Armie Hammer Keeps Cool During 'Free Fire' [Interview]

If there's one character who stays calm in most of Free Fire, it's Ord. The American criminal is as well-composed as his swanky gray jacket and black turtleneck. Rarely is Ord the character shouting and screaming in director Ben Wheatley's (High-Rise) new, 85-minute-long shoot 'em up..

Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump don't waste a second of Free Fire's runtime, which couldn't come at a more right time before some bloated action movies arrive this summer. The film is as lively as some of its characters, most of whom you'd like to see make it out of the warehouse. Especially Ord.

We recently discussed the role with actor Armie Hammer, who also told us a bit about the character's backstory, working with Wheatley, and more.

I love how Ord just walks into this movie. He's so cocksure from the start.  

Oh, it was great, yeah. I remember just bopping [my head] beforehand, just kind of humming to myself. And be like "do do doot do, all right, let's fuckin do this."

Was it the first scene we shot? The film was shot in sequence, right?

I don't think it was the first scene that we shot. Actually, I think we shot it towards the end almost. All the stuff in the warehouse was all shot in sequence. The little bits and pieces we had to get up depending on when the docks were available and all that stuff. It was a lot of fun, man. Especially because you got a soldier holster, you got a gun in there. And you feel like, what do they say, the dog's bollocks.

How was the character described on the page?

Oh jeez, Ben would probably be able to tell you better than I would, but I think it was like bored, you know.... I actually couldn't tell you, to be perfectly honest. It was so long ago, but it also changed so much in the process of shooting the movie because the actors came in, they brought their own ideas and Ben, being the writer and director, was there with us at all times so any ideas immediately, if they were good, got implemented. And things changed so much, you know, the original script wasn't a comedy, it was like a hard-boiled action movie that just turned into a comedy.

How did your character evolve? Were there any pivotal moments for you on the set?

I think I was able to use the information, you know, this took place in '78, so it would make sense that seven, eight years ago this guy was in Vietnam. So the moments that would normally freak other people out, like being shot at or seeing someone die, being someone who has that background, it wouldn't really surprise him or shock him or throw him that off. So it was kind of funny the way it happens. So this guy gets shot in the ass, this guy gets run over, whatever, it doesn't freak him out; it kind of makes him laugh.

But it also, I think what was kind of fun about Ord is he gives the audience permission to laugh. If there's someone in the middle of it laughing about this whole thing, then it makes you feel okay about laughing at it instead of having to feel empathetic as a human.

Was there anything else about that character's past you imagined? 

He was an explosives expert; he was kind of a sick twisted dude. He preferred booby traps, but also really perverted booby traps. He's the kind of guy who laughs when someone gets their head run over.

Ben just told me him and Amy wrote the part for you. 

What does that say about me?

[Laughs] They like your work. Did you know that when you read it?

No, I didn't know that. I later heard that and I was really pleased, and it was kind of a big honor. But I didn't know that, and I read it, and I was familiar with Ben, so I just thought "There's no way I'm not gonna do this." He didn't think I would do it, or something like that. But as far as I was concerned as soon as I read it, and as soon as I knew he was doing it, there was no way I wasn't gonna do it.

Do you have a favorite Ben Wheatley film?

Oh man, Sightseers is fantastic and funny, Kill List is one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen. A Field in England is also hilarious and bizarre, and if you've ever taken psychedelics at all you're totally like "Oh yes!" High-Rise is also such an achievement, and it's so incredible the way he goes through it all in one location, it's really interesting. He's a great filmmaker.

What kind of environment does he create on set?

Tense. He just yells and screams at everybody all the time. No, it's really an easy fluid collaborative atmosphere, and it moves really quickly, and we shoot a lot, and it feels really expedient, and it's nice.

Free Fire picHow was the blocking, was it rigorous?

No, it's funny, it felt really free and it felt like we had total liberties to go wherever we wanted and do whatever we wanted but later seeing now all of his storyboards and seeing how every single bullet shot was planned out, everything was premeditated, it really made me feel like we had only the illusion of freedom and that he was actually in control of everything the whole time.

Was there much time for rehearsal?

No, he didn't like to do rehearsals. He was like "Why waste it, if it's good then I'll just wish I shot it so let's just shoot it."

And for you usually does it just depend on the job, whether or not you want rehearsal? 

Some people like it some people don't, and that's part of the process of actors learning how to make your process work with whoever you're working with now. Because I have things that I like, things that I prefer and things that make me feel more comfortable. But if that doesn't work with him, you know, it's all about collaboration.

What kind of environment do you usually feel most comfortable working in?

Oh man, definitely an atmosphere of collaboration and partnership and freedom and obviously no judgment and all that. You know, the usual.

Right, feel okay to make mistakes.

By the way, everyone will. Everyone will, from actors to the crew to whomever. Someone will make a mistake and you just "Alright, let's do it again." That's the luxury you have of shooting movies, just do it again.

One thing I want to ask about Ord, in the last half of the film when he's smoking a lot, so how much did that influence your behavior and your choices?

I think if you're as heavy of a pot smoker as Ord, where you bring joints to a gunfight, then I think you can probably smoke a joint and still do what you have to do as opposed to smoking and being like "Oh, I'm so stoned I just gotta lay down for a bit."

I think he wouldn't smoke a joint in the middle of a gunfight if he knew it would impair him to the point where he might not survive the gunfight. So for him, it was like "I'll smoke a joint because fuck, I'm just waiting for all these guys to shoot themselves. They're gonna shoot themselves and then once there's a few of them left I might go out and try to escape the whole thing." It's really just like a way for him to just calm his nerves, chill, and also goes back to 'Nam. You know how weed was everywhere, opium was everywhere.

He's a functioning stoner. 

I don't even think for Ord the term stoner applies because the term stoner has a connotation of like "Oh man, I'm so stoned." I think he's just a functioning pot smoker.

It's funny, just like actors playing drunk, it can go wrong. People tend to get real goofy.

That's what they say in acting. If you're supposed to be drunk, what's the number one thing that drunk people try to do? Act like they're not drunk. So you try to act like you're not drunk, like "no I'm not drunk at all." I'd be like "you know who says I'm not drunk at all? Drunk people".

Any weapon training for Free Fire?

Not on this one. They wanted everyone to look like they weren't trained and the whole thing. Ord had a background, and fortunately, I'd done Man From U.N.C.L.E. which took place almost in the same time tactically speaking anyway, so I was able to bring any training I had from that into it so it, was nice.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is such a fun movie.

Thank you, dude.

Were they any ideas discussed for a sequel? 

Yeah, I called Lionel Wigram, the producer of the movie. He and Guy [Ritchie] produced and wrote it all together. I was like "Dude, what's the deal? I get asked about this shit all the time, can you just write a sequel?" And he was like "You know what? Yeah, fuck it. I'll do it, sure, I'll write a sequel." And I was like "If you write one I'm sure we can get one made, so I mean, who knows?"  Today's the first day I've ever actually told anyone that story. I've told it one other time before because only one other person asked, but yeah, apparently the sequel is being written right now. No pressure Lionel!


Free Fire is now in theaters.