was the kind of guy that kids looked up to and said, “I want to be that guy.” But when you look at the more modern film heroes, they're more about troubled pasts and being damaged people, so audiences think, “They're more like me.” What is your take on this Lone Ranger, because he’s a little bit of both of those.
AH: I think it’s the superhero vs. hero argument. Is he a superhero or a hero? He’s definitely a hero, because he makes the right decision no matter what adversities might be against him, even if it means getting hit in the face with a rock, and that hurts. “I don’t want to get hit in the face with a rock, but I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s the right decision.” That to me constitutes a hero. A superhero is the guy who doesn’t have to sleep, doesn’t have to eat, doesn’t have to do anything. He just has these powers that he had nothing to do with and happens to used them for good, and the struggle might be, “Why am I even using these powers for good? Why am I even doing anything?” like an existential kind of thing.
For the Lone Ranger, he knows “This is going to hurt,” or “I could get killed, but I’m going to do this, because it’s the right thing to do.” Each and every one of us has that inside of us, both the fear that checks us and also the hero inside of us. So I think that’s very relatable, more so than somebody who is genetically mutated or something like that. You can watch this and go, “I could be that. If I wanted to, I could do that. I could be that good guy.”
Capone: The magical realism that’s in this movie, coming from Tonto and the other Native American characters, that does make things seem slightly more superhero-ish.
AH: Totally. Yeah, yeah.
Capone: That spiritwalker label that Reid is labeled with is like a power in that time.
AH: And I love the way they tow that line the whole movie. Tonto is sitting there like, “Look, you’re a spirit walker. You can’t be killed” and John Reid is going, “Are you listening to yourself? Spiritwalker? Are you crazy?” Then all of a sudden, everyone will shoot at him, and they'll all magically miss, and he'll be like “Wait a second… No, it’s just dark.” So he never gives in to accepting it.
Capone: Talk about just stepping into a film like this, because you’ve got this established group of people who have worked together many times before on these huge films. Was there a learning curve?
AH: No, there wasn’t so much a learning curve. I put all kinds of mental blocks on myself. I thought, “I’m going into this ,and they’re a team. I’m going to be on the outside. Maybe I won't even get to sit with them at lunch. Oh my god, this is a disaster.” Then I show up, and they were just like, “Hey, come on in. Have a seat. Let’s talk about this. Okay, good, you know everybody? Great.” I’ve never felt so included in anything in my entire life.
Capone: As an actor, what do you learn from working with Johnny.
AH: You learn to pay attention to everything. That guy has been doing this for so long, and he’s been paying such good attention. He’s remembered everything, so we’d be on set and Gore would go “Alright, swing a lens, throw on a 75mm.” Johnny, would go “Oh, you’re throwing on a 75mm?” “Yeah.” “Okay, then I’ll stand here so you’ll get the bird.” They’ll go, “Great, yeah that looks much better.” He knew where to stand. I was like, “Wow, that’s really smart to see that kind of thing.
Capone: Do you think you learned anything that you’ll be able to take with you?
AH: Yeah, well hopefully I do on every project. I want a cumulative knowledge as a goal.
Capone: Talk about the humor of the film and mixing up the very serious, heartbreaking stuff with humor.
AH: I thought it was handled so well for us by [screenwriter] Justin Haythe and [director] Gore Verbinski. Justin wrote REVOLUTIONARY ROAD; he can write a serious movie, there’s no denying that. I had no idea he could do this kind of comedy. This movie was so specifically funny tonally. You would have a train go off this thing and blow up, then you’d have a cut of two guys looking at each other going, “I think we’re going to get in trouble for this.” And it makes you think like sitting in the audience, “That’s how I’d react to that,” and you go to that story much quicker.
Capone: Let me ask you about THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Where are you with that?
AH: We're moving ahead. I mean we are full steam ahead.
Capone: Do you know when you start shooting?
Capone: What is it you are going to be doing in that exactly?
AH: I play Illya Kuryakin, the KGB agent, and then Henry Cavill will be playing Napoleon Solo. It’s basically a cold-war spy thriller.
Capone: Will there be some humor tucked away in there?
AH: It’s Guy Ritchie, so it’s going to have that great aspect to it of getting dark, but also “I like watching these two guys hate each other,” and “I like watching these two guys hang out.”
Capone: Alright It’s good to see you again. Thanks a lot.
AH: Good seeing you too. I’m sure I’ll see you around.