“The Social Network” has at least four roles that could conceivably generate Best Supporting Actor candidates, including Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin and Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker. But two of those roles are played, essentially, by one actor: Armie Hammer, who though the use of digital effects plays the upper-crust Winklevoss twins, who sue Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) for stealing their idea. (A second actor, Josh Pence, played one of the twins on the set, and some scenes use Pence's body with Hammer's face.)
Hammer, the great grandson of industrialist and art collector Armand Hammer, had struggled to get acting jobs for a few years before director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin came calling. Now, it seems, things are considerably more comfortable for the strapping 24-year-old actor.
So has your life changed much lately?
Oh yeah. It’s almost surreal. It’s like a Twilight Zone. All of a sudden I’m getting meetings with people I would never have been able to sit down and talk with. I’m meeting with directors, I’m meeting with writers, I’m meeting with heads of studios. It’s really been crazy.
It has definitely been drastically different from eight months ago, when I was fighting tooth and nail for any job I could get.
What would a normal week have been like a year ago?
Probably a healthy amount of beating myself up. Why is my life going nowhere? What’s wrong with me? Why am I not being hired? Blah, blah, blah. And then a healthy amount of auditioning. But finally the messrs Fincher and Sorkin were kind enough to say, “Here’s a chance, can you do anything with it?”
Given the state of your career before this, you must have felt a certain amount of pressure going in to meet with them.
It was interesting. I was so excited about the fact that Fincher was making a new movie, I was so excited about the fact that Sorkin wrote it, and I was even more excited about the fact that they actually needed someone who was six-foot-five. Having been in this town long enough, I knew there’s not many six-foot-five guys in Hollywood. I think I’m the only one. So I thought, you know what, I think this is almost my job to lose. But, I mean, I worked my ass off, harder than I’ve ever worked on any audition.
Did you walk out thinking you’d done well?
When I went in with Sorkin it was great, because I grew up venerating this guy’s work. But when I went in to meet Fincher, that’s when my legs started shaking. I didn’t walk out of the audition going, nailed it! I walked out going, crap, I hope he didn’t notice how nervous I was to meet him.
You’re playing one, or I guess two, of the few characters in the film where the real guys have come out afterward and said, “Yeah, that’s accurate.” When you were making it, did you think at all about making something that the Winklevosses would like?
There was a sense of responsibility that we were playing real people who were still alive and would see this work. You don’t want to villainize these people, because more people are going to associate this movie with them than will ever know the actual people. That’s the nature of Hollywood: it makes a loud noise when the gong goes off.
But at the same time, I was more interested in bringing to life what Sorkin had written, and being on set with David Fincher, and turning in a performance that would make everybody happy and that I’d be proud of.
Did you study the real guys, or stick to the script?
I stuck with the script, and with things like twin psychology, and interviewing people who went to Harvard, just to get a sense of that feeling of entitlement that actually comes from going to Harvard. But in terms of the characters, they were really formed by Sorkin.
It’s easy to assume that because of your name and your family, you have an understanding of what it’s like to be raised in privilege. Would that be an unfair assumption?
It wouldn’t be unfair, but it’s incorrect. I could have gone to Columbia, and I could have been very comfortable and had an easy entrance into the world of business. But I had no intention of doing that. It would have been very easy for me to rest and just have an easy life afforded me, but that didn’t matter to me.
What mattered was what I was passionate about, which was acting. And I had to turn my back, essentially, on my family for a period of time. I dropped out of high school and college to pursue what I loved, and to a family that comes from a very educated background, that was very offensive.
And I struggled. And people look at me and go, “Oh, isn’t it nice to have a huge financial cushion to fall back on?” And I say, yeah, that would be really nice. Unfortunately, I don’t know what that’s like. Yes, there are things I can pull on from my early life, but at the same time, I grew up very differently from the Winkelvosses did.
When you got the role, was it clear how the twins would be handled?
No. Or if it was, it wasn’t made clear to us. It was about a week into production when we got the call saying, “We have to make these guys identical, so Armie, they’re both going to look like you.” Which was probably the only phone call that could trump the call that said, “Do you want to be in a David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin movie?”
Did you feel bad for Josh Pence, who had his face replaced in every scene?
Yeah, I did, man. It was heartbreaking. Because Josh is the nicest, sweetest guy in the entire world. As proof of how sweet and nice and caring he is, he seemed like he had no problem through this entire thing. He still calls me. We still are friends – and I hate to say this, but if it was the other way around and my face got replaced, it would be difficult for me not to be bitter about the situation. Bu Josh was great. When I grow up, if I ever become a man, I want to be like Josh Pence.
The way it works is that it’s always your face, but sometimes the body is Josh’s?
Yes. I would always start it as Cameron, and Josh would play Tyler. We would shoot it until Fincher was happy, and then he’d say, “Okay, switch.” Then I would go change clothes, change my hair, and then use that time to sort of change character.
And then I’d sit where Josh was seated, and everybody else would leave set. The set would vacate, and we’d put the camera on an automatic system. They’d put a piece of tape on this wall — that piece of tape is your brother, this tennis ball over there is Larry Summers, put this thing in your ear. And in the earwig would be an audio take of myself playing Cameron.
And I’d listen to it, and think, okay, there’s two beats between those two lines, so I’ve gotta get that line out quickly, but there’s four beats between those two, so I have a little bit more time, but then I have to cut him off on this point to get that banter going … So then I would act out the rest of it with myself in my ear, and a piece of tape.
But then there are instances where the twins would be in the same shot interacting or touching each other. And in those instances josh would step in, and then they would just do the facial replacement.
Fincher has said that he does do many takes because he wants to knock the acting out of actors. Did it work?
Oh yeah. And I guarantee that if he shoots 99 takes, he’ll use the 99th. He’s so specific about what he wants that once he gets exactly what he wants, he’s moving on. He will only shoot until he gets what he needs.
When he does all those takes, does it make you think, what the hell am I doing wrong?
Yes and no. Because of who he is and how smart he is and how capable he is, he just instills this feeling of ultimate trust in you. When he says to do it again, you go, oh, okay, that means it can be better.
But obviously it’s tiring. There are nights when you shoot late and you get frustrated and you’re like, damnit, we’ve done this 40 times, there’s gotta be something in there you can use! But when you start having those moments, he’ll push you and push you and push you until you’re about to explode, and then the last take you do he’s like, “Okay, cut, moving on!” And you think, Was that on purpose? Were you doing that to me on purpose?? (laughs) He’s awesome, man.