PLAYBOY: You’re playing the lead in The Lone Ranger, which debuted 80 years ago, on radio. You’re 26. Were you even aware of the character when you were a kid?
HAMMER: My dad called me kemo sabe when I was a kid. I also remember hearing Lone Ranger jokes, including one that goes like this: The Lone Ranger and Tonto are riding through the desert, going over dune after dune and getting a little lost. They go over one last dune and all of a sudden there are Indian braves all around the top, completely circling them. The Lone Ranger panics, looks at Tonto and says, “Tonto, we’re surrounded! What do we do?” Tonto goes, “What do you mean by ‘we,’ white man?” and runs away.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk Johnny Depp. He plays Tonto, and his interpretation of the role is reportedly entirely different from the 1950s television incarnation.
HAMMER: In the old TV series, Tonto was really just the Lone Ranger’s slave. The Lone Ranger would say, “Tonto, go tell people this or that,” and Tonto would say, “Me do.” In our movie Tonto is a Comanche who considers himself one of the last spirit warriors, and the Lone Ranger is at first a district attorney who has this Lockean idea of bringing about justice in the West with discussions, not guns. But then he’s ambushed and shot. Tonto nurses him back to health and explains that maybe the world doesn’t work quite the way he thinks it does. What’s funny and part of the rub between Tonto and the Lone Ranger in our movie is that even though my character is educated and believes people should treat one another justly, he still looks at Tonto as if to say, “Oh, pay him no mind; he’s just an Indian.” But then you see Tonto be like, “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” and sure as shit, Tonto’s right.
PLAYBOY: We heard Depp placed a scorpion in his mouth during the shoot. Is that true?
HAMMER: That was recreational on his part, and I still don’t understand it. We had these scorpion handlers on set for this freak-show kind of scene. Now, these scorpions were so massive that you’d barely be able to fit one in a cereal bowl. After the scene, we went to check out the dudes who handle them, and one of the handlers just opened his mouth and one of the scorpions crawled out. I was like, “Okay, I’m good!” and walked the hell away. But Johnny said, “I want to try that!” and just shoved it into his mouth. He’s a total character—a bohemian and an artist in the truest sense.
PLAYBOY: Did you find putting on the Lone Ranger mask addictive while you were filming? It was such a narcotic to Clayton Moore, the 1950s TV actor who played him, that after the show ended he fought lawsuits that attempted to deny him the right to wear it for personal appearances.
HAMMER: Let’s just say I kept one. [chuckles] And that my wife loves it.
PLAYBOY: You’re a guy who has gone on record saying he’s obsessed with tying knots and who often carries a rope and a knot guide with him wherever he goes. Now we’re hearing about a mask. Is there anything we need to know about your sex life?
HAMMER: Well, if you’re married to a feminist [journalist, restaurateur and actress Elizabeth Chambers] as I am, then it’s…. I don’t know how much we can put here without my parents being embarrassed, but I used to like to be a dominant lover. I liked the grabbing of the neck and the hair and all that. But then you get married and your sexual appetites change. And I mean that for the better—it’s not like I’m suffering in any way. But you can’t really pull your wife’s hair. It gets to a point where you say, “I respect you too much to do these things that I kind of want to do.”
PLAYBOY: And how does she respond?
HAMMER: The two us will literally break out laughing in the middle of it, finish up and be like, “Well, that was oddly fun!” So it becomes a new kind of thing that’s less about “I want to dominate you” and more about both of us having a really good time. It’s just a different style.
PLAYBOY: Where does your obsession with tying knots come from?
HAMMER: Maybe it’s a man’s version of knitting. It’s fascinating because you can pick up a piece of rope and know that if you do this, then this, then A, B, C, you’ll get X every time. There are no variables in rope tying. It’s all logic, and it’s incredibly useful.
PLAYBOY: Should we assume those rumors about you playing the lead in the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey are all false?
HAMMER: No one actually offered me the movie, but while I was working on Lone Ranger my agent brought it up, and I said “Nope.” I mean, come on—it’s just mommy porn. I’m not going to sit on top of the laundry machine in spin cycle reading about putting a ball gag in someone’s mouth. That doesn’t do it for me.
PLAYBOY: You became famous playing the super-rich, super-entitled Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, the movie about the birth of Facebook. One of your great-grandfathers was Armand Hammer, the illustrious oil baron, philanthropist and art collector. How did you not become a Winklevii type?
HAMMER: My mom made sure I went to regular schools and not the ones parents send their kids to in L.A. to train them to become douchebags. The whole time my brothers and I were growing up, her thing was, “You’re no different or more special than anybody else.”
PLAYBOY: What do you remember about your great-grandfather?
HAMMER: He had a plane, and I remember running up and down its aisle. He was a really eclectic, funny dude. On his plane he’d have a giant bowl of caviar, a giant bowl of lobster and then a humongous bowl of Kentucky Fried Chicken. And he could give a shit about the caviar or the lobster; he wanted to eat that fried chicken. That was his happy place. I think that’s probably where I get my love for McDonald’s.
PLAYBOY: You love the yellow arches?
