American-born actor Andrew Garfield was raised in England, where he attended the Central School of Speech and Drama. Garfield won awards and rave notices for his starring role in the stage play Kes, and also played Romeo and Ophelia (the latter in a traditional cross-dressing performance at the New Globe) in his board-trodding days. TV work included tangling with Daleks in the 2007 Doctor Who episodes "Daleks in Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks," before Garfield broke into films with a leading role in Boy A. Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Terry Gilliam's The Imagination of Dr. Parnassus followed. Now, Garfield is experiencing a banner year to end all banner years. Cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the big-screen, big-budget Sony reboot slotted for 2012, Garfield is busily proving his worth in two awards-season releases: David Fincher's The Social Network (in which he plays Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin) and Never Let Me Go, Mark Romanek's adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Garfield met the press during a barnstorming college tour that saw him (along with Jesse Eisenberg, Armie Hammer and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) visiting Stanford and U.C. Berkeley; I spoke to him at Berkeley's Claremont Hotel. Garfield had particularly high praise for The Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
Andrew Garfield: The rhythm of Sorkinian language: yeah, you just don't get in the way of it. You've just got to try not to get in the way of it. Like Shakespeare or Chekhov or any of the great playwrights. I consider him in that bracket. I really do. And an actor wants to put his own mark on something, but that's your ego, and you don't need that, so you just try not to get in the way of these beautiful sequence of thoughts that have been expressed so deftly, and steeped with subtext. And, you know, it's all there; it's all there in the script. All you have to do is be truthful in that situation and allow the thoughts to turn into the words and the words to turn into an action. And, you know, he is brilliant. And of course it's hard because part of you just wants to be really, really good. But that means your focus is on the wrong thing. If you just honor what has been written, if it's good—which in this case it was very good—then you're taken care of. You're kind of lifted by the words. You're kind of taken by the words: the ride is in motion, and you just have to kind of jump on and allow it to drive you. Which is a rare thing. And if you've read Shakespeare, and if you've seen a great Shakespeare play, there is a dynamism—you know, there is a whole adventure within a soliloquy that if you don't get in the way of can be just the most stunning thing to do and therefore to receive, you know...?
Groucho: So, obviously, ultimately the script is always the bible.
Andrew Garfield: Yeah.
Groucho: And that’s what you really, at the end of the day, take your cues from.
G: What did your research entail outside of the script, if any?
AG: Yeah, as you say—[though] it’s not always the bible. Sometimes the script is the worst part of the experience. But in this case, it was the bible. And rightly so. It’s—I don’t know if you…got a chance to read it, found a bootleg copy online or anything, but it’s phhhhhhh! It’s a novel, man. It’s just brilliant. As you can tell; you know. Yeah, so yeah. Of course, outside of that, there’s a bunch of stuff that I needed to be aware of and to embody. And stand within. Which is, you know, starting from scratch. Eduardo’s born in Brazil. And he was brought up in Miami, as well as Brazil. And then he went to an Ivy League school, i.e. Harvard. So all of that stuff, which is foreign to me, had to become less foreign to me somehow. So I started with that. And I did Capoeira a lot, which was fun. And, you know, not just working on an accent, but working on what that kind of cultural impact does to your body, does to your relationships, and how you interact with people, and your value system. Thinking about his dad, and his dad is this really successful businessman, and the pressures that that entails: I can relate to that, because my dad is also a businessman and a very kind of successful, motivated one. So you find the parallels, and then you find the stuff that you need to find, that you need to actually access, stuff that you didn’t maybe know you had within you. But what’s great about acting is that, underneath the ego and the id, everything about a human being is the same as everyone else. We’re all made up of the same things. So as long as you go in with that kind of attitude and that kind of perspective—which is difficult, because you kind of go “Oh, I’ve got to reach for this. And I’ve got to try and grow a beard, and if I haven’t got a beard, then I’m not going to be able to do this,” or whatever—we’re all the same, and we’re all made up of the same things. Because, you know, that’s—when we’re born, we’re all screaming and crying and laughing occasionally. It’s all the same. So with that perspective, you kind of feel a bit reassured. And then you can kind of feel a bit more comfortable to play someone that may or may not be a bit further from you. (Beat.) So Capoeira, basically, is what I did. (Laughs…)
G: [With his technique of multiple takes, Fincher wants you to] feel your way through?
