Andrew Garfield on Mel Gibson: "He's All Flesh and Blood and Passion" (Q&A)
The 'Hacksaw Ridge' star praises his controversial director, and discusses the year-long spiritual journey he undertook for Martin Scorsese’s 'Silence.'
Mel Gibson is “maybe the most loving director I’ve ever worked with,” says his Hacksaw Ridge star, Andrew Garfield.
The Amazing Spider-Man actor — who’s having an annus mirabilis with the November 4 opening of his war drama, Hacksaw Ridge, followed December 23 by Silence, a period piece set in 17th century Japan that teams him with Martin Scorsese — defended his controversial director.
“He’s in the frame with you,” he said. “He’s all flesh and blood and passion. [He] wears his heart on his sleeve. You always know what he’s thinking. Which, you know, is interesting sometimes. With someone who’s so emotional, and instinctive, there were times where he would give notes, and coming out of anyone else’s mouth, they would be insulting, but they weren’t coming from him, because he’s got this childlike, guileless kind of quality.” He added: “There’s no judgment in it. He lets things go the next moment, like nothing just happened.”
Garfield, whose other films include 99 Homes and The Social Network, took part in the ongoing Hollywood Masters interview series, held at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV.
Once fired from Starbucks on multiple occasions “because I just kept sitting down,” he recalled his anxiety and fears as a neophyte performer, and also his ambivalence toward fame.
“There was this weird separation that I started to feel, between me and the world,” he said of the global celebrity that followed Spider-Man. “[It] felt very uncomfortable, and I was starting to be treated better. You know, one day the person at the coffee shop was rude, and the next day they were not rude anymore, and it just made feel a bit freaked out. It wasn’t authentic. You know: ‘No, I haven’t changed, I’m still as f—ed up as I ever was, and beautiful and whatever. I’m both f—ed up and beautiful, as we all are.’ But, suddenly, I’m getting treated better. And it just didn’t feel right.”
Garfield spoke about spending a year preparing for his role as a Jesuit missionary in the long-in-the-works Scorsese film, and embarking on St. Ignatius Loyola’s grueling spiritual exercises.
“We had a year [to prepare],” he said. “I studied with this amazing Jesuit priest called Father Martin in New York City. Beautiful, beautiful guy, and he became my spiritual director. We talked about life, and about how to live, and the tenets of this particular spirituality, and I did the spiritual exercises, which are no mean feat. It’s like a 30-day retreat where you meditate on the life of Jesus, and you put yourself in Jesus’s company, going from his birth through to his death and resurrection. And it’s this very deep meditation that you do, where you literally imagine yourself into his life, and you’re walking with him. And it’s profoundly transformative.”
With Scorsese, he said: “We talked endlessly, until words ran out. And they always would. We would talk for three or four hours at a time. And then at a certain point, the words would just go, because we would always come back to the same thing, which is the question of the film, which is about how do you live a life of faith? And what does living a life of faith actually mean? And we’d always end up in silence together. That was the incredible thing. Every single conversation would end up in a silence.”
A full transcript follows.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY: I wanted to talk about when you were a student. You left Central, which was a very famous British drama school, in 2004. Was that a scary time? What did you expect from your life and what surprised you?
ANDREW GARFIELD: Terrifying, impossible, and yeah, I was actually with an old drama teacher the other day in London, and he reminded me of something, which was humiliating and funny. It was my third you, so you kind of train for three years. I don’t know how long you guys are training for here. It’s a three-year university course.
GARFIELD: Four. You’re going to be much better than I am. [LAUGHTER] One year better. His name was Peter McAllister. He was a great acting teacher, and he introduced me to Arthur Miller. He introduced me to, you know, the plays of Arthur Miller [LAUGHS] and eventually Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare, and it kind of was very formative in my training and in my formation. And he saw me walking behind the Hampstead Theatre, which was opposite the Central School of Speech and Drama, kind of in one of my torn, tortured kind of [LAUGHTER] adolescent kind of insane moments, and he said, “Andrew, what is wrong?” Just pacing back and forth behind this theater, and apparently–I don’t remember doing this–apparently, I said, “I’m just never going to make it. I’m never going to work. I’m never going to be an actor. I’ve wasted the last three years of my life. I’ve wasted all my parents’ money. I’ve wasted my own money. I worked at Starbuck’s for about three years to put myself through this fucking shit [LAUGHTER],” and, like, I got fired from three different Starbucks.
