EXCLUSIVE: Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley on 'Free Fire,' Gun Violence and Being Set on Fire
By John Boone
It's impossible to talk about Free Fire without talking about guns. Apart from a plethora of pithy one-liners from the cast -- which includes Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley -- that is essentially what Free Fire is. Hell, the tagline on the poster is even, "All guns. No control." The plot of the '70s-set action flick (out now) revolves around a gun deal gone south, with each player trying to shoot their way out alive over two hours of bullet-blazing mayhem. ET sat down with both Copley and Hammer at the film's press day to talk leading man status, going method and glorifying guns in movies.
"There's not a lot of people in the movie and everybody is shooting at somebody. So, there wasn't a single day that you were going to work where you weren't getting shot at or blown up or something," Hammer said of the shoot. "It was all tumultuous and f**king fantastic."
ET: This is an insane movie and it must have been pretty insane to film. What was the hardest day of shooting?
Armie Hammer: The last day, because we didn't want it to end. It was such a fun experience. It was such an arduous shoot and it was so painful in so many ways, because we're crawling around in rubble, we're tripping, we're stubbing our toes, we're bumping our elbows. It was really intense. Sharlto was even lit on fire. But we were having such a fun time while we were doing it.
Sharlto Copley: I got to do that stunt myself. I'd asked for that and said I really want to do it and [director Ben Wheatley] is very open to a lot of stuff and he'd said yes, but he had seemed a little hesitant. Then, as we got closer and closer towards the end of the movie, he kept saying, "You know, you don't have to do the burn." I was like, "No, no. I want to do it," and then I saw on the schedule that the only thing that was scheduled out of order was "Vern's Burn," which happened at the end of the movie for insurance. Apparently, insurance claimed that setting an actor alight is definitely one of the more dangerous stunts you can attempt to do on your own. So, on that morning, I was sort of wondering if I'd maybe overcommitted by being so adamant about doing the burn. But it was a great experience!
What did it feel like, being lit on fire?
Copley: Just very unnatural. You don't want the fire on you. Very easy to play. "You're going to be burning, you're going to freak out and put yourself out." There you go. Give me a fire extinguisher [that] will really put me out. Great! I will put myself out as quick as I can. When it starts burning, it doesn't mess around.
The depiction of violence in movies and especially gun violence has been a topic of conversation forever. How do you think that Free Fire fits into that conversation?
Hammer:Free Fire is definitely an example of that old adage of, "If you live by that sword, you die by the sword." You have a bunch of guys who were stupid enough to get into a gunfight in the middle of a warehouse and nobody makes it out a hero because their gun. A gun doesn't make anybody's life easier.
Copley: I don't think this is a pro-gun violence movie. I think this is very much, like, a PSA for why you shouldn't do gun deals and why you shouldn't get into bar fights. I've sort of seen it as the cautionary tale against the unchecked male ego. But it is very funny being in Hollywood and people going, like, "Well, you know, guns are a very sensitive issue right now." Hollywood in general is so anti-gun and it's like, do you guys watch the movies that you make?! As a community, it's like, "Trump is this war monger!" and I'm like, do you watch your films? Like, hey guys. Whoo-hoo. It's this amazing disconnection. Like, 'Police violence is just unacceptable!' and it's like, do you watch your cop television shows?Do you see that?
Then the same person is asking you the question of like, "Was this just fun?! You're just boys getting to shoot and have fun?!" Always when I answer those, I'm like, "No, not really, man. I was actually in the middle of a shoot out in my building in South Africa. I don't actually think guns are that great, if you're asking me personally." But it's this weird hypocritical morality that you get. And it's not necessarily from one person, but as a general industry, you know? It's just funny to me how Hollywood loves to be a moral barometer for things. No one can keep a marriage together. It's this hedonistic kind of power obsessed, insecure culture and then they're going to tell the world how it should be. "You shouldn't have guns." Really? OK, then let's not have them in the movies, how about that? How about we have movies about love and humanity, you know?
Sharlto, I love you as these over-the-top, genre characters. I feel like that's where I'm comfortable seeing you, and then when you play just some regular dude -- like in The Hollars -- that's when I'm like, oh my god!
Copley: [Laughs] I was still an oddball in The Hollars. I feel fortunate that I've been able to do quite a range of characters. Never in like 12 or 13 movies or whatever now, I've never done my own voice and accent, actually ever in a role. So, I've been very lucky getting to do different genres and walk a sort of tightrope of tone. A role like that was just super fun. When you get to be the mouth, you just mess with everyone all the time.
Your characters are so nuanced in their quirks. Are you a method-type actor? Will you stay in character and keep the personality up while you're on set, or do you drop it between takes?
Copley: If it's a light character, like this one essentially was, where there's a lot of humor around him, I'll tend to drop it quickly and then just use it playing around with people. I'd play around with the ladies in the makeup chair. You know, I'd flirt inappropriately as Vernon, but not to stay in the character or anything like that. If it's more serious and dark, then I tend to sit with that a bit more. I find that a little more difficult to snap out of between takes. If it's a more emotional heavy scene, that will sit with me.
Armie, this is a true ensemble, but you started your career -- as most actors do -- in supporting roles and you've since worked your way up to being the leading man in a lot of big budget films -- which doesn't happen for every actor. When you look back, what has that process been like for you?
Hammer: For me, it's always been the same thing: It's always been working with directors that I loved and that I believed it, whether it be Gore Verbinski [The Lone Ranger] or Clint Eastwood [J. Edgar] or whomever. Just getting to work with these guys, [David] Fincher [on The Social Network], whomever-- I would like to think that I've continued a trend of working with directors that I feel like I can learn something from.
Does that title -- "Leading man" -- mean anything to you then?
Hammer: Nah. It makes me cringe.
You said you are searching out directors you respect and that you can learn from. Do you hope to move behind-the-camera and direct down the road?
Hammer: That's always the dream. That's the goal. That's hopefully where this whole thing is leading, and what better way to learn about directing and learn about what works and what I like and what resonates me than by working with a bunch of great directors.
What does it mean to have a legendary director like Martin Scorcese put his stamp of approval on this film as an executive producer?
Hammer: Geez, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye, that's for sure.