From writer/director Stanley Tucci and inspired by James Lord’s memoir A Giacometti Portrait, Final Portrait is the story of an unusual friendship, between American writer and art lover James Lord (Armie Hammer) and world renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush). In 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, Giacometti asks Lord to sit for a portrait, telling him that it would only take a few days. After several delays in returning home and very revealing insight into the chaos and beauty of the artistic process, the two men bonded in fascinating and unlikely ways.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with actor Armie Hammer for this 1-on-1 interview about what attracted him to Final Portrait, the master class experience of getting to watch Geoffrey Rush do his thing, how he delved into James Lord, and why he felt like the new guy on set. He also talked about the Call Me By Your Name sequel, whether a Man From U.N.C.L.E. sequel could ever happen, why he wanted to be a part of Sorry to Bother You, and when he might try his hand at directing.
Collider: This is an unusual story, exploring the friendship between these two men, but they often don’t even interact directly with each other. Did you wonder how that was going to work?
ARMIE HAMMER: Just in terms of my character, I was like, “Okay, so, I have to sit completely still for 70% of this movie? How do I keep that from being boring as shit?!” You can’t [fidget], and I don’t have the attention span for that, really, but I had the ease of just getting to watch Geoffrey Rush do his thing that he does so well. The same way that James Lord is studying Giacometti and watching him, I got to watch an amazing artist do his thing.
When you read this script, did you know that Geoffrey Rush would be playing Giacometti?
HAMMER: Yes. I knew Stanley Tucci was directing it, which was huge for me. I love him as an actor and I think he’s an amazing director. Big Night is one of my favorite movies. And I knew that Geoffrey Rush was gonna be playing Giacometti. There already is a physical resemblance, but then with what they did with the make-up, they made him look just like Alberto Giacometti, which is incredible. And then, he just nailed it.
What was it like to just sit in a chair and watch and interact with him?
HAMMER: It was a treat. It was like an acting master class, to be honest. The thing that was most inspiring was seeing how hard Geoffrey works. Every now and then, you work with an actor that’s been doing it for so long that they come in, in the morning, and go, “Do I have any lines today? Let me see the script. Yeah, okay, we’re good. We’ll shoot that.” But that was not the case with Geoffrey. He wanted to get together and rehearse, every night, after we were done shooting. He wanted to rehearse for seven hours, on Saturday and Sunday. He was a workhorse. He’s one of the hardest working actors I’ve ever worked with. It was a pleasure, getting to work with him during the day, and then rehearse with him, at night and on the weekends. He just wanted to go through everything and break down the scenes and talk about what was behind it and the motivation. It really was an acting master class.
Did you also read James Lord’s memoir, A Giacometti Portrait?
HAMMER: Yeah. There’s a couple different ones that James Lord wrote about Giacometti. He wrote the seminal biographies about Giacometti and Picasso, and he also wrote some really bad fiction novels that I read.
How did that help you?
HAMMER: You just see the man. Every writer’s fingerprint is on what they produce. I also got my hands on all of the correspondences and letters that he wrote, between he and his mother. I got his diaries and journals, and all of that stuff. There was a lot. Most of it you can’t use, but then there will be one line about how he reacted to something that happened to him, during the course of the day, and you go, “Oh, something like that happens in this scene. I can use that, exactly.” He’s an introverted observer, so it’s about the person and celebrating that there is a person in front of you who’s doing their thing, and just watching and appreciating.
Why do you think James Lord and Giacometti became friends?
HAMMER: They got each other. They understood each other. They both had their own arduous artistic process. You get to a point in a piece where you just don’t know what to say and you delete it and start over.
How did you find the experience of working with Stanley Tucci, as a director?
HAMMER: It was great. I love Stanley. He’s so smart and so funny and so clever. It was a joy. It was a real treat to work with him.
You have some great moments in this with Tony Shalhoub.
HAMMER: Yeah, I love Tony. Tony is a special human being and a special artist. Everything that he has ever been in, that I’ve seen, you watch and go, “That’s great!” Even his smaller roles, like in the first Men in Black, he’s really so good at what he does. He’s so good in Monk. He’s really quiet, he’s really nice, he’s really sweet, and he’s also very introverted. He just shows up, floats into the room and doesn’t really say much, and then it comes time for him to do his thing and he drops something on you, where you go, “That is genius!”
You’ve established yourself, as an actor, pretty strongly. When you walk into a situation like this, with these actors, do you feel like you’ve solidified your place, or do you still get nervous?
HAMMER: I still feel like the new guy. I don’t know if that’s just me, or that I am the new guy. I’m also working with Geoffrey Rush, Tony Shalhoub and Sylvie Testud, who have been doing this, and doing it well, for a long time. Geoffrey has been doing this longer than I’ve been alive. Fuck, he won an Academy Award for Shine.
Has Luca Guadagnino told you yet when he’d like to shoot the Call Me By Your Name sequel?
When might you do that?
HAMMER: It will be a few years, intentionally, like the Linklater thing.
Did you always know that sequels were a possibility?
HAMMER: No. I knew that, in the book, the story goes on for several more years than what we got in the movie, but when I signed on for this, it wasn’t like, “We’re gonna do another one.” No one has signed contracts. We don’t have a studio. There’s not even a script. The book jumps forward several years, and you see when Oliver is a professor and Elio is a piano player. I think people really responded well to the movie and the way Luca directed it. They obviously really responded well to Timmy (Timothée Chalamet). So, if they want another one, that’s a huge compliment.
Do you think it will happen?
HAMMER: It could very well happen, yeah.
Have you heard of any movement on a Man from U.N.C.L.E. sequel, since Lionel Wigram told you that he’d write it?
HAMMER: We’ll see. Every time I sit down with Lionel Wigram, who was one of the writers and also the producer of the film, we start throwing ideas around. “What about this?” “Well, what about that?” It’s that kind of thing. That was a fun [movie] to make. Working with Guy [Ritchie] was great. Doing that whole ‘60s spy thing was fun. Lionel was great. Alicia [Vikander] is fantastic. Henry [Cavill] is great, and Elizabeth Debicki. Everyone who worked on that was a lot of fun. If we’re able to get a great script and get it all locked in, then I can’t imagine anyone involved not going, “Yeah, that was a lot of fun! I’d love to do that again!”
My co-workers saw Sorry to Bother You at Sundance, which they said was kind of insane.
HAMMER: Totally insane!
What was it that made you want to be a part of that?