GALLOWAY: Oh, wow.
GARFIELD: And like, “It’s just never going to happen.” For me I just felt like I was on this cliff’s edge. I felt like literally, like, a dragon could eat me the next day upon graduating, you know. It felt totally unknown and like an abyss, and then, I found so much kind of hope in other artists that’d come before, you know. Like, I think about what Martha Graham and the great things that she talks about, about being an artist and how it’s like, “You have to leap in the dark and, you know, we’re going to be perpetually dissatisfied, and these are all things that you will have to look forward to.”
GALLOWAY: You’re right.
GARFIELD: But it’s kind of lovely. I’m really grateful to be here with you guys because, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just really moved. I really am moved seeing all your faces. I don’t know. It’s a weird thing, because I’m not that much older than you, and I’m still searching and seeking and forming and struggling and trying to figure out where I’m going and where I’m supposed to go, what I’m supposed to be lending my heart to and giving my energy to, so I’m just sitting here with you.
GALLOWAY: The struggle is between what? We were just talking before we came in here about Los Angeles. It’s the struggle between theater, film, England, America? What’s the struggle?
GARFIELD: Yes. Well, I mean, one of the major struggles for me is between what the culture tells me and what my heart tells me.
GARFIELD: Namely, you know, well, what does the culture tell us? Culture is telling us lies all the time about what it means to be successful, about what it means to be valuable, what it means to be an artist, what it means to be a member of the world, a member of society, that is of use, and I find the heart and the inner self, my inner self, my kind of community, the people that I would call true friends and mentors and elders, people that I’ve got to work with that I have held on as friends, give me a very different impression of what it is to live a full life, live a life of generosity, live a life of artistic integrity and artistic expansion and growth and experimentation and exploration. I love those Ted Talks. Those Ted Talks are so inspiring because it’s usually people who’ve failed so many times at something to get there: a scientist who makes his or her living on failure, failure of experiments. And if acting and if art and if creativity, well that is what creativity has to be, I think, the ability to fail. Anyway.
GALLOWAY: What was that great line in Waiting for Godot? Is it, “Fail again. Fail better”?
GARFIELD: Yeah. Something like that.
GALLOWAY: I love that because I think in art, if you don’t take risks, then you don’t improve, and taking risks is risky.
GARFIELD: Yes. Yes. You think you might die. I think I might die when I’m … It’s a weird feeling, where you think your body is going to fall off, your skin is going to fall off your bones if you step on a stage or if you step in front of a camera, and there’s not many places where failure is an exciting prospect as it could be. It could be framed as an exciting opportunity, and I think where you guys are at now hopefully is an environment where that kind of is encouraged, where that is allowed, not only allowed, but actually is the place where you grow.
GALLOWAY: But when you’ve had some success, you can handle failure better, although then you’re so scared to lose what you have. It’s hard. Who do you think of as your mentors?
GARFIELD: We were talking about Mike Nichols a little bit. Do you guys know about Mike Nichols?
GALLOWAY: … great American director.
GARFIELD: Directed The Graduate…
GALLOWAY: Right. Yeah.
GARFIELD: … and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and just countless brilliant —
GALLOWAY: And directed you on stage in Death of a Salesman.
GARFIELD: And I did a play with him. I did Death of a Salesman with him, with the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing Willie, and now Mike is unfortunately not with us anymore as well. But Mike was someone that I considered a mentor, kind of a grandfather figure.
GALLOWAY: He was hoping you’d say “father” [LAUGHTER] but it’s Hollywood. What did he teach you?
