andrew garfield, the superhero
Our spidey senses are tingling with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2! We look back to our interview with lead Andrew Garfield in The Lights, Camera, Action Issue, Summer 2012, just before he climbed the web to superstardom...
Photography Alasdair McLellan. Styling Elgar Johnson. Jumper Jil Sander. T-shirt Stone Island. Ring Andrew’s own.
It's just gone 7pm in the crowded bar of London's Soho Hotel, when Spider-Man sits down and orders a Coca-Cola. Something's wrong here. No one in the room bats an eyelid. There's no gasped silence. No glitter-storm camera-phone flashes. No electronic shudder in the Twittersphere. No one even notices. Spider-Man is just a guy, in a bar, ordering a drink. Andrew Garfield looks at the glass of coke. Then up at i-D. This could be the last time he ever gets to be able to do this. Right now, no one really knows who Garfield is. But on the 3rd July 2012 that's all going to change, when the 28-year-old Brit actor swings on to the big screen as the web-slinging star of 3D superhero blockbuster reboot The Amazing Spider-Man.
Teetering on the brink of stardom, Garfield is all too aware that the safe shadow of anonymity is shrinking with every passing day. For better or worse, he won't be Andrew any more. He'll be Spider-Man. And Spider-Man doesn't get to be just a guy, in a bar, ordering a drink. "I really hope that's not the case," he says with gusto. "I've experienced it a little bit where suddenly you can't be a part of the world. You suddenly lose the ability to watch people, because you're being watched yourself. I've done films that not many people have seen in the past. I think The Social Network was the first film that people actually saw. I'm much more comfortable not being seen. I find the whole craft of acting fascinating. But I'm realising more and more - and I didn't quite realise it before - I actually really struggle with being seen..."
As you can imagine, this is something of a problem when you're Spider-Man. Pretty much every young actor in Hollywood was in the frame to take over the role from Tobey Maguire: Twilight rivals Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson, Inception's Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Tintin (Jamie Bell), Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson), the list goes on... Garfield clearly remembers the day he found out it wasn't them, it was him. "I was in Mexico promoting a movie and they sprung it on me," he recalls with a sly smile. "I felt so much. I was really moved by it. I knew this was going to be a huge change. I felt a seismic change happening, that no one else would have felt or understood. I knew that my life was going to be different." Shortly after he'd been told that he'd be donning the Spidey suit, Garfield went for a walk on the beach on his own, ignoring the party that was panning out behind him. "I stood on the beach with my feet in the water. It was pitch black, I was looking at the ocean and I felt so thankful for my life. I felt lucky as fuck! I had a moment where I was like fuck... I'm about to step into a character that's going to change my whole life. A character that helped me through so many times of my own. With Spider-Man, it's like a dream. It was always a dream of mine."
I had a moment where i was like fuck... I'm about to step into a character that's going to change my whole life. A character that helped me through so many times of my own. With Spider-Man, it's like a dream. It was always a dream of mine.
So no regrets about taking the role? "No, I never regret it..." He pauses. It's a big pause - and he knows it. Garfield laughs. "I'm sorry. It's tough... I've got to choose my words right. I never regret anything. Absolutely not. There are just certain difficulties I'm faced with now. I like working hard. I don't like selling." Susan Sarandon once said that the reason actors get paid millions of dollars isn't to act in a movie but to fly around the world talking about acting in movies. "I hate actor interviews, I have to say," Garfield confesses. "It takes a lot to be here right now. I feel indulgent. But saying that I always used to like reading actor interviews! So I get why we have to do it. I feel that way about actors that I admire. Phil Hoffman, De Niro, Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep..." He takes a sip of coke. "I guess being on the other side of it is really fucking weird. I hope I never find it not weird, because if you get used to it you're not human anymore. You become someone else's idea. I know myself. I know I'm a moron. I know I have sleepless nights. I know I get anxious about things. I know I have huge fears about things. I know I have problems. I know that I'm a good person. But in the same breath, I don't want anyone to know about me. It doesn't fucking matter. I want to serve the character. I don't want to serve myself."
Of course, there's an interesting contradiction here: the actors who inspire Garfield are the ones who reach into themselves to find their characters. When preparing for his role in The Social Network, Garfield bought a copy of Economics For Dummies. Quite sensibly, he dropped it after the first chapter. But the immersion of Method is still a huge pull for him. "The performances in theatre and film that have stayed with me are all when the actors are that person," he says. "The people who are living and breathing that human being. I see acting as magic. When I can't see what an actor is doing, and they're just taking me somewhere, it's sorcery. When you watch Sean Penn or Daniel Day-Lewis work, it's like, 'What the fuck? How...?'"
That's a dangerous game when it comes to taking your work home with you. Is it tough to step out of a role or does Garfield find himself - literally, perhaps, in the case of Peter Parker - climbing the walls. "I need to learn how to do that," he agrees. "I like living a life as well. That's important. I want to have a family some day. It's actually not about being anyone else. It's about bringing up aspects of yourself. I've been pretending to be Spider-Man since I was three, so this was just an extension of that."
