They set out to find the truth about Armie Hammer — and enraged an accuser in the process
Elli Hakami and Julian Hobbs began ‘House of Hammer’ soon after LAPD began investigating the actor. The accuser who started it all rejects the doc.
Weeks after sex crimes detectives at the Los Angeles Police Department began investigating Armie Hammer, a pair of filmmakers pitched a three-part documentary about the actor to a major streaming service.
Elli Hakami and Julian Hobbs told executives at Discovery+ that they wanted to move the story beyond the headlines. It was March 2021, and dozens of disturbing text message exchanges purportedly between Hammer and young women had been circulating online since the beginning of the year. In the messages, Hammer allegedly shared cannibalistic desires and his obsession with erotic BDSM practices.
Women who said they’d had romantic relationships with Hammer began speaking out publicly, claiming the actor had either coerced or forced them to engage in aggressive sexual activities. It was these women whom the directors wanted to talk to, Hakami said, sharing their stories to help “break the cycles of abuse.”
But as “House of Hammer” debuts this weekend, the woman whose claims launched the ongoing LAPD investigation says the project is doing more to harm Hammer’s alleged victims than to help them. Effie, a 26-year-old European woman who declined to give her last name due to concerns about harassment, said in a March 2021 news conference held by her lawyer, Gloria Allred, that Hammer “violently raped” her. Hammer’s attorney, Andrew Brettler, denied Effie’s claims and said his client’s interactions with her “and every other sexual partner of his for that matter” were “completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory.” (Brettler did not respond to The Times’ request for comment on the docuseries.)
One month later, Effie said, a producer on “House of Hammer” reached out to her to ask if she would be interviewed for the project. Effie told The Times that she declined, responding, in part: “It is extremely inappropriate of you to exploit such a tragic, vulnerable time in many people’s lives, with no regard whatsoever for our healing process and privacy.”
Effie is the only woman who has publicly alleged that Hammer raped her. She started sharing her story via her Instagram account, @houseofeffie, in early 2021, prompting other women to disclose their own experiences with Hammer. Paige Lorenze and Courtney Vucekovich, two of Hammer’s former girlfriends, have said in interviews that Hammer convinced them to participate in BDSM activities that they later said made them feel unsafe. Lorenze claims Hammer carved an “A” into her skin using a knife and urged her to get her ribs removed so he could eat them. Vucekovich — the only subject to appear in the Discovery+ series who had a physical relationship with Hammer — declined to reveal the extent of Hammer’s alleged misconduct on camera.
Despite the fact that she did not participate in “House of Hammer,” though, Effie’s experience is detailed thoroughly in the series. Screenshots that she posted on her Instagram account are shown extensively, as is a clip of the 2021 press conference in which, through tears, she alleged that Hammer raped her over four hours in April 2017 as she “tried to get away but he wouldn’t let me.”
Effie declined to be interviewed by The Times about the docuseries, citing the ongoing LAPD investigation. Greg Risling, a spokesperson for the L.A. County district’s attorney’s office, said on Thursday that a “specially assigned prosecutor” is currently working with the police on the Hammer inquiry.
“Once law enforcement has completed their investigation and submits the case to our office,” Risling said, “we will conduct an evaluation and file criminal charges that are supported by the evidence.”
Effie did, however, provide a statement to The Times about “House of Hammer.” “The way they’ve been exploiting my trauma is disgusting,” she said. “When I keep screaming ‘no’ and they keep going, saying they don’t need my permission, they remind me of Armie.”
Effie also said that Allred did not inform her that she was interviewed for the production. Allred said she could not respond to Effie’s claim because of attorney-client privilege, but said in an email that “statements that I have made on behalf of clients have been made because the statements were consistent with our representation, were authorized either explicitly or implicitly, and were made because I believed that the statements were in the client’s best interests.”
But “House of Hammer” isn’t just about Armie. The series argues that troubled men and unsavory behavior are a generations-long pattern of the Hammer dynasty, starting with Armand Hammer, Armie’s great-grandfather.