GARFIELD: Oh God! How to love, and how to approach work with love, and how to approach people with love, and your collaborators with love, and about remaining true to yourself no matter what. We were talking about earlier no matter what the culture is telling you, no matter where you’re being told to live, how you’re being told to act, or what choices you’re being told to make, or whose path to follow. He was an advocate for following your own sense of self, your own uniqueness because every single person in this room has a very specific role to fulfill in the world right now, and no one looks the same, including us, including, you know, all of us, so he was an advocate for —
GALLOWAY: Did he teach you anything about acting?
GARFIELD: It’s funny. It’s crazy, man. It’s crazy! I worked with a couple of masters recently. I worked with him and I worked with Scorsese. Martin Scorsese, not John Scorsese [LAUGHTER].
GALLOWAY: Or Fred Scorsese.
GARFIELD: Yeah, Freddie. But to trust myself. Both of them would forever say, and all the elders in my life, all of the mentors in my life, would just say over and over again, “It’s right there. It’s right there. It’s all there. Just get out of the way. Get out the way. Get out of the way. Get out of the way.” And that’s been the mantra, I suppose.
GALLOWAY: Where does it come from?
GARFIELD: Where does what come from?
GALLOWAY: That thing that’s there.
GARFIELD: Oh. Where does it come from? It’s a mystery.
GALLOWAY: Because I don’t think as an actor you can just invent that, you know? You draw something inside you. And many directors sense you have this extraordinary emotional accessibility. Is it a genetic thing? Is it from your upbringing?
GARFIELD: Gosh. I think it’s all of that, and I think it kind of goes back to the thing of everyone has their own exquisite sensitivity. We all have some exquisite thing, some exquisite uniqueness or genius actually. The word genius has been totally misappropriated in modern culture, because originally it was a spirit that we all have. We each have our own personal genius spirit that is with us and that’s why we light candles on our birthdays. That was the original act of lighting candles on our birthday back in ancient times. It was that you would light a candle for your genius spirit to come and join you. And the genius is not about having a high IQ or whatever. Sometimes it can manifest as a high IQ. Sometimes it can manifest as an incredibly sensitive, emotional body. Sometimes it can manifest as an eye for clothes. You know what I mean? Like, so I think it’s this mysterious thing that we all have some innate genius that we’re hopefully cultivating a relationship with throughout our lives and being led deeper and deeper into a relationship with what we have to give to the world, because it’s not a selfish thing obviously. It’s like for someone like [Alexander] McQueen it turns into beautiful clothes and then, you know, it’s a generous act to get in touch with one’s genius and then give it. So I haven’t answered your question, but I don’t think I can. I think it’s a mystery. I think it’s a mystery. This is just an idea. This is an old, old idea which I like, but yeah. I don’t know, but hopefully the idea for me is to try and stay as close to that impulse, whatever the impulse is, to act, to create, to work, to give whatever it is I have to give in this particular incarnation. I don’t know.
GALLOWAY: Are you religious? Spiritual?
GARFIELD: I try to be spiritual. I’m obsessed with spirituality. I’m obsessed with trying to live a life that is connected to myself, to others, and to the world, and the universe, and everything.
GALLOWAY: And how do you do that?
GARFIELD: Yes. Exactly [LAUGHTER]. How do you do it? Loyola, St. Ignatius Loyola. I’ve done some studying around. GARFIELD: Yeah. Right. Yeah. But St. Ignatius was pretty cool. Do you guys know about St. Ignatius? Yeah. The spiritual exercises that he created? I did those spiritual exercises. I did that actually in preparation for a part because I was playing a Jesuit priest in this film, in this Scorsese film, the Freddie Scorsese movie [LAUGHTER] and I did these spiritual exercises, and they were profound. I worked with a Jesuit priest in New York. So anyway, like, I’m a kind of jack of all trades spiritualist which probably means I’m not a spiritualist at all because I don’t follow any specific religious dogma. That’s a whole bigger conversation. And with the work: I find the work to be a spiritual outlet. I mean, when I first read All My Sons, this Arthur Miller play, and it was like, I just woke up. It felt like some door in my head and in my heart had just been opened. And the first time I went to the theater I saw this amazing piece called Mnemonic by a company called Theatre de Complicite, which is a French-English-European theater company run by Simon McBurney, who’s an amazing British theater artist. And he has a show in New York right now that might come to LA called Encounter, which is just pure beauty and brilliance. But when I had these experiences: reading Arthur Miller, going to see this incredible piece of theater, it felt like a church experience. And you feel it when the lights go down in a movie theater, you know. There’s something where you feel connected to something greater than yourself, some greater struggle in humanity or some greater reaching up towards something bigger than ourselves, and I feel it in cathedrals, but I also feel it in a cinema.
