Photo by Peter Rigaud
The Italian director Luca Guadagnino is a master of emotional, intimate theatre like ‘I Am Love’ (with Tilda Swinton) and ‘A Bigger Splash’ (with Ralph Fiennes) that unsettle and charm with their intensity. Armie Hammer rather drew attention with his complex interpretations of discrete roles, not at last with the Winklevoss twins in ‘The Social Network’. Now Luca Guadagnino assigned him with the role of Oliver, a young American that gets tangled in an armour fou (intense love affair, in his screen adaption of André Aciman’s novel ‘Call me by your name’ (Berlinale 2017/Sundance Festival).
For the VOGUE-talk they met in the Palazzo Albergoni in the Lombardy, a century old villa that is the home of an American professor, his Italian wife and their 17 year old son Elio in the movie. Oliver is a guest in their villa and like Armie Hammer he was changed by his Italian experiences.
Armie Hammer: We already talked about the fact that the atmosphere of the movie is supposed to be relaxed and loose. Thanks to you this is also true behind the camera. And that despite the hard circumstances, especially the rainfall.
Luca Guadagnino: That happens without me having to think about it. I love having guests. And this movie is about someone that is a guest. Many things in human relationships can’t be controlled but some things can be alleviated. The shooting is a hectic process full of conflicts that are related to personal discomfort. Shooting A Bigger Splash was all about it. This time I wanted to avoid such tensions. But there is always an inner tension that builds up during shooting and is related to the contents of the movie. I try to redirect the intensities between my colleagues into the movie. Especially the cultural differences between Italiens, French and American has to be channelled.
—– PROFILES —–
Name: Luca Guadagnino
Job: movie, documentary and opera director
Life: Born 1971 in Palermo. Childhood in Ethiopia. Study of film history in Rome, thesis about Jonathan Demme. After first short and fictional movies were ‘I Am Love’ (2009) and ‘A Bigger Splash’ (2015) internationally successful. 2013 he introduced the documentary ‘Bertolucci on Bertolucci’. Since 2013 his creative agency is producing fictional and fashion movies and supervises fashion campaigns. 2012 debut as opera director with ‘Falstaff’ in Verona.
Privately: Lives in Crema, Italy.
Name: Armie Hammer
Life: Born 1986 in Los Angeles. Childhood in Dallas and on the Cayman Islands. Dropped out of high school in Los Angeles to start his acting career. First roles in TV-shows. 2008 main role in ‘Billy: The Early Years’. 2010 ‘The Social Network’. 2011 co-star to Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘J.Edgar’. 2013 main role in ‘The Lone Ranger’. Bought the movie rights for the story of the drug lord La Barbie.
Privately: Married to the actress Elizabeth Chambers. One daughter.
Armie Hammer: Your movies always play in Italy despite international cast?
Luca Guadagnino: It is easier to organise. But I don’t plan it. To tell the truth I hope this is the last movie shot in Italy for a long while. By the way I always wanted to work with you and ‘Call Me By Your Name’ was the moment to ask you. The international cast wasn’t planned, developed naturally. I would never as a European director cast an American for a reason that isn’t part of history.
Armie Hammer: I love this shooting experience and the life here. Crema, where we live, is the most pittoresk town that I can imagine. Nobody speaks English. That is completely new for me as an American who usually gets through with this. I dive into a new world 24 hours a day. And it is an analog experience. My smartphone is turned off most of the time alone because of the time difference. This isolation makes it easy to concentrate on the project. I feel like I landed in a different universe.
Luca Guadagnino: Really? You don’t know this way of shooting?
Armie Hammer: Absolutely not. I never worked with a director with where I instantly felt like we fit. I just walked into this world where everything is lovely, the colleagues, you, this villa.
Luca Guadagnino: But isn’t it always like that? I’m curious now.
Armie Hammer: You make me feel like we are equal. There’s no hierarchy here where the director is like the god where me as an actor is located beneath after the author, the producer and so on.
Luca Guadagnino: So that’s how it’s usually?
Armie Hammer: Yes, especially with projects with a gigantic budget and big studio. You are only the actor there who has to fit into the designated mould.