It was around that age that Garfield and his family moved from his birthplace in Los Angeles to their new home in Surrey, England. Born to an English mother and a Californian father, he grew into a skinny teenager who loved to skateboard. "That became defining for me," he recalls." I thought, "That's it, I'm going to be a professional skateboarder." Then I broke my wrist and gave up. I was very confused as a teenager: "I don't know who the fuck I am, I don't know what life's about, I don't know why I feel scared all the time and I feel stupid all the time and self conscious all the time..." So I tried painting and drawing. I was shit at it. I tried music. I was shit at it. I tried acting. I was shit at it. But! I enjoyed it. I had a really encouraging teacher who told me I should give it a shot. I'm a lucky one, who got someone who woke me up a bit and said, 'You can do this.'"
Turned out, he wasn't shit at it after all. Graduating from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 2004, he rapidly won a MEN Theatre Award for his performance in Kes at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre and Outstanding Newcomer at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards two years later. Crazy to think that, five summers ago, Garfield was battling Daleks in the BBC's Doctor Who. "I feel like a lot has happened in a short space of time, absolutely," agrees Garfield. Debuting in Channel 4's edgy teen series Sugar Rush, he co-starred with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep in Lions For Lambs and gave a BAFTA-winning performance in teen drama Boy A, as a young man released from a prison after a murder he committed as a child. Prophetically, Garfield's character is seen pretending to be Spider-Man in a childhood flashback. Two years later, he was exceptional as a rookie journalist chasing a serial killer in TV's Red Riding trilogy. That same year, he co-starred in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, the movie that would be Heath Ledger's last. "I don't know if my feeling for him would have changed if he was still alive," ponders Garfield, cautiously. "I worshipped Heath and I still do. He was just so deep. Special, clearly."
I see acting as magic. When I can't see what an actor is doing, and they're just taking me somewhere, it's sorcery.
2010 was the year that changed everything for Garfield. After an emotional performance in mystery drama Never Let Me Go with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, he starred in David Fincher's Oscar-nominated all-star drama The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg's frenemy Eduardo Saverin. Garfield had asked to audition for the role of Zuckerberg, but Fincher felt he was too genuine and heartfelt to play a complex character like the Facebook founder. Indeed, in many ways, Garfield's mask is coming off to play Spider-Man. He's never been surer of who he is. At 28 years old, the actor is entering a time of life when things change dramatically regardless of whether or not you get bitten by a radioactive spider. "I've been told it's called the 'Saturn Return'," says Garfield. "Google 'Saturn Return' and this should be reassuring for any late-20s male who's going through something that feels very confusing. I think this is the age when you become who you are. I can feel something happening. It feels positive, whatever it is. You realise a lot about yourself and a lot about what matters. This has been one of the greatest things about getting this job, which I thought would change my life and make everything better: nothing's changed. Nothing's changed at all. I'm still the same guy with the same problems and the same confusion. Nothing's changed at all. And that's such a lovely lesson."
When it comes to escaping Hollywood and the glare, Garfield has his retreats. "i have a love/hate relationship with London," he confesses. "I have a love/hate relationship with New York. I have a mostly hate relationship with LA. But Big Sur, about five hours north of LA, is the most beautiful place I've ever been to in my entire life. There's a place called Esalen, a new-age school of life that overlooks the ocean on a cliff edge. It's, like, clothing optional. Hippy-dippy shit." Is that his thing? "No!" he laughs. "But at 3am under the stars, you sit in these hot springs... and it's unbelievable. It's nature. Nature versus success, ambitions, having to be top dog, rat race, being on the fucking tube every day."
Sure enough, whenever Garfield needs to escape the LA soul sucking, he goes surfing. "I go as often as I can. I wouldn't say I'm good. I can stand up and I can turn. My wave placement is getting much better. The last time I rode it was head high, which was pretty exciting. I'm getting there. I love it so much. When you fall it doesn't hurt so much as skating. I've been doing it for three years. You forget how hard it is. You have to work for things. I think our generation has a real problem with working for things. We feel entitled." When that monstrous wave of fame hits him in the summer, Garfield seems unusually equipped to stay on his feet and cut his own turns through it. He's been doing his homework. "There's a great book by Tom Payne called Fame," he says. "It talks about how celebrities have been modern day sacrifices since Roman and Greek times. Read it. It's a fascinating read." He rolls the empty glass of coke in his hands. "I'm not a celebrity," he repeats, adamantly. "I'm not. I will never consider myself one."
But come the summer of Spider-Man, surely... "No. I'm never going to be a celebrity." But only in your head, maybe? "And that's all that matters. You know what's great? You can decide. You literally can do whatever the fuck you want. You control your life. It's so true. I realised that recently. 'Last year was shit, I hope next year's good...' No! I'm going to decide this year is fucking excellent!"
Text Jonathan Crocker
Photography Alasdair McLellan
Styling Elgar Johnson