In 2008, Andrew Garfield won an acting Bafta for his debut feature Boy A, playing a rehabilitated child murderer who is trying to escape the shadow of his ghastly formative years. Given the storyline’s similarities to the James Bulger case, Garfield became something of a name, and two years later attained a whole new level of fame by starring in sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go and David Fincher’s birth-of Facebook masterpiece, The Social Network.
It’s hard to believe, then, that Garfield has, to date, only appeared in a dozen films – or 15 if you count the Red Riding trilogy, which debuted on Channel 4. But all that’s about to change as he has not one, not two, but three movies queuing up to hit our screens, with social-media satire Mainstream soon to be followed by a pair of biopics: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical drama tick, tick…BOOM!, based on the creative struggles of Rent creator Jonathan Larson, and The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, charting the rise and fall of televangelist couple Tammy and Jim Bakker (Jessica Chastain and Garfield).
Total Film was sent all three movies by Garfield’s agent the evening before the interview, so we kick things off on Zoom by explaining that a Garfield triple bill went down the night before. “Jesus Christ!” exclaims the 38-year-old actor, who’s nestled next to a pot plant in his temporary digs in Calgary, where he’s shooting Mormon crime drama miniseries Under The Banner Of Heaven for FX. Yep, says TF, three years of Garfield’s life has just been squeezed into six hours. “Wow,” he sighs. “You can reduce a life to that. That’s crazy.”
Crazy is as good a word as any to describe both Garfield’s rapid ascent and the level of commitment he brings to each role. No sooner had he graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama than he was winning various Most Promising/ Outstanding Newcomer awards for his stage work, and he made his television debut in Channel 4 teen drama Sugar Rush, in 2005. The next breakthrough came in 2007, when he appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who, starred in both Boy A and Robert Redford’s war-on-terror drama Lions For Lambs, and was named one of Variety’s ‘10 Actors to Watch’.
Variety was spot on. The banner year of 2010 – Never Let Me Go, The Social Network – we’ve already mentioned, but still giddier heights awaited: starring as his boyhood hero in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel; undertaking spiritual odysseys for Mel Gibson and Martin Scorsese in, respectively, Hacksaw Ridge and Silence, with the former bagging him an Oscar nomination for his soulful portrayal of WW2 army medic Desmond Doss; and playing another inspirational true-life figure, Robin Cavendish, an advocate for disabled people who was himself paralysed from the neck down, in Breathe. And if those last three titles all sound rather sombre, don’t forget his bewitchingly bamboozled turn in Under The Silver Lake, a surreal LA noir that makes Inherent Vice look positively straightforward.
Garfield might have made fewer films than you’d think, but that’s a lot to get through. Better get cracking…
The character in Mainstream is very different for you. He’s loud and brash and cocky and crass…
It was an opportunity to get loose and wild, and see what came out. Gia [Coppola, director] is a friend of mine, and she had this vision of telling a specific kind of story. And I started working on it with her. I started to just concoct, with the help of her and my other friend, Tom [Stuart], the writer – we were like, “What’s the kind of character I’d like to play within the boundaries of, or break the boundaries of?” It became an exercise in accessing the parts of the human psyche and id and ego that we try to not show people.
You seem reserved and modest. Was it hard for you to play someone so confident and narcissistic?
Again, that was what was exciting – busting out of any self-consciousness that I may have around expressing those aspects. There’s a great story about Marlon Brando. He did these secret acting classes towards the end of his life. Sean Penn was there. He’d invited a bunch of actors of the younger generation of the time to come. The first class, everyone was gathered in this black-box theatre. He comes out with a bag, and he doesn’t say a word. He gets out a sundress, and he changes into it, and starts applying makeup. This is a 30-minute improvisation. He starts dancing around. He moons them. At the end of it, he says, “That’s the end of the first class. If you want to be an actor, you have to be willing to look like an absolute fool, and you have to be willing to be totally humiliated – and then continue.”
Link, as his social media persona No One Special, speaks some truth, but he’s also a raging sociopath…
A broken clock is right twice a day. But also, I think that’s what makes him interesting to me. I look at someone like Kanye West as an example. There’s brilliance there, evidently. And then there’s arguably some misguided ideas and egotism. But I think the beauty of Kanye West is that he’s all of it. He doesn’t shy away from his vanity. But he also doesn’t shy away from his profundity. Because he has access, evidently, to a lot of profundity in his artistic endeavour.
You’re not on social media. What do you make of it?
I think a lot of the people that we find ourselves following, for better or for worse in our culture, are the ones that are the loudest, the most shameless, and maybe have the least amount of wisdom. Or maybe are the most enticing because they have access to that pure id. Occasionally, they’ll do something really profound, but for the rest of the time, it’s just a kind of ugly morass of chaos and indulgence and self-centredness. I wanted to explore that with Gia as well. Why do we follow? Why do we keep sanctifying the wound? Why do we keep blessing the mistake over and over and over again?
You have a ‘Finstagram’ account that allows you to get news and follow people without anyone knowing it’s you. That’s an interesting relationship to have with social media…
I wish I could embrace it. It’s not something that I… [pause] It’s hard to say. I think the question is better asked to someone like Bo Burnham or Michaela Coel, who’ll have a much more profoundly connected answer because they engage with it in a way that is much more real, and they’re just smarter, and they’re able to express the complexity of it better. If you watch Bo Burnham’s movie Eighth Grade, or you watch his most recent special, Inside, you get a lot of answers.
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