HAMMER: I have the most guilty, abusive relationship with McDonald’s. Left to my own devices I’d probably eat four Big Macs a week. My wife, Elizabeth, says, “You can’t fill your body with that crap—they put eyeballs in it!” And I go, “Sounds good!”
PLAYBOY: You own a restaurant, Bird Bakery, with your wife in her hometown of San Antonio. How do you keep yourself in shape when it’s time to film?
HAMMER: For a male actor the trick is to enjoy life so you know you’re always about two weeks away from being “beach ready.” I mean, do you know how often those people have to think, What if I eat? It’s a lot, and I don’t want to think about myself as often as it is necessary to think about yourself in order to keep a six-pack all the time. I’d rather enjoy meals, order bottles of red wine and eat crème brûlée at the end of dinner. Then when they call you for a photo shoot, you just go, “Okay, time to hit the treadmill.”
PLAYBOY: Lately horse meat has been finding its way into foreign hamburgers——
HAMMER: Which will make me a stallion, so I’ll take it! You know, in places like France eating horse is totally acceptable. Elizabeth says, “You cannot say that—you’re the Lone Ranger!” [laughs] But horse meat is apparently delicious and nutritious. It’s funny: When we were eating at a burger joint with the cowboys in Lone Ranger, I point-blank asked, “Did you ever eat a horse?” And every one of them said, “Oh hell yeah, man—that’s good eatin’!”
PLAYBOY: What else did the cowboys teach you?
HAMMER: When we showed up at cowboy camp they said, “Here’s your saddle and your bedroll.” I said, “Seems kind of thin for a bedroll.” The guy got in my face and screamed, “You’re a fuckin’ ranger, man! You lay down and cover up your ass. Are we clear?”
PLAYBOY: So it was a rough shoot?
HAMMER: They beat the shit out of us, dude. We filmed in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, among other places, and when we started it was cold enough to get shut down by blizzards. Then there were windstorms, then sandstorms, then electrical storms. In New Mexico they laid five miles of train track so we’d have our own rail to shoot on, and Johnny and I spent weeks just running on top of trains. One day it got to 120 degrees, and I was wearing this wool suit, leather gloves, leather mask and hat for 14 hours of daylight. I got so skinny they had to put new holes in my belts.
PLAYBOY: Give us an example of young Armie as a middle schooler.
HAMMER: I almost got kicked out of eighth grade for selling Playboy. Me and this guy had a ring where we’d bring magazines packaged with a bottle of lotion to school—brilliant business plan, wasn’t it?—and sell them to the kids for $20. Then I got called into a teacher’s office. He said, “I’ve heard you’re bringing in these nudie magazines.” I said, “Nope, not me.” He went, “So you wouldn’t mind if we checked your locker?” Which he then went and did. We’d stashed the actual magazines in bushes by the school, but there was a ton of lotion in the locker. All he could say was, “Why do you have so much lotion?” I said, “I get dry hands.” [laughs] They couldn’t prove I was selling the magazines, so I got away with it. Fun!
PLAYBOY: You’re six-foot-five, yet you drove up for this interview on a Vespa. What’s a king-size dude doing on such a pint-size bike?
HAMMER: The usual joke is that I’m compensating for my huge penis. We’ll skip that one, though, and say it’s for ease of commute. I’m obsessed with Vespas—there’s just no faster way to get around Los Angeles.
PLAYBOY: You and your wife once bought each other guns for Christmas. Are you a big gun lover?
HAMMER: I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a gun lover—I’m a gun appreciator. I appreciate their function, the way they’ve evolved and the mechanics of them. I’m not sure I think anybody should be able to just walk into a gun store and walk out with a gun, but statistically, if you look at places where people are the most armed, there’s less crime. I’m by no means advocating a completely armed society, but at the same time, I appreciate the recreation of guns. Going out and skeet shooting can be a fun, adrenalized time. My wife and I were supposed to go skeet shooting on our first date, but it started to rain so we ended up going to a bunch of art galleries and then a porno store instead.
PLAYBOY: In 2011’s J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood, you play Clyde Tolson, the associate director of the FBI, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s J. Edgar Hoover. No one knows for certain, but the two were so inseparable that many assumed they were lovers. The movie hints that the answer is yes. Where do you stand?
HAMMER: On set I’d always say, “Clint, what do you think? Did they ever bang?” And he’d go [in a heavy Eastwood whisper], “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Then I’d ask Leo, “So what do you think? Did they ever do it?” And he’d go [takes a deep breath], “I don’t know…maybe.” But I was like, “Oh yeah, they did it for sure!” That was my standpoint, 100 percent. Like maybe one night they had a few too many martinis and all of a sudden [mimes passing out and waking up], “Oh! What did we just do? Oh my God, that felt so good! And so bad! I hate you, I love you, get away from me, get over here!” One of those things, you know?
PLAYBOY: Where do you stand on marriage equality?
HAMMER: I don’t think anybody should be telling anybody else who they should marry or not marry. That’s my official standpoint. This is social evolution, and the thing with evolution, whether you look at it in terms of a plant or a species or a mind-set, is it will always take time. But you just want to say, “The debate’s over, folks. Get used to it.”