[UPDATED ON 1/30/31 with the news of Armie Hammer dropping out of Paramount+ series The Offer]
Pop culture schadenfreude can be a powerful remedy, especially in the midst of a failed insurrection plot, a still-raging pandemic with a sluggish vaccination program, and reckonings with systemic racism.
And yet, the news cycle surrounding Armie Hammer is so outrageous, disturbing, and downright exhausting that deriving pleasure from it is impossible. For the (blessedly) uninitiated: an anonymous Instagram account shared screenshots of direct messages that the actor allegedly sent to various women while he was married to Elizabeth Chambers. In the shocking messages, he expressez interest in hardcore BDSM, rape fantasies, and cannibalism. The spectacle became even seedier when The Daily Mail published posts from his private Instagram account, depicting him taking a court-mandated drug test (he’s currently in divorce proceedings with Chambers), bragging about taking drugs that the drug test won’t catch, and having sex with a nameless woman he called “Miss Cayman” (he later apologized to the official Miss Cayman organization).
Somehow, the scandal has gotten worse, as former girlfriends have come forward with their stories about Hammer. Courtney Vucekovich, mobile app creator and Hammer’s ex-girlfriend, told The New York Post that he had emotionally abused her to the point that she suffered from PTSD. Another ex-girlfriend, Paige Lorenze, claimed Hammer mutilated her by carving the letter “A” into her body. She described his actions and behavior as “dangerous” and “emotionally and psychologically damaging.” Hammer, through a lawyer, has denied Lorenze’s account of their relationship.
Hammer’s accessibly offbeat persona, with his liking of bondage Twitter posts and wearing Adidas tracksuits everywhere for no reason, allowed him to carve out a weird but harmless niche in the pop culture sphere. Now, it has been re-framed in a bizarre, and even sinister, light. There have been memes – some of them quite funny – but the whole scandal is sordid to a degree that would traditionally end most Hollywood careers.
It’s a startling chapter in a career that has defied conventional Hollywood wisdom. As famously detailed in Anne Helen Petersen’s controversial 2017 profile for BuzzFeed, “Ten Long Years of Making Armie Hammer Happen,” the actor has been close to movie stardom several times but has struggled to make the conversion. His big break was playing the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, but subsequent roles either failed to make use of his abilities or outright flopped (most notably The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E).
The Oscar-winning film Call Me By Your Name was a new lease on his career. He garnered Internet fame when a clip of him dancing in the movie went viral, and he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Petersen used Hammer’s career to indict Hollywood’s penchant for affording handsome white men several chances at success while condemning women and people of color to irrelevance after one misstep. You can debate the fairness of singling out Hammer (he himself didn’t appreciate it), but Petersen’s point is sound, especially as Hollywood has scrutinized its power structures in the wake of #MeToo.
It’s hard to imagine Armie Hammer “happening” after this. The fallout has already begun: he announced his departure from Shotgun Wedding, his upcoming film with Jennifer Lopez, to care for his children (in talks to replace him is Josh Duhamel, a non-cannibal actor, as Vulture noted). He also dropped out of the upcoming Paramount+ series The Offer, which retells the creation of The Godfather. He has still three movies due to release this year, including Kenneth Branagh’s ensemble mystery thriller Death on the Nile. The question is, how will he figure into their promotion? There is no way that Disney-owned 20th Century Studios would put Hammer through a grueling press junket for Death on the Nile, especially when every entertainment journalist in the world would be a fool not to ask about his Instagram DMs. As for future projects, casting directors and studios will have to weigh Hammer’s talent and ability to pull audience numbers with the scandal. Unfortunately for him, his box office numbers don’t make for a convincing balance. The risk-benefit analysis is not in his favor.
That doesn’t mean that Armie Hammer’s career is beyond recovery, if the abuse allegations are untrue. Plenty of actors have weathered embarrassing behavior to stage comebacks of some kind (a casual reminder that “cancel culture” is a myth). It will be complicated and challenging, requiring Herculean strength and kismet to move the pieces to the right places. Hammer would need a genuinely spectacular role that explores new, unforeseen depths of his talent. He can tap a director that knows how to use him well, like Luca Guadagnino (the director of Call Me By Your Name). Finding a transformative, Oscar-worthy role is the easiest part. The hard work comes afterward when he has to face the world and explain what the hell happened in January 2021. His PR team will have to work overtime to contextualize everything we know, and perhaps what we’ve yet to find out, in some way, and not write it off as an Armie Hammer quirk (like he successfully did with his son sucking his toe on Instagram). It will be painful, embarrassing, and invasive, but he can do it.
Is the effort worth it, though? This would be yet another career reset for him, this time with sordid and humiliating allegations working against him. Unless someone hits the entertainment world with an amnesia beam, questions about his cannibalism and kinks will follow him for the rest of his career. If the abuse allegations are true, then his Hollywood career is effectively over. Even in the best-case scenario for him, where he wins an Oscar for the highest-grossing film of all time, people will at least still ask about those DMs.
Hammer and his team will need to assess whether he has a path forward in Hollywood or if it’s time to throw in the towel. This scandal might be too much to overcome, and perhaps he should focus on his children or another venture, as opposed to reviving a career that never fulfilled the promise of The Social Network and Call Me By Your Name. There’s no telling what else may come out. Even if this is as far as it goes, the solution might be for Armie Hammer to move on.