As the actor currently donning that recognizable costume and swinging through New York, Andrew Garfield is the Spider-Man of the hour and playing the title character, he was probably the biggest draw at the appearances made by the cast and crew while in Singapore – the legions of screaming female fans attest to that. Some have said that at 30, Garfield is too old to portray Peter Parker fresh out of high school, but his effortless, genuine charm and his slightly lanky proportions that seem reminiscent of the Peter Parker of the comics have won him praise.
By Jedd Jong
Speaking to F***, Garfield shared about his love for the character of Spider-Man, gave his support to future-Lex Luthor Jesse Eisenberg, waxed philosophical on his passion for the craft of acting and his rejection of the typical Hollywood celebrity lifestyle, revealed which Shakespearean protagonist he’d most like to play and fiddled with a Spider-Man action figure while he gave the interview.
You were in the Doctor Who episode “Daleks in Manhattan”. Do you think that Peter and Gwen would be good companions aboard the TARDIS, and do you think you might make a good Doctor someday?
(Laughs) Cool, what a cool idea! I love Doctor Who, what an amazing history that program has. One of my friends played the most recent Doctor, Matt Smith, and he was perfect I thought. Who is it now, Peter Capaldi? Do you know his work? He is a genius actor. I think they’re doing pretty good with casting the Doctor. I don’t think I can ask for any more an iconic character than Spider-Man, he was always my superhero, my iconic guy, so I just feel lucky that I get to play this one guy and if that’s the rest of my life, that’s the rest of my life. I’m feeling good.
(Notices the action figure in this writer’s shirt pocket)
That’s you! It’s the old suit.
That’s cool, I haven’t actually seen it! (Proceeds to play with the action figure)
A lot of characters who play superheroes might feel the pressure to reflect the character in their everyday life. Do you feel that in any way?
No. Because the beauty of Spider-Man is that he is imperfect. Peter Parker is imperfect. That is exciting to talk about with young people because this pressure, I think this idea of being this perfect human being, is a killer and it’s not possible and it sets us up for so much suffering and so much pain. With young people, especially with this new culture of selfies and having to look perfect in every single picture, it’s really dangerous. I’d like to do a new version of a selfie where you only look terrible. You only take it from an angle where you look terrible; that should be the new movement, I think. Because right now, it’s like “I can only look exactly right otherwise I’m not going to share (the photos) with anyone.” I think we need to share our imperfections because they are the things that bind us. I think Peter Parker represents that and I think that is really empowering for young people to be reminded that they don’t always have to get it right, they don’t always have to look perfect, they don’t always have to look perfect. They’re allowed to feel sad, they’re allowed to feel down in the dumps, they’re allowed to feel angry, they’re allowed to go through all the true emotions of being a human being and I think we need to remind them that it’s okay, it’s okay.
Peter Parker makes lots of wisecracks and jokes, is that a way in which he hides his troubles?
Hmm (chuckles). He does make a lot of jokes. I think it comes out of many different places: he’s making jokes when he’s in the soup to entertain himself, he uses it as a tool to defeat his opponents, to defeat his enemies…
“Casual danger dialogue”
“Casual danger dialogue.” To frustrate them, to tie them in knots, to get them riled up, to trap them, to provoke them into a trap. He’s like a trickster in that way…he’s like Bugs Bunny, he’s like Charlie Chaplin. As I said in the press conference, if he doesn’t have to throw a punch he won’t, he’d much rather be a pacifist, but obviously if he needs to he has to, thank god, because otherwise nothing would ever get done. So here we are, and he does maybe make jokes because he’s nervous, he’s over-excited and feeling a bit scared, so he’s trying to keep himself calm. When he’s making jokes as Peter Parker, it’s because otherwise he’ll cry because the amount of stuff he goes through as Peter Parker is just impossible, it’s such an unfair thing for any human being to go through. So it’s like “I gotta laugh otherwise I gotta cry,” do you know what I mean?
Is it a challenge to be behind a mask and unable to show your facial expressions when you’re playing Spider-Man?
