Before he even agreed to star in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, he worried about this—about the way the job seemed certain to transform him into a public figure and upend his life. But he said yes anyway, and then watched with mounting panic as the role basically consumed his life.
Garfield was shooting his second SpiderMan film, in 2013, when he realized he had reached a breaking point. It felt excessive— the money, the fame, the attention. They were filming in New York City, Spidey’s ancestral home. Garfield and his co-star, Emma Stone, were dating at the time and had become a tier-one paparazzi magnet. He felt an urgent need to get his feet planted firmly on the ground.
He happened to reach this observation about the corrosive qualities of fame while sitting at the bar of the since-shuttered Tribeca branch of Nobu, the celebritybeloved sushi chain. (“Like a fancy fucker, oh, gosh,” he says now, laughing.) As a sort of protective balm for his psyche, he’d gotten into the work of Michael Meade, a scholar of mythology. “It’s all about calling and soul and destiny,” he explains. “Living true to the self.” There at the restaurant, reading one of Meade’s books and thinking about the ways his career seemed to be getting in the way of his life, he decided a new approach was called for. So he signed himself up for the annual men’s retreat Meade held in Northern California.
A few months later, Garfield found himself piloting a rental car down a “long fucking road into the wilderness”, losing cell service and staring down the barrel of six days in the woods with 90 men he didn’t know. What happened next, he says, was exactly what he’d been looking for. “People start to really dive into themselves and reveal who they are to themselves and to everyone, and to have it witnessed by a group of 90 dudes, some of whom are hardcore motherfuckers,” he says. He loved it. Particularly the chance it offered to shed his celebrity, to just be Andrew: another guy trying to figure out who he was, and who he wanted to be.
This propensity for searching—for trying on different perspectives and new approaches—first found expression, for Garfield, in the U.K. theatre scene of his youth, where he discovered that acting might be a vehicle for communing with a kind of higher power. Today, still boyish and earnest at 38, he describes the theatre as the place he feels “most alive, and in line with what I’m supposed to do on this earth at the time being”.
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