Luca Guadagnino: As a director I always feel like a kid that still has many years until the graduation. I still have much to explore and discover. I don’t only want to get a concept of the fictional characters but also of the actors. This attitude is probably because of the postwar movies and exploded in the 70s. With directors like Scorsese and Coppola the line between actors, characters and story blurred. I wonder how I can realise a bigger movie with this attitude, an action movie for example.
Armie Hammer: Like ‘French Connection’?
Luca Guadagnino: Absolutely. As a spectator you get completely absorbed into the lives of the cops played by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. You feel the risk that they and the director take. The movie is a phenomenal adrenaline ride. Something like this is a huge inspiration. I’m not very interested in fiction. I hate the man-made, constructed, polished way of it. I want to find out something while filming, I want to, how do they say?
Armie Hammer: Be a midwife?
Luca Guadagnino: Exactly. I am a delivery nurse. And my new interpretation of ‘Suspiria’ is gonna be as personal as ‘Call Me By Your Name’. I always felt I wanted to shoot this movie again. I want to honour the feeling that the movie caused me when I was ten. I hope that it will shock the audience.
Armie Hammer: That is an interesting idea to make a movie for the sole purpose to make the audience feel what you once did.
Luca Guadagnino: Just like I will hopefully convince the audience with our that it doesn’t matter who they fall in love with.
Armie Hammer: That they can fall in love with anyone?
Luca Guadagnino: I love the impossible and hate the possible. When I suspect that something unreachable can be realised I get really enthusiastic.
Armie Hammer: The novel from André Aciman, which inspired our movie, is also a challenge. It is narrated in its own perspective. You are completely in Elio’s head. You hear his doubts see the scenes painted by him. But the screen adaption is more the study of two people who overcome all kinds of obstacles and fears.
Luca Guadagnino: A face can tell a lot about what’s going on inside. And when you have fantastic actors then you build an emotional world that gets tangible while watching.
Armie Hammer: Normally I research for a movie for months and read everything what I can get my hands on. But for the information that I needed for the role of Oliver Aciman’s nove is not the perfect source. Instead I tried to find out what it meant to grow up in the 70s and 80s. And I got acquainted with the Jewish identity that is important for my role. But mostly I tried to understand the tone of the movie. My character is curious, sensual and open for everything that he encounters. No matter if it’s a glass of peach juice, Elio or the young Chiara. To understand that was a big part of the preparation.
Luca Guadagnino: The movie doesn’t portray Oliver like for example ‘Malèna’ by Giuseppe Tornatore was directed - as a pretty woman you stare at. That he is a good looking man was always an ironic detail for me. All characters are beautiful but not because of their physical appearance but because we gaze into their heart and soul. What is important is the emotional process that Elio undergoes and that we can see in his look. How does he deal with his crush? Does he make more out of it?
Armie Hammer: I noticed there’s not a single vanity shot in this movie where it’s about the best angle with the most flattering sun light that stages the face. But still every single shot is gorgeous in all your movies. They are incredibly cautious and subtle.
Luca Guadagnino: I’m interested in sensuousness not beauty. When I hear the word beauty I cock my gun. For me it’s about how those people submit to the sensuousness at last. In the end you can’t turn down an erotic challenge. Another impossibility that I think about constantly.
Armie Hammer: Water is a sensuous element in this movie.
Luca Guadagnino: And that while I can’t swim. When I go into the water I drown. I hate the sea, I hate the heat, the humidity, the people around me, I don’t want to present myself naked. Pantelleria was also disgusting for me while shooting ‘A Bigger Splash’.
Armie Hammer: Well, this is funny: We spend a good part of the movie in the water and that while you hate it!
Luca Guadagnino: It is about the meaning in the movie just like with the sex scenes. Technically they’re without meaning if they’re not about the dialogue between two people.
Armie Hammer: If you believe it or not I had my first sex scene in ‘Call Me By Your Name’!
Luca Guadagnino: Wait, you never did this before?
Armie Hammer: No! But you and the crew dealt with it like it would be nothing special, just another scene. And as soon as it is “Cut!” you look up and come out of the fog: there’s the boom operator, there’s the camera man and they just do their job. I wish I could fill this feeling in bottles, the feelings before and after the scene. I would need weeks to explain the difference. Anyway it doesn’t feel like anything special to me anymore either.
