The new year kicked off with what will likely be the most bizarre celebrity story of 2021: Armie Hammer — the genetically blessed movie star of “Call Me by Your Name” and “The Social Network” fame, and heir to the Hammer family oil fortune — began trending online for being a cannibal.
Hammer is not a cannibal.
And yet, weeks later, questions still swirl about Hammer’s personal life amid social media accusations. And after he dropped out of two high-profile projects – which Variety hears from multiple well-placed sources he was asked to leave – it’s not clear if his career can, or will, recover.
Unverified messages have been blasted across social media, reportedly showing Hammer chatting with several women in explicit conversations displaying his fetishes, where he allegedly expresses his sexual appetite to drink blood, cut toes and enslave sex partners. The messages, allegedly sent by Hammer, describe rape fantasies. One of Hammer’s exes told a tabloid the actor wanted to barbecue and eat her rib. Another ex said in a media interview that he carved his initial into her skin on her pelvis, engaging in “knife play” in the bedroom. Beneath the salacious accusations, which have turned into a media spectacle, the women say Hammer’s sexual proclivities are being used as a smokescreen, and are accusing him of emotional abuse, manipulation and coercion.
At this time, the authenticity of the messages has not been confirmed. Hammer’s inner circle maintains his innocence.
Yet still, in 2021, what is spread on social media matters. Even if Hammer is denying the more serious claims, there appears to be enough validity to his lifestyle choices that – fairly or not – will likely have a lasting stain on Hammer’s career.
An attorney for Hammer has told reporters that assertions against his client are “patently untrue,” stating that any interactions with any sexual partners of his “completely consensual in that they were fully discussed, agreed upon, and mutually participatory.”
“The stories being perpetuated in the media are a misguided attempt to present a one-sided narrative with the goal of tarnishing Mr. Hammer’s reputation, and communications from the individuals involved prove that,” Hammer’s attorney, Andrew Brettler of Lavely and Singer, tells Variety in a statement.
Hammer has not spoken about the veracity of the messages, and he’s categorized the allegations as an unfounded takedown against him. “I’m not responding to these bullshit claims,” he said in a statement, calling the social media accusations “vicious and spurious online attacks against me.”
So far, no lawsuits have been filed by any of the accusers. A representative for one of Hammer’s ex-girlfriends tells Variety that her client isn’t currently exploring any legal proceedings.
Those close to Hammer believe he has a strong case for a defamation suit, but at this time, he has no plans to pursue legal action, as his focus is on the custody of his children, according to a person familiar with his team’s present strategy.
Variety has learned that Hammer’s legal team is currently in the process of subpoenaing Instagram and Facebook to investigate the validity of the screenshots.
Ever since the screenshots surfaced on social media, first posted by the anonymous Instagram account House of Effie, Hammer has been forced to exit two upcoming projects: the romantic comedy “Shotgun Wedding,” in which he was supposed to star opposite Jennifer Lopez, and “The Offer,” a series at Paramount Plus about the making of “The Godfather.”
“I cannot in good conscience now leave my children for four months to shoot a film in the Dominican Republic,” Hammer said when his departure from “Shotgun Wedding” was announced. “Lionsgate is supporting me in this and I’m grateful to them for that.”
But numerous insiders have told Variety that Hammer was asked to leave both projects in the aftermath of the social media attention, which is seen as a major distraction that will continue to snowball. Despite being essentially forced out, a number of insiders have said Hammer is being compensated for “Shotgun Wedding,” though he is not being paid the full amount of the initial offer.
A representative for Hammer did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
Hammer receiving any sort of payment indicates that while his presence in any project would be toxic, he has not committed a cut-and-dry breach of contract.
“Most talent agreements list certain activities that are not permitted,” says Ryan Baker, a partner at the Los Angeles-based law firm Waymaker LLP, who has not worked with Hammer, but has represented talent in litigation against major Hollywood studios. “A party seeking to terminate a contract could argue that the talent’s image has been unexpectedly tarnished as a result of something the talent did and, as a result, the talent is no longer able to bring the same value to the project. I would suspect that in a time like this, there would be a way for the parties to reach a resolution. However, it seems more facts will come to light in this case.”
While Hammer is guilty of having extramarital sex partners for years, those relationships were all consensual, according to a member of his team, who says he did not engage in any abusive behavior.
The women, who’ve been speaking to the tabloid press and posting on social media, tell a different story.
Hammer’s situation is different than other scandals of the #MeToo era, where high-profile men saw their careers end when they were accused of predatory behavior in deeply reported newspaper or magazine stories. But while the full circumstances around Hammer’s allegations still haven’t come completely into focus, it’s quickly changed his image in the court of public opinion.
And, in an industry where movie star’s careers are built on their personal brand and public persona, the damage might have already been done. The words “cannibal,” “kitten” and “daddy” will forever be next to Hammer’s name in a quick Google search, and his character has been brought into question, as videos have surfaced of him allegedly snorting drugs, drinking behind the wheel and bragging about passing a drug test that was required for him to see his children in the midst of his divorce. While not all of the social media videos have been verified, Hammer made a statement that confirmed content surfacing on the internet was “stolen from my private Instagram,” indicating that at least some of the footage is real.
“He has never eaten human flesh, he has never drank blood, he has never cut off a toe, he has never locked anybody in a cage, or whatever else is in these crazy messages. These messages definitely shouldn’t be taken literally – even if he did text them,” a source close to Hammer says, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, given the personal nature of the wild story. “Anyone can say what they want and solicit craziness on Instagram or TikTok or Clubhouse. People think that kinky sex is weird and taboo, and maybe it is to most people, but clearly there are adults who engage in it and enjoy it.”