For the record:
9:44 a.m. Sept. 6, 2022An earlier version of this article said Armand Hammer’s name could be found on a building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That building has been demolished.
Armand, best known as the late chief executive of Occidental Petroleum, founded the Hammer Museum and had close ties to Prince Charles and Presidents Nixon and Reagan. In L.A., the businessman’s name can still be found on a gallery inside the Petersen Automotive Museum and at a Holmby Hills golf course. But a 1996 biography of Armand explored his alleged illegal political campaign donations, Soviet espionage and repeated infidelity.
In 1955, the New York Daily News reported that Armand’s son, Julian, told cops he “shot and killed a pal after a champagne-splashed argument over an old gambling debt”; charges against Julian were later dismissed. Decades later, in 2015, Julian’s daughter, Casey, wrote in a memoir that her father sexually molested her when she was a girl. Casey — whose brother, Michael, is Armie’s father — said she has since been excommunicated from the family. (Casey Hammer appears in and served as a consultant on “House of Hammer.”)
Hakami and Hobbs spoke with The Times about what they believe Armie Hammer learned from the men in his family, their response to Effie’s claims and their beliefs about whether or not the actor is a dangerous predator.
Many women came forward with claims against Armie Hammer in 2021, but only two are in this project: Courtney Vucekovich and Julia Morrison, who allegedly messaged with Armie but never met him. Why is that?
Hakami: The most important thing when we approach survivors, victims, alleged victims — we have to be convinced that they’re ready to speak. When we we spoke to Casey and Courtney, we had many, many conversations with them at length. And we recognized that they were in a place where they were ready to share their stories in a way that was going to be empowering and not regressive to them. We wanted it to be cathartic, empowering and not something that’s going to be detrimental. They were coming forward with the motivation to shed light on red flags that happen within abusive relationships.
Hobbs: There was a process in which we had to vet people who came forward with stories. We had to double source. We have chosen not to include some stories that we couldn’t back up. The people who ultimately are in the film are the ones who legitimately have a story to tell. We weren’t trying to do a survey of victims. We are trying to link present-day actions of Armie Hammer back to a lineage of this dynastic family and how they operate through power and privilege.
Why didn’t you interview Effie?
Hobbs: Effie is the only one in our film who has a standing [investigation] against Armie Hammer. So I think it was an editorial decision to allow that to play out and not get involved in something that the LAPD is still investigating.
Why did you choose to include Effie’s screenshots and press conference material in the project?
Hobbs: There’s all types of laws around material and the use of material. And when she posted on a public forum … her allegations against Armie Hammer enter into the public discourse, right? So that’s been covered by numerous outlets. And that [press conference clip] has been covered by numerous outlets. So now you don’t have to get permission.
However, I think what’s critically important is that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. And what you see in our film is even though Effie wasn’t there in person being interviewed, she’s clearly posited in the film as the match that lit the fire. And when that fire was lit, that’s when Courtney decided to come forward. That’s when people really became inflamed. So I think in connecting the timeline of events, she fits more in this timeline of the unfolding scandal — her coming forward was a major moment.
Are you upset that she has come out against the series?
Hobbs: If you track her, that’s the way she conducts her social media presence, and we don’t want to say, “You cannot do this.” She has a right to do what she wants to do. The people who are participants in the film are very proud of the work that they’ve done in it. They’re doing press for it. For them, it was a good experience.
[Effie]‘s been vocal that she thinks that making any form of media out of these events is somewhat problematic. As filmmakers, we don’t take that view. We feel we actually have an obligation to tell the stories.
If you were to stop making films because someone said they didn’t want a film being made, you would never make a film. The reality is not everyone gets onboard films. That being said, I think what you have to be is ethically on the right side of how the affairs are conducted. You have to be open and transparent about what’s going on with the film, and you have to be inclusive.
Some critics have argued that Armie Hammer has been unfairly kink-shamed. What do you make of those claims?