GALLOWAY: You mentioned Martha Graham. Are there other artists who fascinate you, whatever the field, or who’ve influenced you?
GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah. I’m constantly trying to find the next person to show me why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry recently. I’ve been reading a lot of Rilke and Letters to a Young Poet, which is a great thing. I don’t know if you guys know about Rilke, but there are these letters, there’s this amazing, tiny little book that you can read as you’re going to sleep every night, and as you wake up, to start the day. It’s just a beautiful way to frame a day as a young, burgeoning, creative person. And it’s literally letters between this young poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, and it’s a kind of textbook of checking in to make sure that you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing with your life, and if you’re meant to be the artist that you think you’re meant to be. Just gorgeous. So there’s that. Don McLean. I like Don McLean. You know that song American Pie? He also wrote this song called Starry Starry Night which is about Vincent van Gogh, which you probably know.
GARFIELD: Oh, you don’t?
GALLOWAY: I know him.
GARFIELD: This is a beauty, a beauty of a song that speaks to me about what it is to be an artist. Spike Jonze. I did a short film with Spike.
GALLOWAY: I watched it last night.
GARFIELD: Have you guys seen this short film I did with Spike Jonze? It’s, like, one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.
GALLOWAY: I watched it on YouTube. It’s a lovely film. It’s how we really see you because you have the-
GARFIELD: I love it so much. That’s why I love it because you can’t see my face. Yeah. I play a robot in in, and you don’t see my face, and it’s the best because you don’t see my face. [LAUGHS]
GALLOWAY: You have some real issues going on here.
GARFIELD: We’ll figure them out. We have like 45 minutes. But anyway, Spike is someone who I’m inspired by because of this constant childlike way of seeing the world and this kind of freedom. He has this amazing freedom to fail. He gives himself such permission to look foolish and be foolish and do things that don’t work in order to find the thing that does.
GALLOWAY: I’m going to ask you a tough question…
GARFIELD: Oh dear.
GALLOWAY: … along these lines. I don’t know if you know Visconti and his films. Somebody said, “What would you want as your epitaph?” and he said he loved Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Verdi. Name your three.
GARFIELD: Oh God! Oh no! Oh God! Oh no! I’m 33. I’m 33. I’ve got time to figure out-
GALLOWAY: Who’s really marked you like that?
GARFIELD: Rumi, another poet, the Sufi poet Rumi. God, yes. Persian beauty. Oh my God. He’s in touch with something. Miller. I have to say Miller.
GALLOWAY: We can come back at the end.
GARFIELD: Maybe by the end I’ll have another one.
GALLOWAY: You left Central, and then you did Kes on stage — which is an extraordinary film by Ken Loach, a British director whose films were really about the British working class — and then you started to do some film and television. And then you did one film which is really amazing, and I want to show a clip from it, which I guess is where people first really began to say, “Wow! Who is Andrew Garfield?” I only saw it a couple weeks ago for the first time. I emailed your publicist. This is just astonishing work.
GARFIELD: Thank you.
GALLOWAY: Was it a television film originally?
GARFIELD: It was made for British TV and then I think it was in three screens.
GALLOWAY: Ah, well we are talking about the same thing, right?
GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think so, yeah.
GALLOWAY: This is about a guy who’s come out of prison, extraordinarily sympathetic person, who we discovered has committed the most abominable act. I won’t tell you what it is because you can watch it. And as he’s navigating the modern world, he meets this woman and starts to fall in love with her. So this is one of their early encounters, and she’s also…
GARFIELD: Beautiful, yeah.