AG: Yeah, feel your way through. But also kind of grind yourself into the ground, as well. Until you have a rebirth in Take 55, where you remember where you are. And you go, “Oh, maybe this is an element I haven’t thought about. Oh wow, that’s fantastic. And that’s a luxury that I’ve never had—and I don’t think many people have—on a film set. Apart from people who’ve worked with him. And Kubrick. (Chuckles.) You know? So it’s just a wonderful gift for an actor, for sure…
G: In addition to hailing your acting talent, David Fincher has suggested that there’s something in your own personality that was essential in making the role believable: would you agree with that?
AG: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
G: Well, I read—I think it was actually in the press notes. He talks about—in casting the various roles, he not only responded to the audition for the character, but that there was something of each actor’s personality—
G: That suited the role in some way.
AG: Right, right. Oh yeah, I mean—
G: But that’s a mystery to you; he didn’t share that with you.
AG: No, no. I mean, of course, I imagine that he—(chuckles) you know, he’s a very, very astute and intuitive and—you know, he sees things in a very kind of particular and specific way. So, yeah, of course, he was probably seeing people’s essences and going, “That quality is really perfect for this aspect of the story, and that can really be used and mined for whatever. Because I get very upset easily with things. So maybe he saw that I can get upset very easily and then put me in the person who gets upset. (Laughs.)
G: Yeah, for almost all of the film, frustration is your—
G: State of being—
AG: Exactly, yeah! But forgiving as well, you know. But yeah, maybe. Maybe, I’m not sure. Luckily that’s not my job. I just have to go on set and mess about a bit…I only read scenes from Mark. Mark’s scenes. But I think all along they were just using those scenes as a template to see what actors would bring to that and, you know, the essence would come through, within. So, yeah, as far as I was concerned, I was auditioning for Mark. Which was really interesting. And they called me and it was like “You know, they’re kind of interested in you for this other role.” And I was really confused at first, but then I was like “Yeah, I’d do anything in this movie. I would sweep the floor after anyone left. It’s one of those rare times where director, writer, producer trifecta Holy Trinity comes together, and just telling a story that is absolutely not only exciting and entertaining but meaningful and human. I was like “I’ll do anything. I’ll do anything.” (Laughs…)
G: I was lucky enough to see Never Let Me Go last week.
AG: Oh yeah. Great book.
G: And I thought your performance was really amazing.
AG: Oh thanks, man!
G: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about developing the—I mean, it requires, in an almost theatrical way, more so than most parts, I would think, the "creative if" of "what would it be like?"
AG: Yeah, that situation, yeah.
G: And what's really striking about it is how you physicalize it; it's just so raw the way you embody this guy who's so sensitive—
G: Based on his upbringing. What did you do—you were talking about how, for Eduardo, Capoeira and so on and so forth helped you to kind of physicalize. To me that was such a physical performance [as Tommy]: who did you take inspiration from?
AG: The younger guy [Charlie Rowe] that was playing the younger Tommy, I drew stuff from him: the twelve-year-old actor. And I kind of spent time with him. You know, the idea that Tommy was a guy that, was a kid that was slightly slower in his developmental curve than other people was really interesting. And how that manifests itself in his body, I guess. And retaining that kind of childishness and that kind of off-center, kind of like no center of gravity, constantly shifting and that imbalance, and that also reflects [that] the way he sees the world is constantly anxious because he knows there's this very strange situation happening outside of him. So I guess it was just trying to be a reflection of his inner life and seeing how that manifested. And also that sense of, I don't knowe, nurturing—these kids didn't have the same nurturing that a person with parents would have, you know? And how differently that can affect certain people. Like some people, it can make them very hard and very cold, impossible to penetrate. And a lot of people in foster care, or orphans, who have social workers are much more affectionate, and needing affection and love. So it was just a whole bunch of different stuff.
G: I also wanted to ask: soon you're going to be playing an iconic character, Spider-Man, and I was just curious what your exposure to that character was, prior to landing the role, if it was something that you grew up on at all, or if, you know, you've read the books or seen the films or, you know?
AG: All of that, yeah. I love every aspect of the legacy and the mythology of that character and that symbol, and it's always meant a great deal to me. Yeah, no, I'm really excited; I'm really, really honored about kind of trying to step into it. And I'm gonna work really hard at it. And yeah, it's really cool; I'm really excited...it was nicely put, that question. But it's always weird when you're asked about a film that hasn't come out yet. Or, I mean, it's weird talking about a film in any respect. It'd be so nice if a film could just speak for itself. And I feel like this film speaks for itself. I feel like Social Network does speak for itself. becuase, you know, it's just a great story. And people, I think, are really going to connect with it.
G: Thank you...
AG: Yeah, sure!