Luca Guadagnino: You made it emotionally completely believable. That was fantastic. Actors are in a very fragile position.
Armie Hammer: We are incredibly exposed alone because the whole crew is there.
Luca Guadagnino: The actor gives the director a credit of trust. And then the movie goes out into the world.
Armie Hammer: But that is why I became an actor.
Luca Guadagnino: And when will you become a director?
Armie Hammer: I’ll probably never write my own script. I don’t have the concentration to sit down for months. I’d really like to direct a movie though. But when I see how fluent and effortless the process is for someone like you then I tell myself I’ll never be able to do this.
Luca Guadagnino: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a director? You already worked with the best.
Armie Hammer: Well, it’s about reconcile everyone involved and always keep the outline in mind. I don’t have a single clue what processes are happening in a director, it’s all going on inside. And it’s so fast I tell myself if I ask a question now I only hinder everything. But there are directors that approach things completely different and think at every shot out loud where the camera should be placed.
Luca Guadagnino: Do you like that better?
Armie Hammer: Sure. No one is as close to the camera as the actor. And when the director walks over to start a talk with the cameraman I sure do listen closely. I always knew I wanted to make movies. As a child I went to the cinema on weekends and watched everything that was on the program. I had no idea what a director or producer does so the next thing was to become an actor.
Luca Guadagnino: To direct means to be an outcast. You have to ready yourself for a journey that’s deep and dark.
Armie Hammer: What’s the reason for that? Where does this alienation come from?
Luca Guadagnino: I thought about what I like today. While growing up I loved directors whose movies were strong, compromising and hard to take. Their movies had no success at the beginning but became legends later: Stanley Kubrick for example, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Powell, Federico Fellini. Under this circumstances I can’t make a Hollywood movie. You are dead before you receive a second chance. So: I like directors that do what they want and address my desires. It’s scary but I also always get what I want. I was in love with Ralph Fiennes, his photos hung on my wall. And then he played in ‘A Bigger Splash’. It is important to get what you really want. I really need to own and desire the actors that star in my movies.
Armie Hammer: Was it the same with me?
Luca Guadagnino: When I saw ‘The Social Network’: Yes, the movie is brilliant, the script is great, Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg fantastically - but who the hell are the Winklevoss twins? There was something about you that I wanted to bring in front of the cameras.
Armie Hammer: And we did it.
Luca Guadagnino: My next goal is to find your dark side. Do you see yourself as an actor as a seducer or as seduced? I always hear that actors are seductive. But as a director I have to say that sometimes they get seduced and then left alone.
Armie Hammer: Who isn’t involved in the origination process romanticises actors. It would be really great if I would get surrounded with scripts. But the sad truth is that there are so little good directors and great scripts that everyone wants a role as soon as a good movie appears on the market. I feel more like a boxer in the fight for a chance. Sure there are colleagues that get all the fantastical commissions automatically…
Luca Guadagnino: … but you don’t even want that.
Armie Hammer: But you seduced me and it was definitely worth it. The filming with you has left as big an impression in my personal life as in my professional.
Luca Guadagnino: It’s irrelevant how many movies an actor shoots per year. It’s about giving an emotional iconic performance. And you did that. That’s how Film history works. That’s how I see it and I’m film historian.
Armie Hammer: You know more about movies than anyone else. And partly that’s the reason why you make such beautiful movies. On the other hand you gaze so interestingly at things, at everything, whatever it may be. Your opinion is always cultivated, considered carefully.
Luca Guadagnino: There are so many practical problems while filming it’s overwhelming. You have to work with every single shot and then the total out of it.
Armie Hammer: I worked with directors that said, no the trees have to be planted differently.
Luca Guadagnino: It’s crazy! That’s how I thought about it when I was 17. You shoot in a garden where everything gets redesigned. But that’s not how it works.
Armie Hammer: I know other directors that like midwifes let things take their way.
Luca Guadagnino: There we come to the masters of the subject. They didn’t close the door to reality, how Jean Renoir once said.
The talk was moderated by Ingeborg Harms
Photo by Peter Rigaud
Original text published in VOGUE GERMANY, January 2017 issue, translated from German into English by Nici Jones.