Hammer of the Gods
By Dustin Lance Black
Armie Hammer is Hollywood’s new resident heartthrob. He's parlayed TV roles on series like Gossip Girl and Desperate Housewives into a big-screen career. He did double duty as the litigious Winklevoss twins in The Social Network and just wrapped Snow White, costarring Julia Roberts. He's next onscreen in this month's J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s biopic of the FBI’s conflicted and complex string-puller. Hammer delivers an emotive performance as Clyde Tolson, the associate director and maybe-paramour of J. Edgar Hoover, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film's screenwriter (and Out100 honoree), Dustin Lance Black, chats with Hammer about his character’s unrequited love.
Dustin Lance Black: What did you first think of Clyde when reading the script?
Armie Hammer: Clyde didn't make sense to me. This guy treats J. Edgar like a human -- and he's the only person in the world that does. Clyde takes nothing but abuse through the course of their relationship. There were little bits of payoff, like the kiss on the forehead, like, "I need you." Those things were there, but they didn’t seem enough to me to make him stay. Then I went to dinner with a buddy of mine who's gay, and I was like, "Dude, can I run this by you? I'm curious." And he was like, "Yes, Hammer. Sometimes you just fall for a person who might not even be of your orientation at all, and there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you get little glimmers, like he cares about me as much as I care about him, and that's enough to keep you going." In the way he broke it down, I was like, "Wow, I get it."
Black: Edgar would be incredibly abusive and then he'd send these almost–love letters to Clyde.
Hammer: I hired a researcher. I thought, What the hell is he doing here? Go find someone else. But you can't. And it made sense, and it was so tragically beautiful. I tried to learn everything I could -- I worked my ass off to figure both of them out.
Black: We are talking 1927 here, not 2011. There weren’t a lot of options then. You couldn’t be out. It was still the love that dare not speak its name.
Hammer: Of course, because if it had spoken its name, it would have cost you your job, your social standing, your career, your family, everything. There's no way you could be open about your sexuality, because you'd have been crushed, crushed. So you have all that added pressure on the relationship as well, which makes it really tumultuous.
Black: What Clyde was truly feeling had to remain between the lines because that's most likely how it would have been. I remember seeing a rough cut of the film for the first time and, for lack of a better word, you were basically eye-fucking Leonardo DiCaprio for two hours. Did you guys ever talk about that, or work through that?
Hammer: No, not really [laughs]. I couldn’t help it.
Black: The FBI recently said they told Clint and Leo there was no hard evidence that these guys were gay. What is your response to that?
Hammer: I had three binders of photographs, and in almost every one, they were touching or leaning against each other. If you go on vacation, if you go to a restaurant with a bunch of people, why are you always next to this guy? I have 400 photos of [Clyde], and they're always next to each other. And then I found out that Hoover had a collection of photos of Clyde sleeping. And that, to me, is, if not proof, certainly more evidence.
Black: If a single guy and a single girl, working together in the FBI or anywhere, showed up to work together every morning, went to lunch every day, went home together every night, went on all their vacations together, and shared hotel rooms, there'd be no question that they had something going on. But two perpetually single guys doing the exact same thing, I think because there is historically a prejudice against it, some folks are still hesitant to draw conclusions. They demand an almost impossible burden of proof.