GALLOWAY: … just such a wonderful actress. It almost brings you to tears when you see this level of acting, so don’t do this at home, but here’s a clip from Boy A.
GALLOWAY: What do you think when you see that?
GARFIELD: I don’t know. Yeah.
GALLOWAY: Was it a difficult role to play?
GARFIELD: It’s a beautiful role. It’s a beautiful character, and just a gift to try to understand what that experience was like. I hope you do see the film. It’s a head fuck. It really makes you think and it really hurts your heart in a way that maybe is a good thing, and it’s based on events that happened in the UK at a certain time. Yeah, I won’t tell you what happened or what it’s about exactly, but it’s really interesting. So I was taken care of because I had a great director. That’s, you know, John Crowley, who did Brooklyn recently. I don’t know if you guys saw that film. Great, great Irish filmmaker and theater maker. And Peter Mullan, who is a genius actor and a genius filmmaker himself, was the other male lead in the film, a Ken Loach actor, from My Name Is Joe. So it was my first film, really. Second film, but really it felt like my first in a weird way. So I felt held and I felt very protected by these and the rest of the cast as you can see.
GALLOWAY: So how do you create a role like that. Do you read a lot? Do you sort of just head into the blankets and then match it? How do you get there?
GARFIELD: This is an interesting question, to ask me about this one, because I was so at the beginning of things that I had literally no fucking idea.
GALLOWAY: Oh, wow!
GARFIELD: I felt like a newborn child. I felt like a baby. You know, I still don’t what I’m doing, but I convince myself that I do. In that moment, it was Martha Graham. It was just leap after leap in the dark, and so I leaned a lot on the director. A leaned a lot on Peter Mullan and just tried to absorb as much as possible, and it was all instinct really. It was all just kind of like, “How about this? Let’s try this.” And yes, of course, you absorb as much as you can. I read as much as I could about the case that it was kind of based on, and also there’s a great book so it gives you the internal monologue. But then ultimately all that kind of has to go out the window and then you just have to be present and hope that the right thing happens and comes out and you surprise yourself. So yeah. But that’s kind of I think the way you have to work. I mean, for me, I have to not know. I have to kind of not know what the hell is going to happen because the guy doesn’t know what the hell is going to happen in a moment-to-moment basis, and that’s the scariest and most exciting way I find myself longing to work more and more and more, is to actually create that kind of context of work, that unknowing, that mystery to step into, more and more and more, because the more you know the less you… There’s something about the more technique and you kind of get little cheats that you kind of do, so the more I can kind of shed any idea that I know what I’m doing, the better. The more I can have no clue and be totally naked in the wind, the better. That’s kind of where I want to come from, actually.
GALLOWAY: Did you rehearse it a lot? Did you use multiple cameras?
GARFIELD: That was just me and her and camera and the sound and the director. It was really sensitively done actually [LAUGH]. It was awful. I remember John. We did like, three takes and after the first take he said, “You’re being very respectful and it’s lovely, but you can’t ignore her breasts.” [LAUGH] So I looked at Katie and she was like, “I mean, you can’t.”
GALLOWAY: She’s also a really wonderful actress.
GARFIELD: Wonderful, yeah.
GALLOWAY: And when you see two actors... I love seeing two actors working wonderfully together because each person’s gain rises. We had Michael Caine here, and I said, you know, “What happens when you’re acting in front of someone you don’t think that’s a great actor?” and it’s just so difficult, you know? You can’t let yourself go, and as a viewer I can’t let myself go. Did you know you were going to cry? Was that in the script?
GARFIELD: No. You know, no. I’m an easy crier though [LAUGHTER. No. I don’t believe that was. I think it’s what you’re talking about. I think that was able to happen because of Katie and because and because of that actress and what she did, which was kind of like gave the character permission to be as vulnerable and full of whatever he was full of, because it’s kind of mysterious to her because he’s been released from prison under a new identity, so no one knows what he’s been a part of, and he’s been institutionalized, so he can feel that he’s not really ready to be in the world right yet. But she’s an angel for him, really, and you can feel it in that moment, so I think it was because of her, that unconditional, nurturing love that she brought in that moment which enabled him to let go and continue to let go.