I think it’s empowering. I think it’s empowering to have no one know who you are because it doesn’t matter who’s in the suit. It doesn’t matter just as long as someone is in the suit who cares about people and wants to do good.
Was it hard acting-wise?
You don’t have to act. (Laughs) you’re just there. It’s just your body, you don’t have to worry about anything else. I just love putting on the suit, same for Peter. He gets to just hang out, he gets to do what he feels. He doesn’t have to be anything, he doesn’t have to try, he can just do whatever he wants. He has that feeling of anonymity that we all feel when we’re anonymous, when we can post comments and have no consequences of the comments, that’s what Peter’s feeling all the time in that suit. He can do anything he wants; he can fall down and land on a big pile of horse s**t and no one will ever notice. Doesn’t matter!
Andrew, you were a gymnast as a teenager. Did that prepare you for the acrobatics you have to perform as Spider-Man?
Yeah, of course. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I was a gymnast when I was a kid and now I’m playing Spider-Man, I was a Spider-Man fan when I was a kid and now I’m playing Spider-Man…all those things are linked. I think if you’re living your correct path in life, you can find little sign posts along the way, little things that assist you. So gymnastics growing up, it’s a weird thing to do but for some reason my body was very flexible, I was short and I was skinny, I was lean and strong. And it suited me, and now I can use that training, that gift to infuse this character with things that I have naturally. It’s so beautiful when you see the thread of a life when you get a bit older, you can go “wow, that led to this and this led to that, wow!” Maybe there is some kind of grand plan you can follow in order to follow to have the deepest, most exciting life.
Do you feel you’re on the right path?
Yeah, I feel it. You can feel it when you’re in the right zone. And I’m really, really happy, and also it’s about accepting, because there are certain aspects of this job that I immediately responded to and rejected, like any kind of idea of fame or visibility immediately wasn’t interesting to me. I kind of rejected it, but then you realise that you have to incorporate it, otherwise you’re resisting something that’s just a truth, you know? When you do a film like this, people are going to recognise your face more often. I do want to just be an actor, I do want to be a story, but also I realise now that I may not like the whole “being visible” thing but I can make it my own in a way, I can do it in a way that is of me and truthful to me, and I can see it as an opportunity to talk about Earth Hour, to bring awareness, to give advice to young people in representing this character. So there is a real…you move with certain things as well. There are certain things where you feel you’re on the right path and then there’re certain things that you have to incorporate and make the right path.
So, now, we know Facebook was founded by Spider-Man and Lex Luthor. Have you talked to Jesse Eisenberg about being in a comic book movie, and might we see the both of you together in a movie again soon? And, was the “web design” line that we heard in the trailer an intentional reference to The Social Network?
(Laughs) No, it was not, but good catch though! You know, I haven’t actually spoken to Jesse since he was cast as Lex Luthor…he’s fine, man! He’s gonna be fine. He knows exactly what he’s doing, he’s such a brilliant artist and a brilliant actor, he’ll make it so unique and his own. I’m so excited in seeing what he does with it, I think it’s gonna be really, really cool. I’m so, so happy that I got to spend time with Jesse and work with him, he’s a real gift.
What was it like playing opposite Jamie Foxx and Emma Stone?
They’re just great actors, you know? It’s amazing that these films can really attract big talent, and across the board, not just Jamie and Emma – Dane DeHaan, Chris Cooper, Sally Field…it’s a real melting pot of talent. So I just feel really excited that I get to play with it all.
Would you count the two Spider-Man films as the brightest moments of your life?
No. I try not to judge things on that kind of scale, I feel that every moment has something to offer whether it’s sitting here with you guys, having a bath, going swimming in the ocean, bungee jumping off a bridge…it doesn’t matter, there’s opportunity everywhere to live. I want to be in life, I just want to be here in life, on life’s terms and figure out the challenge of it, be here for the mystery.
Were there different challenges on this one compared to the first film?
