Being Dad: Armie Hammer

For actor Armie Hammer, family is everything. We chat to the Nocturnal Animals star about hunting bugs with his daughter, cooking for his family and why parenthood is the best thing that ever happened to him.

Photo by Syrie Wongkaew

Harper Hammer might just be the most well-travelled kid in all of America. The 2-year-old daughter of actor Armie Hammer and TV personality and entrepreneur Elizabeth Chambers Hammer has just been on her 121st flight.

“Yep. Harper had her 121st flight from New York yesterday,” says Armie, who you’ll recognize from his work in The Social Network (he played the Winklevoss twins) and more recently, in designer-director Tom Ford’s Oscar-nominated Nocturnal Animals. “We got in at 2am, but she doesn’t mind. She loves it! All we have to do is tell her we’re getting on an airplane and she’ll say, ‘Where are we going?’ If we say, ‘Dallas’, she says, ‘I like Dallas! My friend Kate is there and Petunia, her pet pig!’ And if we go to San Antonio, she’s excited because she has a dance class there and there’s a park she likes. We find something in each city to make the travel as fun as possible for everyone.”

For Armie and wife Elizabeth (who founded and owns BIRD Bakery, which has outposts in San Antonio and Dallas), family is everything. The couple have recently welcomed their second baby – a son, Ford – and while Armie’s career means the family is often on the move, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m very fortunate that my wife can do her job from anywhere,” he says. “Whether it’s TV hosting [Elizabeth works on Sugar Showdown, Cupcake Wars and more], her work with the Human Rights Foundation [she’s Chief Correspondent] or on the board of Stop Cancer, or the bakery business, she can do most of it from her computer and phone. So if I have to go to a location for a couple of months, Elizabeth and the kids will come with me.”

It’s worth noting – even though he rarely does – that Armie was named after his great-grandfather, businessman Armand Hammer. You might not know Hammer by name, but he was one of the most influential industrialists of the 20th century, and the subject of six (yes, six) biographies. A committed philanthropist and supporter of the arts, the senior Hammer purchased Knoedler, the oldest art gallery in America, and revived it in 1971. A collector of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works, Hammer’s personal collection now resides in the UCLA Hammer Museum, where it’s considered one of the most important collections of its type in the world. All of this is to say, of course, that Armie need never have worked a day in his life – and yet, he has, tirelessly, to forge his own career and name as an actor.

Armie, who began his career with small roles in Gossip Girl, Desperate Housewives and Veronica Mars, has become known for imbuing leading man roles with the gravitas of a character actor. He looks like the kind of guy who could play Batman (and, in fact, George Miller pegged him for the role in a Justice League movie a few years back, but the project has since been shelved) but Armie is equally at home bringing complex characters like J. Edgar Hoover (in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar) to life. He’s played Prince Charming (in Mirror Mirror) and he’s been a hit at Sundance (with roles in Call Be By Your Name and Free Fire). And later this year, audiences will see Armie in a whole new light, as he voices Jackson Storm in Cars 3 – probably the only one of his movies that he’d let daughter Harper watch (on a plane, naturally).

Like her husband, Elizabeth has the kind of work ethic that makes mere mortals exhausted – which is probably why they make such a great team. The couple were married in 2010, in a lavish wedding that was profiled in Town and Country. Elizabeth told the magazine that Armie has always been a romantic, and wanted to get hitched almost as they started dating. “He sat me down and said, ‘Look, we don’t have to do this,” she says. “We could just go our own ways, and then one day you’ll be 40 and divorced and we’ll run into each other, and we’ll laugh and go out to dinner and have this same connection, and we’ll wonder why we wasted all of that time. Or we could just do it now and enjoy the ride.'” Luckily, Elizabeth went with Armie’s suggestion, and the loved-up couple welcomed little Harper four years later. While the couple are young parents by today’s standards – Elizabeth was 32 when Harper was born, and Armie was 28 –  Armie says that parenthood has helped them both learn and grow.

“[Parenthood] teaches responsibility,” he says. “You become responsible for the life of another person. With your partner, you’re now guiding this person into what will be the rest of their life. Anything you do wrong might have a detrimental effect and everything you do right will have a positive effect, so you suddenly understand consequences.” His kids, he says, have taught him so much, both implicitly and explicitly. “The first time Harper said to us, ‘Put down your phone, Mommy, put down your phone, Daddy,’ it was like, wait a second, we’re spending time on our phones instead of with our kids. You don’t want them to feel neglected – you want to give your children the best opportunities they can have.”

To that end, Armie is completely hands-on with his kids, in a way that he says is different to previous generations of men, including his own dad. “I don’t know how many diapers my dad changed, but I can guarantee you I’ve changed a lot more than he did!” he laughs. “I’m a firm believer that teamwork makes the dream work. A load shared is a lighter load.” When he’s not working or on the road, Armie is happiest when he wakes before the rest of the house and squeezes in a workout, but then spends the rest of the day taking care of everyone else. “When Elizabeth and the kids wake up, I cook breakfast for everybody,” he says. “After that, I’ll usually take Harper to the park. We’ll play and maybe have a picnic, and then she’ll hopefully fall asleep on the way home. I’ll put her in bed and then spend some time with my son to give Elizabeth a break. When Harper wakes up, we’ll play for a bit – we might go out in the front yard and look for bugs. It’s really nice when I’m not working because I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything, so I can spend all the time I want with my kids.”

When he needs time for himself, Armie is a firm believer in having a creative outlet to let off a little steam. “You’ve got to have something,” he says, “because it’s full-on being a nanny, a babysitter, a bodyguard and a chaperone. You’re watching out for these little humans who can’t take care of themselves and it’s a lot of work. It’s so rewarding, but you need a way to decompress or else you won’t be able to give your kids your 100 per cent.” For him, cooking is that outlet. “I love looking in the fridge and thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got a bit of this and a bit of that. What can I make?”

While many parents might find the transition to two kids a struggle, Armie says that five-month-old Ford has made it simple for him and Elizabeth. “He’s so unbelievably easy,” says Armie. “He probably sleeps 22 hours a day and the rest of the time he’s awake and laughing and playing. Elizabeth says if we’d had Ford first, we wouldn’t even have known we had a baby. As long as he has Elizabeth’s boob within a 10-foot radius, he’s happy!”

And ultimately, that’s all Armie wants for his kids – to be happy.  It certainly sounds like they’re on the right track. When asked to describe each of his children in three words, Armie doesn’t miss a beat. “Harper is communicative on an extreme level, funny and tender,” he says. “Ford is enormous, happy and handsome. He’s only a few months old, so I don’t have that much to base his personality on yet. But he has the sweetest eyes, and he just loves to giggle and laugh.”

Though most parents can relate to the loss of freedom that comes with small children, Armie says it’s a small price to pay for all the upsides of parenthood. “Sure, sometimes I miss jumping in the car for a last-minute road trip. But the complexity of emotion that you can experience as a father is so unlike anything I’d ever known before,” he says. “You feel such love, such empathy and such fierce protective instincts. I now know what my last thought is going to be – it’s going to be of my children. It’s so rewarding in every single way that I tell my friends who aren’t even married, ‘Have kids, man. Start making babies, do it. This is great.’”