GALLOWAY: It’s interesting because beyond the unbelievably good acting in that film, its narrative is interesting because it only gradually tells you what happened, and maybe if you knew at the beginning you wouldn’t be sympathetic, I don’t know.
GARFIELD: Yeah. It’s interesting.
GALLOWAY: But we wrestle with these issues all the time. I mean, you know, when I’m doing interviews, or we put these roundtables together, do you forgive Nate Parker for what he did, or don’t do? Do you forgive Woody Allen, Roman Polanski? Where do you draw that line? By the way, I have no answers to those questions.
GARFIELD: No. I don’t think any of us do, right? I think that’s why it’s such a big conversation, and it has to be a conversation, and you know, that’s the complexity of being a human being and the complexity of being lots of things all at once, and anyone who claims to have the answer and have to right opinion about these things, I’m a little wary of, because there’s so many possible ways. It’s so complex and I think the only way that you solve these questions is by staying in attention of the opposites. You know, we’re in a time right now where extremism is rife.
GARFIELD: Yes. And look at where it’s getting us. So staying in attention, which is the hardest work to do, is I think the answer.
GALLOWAY: Are you generally a forgiving person?
GARFIELD: Gosh. If someone says sorry…
GALLOWAY: That’s good enough?
GARFIELD: Yeah. As soon as someone says sorry, I’m there.
GARFIELD: But if they don’t say sorry [LAUGHS] I could kill them. I’m, like, difficult to deal with if someone doesn’t say sorry for something I think they should say sorry for.
GALLOWAY: I have that too.
GARFIELD: It’s really petty. I’m quite petty [LAUGHTER].
GALLOWAY: You went from this to auditioning for a quite different character, famously not revealing of his emotions, Mark Zuckerberg.
GALLOWAY: And you didn’t get that part.
GARFIELD: I did not.
GALLOWAY: You got another part. I want to show a scene from The Social Network. By the way, it’s interesting because we had Aaron Sorkin here and showed the same scene, so it’d be interesting how the two perspectives.
GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Aaron Sorkin, as you know, wrote it. Let’s take a look at a scene where Andrew’s character discovers essentially that he’s been fleeced of his ownership of Facebook. Here we go.
GALLOWAY: Describe your first meeting with David Fincher.
GARFIELD: I read with his casting director, Laray Mayfield, and then I met him and Aaron kind of the same time. And I read with Aaron. Aaron was reading I think Eduardo while I was reading Mark. And David was there just kind of watching, and he’s very loose and easy and just kind of like a California guy and just kind of like genius-ly brilliant. Just brilliant, and makes you so comfortable and is very kind and very loving and you kind of hear other stories about him being other ways, but my entire experience with David was that of a good father, you know, as a good director, as a good director, just kind of very loving and caring and kind, and brilliant. Looking at that scene, like, he really directs you.]
GALLOWAY: Like what?
GARFIELD: Sometimes it’s the most simple thing, which is in that scene, an example of it would be back in the boardroom, when I’m saying how everyone’s shares weren’t diluted but mine were. He said, “Don’t blink, and just look at him, and just don’t blink. Just stare. Just, like, don’t move and don’t blink [LAUGH] and then do what you want outside of that.” And kind of just trust him and you kind of like… But then with the other main emotional kind of scene, you know, he does a lot of takes. That’s one of his kind of, you know, urban legends, but it’s true. He does, like, thousands of takes. And on that scene I kind of thought, well, you know, we’ll get it in the first three, because he knows that the emotional instrument just starts to get a little bit, like, tied off to three takes, and you kind of need a nap and, you know [LAUGH], you kind of need to be treated like a little bit of a baby as an actor. But I dried up, and he was just like, “Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.” And then of course after you keep going, keep going, keep going, like 10 takes later, some new rage starts to come [LAUGH], and you kind of get like a fourth, fifth wind, but he’s looking for that moment where you forget everything, and everything just becomes messy and, like, you don’t know what you’re going to find. Like, it’s spontaneous, and it’s scary, and you’re scared of what you might do, and you might rip Jesse’s face off or whatever it is. And that’s what he’s going for. He’s going for that moment where it’s really fucking dangerous, and he does that by just doing a lot of takes and just kind of like deletes a bunch and shoots digital nowadays, and you know, I even heard him one day, like, at the monitors, at take 25, he was like, “OK. First print. Delete one to 24.”