Number One was a lot of challenge because we had to re-tread old ground, we had to re-tell the origin story which none of us really wanted to do but we had an obligation to re-start this chapter. So that was a bummer to get through, it was molasses for us. We were a little bit tied up and chained to a wall in terms of not being able to make it our own quite yet. We did everything we could to make it our own, but I think the liberation we feel in the second one is that we got through all that and now we just get to enjoy it and do what we feel without any consideration for any previous movie, without any consideration for how the audiences feel, we just want to make the best movie we can and hope the audience loves it as much as we did.
At the red carpet and press conference yesterday, there were a number of young fans that you met and said hi to. What are your thoughts on the connection Spider-Man has to kids?
I was three when I first loved Spider-Man, so I know how important it is to create a symbol in Peter and in Spider-Man that young people can feel assured by, protected by and inspired by. So, that whole generation will hopefully find hope in the symbol that we are keeping alive.
Being a Spider-Man fan since childhood, what are your favourite story arcs from the Spider-Man comics?
I really love the Gwen Stacy story, which is what we’re dealing with in this film…
The Night Gwen Stacy Died?
Um…(nervous laughter) Did she die in the story? (Laughs) and I really love the Torment saga, the (Todd) McFarlane Torment saga…I love it when he’s in a team, there’s something really inspiring and exciting in seeing him team up. And I’d love to see him team up with…I don’t know if the Avengers is possible, it doesn’t seem that way, but I’d love to see him team up with one of them, with the Hulk or something, that’d be really really fun. Sinister Six is obviously a really exciting thing that we’re beginning to explore and yeah, I love the spectrum.
Does playing an iconic role make it difficult to move on to other parts?
Not for me, not for me. I love acting, I love telling stories I care about and this is just another one of those stories that I care about. I love Spider-Man, just as much as I love The Social Network, just as much as I love Never Let Me Go and Boy A, I love every single film and theatre project I’ve ever worked on. It’s all one, it’s all one thing.
Are there any specific characters that you really want to play?
Characters? Hamlet. I’d like to play Hamlet, I’ve been meaning to play Hamlet for a while, I’m getting a little bit old for it now (laughs). Because he’s a teenage prince. I am so lucky that I’ve had the opportunities that I’ve had already so it’s hard for me to ask anymore. Whatever comes my way, I will relish. I leave it up to the gods to show me where I should go.
Are you active in pursuing parts?
I am and I’m not, I love being a part of things I care about and if there’s something that comes along that I care about I will fight for it, I will put myself out there for it and also, I’m very specific, I know how much it costs to work. I put all of myself into the work and sometimes it hurts, sometimes it’s painful, and you’re a dried husk at the end of the shoot. So I really like being selective in where I want to put my energy, because life is short as well and I only want to do things that I really feel sit right in my own soul.
So you’re affected by the director, the story, the script…
It’s all of it, I get greedy and I kind of want all elements to be to my taste, to my liking. The cast, the story has to have themes that I care about and the character needs to have aspects that I want to explore, and the director needs to be smarter than me and the director needs to be able to tell me how to get better because I want to grow, I want to keep growing into my craft, I want all of it. And it should be that way, there are so many times when people are out there making films and telling stories and I want to be working with those guys, those women.
If you were to play Hamlet, is there a specific director you would want on the project?
Matthew Warchus is a great director that I love. Simon McBurney is another theatre director that I love, Mike Nichols of course (whom) I worked with last year on Death of a Salesman I love, any of those guys would do (laughs).
So your Hamlet would be “the web-slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
(Laughs and claps) Very good, very good. Your references are strong, the references are strong in this one.
Your take on Peter Parker is fun, witty and cheerful. Would you say you’re like that in everyday life?
I hope so. It’s all me, the way I like to work is the line between the character and the person has to be non-existent, blurred. Because otherwise, you’re performing, you’re playing an idea as opposed to creating a person, and the only way you can create a person is if you bring those aspects of yourself to the character, so I am every single character that I’ve ever played or ever will play. Even if it’s a mass-murderer, I’ll access that mass-murdering part of myself (laughs). Because that’s in us all, it’s a scary fact that we all have the capacity…that’s the beautiful thing about acting, you realise that you have the capacity to do everything, to love, to hate, to destroy, to create. We’re in the world of opposites and we really do have the capacity for the dark and the light, and I think that’s what Jamie’s really enjoying about playing the villain, he gets to go to the dark of humanity a little bit, which is really exciting.
