Taking the Hammer to an old icon
THEY bred ’ em tough in the old west. When Armie Hammer signed up to play the Lone Ranger in Gore Verbinski’s 21st- century reboot, he knew his body was about to take a serious pounding.
“Conservatively, I did about 90 to 95 per cent of the stunts,” the 26- year- old actor says.
“If you pay attention in the movie, when you see me being thrown out of the train, or being dragged behind the horse, it doesn’t cut away,” Hammer says.
For the career- making opportunity to play straight man to Johnny Depp’s bird- brained Tonto, the 196cm newcomer was certainly prepared to give it a red- hot go.
And after spending 10 months camping out in the some of America’s most stunning wilderness, the actor until now best known for playing the Winklevoss twins in Facebook film The Social Network has just one regret: “It ended.”
Hammer describes the extended film shoot – which like Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise swapped green screen technology for real locations – as the perfect boy’s own fantasy.
“Are you kidding? We got to ride horses, rescue the girl, shoot guns, throw lassos,” Hammer says. “We slept under the stars, spent 12 hours a day in the saddle. It felt very authentic.”
Hammer says inhabiting a physical landscape that hasn’t changed since men like John Reid ( the Lone Ranger) first rode across it helped him get into character.
In fact, some scenes didn’t require much acting at all. The first spectacular train sequence, in which 40 tonnes of derailed steel bear down upon Reid and Tonto, came alarmingly close to cinema vérité.
“The first time we did that [ stunt], [ the carriage] almost crushed us,” Hammer says.
“It came in hot. It stopped metres from where we were.”
Unlike Superman’s Henry Cavill, with whom he is about to appear in Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of classic 60s TV series The Man from U. N. C. L. E, Hammer chose not to bulk up too much for to play the ex- Texas ranger, who righted wrongs on the small screen throughout the 1950s.
“There were no gyms back then. Guys weren’t doing bench presses and push ups, so I didn’t want to look ripped.”
Knowing saddle soreness was unavoidable, Hammer built up his leg muscles with 80km bike rides.
To withstand the bumps and bruises that were sure to accompany the stunt work, he embarked upon a rigorous exercise regimen aimed at building up his core strength.
That might explain why the iconic character he plays has aged so extraordinarily well.
“Apparently he had a good moisturiser,” Hammer jokes.
To ensure a smooth ride for contemporary audiences, Verbinski, Bruckheimer and their cast, which includes Helena Bonham Carter and Tom Wilkinson, have made some important narrative modifi cations.
“The old show was great, and fun to watch, but it didn’t have any sense of humour about itself,” says Hammer, who watched the original series with his dad.”
The 21st- century take is much more knowing than its TV predecessor.
But although Verbinski pushes the envelope in terms of narrative self- awareness, he is careful never to let his version topple over into caricature or parody.
In keeping with the current trend towards “origin” stories, his film charts the evolution of The Lone Ranger and Tonto’s relationship.
Hammer describes it as “The Odd Couple with a bit of Midnight Run thrown in.”
“Two guys who don’t like each other are stuck together. And eventually they realise that might have been a good thing.”