Ac­tor Ar­mie Ham­mer says he wants to make art, not block­busters

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN 360 LIFE - By Charles Ealy Spe­cial to the Amer­i­can-States­man

Ar­mie Ham­mer, who has been get­ting the best re­views of his upand-down ca­reer for his role in “Call Me by Your Name,” thinks he has fi­nally found “what I want to do” as an ac­tor.

“The year 2017 was a turn­around for me,” he says dur­ing a re­cent visit to Austin for the South by South­west pre­miere of his lat­est film, “Fi­nal Por­trait,” an art­house movie about a writer named James Lord (Ham­mer’s char­ac­ter) who poses for a por­trait by artist Al­berto Gi­a­cometti (Ge­of­frey Rush). The movie is set to open in Austin soon.

“‘Call Me by Your Name’ was a big turn­ing point for me be­cause it was eas­ily the first film I ever did just for the sake of mak­ing art,” he says. “It was so in­vig­o­rat­ing and ed­i­fy­ing, from an artis­tic and per­sonal stand­point. I’m happy with it. I think I’ve found what I want to do. I like watch­ing the big movies as much as any­one else, but I think there’s some­thing spe­cial about smaller pas­sion projects.”

And that’s what “Fi­nal Por­trait” is. It’s di­rected by Stan­ley Tucci, and Ham­mer says he was ex­cited by the spe­cial chal­lenges posed in the script.

“The thing that scared me about ‘Fi­nal Por­trait’ was that it made me ner­vous that it doesn’t have any big set pieces,” Ham­mer says. “There’s no huge con­flict. There’s re­ally no an­tag­o­nist in this film. The only thing that’s in this film is the need to be emo­tion­ally hon­est with peo­ple. If that doesn’t work or con­nect, then it doesn’t work. It’s a daunt­ing chal­lenge that the only thing that will make this movie work is act­ing. There’s noth­ing to hide be­hind.”

So, how do you make two guys sit­ting in a room, dis­cussing art

while one is pos­ing for a por­trait, in­ter­est­ing and fun?

“We had a great script that Stan­ley turned out, and Ge­of­frey Rush is ob­vi­ously a ma­jor tal­ent,” Ham­mer says.

But Tucci comes up with ways to ex­pand the story, even though much of it takes place in an artist’s stu­dio, mainly by mak­ing Ham­mer’s Lord — and the au­di­ence — a voyeur, look­ing at the life of Gi­a­cometti. As Lord sits still, peo­ple come and go in the stu­dio, in­clud­ing Gi­a­cometti’s wife, his per­sonal pros­ti­tute, his brother and oth­ers.

“Stan­ley is amazing at man­ag­ing this bal­let,” Ham­mer says. “This movie could be two peo­ple seated in a room, talk­ing or not talk­ing the whole time. … But Stan­ley gives us that voyeuris­tic look into Gi­a­cometti’s life … and that al­lows the au­di­ence to see what’s go­ing on in a fun way, to be a part of Gi­a­cometti’s crazy life­style.”

Ham­mer says he can iden­tify in some ways with Gi­a­cometti’s crazi­ness, es­pe­cially since he has de­cided to fo­cus more on art movies than the big­ger ones.

“I don’t know that choos­ing to live your life as an artist is the most sane de­ci­sion,” he says. “You have no pen­sion, no re­tire­ment plan. … So it’s re­ally an in­ter­est­ing choice to live an artis­tic life­style. Do you have to be crazy? No, but I think that you prob­a­bly would be hard­pressed to find some­one who is com­pletely sane who would choose to do that.”

But Gi­a­cometti doesn’t re­ally have a choice, Ham­mer says. “It’s his pas­sion.”

And Ham­mer says he doesn’t have a choice about be­ing an ac­tor. “I’ve had lots of ups and downs,” he says, like the no­table big-bud­get flop “The Lone Ranger,” “and some­times I wonder why I just don’t quit. But I can’t. It’s what I love to do. And re­gard­less of the ups and downs, that’s what I’m go­ing to con­tinue to do. … It’s al­ways about per­sonal growth.”

So, what’s next for Ham­mer? He was coy at South by South­west about mak­ing a se­quel to “Call Me by Your Name,” even though it ap­pears that all the key play­ers are on board for such a film.

Ham­mer’s next project is an un­ti­tled thriller, set in New Or­leans. “It’s with a won­der­ful di­rec­tor named Babak An­vari, who did ‘Under the Shadow.’ So I’ll do that for a while, and then I’m go­ing to New York to do a show on Broad­way,” Ham­mer says.

And it’s not just any old show on Broad­way. I t ’s “Straight White Men” — the first Broad­way pro­duc­tion of a show by an Asian-Amer­i­can fe­male play­wright.

“It’s sort of a story of toxic mas­culin­ity and what hap­pens in mod­ern so­ci­ety when a straight white man stops act­ing like a straight white man,” Ham­mer says.

The show will be Ham­mer’s Broad­way de­but, and it’s sched­uled to open i n late June.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY PARISA TAGHIZADEH, SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Ar­mie Ham­mer, left, and Ge­of­frey Rush star in “Fi­nal Por­trait.”

SUZANNE CORDEIRO FOR AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Ar­mie Ham­mer was in Austin last month for the Texas Film Awards, where he ac­cepted the Va­ri­ety “One to Ac­claim” Award. He also ap­peared in two movies that screened at South by South­west: “Fi­nal Por­trait” and “Sorry to Bother You.”

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