How much energy do you derive from yourself, and how much is from your co-stars?
You feed off energy wherever you can get it. It was great, because when you’re serving something greater, that’s where the energy comes from. The energy comes from Spider-Man, serving Spider-Man, serving something that is powerful and greater than yourself. That’s why even when you have no energy left to give, you can still draw it from needing to serve that symbol.
Is taking on a huge blockbuster different from doing smaller projects?
I approach it in the exact same way. There are certain challenges which are different, but ultimately you just have to come and bring yourself to it in the same way as any other project. And luckily, we have Marc Webb, who’s a really fantastic director who really understands the actors’ process, so you never really feel like you doing a big movie. You feel like you’re just telling another important story and you work hard to create the atmosphere, you have to create an atmosphere on set because it’s very easy for people to be distracted, especially with cell phones now, so to create a sacred space is what you’re trying to do. It’s like the stage in theatre, it’s sacred, it’s a canvas, it’s an artist’s canvas that has to be completely cleared and clean and it’s really important that you get to bring all of your creativity even to a bigger movie.
Out of your filmography, what’s your favourite movie?
I don’t have one. There’s a movie that not many have seen, I don’t think, called I’m Here which is a short film that I did with Spike Jonze. That’s on YouTube, you can watch it on YouTube. That may be my favourite movie that I talk about. I play a robot in it, you know Spike Jonze? It’s a half an hour long, it’s a really beautiful film and I’m very proud of that one.
Is it difficult to stay grounded in this business?
Not for me, I came to it, luckily, when I was a bit older. I only started acting when I was 20 and I started in theatre, so I’ve just been working hard and training and trying to hone my craft. I think it can be very difficult for young people who are exposed to it so early and maybe get so much so soon in terms of fame, in terms of attention, in terms of being able to behave in whatever way they want. I think that is what creates a lack of groundedness, especially if they don’t have good, grounding mentors who are around them looking out for their well-being and who are whipping them into shape when they need to be. That’s a really important thing, you need people to tell you when you’re being a dick. You need people to tell you to stop behaving in a way that is inappropriate or is not going to serve you later down the line. It’s okay to get into trouble – young people, we have to get into trouble – but it has to be the right kind of trouble and you have to suffer the consequences of that trouble. There are obviously certain young people who are experiencing a great deal of success and are getting into trouble and are experiencing no consequences of it. They can bail themselves out of jail and no one in their lives is checking them. No one in their lives is going “you know what, this behaviour is not acceptable and you’re going to thank me for this later. This is not how you treat people, this is not how you treat yourself.” The system, and it always has been set up this way – some people are mooching off young people’s success and that’s really inappropriate because the young people don’t know any better, they’re just figuring it out as they go but the older people should know better. The older people should’ve been through enough in their lives to be actual mentors and guides and not be misleading.
Who are the people in your life who keep you in check?
I have great parents. I have a brother who would never ever let me get too big for my boots. Older, he’s three years older and he keeps me down. This is older brother-younger brother stuff, this is just the way it goes. I feel very lucky that I found something that I love doing, I love acting. It’s not that I want to be famous, I just love acting. So many people want to be famous now just for the sake of being famous, without any merit behind it. And I think that is another problem that is endemic to this situation, where people are being driven by the ego, the fear of not being enough, the fear of not being seen, whether I’m not lovable or whether I’m lovable as opposed to just going “I have this thing that I love doing.” It could be acting, it could be journalism, it could be comedy, it could be creating toys, whatever it is. Then, that’s a fulfilling life, it’s from the inside-out, not from the outside-in, because all this fame nonsense has to do with your life being defined from the outside-in. Like “you tell me that I’m okay, applaud for me, scream for me, cheer for me”…danger, danger, danger! We’re all in grave danger of this fame. I don’t know whether it’s (that I’m) “grounded”, it’s just that I see things a certain way, I see things my way. I guess I’m interested in all of it, I’m interested in life and how to live.
How does it feel to have an action figure of yourself?
