Cannibalizing Armie Hammer: Jamie Kirchick on Getting the Real Story Behind One of #MeToo's Most Sensational Scandals
Anonymous accusations, a career in flames, the public's unquenchable hunger for celebrity annihilation, and why losing everything may have given Hammer his life back
In 2021, actor Armie Hammer’s career crashed into the side of a mountain. The recently separated star had a series of high-profile projects lined up when an anonymous Instagram account called House of Effie began posting eye-popping messages of violent sexual fantasy that purported to be from Hammer. “I am 100% cannibal,” read one. More women joined the fray, bringing accusations of coercion, power abuse, and eventually rape. The Internet, no surprise here, was riveted. Cue the cascade of clickbait articles and a high-profile documentary, but along the way, there was one side of the story curiously missing: Armie Hammer’s.
Journalist Jamie Kirchick changed that with his barnburner profile, “Armie Hammer Breaks His Silence,” recently published in Graydon Carter’s magazine, Air Mail, where Kirchick is a writer at large. The author of the 2022 New York Times bestseller Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, Kirchick came on Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, the podcast I host with Sarah Hepola, to talk about a scandal gone wild, a media in absentia, kink-shaming, the parts of those salacious messages we never got to see, the problem with the court of public opinion, and whether consent can ever be taken back. It’s a hell of a story.
A transcript of our conversation with Kirchick, lightly edited for length and clarity, is below. Those who prefer to listen can do so at the link and at Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em on Substack.
Nancy: We are super delighted to have Jamie Kirchick with us. I've known Jamie since we sat next to each other at a 2020 taping of “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Jamie: That's right. Was it Matt Welch who was on?
Nancy: Yes. I don't know remember who else was on with Matt, but I remember you were yelling at the person. [Update: It was Seth Abramson.]
Jamie: Probably true, probably true.
Nancy: Why don't you just launch into how and why you did this story.
Jamie: For your listeners who aren't familiar, Armie Hammer is a pretty well-known actor. He played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. He was the Lone Ranger opposite Johnny Depp. He was in Call Me by Your Name, the great independent gay romance classic with Timothée Chalamet. And in January 2021, he was the subject of numerous accusations from a variety of women. It unfolded over several weeks. It started off with some private text messages that he'd exchanged, in which he was expressing his sort of cannibalistic sexual fetishes; BDSM fantasies. And then a number of women who had dated him came out and said that they had basically been pressured or coerced into participating in some BDSM activities that they weren't comfortable with. One woman claimed that he carved his initial in her inner groin near her vagina.
Jamie: This was dragging on for almost two months, and in March, his chief accuser, who at the time was known only as "Effie" - she was operating an Instagram account called House of Effie - retained Gloria Allred as her lawyer and had a live stream press conference, in which she claimed that Armie Hammer had violently raped her for over four hours, banging her head repeatedly against a wall, slapping or whipping the soles of her feet with a riding crop so she couldn't walk. Really heinous allegations.
By this point, Hammer had already lost pretty much every acting job he had, and he had some pretty high-profile ones lined up. He was going to star as John Dean in Gaslit, the miniseries about Watergate with Julia Roberts and Sean Penn. [He lost] Billion Dollar Spy opposite Jennifer Lopez; that movie just came out. He had a Broadway play on his slate and a number of other big projects. He basically kind of went into seclusion. And besides a statement that was released through his lawyers, where he denied engaging in any sort of non-consensual acts with these women, he had remained silent.
Jamie: Then last fall I was approached by an intermediary who asked if I might be interested in interviewing him and getting his side of the story, because the only stories that we had heard were those coming from his accusers. He had not responded to really any of this, beyond that first statement that he had released through his lawyer in January 2021. I don't cover Hollywood or show business, I don't really follow that stuff. I don't read TMZ…
Sarah: Had you heard of this story? Were you aware of it?
Jamie: It had been kind of vaguely in the background. My knowledge of it was like, Armie Hammer is a cannibal. I mean that's basically all that I kind of saw. It's just not my beat. And it seemed like an interesting story because the more I looked into it, the more I realized that there were a lot of holes in the narrative that was being promulgated in the media. And so the more I dug into it, the more I realized, there's actually an interesting story to be told here, not just about a kind of celebrity scandal. It's really more about our media culture, the rush to judgment, the boundaries of consent, due process, how we respond towards people who might do things that are not criminal but count as misbehavior and misconduct. Hammer had acknowledged that he did not treat these women well. All of those things interested me, and that's why I decided to pursue it.
Nancy: When someone becomes vulnerable — and Hammer became vulnerable — opportunists rush in. As you wrote, he basically lost everything in the wake of the accusations - his career, something like $16 million, his agency dropped him. One of the things I found so fascinating is Hammer's reaction to all this, when he told you, essentially, he wouldn't change anything.
Jamie: I didn't mention he was married. He's still technically married. He's been separated from his wife, Elizabeth Chambers, who's a sort of food personality. [Chambers owns BIRD Bakery.] And they announced their separation in the summer of 2020, so, about six months before these allegations came out. At the time it appeared to be an amicable separation. They announced it kind of jointly on Instagram, they were smiling, they were saying they were each other's best friend and whatnot. And it just kind of shows you one of the other things in this story. There's so much lurking behind those very happy kind of social media presences that people put up — all of us, not just rich and famous celebrities. And he was really suffering in that marriage, it was actually for the years leading up to it. He was abusing drugs, he was abusing alcohol, and he was just unhappy in that marriage.
And so when he told me that he wouldn't trade his current place for what it was before, I think what he meant to say was that he was unhappy, he was not a happy person. And he was acting out. He was leading a kind of wild, unmanageable life and abusing people. Not physically abusing people, but by his own admission, he was emotionally abusive to a number of these women.
And so he entered rehab soon after the scandal started, and I really think it kind of changed his life. He's been sober for almost two years now, and he's now working as a sober counselor. So he'll be moving in with someone who just came out of rehab and helping them get their life together. And he just has a much different perspective on life than he did before, which is very hard for me to imagine, seeing someone who had seemingly everything. He had the wife, the beautiful children, the millions of dollars, and all these adoring fans all over the world, and a great career on the small screen, the big screen, on stage, on Broadway. But there was something kind of ugly and sad going on that we weren't privy to.
Nancy: You really got some incredible access to a lot of the DMs and texts that he had been exchanging with various women. It occurred to me that this is not the greatest idea to put these, even if they're private messages, to put these out into the world when you are really worldwide famous at this point. But then I thought, well, is he doing it because he was almost trying to get caught, or was it just in the throes of some sort of addiction? Do I think I'm the king of the world and it doesn't matter? Or is it I'm the worst person in the world and let the chips fall where they may.
Jamie: I think there was probably some of that, and I think he was probably under the influence when he was exchanging a lot of these messages. That can't be ruled out. But part of the story that interested me is that, I mean, would any of us want our intimate conversations, whether spoken or through text, with loved ones or just people that we're having sexual relationships with, would we want them, not only publicized, but take it out of context and publicized? That's the other thing. A lot of these messages that were first published in the early months of 2021 where he's expressing these sexual fetishes, they were only his side of the conversation. And part of what my story does is it shows what the other side are, what the women were writing back to him. And in several of these exchanges, they're giving as good as they got from him and they're into it. They're into these fantasies and they're playing along with them.
Nancy: If not being the initiator of it.
Jamie: Absolutely, yes. In some cases, yeah, absolutely.