Both projects that Hammer departed – Lopez’s “Shotgun Wedding” and Paramount’s “The Offer” – were close to shooting, so the studio and network had to move fast. But looking ahead, Hammer has a slew of completed projects, which will prove to be a headache for Hollywood executives, who are closely watching to see how the scandal unfolds.
Hammer’s most high-profile project in the near future is Disney’s “Death on the Nile,” the follow-up to the box office success “Murder on the Orient Express.” The A-list murder mystery, in which Hammer stars opposite Gal Gadot and Kenneth Branagh, wrapped production in late 2019 – long before the sex scandal – and was originally slated to be released last year. With COVID-19 theater closures, the film was delayed and is now slated for a September 2021 release.
While Disney declined to comment on this story, a source close to the film says Hammer’s situation is very much on the studio’s radar and is an absolute concern, but given that the film’s release is still months away, the situation is not critical – yet. “Death on the Nile” is an ensemble cast, so Disney will have the option of minimizing Hammer in marketing materials, sources say. Depending on what details come to light in the months ahead, it’s possible the actor would not be a major part of the promotional blitz.
Next month, Hammer will be seen in the aptly named “Crisis,” a smaller-budget film, starring Gary Oldman and Evangeline Lilly, which is being released on home entertainment in early March. Universal, one of the studios distributing the movie, did not respond to Variety’s request for comment.
Hammer has also wrapped shooting on Taika Waititi’s sports comedy “Next Goal Wins,” which he filmed last year, though he plays a very minor character and does not have a prominent role in the film. The Searchlight Pictures film is currently in post-production, but it’s not currently on the studio’s 2021 slate. A representative from the boutique studio declined to comment.
While it’s one thing to have worked with Hammer on a movie that’s already completed, it’s another to begin shooting a new role with him.
The actor is set to star in Amma Asante’s Cold War thriller “Billion Dollar Spy,” which is in pre-production. He is starring opposite Mads Mikkelsen who, ironically, portrayed Dr. Hannibal Lecter in NBC’s “Hannibal.” Neither the studio or Asante responded to Variety’s request for comment when asked about potential re-casting.
Perhaps the buzziest project for Hammer is the long-awaited “Call Me by Your Name” sequel, which has not been confirmed and does not have a script attached to it yet, as director Luca Guadagnino is currently working on other projects. In a strange turn of events, one of those movies happens to be a cannibal love story starring Hammer’s “Call Me by Your Name” co-star, Timothee Chalamet, which garnered considerable headlines, as the film was bizarrely announced amid Hammer’s social media downfall. Sources close to that project confirm that the film was well in the works long before Hammer’s alleged DMs hit the internet, and describe the situation as “a very unfortunate, craziest coincidence in the history of the world.”
Guadagnino was not available to comment for this story, or on the status of the “Call Me by Your Name” sequel, as he is busy working on another project.
Hammer is represented by WME, and remains a client for now. Insiders say the talent agency is not considering dropping him, though WME declined to comment for this story.
Those who work closely with Hammer believe the actor will survive this scandal, though no one is blind to the negative attention, to say the least. “This is not the end of Armie Hammer,” a person in Hammer’s circle says.
However, as efforts to create safe and equitable workspaces garner more attention, will women in Hollywood want to work with Hammer?
“Armie Hammer is someone I wouldn’t want to put near my clients,” a female literary agent, who represents television writers, says. “Someone like that can be a liability, and I wouldn’t want to put my clients in that situation. It can be so damaging. At the very least, I’d have a conversation with the client and make sure that they’re aware with what’s going on before even setting up a meeting.”
Agency and studio sources that spoke with Variety expressed a “wait and see” approach to the situation. For now, no one wants Hammer’s name anywhere near a project, but “time heals all wounds,” according to an agent, with another suggesting that the actions of which Hammer has been accused do not rise to the level of permanently ending relationships with him. However, the scandal has sent shockwaves through some of the most powerful offices in Hollywood, as many high-ranking executives who are in business with Hammer have been briefed on the allegations, as they need to monitor the ongoing situation.
“It’s so far off from what we all thought we knew about him,” says a major studio insider of Hammer’s apparent double life. “It’s so unexpected.”
Nearly one month after the social media chatter regarding Hammer’s sex life first surfaced, the headlines continue to pour out. In a 24/7 news cycle where the focus shifts quickly from story to story, given the salacious nature of the scandal, the media firestorm is showing no signs of slowing down. Undoubtedly, Hammer’s reputation has taken a hit.
Although he posted to his private account, Hammer publishing videos – anywhere – boasting about recreational drug use and lingerie-clad women raises serious concern over his judgement, which is significant when he’s the face of any company or product. As a public figure, the decision to post any potentially damaging material onto a social media platform without thinking he could be caught is perplexing. And, regardless of the allegations, a common thread expressed by numerous industry insiders who spoke anonymously for this story is that the choice to communicate with women across social media platforms with sexually explicit messages when he’s a famous married father of two is foolish, to say the least. And it’s a liability for any network or studio that hires him.
“When talent is retained, it’s more than just the person who can stand up and recite the lines — there is an image and a persona that producers or others want to attach to their idea,” the attorney, Baker, who has never worked with Hammer, says. “Actions outside of the studio can have a profound impact on the public perception of attaching particular talent to a production.”
Hollywood is an all-too-forgiving business that loves a comeback story, but another industry source believes that Hammer may not recover professionally – because of the current climate, but also because of Hammer’s career track record.
“He’s not Tom Cruise,” a high-powered publicist says. “He keeps getting cast, but it’s never a hit at the box office. Who is going to fight in this day and age for a star who has this complicated of a story surrounding him?”
Joe Otterson and Matt Donnelly contributed to this report.