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“I like the idea that our greatest wounds are our greatest gifts,” says Andrew Garfield, the 33-year-old U.S.-born British actor currently generating best actor Oscar buzz for his performances in both Mel Gibson‘s Hacksaw Ridge and Martin Scorsese‘s Silence, as we sit down at The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of the Awards Chatter podcast. “My sensitivity, I think, gets me in so much trouble, and also gives me a tremendous amount of wonderful things in my life, as well. It means that I can connect deeply to things, whether it’s other people, characters I play, the struggles of others. But, in the same breath, it means I can just as easily connect to the stuff that really fucks with me — I’m very permeable in that way.”
(Click above to listen to this episode or here to access all of our 100+ episodes via iTunes. Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Robert De Niro, Amy Schumer, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Louis C.K., Kristen Stewart, Harvey Weinstein, Sally Field, Jerry Seinfeld, Jane Fonda, Tyler Perry, Kate Winslet, Michael Moore, Helen Mirren, J.J. Abrams, Taraji P. Henson, Warren Beatty, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Eisner, Brie Larson, Sting, Natalie Portman, RuPaul, Sheila Nevins, Justin Timberlake and Nicole Kidman.)
Garfield first saw a live theatrical production at the age of 16 and, as he recalls, “Something in me woke up.” Not long after, he began performing himself, and a high school drama teacher encouraged him to apply to drama school. He wound up at the University of London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, where, for three years, he honed his chops (and earned spending cash by working as a barista at Starbucks, until he was fired). During his final year, he was cast in his first two professional productions, winning a best newcomer award for one, and also landing his first parts on TV. While he was starring in Chatroom at the National Theatre, Stephen Daldry‘s assistant saw him, recommended him to Daldry, who came and saw him and recommended him to producer Scott Rudin for a project they were planning to do. This led to Garfield’s first screen test, but not his first film; however the casting director who considered the actor for that film later recommended him for Robert Redford‘s Lions for Lambs, in which he was cast opposite Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep.
That same year, Garfield played his first leading role in the 2007 British indie Boy A. He followed that with parts in the 2008 head-trip The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, opposite Heath Ledger, who died during the production (“I just looked up to him so much”); Mark Romanek‘s 2010 adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s best-seller Never Let Me Go; and, later that same year, thanks to recommendations by Romanek and Spike Jonze (who directed him in a short), David Fincher‘s Facebook drama The Social Network. Garfield initially had been approached about playing the main protagonist, Mark Zuckerberg, but instead was cast in the key supporting role of Eduardo Saverin, for which he received best supporting actor Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA nominations.
Garfield, now a star fast on the rise, chose to capitalize on this string of successes by accepting the role of Spider-Man — a character he’d worshipped since he was three — in the big-screen reboot of the franchise. He acknowledges that he committed to do two films — 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man and 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — without being shown a script and with the realization that it could have major implications on his way of life. “The four-year-old inside of me would not have it any other way,” he says. But “the corporate mind-set” the studio brought to the project — aiming to produce the least objectionable picture — grated on him terribly.
“I had to fight really, really hard to make sure that the character was honored and that we were offering something really fun, entertaining and also moving and complex and deep for all the young boys and girls that want to see their favorite superhero,” he says. “So many beautiful things came out of that. I met someone that remains incredibly important to my life on that — you can fill in the blanks on who that is.” [Presumably, it was co-star and ex-girlfriend Emma Stone.] Garfield continues: “But the difference between how I felt when Never Let Me Go and The Social Network were coming out and how I felt with The Amazing Spider-Man franchise was that I didn’t feel represented. I was feeling very represented by those other two films, and with The Amazing Spider-Man stuff I didn’t feel like that was my work up there, in a weird way. It felt like a semblance of it or kind of a shade of it, but ultimately I felt it was enshrouded in that filter.”
Fortunately, Garfield was able to regain his mojo after filming the first Spider-Man by going to Broadway to star as Biff in Mike Nichols‘ 2012 revival of Death of a Salesman opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman (“my favorite actor of his generation”), garnering a Tony nomination for his performance. “That was fucking like the chemical peel palette cleanser colonic,” he says with a laugh. Then, after the second Spider-Man, he again rediscovered his love of acting, this time by going to work for modern-day neorealist Ramin Bahrani in 2015’s 99 Homes, an indie in which he plays a man whose home is foreclosed and who reluctantly begins working for the forecloser in order to earn enough money to repurchase his home.
Then, he was cast in his two films just released in 2016, first Silence and then Hacksaw Ridge, both of which happened to call on him to play a man of faith, who is in crisis. In Silence, on which he worked for scale, he plays a 17th- century Jesuit priest who travels to Japan to minister to Christian converts; and in Hacksaw, he plays a World War II conscientious objector turned lives-saving hero. The Scorsese film shot first, but before it, Garfield spent a year mentally and physically preparing for it — studying with a Jesuit priest, partaking in a weeklong silent retreat, losing a ton of weight. (“I was so excited to work with Marty that I said no to everything else,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, if he’s been wanting to make this for 28 years, the least I can do is give one year of my life to getting ready.'”) He devoted three months of prep to the Gibson film, studying a documentary about the man he portrays and retracing many of the steps of his life. He says that the director, contrary to his reputation, is “incredibly loving and such a good leader.”
For the latter, he already won the Critics’ Choice Award for best actor in an action movie, was nominated for the Critics’ Choice Award for best actor, is nominated for the Golden Globe for best actor (drama) and looks like a strong bet to land his first Oscar nomination, in the category of best actor.
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