Hobbs: We have a BDSM expert who lays out some information which, quite frankly, I was not aware of. There are certain rules of play, and that sexual conduct, which is totally legal and fair, still has rules that apply. And it does seem [according to the allegations made by Vucekovich and Lorenze] that these rules were transgressed by Armie in ways that I think people will find disturbing.
Is it illegal? Is it not? That’s for someone else to decide, but it’s certainly alarming. And his position as a powerful Hollywood actor coming from a powerful family, how he was able to carry out these types of things across years and years and yet it never came to light — he had a dual persona. He was a beloved actor with a family and was wearing Time’s Up [buttons] at the awards shows. But he did have a secret life in the bedroom that seems very transgressive, at the least. And if you believe the people in our film, [it was] very damaging to them both physically and emotionally.
Hakami: When there’s two consenting adults, you can have a very healthy BDSM relationship — there’s no doubt about that. But were the protocols that are set out in BDSM being used in a way to have a healthy, consensual relationship, or were they being manipulated to put somebody in a situation that was abusive and hurtful? That’s what we’re looking at here.
Did you uncover proof that he actually engaged in cannibalism?
Hobbs: I mean, he carved his initials with a knife into Paige. We weren’t told everything that happened to Courtney, and we know what Effie’s public statements are, which are full-on rape. Those are unproven, but those are the accusations.
Some of the women who spoke out against Armie say they participated in behavior they did not object to at the moment but later found problematic. How do you think that kind of behavior fits into discussions of consent?
Hobbs: You see an escalation of behavior that started in a very romantic, seductive way. This guy’s a very handsome man and he’s a very famous movie star. And he’s finding people on the internet, and it’s bringing them in and it’s lovey-dovey. And then, when things begin to go in a slightly different direction, you hear Paige and you hear Courtney saying, “I didn’t feel comfortable with this, but maybe it’s OK.” And that’s where you begin to enter into the gray area. But the repetitive nature of this, that within weeks or days after Courtney is removed, it’s being repeated with Paige and that you see Instagram posts with bruises all over, I think there’s room to question whether that is kinky and consensual or whether there’s some other dynamics at play here. That’s what’s put forward in the film for people to observe and reach their own decisions about.
How much do you think Armie’s family pedigree and movie star status played a role in his relationships with women?
Hakami: One of the things that was incredibly challenging and intimidating for people to come forward with their stories is that they knew that they were coming up against people who have publicists or other means of spinning the story, suppressing the story. That was definitely something that we did hear, which is that they were such a powerful and influential family, they could make things go away with money.
Hobbs: They felt manipulated, right? And then you look into the family lineage and Armand Hammer is the master manipulator. Probably the master manipulator of the 20th century. He had a completely self-mythologized persona that he was a great diplomat, he was a great entrepreneur, he gave away thousands of dollars, he had a great art collection. But all that was a tactic he used to seal off crimes and misdemeanors both in the boardroom and in the bedroom. And that learned behavior got handed down through four generations of Hammer.
So Armie Hammer is a very particular person. He wasn’t just a nice guy who wanted to have kinky sex. He comes from a family where the hallmark is the division between the public and the private. Armand’s big trade was that if you have a secret on someone, you have power over them and you can keep your own secrets secret. And it worked for four generations, until Armie came along.
One can speculate that gave Armie the feeling that he was invincible. You look at the type of characters he plays in “The Social Network” and “Call Me by Your Name.” ... Fincher picked him because he came from the same breed as the Winklevoss twins: Power. Privilege. Wealth. Access. And “Call Me by Your Name,” he’s an older man who’s having an illicit relationship with a younger man.
You called Armie’s behavior “learned” — how much do you think was nature versus nurture in this case?
Hobbs: I don’t know if I buy into, like, “The Bad Seed” — that it was genetic. But it was so enforced to the point that Casey got kicked out of the family by her own brother, Armie’s father. You see those photographs where Casey’s there, and Armie knew her up until he was 7 years old. Suddenly, she’s erased from the family — that kind of power coup d’etat move. So anybody witnessing that as an 8-year-old boy is both going to observe, learn and be taught that this is how power works.
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