Armie Hammer, the co-star of 2017’s breakout film ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ could have seemingly done anything with his life.
The 31-year-old grew up surrounded by wealth. His family, which made its multi-million dollar fortune in the oil business, moved to the paradisiac Cayman Islands when he was a kid. Growing up outside suburban Americana made him aware of the possibilities in life, and his own privilege, he says.
“I definitely wasn’t like, ‘This is how everyone grows up’,” Armie told the Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. “We got to live in amazing places. We had great things, toys, stuff like that. We would drive around in really nice cars—but at the same time, if we rolled down the window, my mom would be like, ‘You’re wasting air conditioning!'”
Eventually, his family moved back to Southern California, where he learned that the Hammer family name went a long way—they had helped turn Occidental Petroleum into one of California’s most successful oil companies. But bored with school, he left and began lining up for local auditions.
It would be several years before he landed an acting gig but eventually, a combination of square-jawed looks and luck allowed him to land his first major role playing the Winklevoss brothers—today best known as Bitcoin billionaires—in David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network.’
He struggled to find firm footing after that role. A series of would-be star-turns followed in films like ‘The Lone Ranger’ and ‘The Man From U.N.K.L.E.’. But Armie says he had invested too much in himself to give up.
‘Call Me By Your Name’ proved an opportunity for Armie to get out of his comfort zone, by playing a grown man attracted to his professor’s young adult son. His performance was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and looks set to receive an Oscar nomination as well.
Today, Armie has two young kids with his wife of eight years, Elizabeth Chambers, and spends his time traveling when he’s not on set. He and Chambers, a Texas native, have opened up two high-end bakeries in San Antonio and Dallas (Armie also spent some time in Texas in his youth). He has shown a passion for food, both upscale and … not.
Armie is named after his great-grandfather, Armand Hammer, who is responsible for the Hammer family’s immense wealth. Though not well known today, Armand was one of the most successful and notorious industrialists of his era. According to his L.A. Times‘ obituary, Armand became a millionaire before he graduated college by selling whiskey to drugstores during Prohibition.
Armand’s family had emigrated to New York from Russia, and he grew up in a leftist household. He grew sympathetic to the Soviet Union’s condition—while also spotting a financial opportunity—after World War I, and sought to help it recover by brokering business deals with the fledgling government, catching the attention of Vladimir Lenin himself.
But as the atmosphere in the Soviet Union changed with Stalin’s rise to power, Armand resettled back in the U.S., building “successive fortunes by dealing in the Czarist-era art he had collected, distilling whiskey, and breeding Black Angus cattle,” the L.A. Times says.
Several years after the war, Armand settled in California to ostensibly retire at age 58.
Armand decided to buy into two wells owned by a flagging oil company called Occidental. The move was meant to shield him from taxes, according to the L.A. Times, but the wells became gushers, and he arranged to take a majority stake in Occidental. It was then that he began turning Occidental into a global powerhouse, relaunching him onto the world stage.
Armand began setting up Occidental interests across the globe, including the Middle East, the North Sea, Northern Africa, and South America. In 1973, his wells in Libya, where Occidental dominated, came under pressure from the country’s new leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Occidental was forced to sell a majority stake to the new regime, according to the L.A. Times, turning Armand into a pariah in the Western oil industry.
Armand’s reputation wasn’t much better elsewhere. Evidence was posthumously found by investigative reporter Edward Jay Epstein of numerous scams and ruses cooked up by Armand at various points in his career, many involving selling the various works of art he had collected for more than they were worth. At one point, he was sued by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The case was eventually settled, but the museum removed his name from one of its galleries.
He was also convicted of illegally donating thousands to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. He was pardoned in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush and has said he wished he had pled not guilty to the charges.
In 1986—four years before his death—Forbes estimated that Armand was worth roughly $200 million.
Despite his namesake’s legacy, Armie chalks his successes up to his own hard work. He said in a 2012 interview that he is “not supported by family money in any way.”
“I support myself. My wife and I together—it’s all our household. I’m really proud of that.”