It’s funny, it doesn’t feel like me, it’s Spider-Man. Kids love Spider-Man, they don’t care about who the actor playing him is. They love Peter Parker, it’s about the character, it’s not about me. I get to represent characters that I love, that’s all.
So your characters don’t define your worth as a person?
No, it’s all about serving the thing, what I get value from, what I get joy from and energy from is doing what I love, which is performing, acting, telling a story that is meaningful to me. That’s what gives me a good sleep at night, not whether or not people are applauding or knowing my name or telling me that I’m handsome or whatever. All of that dies as soon as it’s…I won a BAFTA award once for a film I did and I was high for about 15 minutes, then I got home and I had a panic attack because it was so much energy, and I think I really understood and realise that it was meaningless, and I felt so inflated for however long. And I felt “oh my god, I’m a king, I am worth something, I have this thing to prove that I’m someone.” And then I got home and I started hyperventilating because I realised that it makes no difference. It doesn’t have any bearing on who I am, it doesn’t fill that existential hole that we all have. What I’m finding fills that hole is just doing what I love, the journey as opposed to any kind of result. That’s what I’m discovering about myself.
You’re British, do you like football?
I like playing it. I’m not into the whole “tribalism” of it. All of my English friends are crazy about it and I’ve never connected with it. I like playing, I’ve just never really gotten into the hooliganism of beating each other up over who wins or loses.
When you were at Comic-Con for the first film, you popped up from the audience in the guise of a fan with a store-bought costume, and then you pulled off the mask and joined the panel on stage. For the second film, you were on the panel in costume and in character as Spider-Man. Were those appearances your own decision?
I just saw an opportunity to do something fun and to do something meaningful. The first time it was like I wanted to be in the crowd, I didn’t want to be in the panel. So how do I do that, how do I…and I’d never been to Comic-Con, I’ve always wanted to go to Comic-Con, I always wanted to go as Spider-Man, so how do I do it? Then I figured out, this is the way to do it. You just do it, and then you destroy the barrier between those on the panel and those in the audience. Suddenly, there’s no wall between the performers and the audience, we’re all the same.
You’ve come to embody the “promoted fanboy”, all of us hope that if we love something so much as kids, one day we may get to live that dream. So, do you have any stories about interactions with fans, or people who’ve come up to you to tell you about how Spider-Man has affected them?
Yeah, a little bit, a little bit. It does happen and it’s really really cool. There was a guy here last night, one of the fans in the crowd (at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands). He had re-created Peter Parker’s skateboard from the first movie, with all the equations and the work on it, which I designed on a white background, I like the idea that that’s his notebook, that’s kind of like his science notebook that he’s just on the subway writing on the skateboard and he had re-created it exactly, with all the different scratches and everything, and it was just so moving and humbling and I can tell that he was really, really affected by the character, that he really loves the character. It’s really, really cool when someone is touched by the story, that’s the whole point of doing it, it’s to make us all feel connected.
What’s next for you Andrew, are you doing the Scorsese movie?
Yeah, the end of the year I think that’s going to happen. I’m very exciting about that. We’re shooting in Taiwan, but it’s set in Japan. It’s as deep as it gets, it’s crazy. It’s all about meaning and meaninglessness, spirituality and religion, gosh, it’s hard to even sum up. It’s a very existential film and I’m very excited to explore that with him.
Have you ever wanted to play a villain?
Andrew: Oh yeah, I’m also a bad guy, somewhere inside me and I’m excited to explore that eventually, definitely. There’s some darkness, there’s some real darkness in there.
Did Stan Lee sit down and talk with you about Spider-Man?
What’s awesome about Stan is that he lets go of all of it. He just loves that the stories are still being told and that the characters are still being honoured and created and he’s this infinitely iconic dude that’s just there going “Have a great time, I hope you enjoy it, I’m just going over here now!”
What’s he like on the set, doing his cameos?
He’s hilarious. He’s just a complete performer, he’s a storyteller and performer. He’s so iconic it’s insane, he’s so funny. He’s brilliant, lovely lovely man.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens on 1 May 2014.