GALLOWAY: Oh my God [LAUGHS]. He said that?
GARFIELD: I wasn’t supposed to hear it, but I did. But also with him, he’s a master, so you just trust him in the same way that you trust Scorsese and Mike [Nichols], and so that’s the thing that I’ve discovered as an actor that I need, is that when I’m working on a film especially, is I need Mommy or Daddy, whoever it is, the director. I need to be able to completely trust they’re going to take care of me, because it’s their medium, you know? And sometimes a scene gets cut in a way that is almost a betrayal to your work, which has happened very, very infrequently, thankfully, in my life, but it happens a lot with actors, where there’s no autonomy apart from what you give on the day, and the choice you make to do the picture or not. But then to have Fincher, you do whatever you want, I know it’s going to be better than any idea that I have, so it’s a wonderful feeling of safety and an honoring of the work kind of thing.
GALLOWAY: Do you discuss things with him, or just do them?
GARFIELD: You do them, and then you discuss them, or he adjusts them, because I think my first instinct on that was stay looking at him. Say it. Stay looking at him, and then say the whole thing, and then turn around and walk away. And he was like, “Start turning away as you say the thing.” And I’m like, “You are Fincher. OK, let’s try it.” Yeah. He knows what he knows. And it works because it kind of just does something else. It actually is more of a cut to turn away and say, “I’m not even going to look at you while I say this shit.” Like, he saw something that can make that moment even more powerful for the character as opposed to holding eye contact, which is weirdly weaker in that moment.
GALLOWAY: Does he rehearse with you?
GARFIELD: A little bit. A little bit. With this, it was mostly script stuff, because Aaron is so specific with the way he writes and so the rehearsal was mostly us just hanging out and talking about lines. That was really it.
GALLOWAY: Do you like to rehearse generally?
GARFIELD: It depends. It depends. I think with this you didn’t need to because you’ve never seen a tighter script. You’ve never seen a film script that is that reads like a novel, so you kind of get out the way and let the words tell you where to go and what to do, but sometimes yeah. Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes you need to, yeah. [LAUGH] Because sometimes you have to rewrite the damn thing.
GALLOWAY: Do you have an acting coach you work with?
GARFIELD: Yeah, I do. I’ve worked with a couple of people that are actually mother and daughter. Sandra Seacat is the name of the mother, and Greta Seacat is the name of the daughter, and they’re both witches. They’re both just these genius witches. They’re good witches, like, white witches. They’re good witches.
GALLOWAY: How do they work with you? Because it’s just one of them and you, right?
GARFIELD: Yeah. Sometimes you do group work with them. They do workshops on play. I can’t divulge their methods because they’re methods are not ready for mass consumption yet. They’re still being developed. They’re very, very mysterious. But Sandra is now an 80-year-old woman who trained with Lee Strasberg of the Actors Studio, and started developing her own method out of the method that came around in the time of Brando and everybody. And she started with Brando and all those guys, and she was asked to take over the Actors Studio, but then just said no because she had much more work to do on her own technique that she was creating. That’s not a far cry from the method, but it’s definitely her own. But anyway, yeah.
GALLOWAY: When you were at Central, and though this was a very different acting tradition in England, I wonder if that’s changed or if it had changed by the time you got to Central. You know, it’s very much I suppose more start with the exterior and then work inward as opposed to the other way around. I know that’s oversimplifying.
GARFIELD: Yeah. I don’t know. I didn’t get exposed to that version, and that version doesn’t turn me on as much.
GALLOWAY: The start with the (exterior)?
GARFIELD: Yeah. It doesn’t turn me on as much. I get much more out of going inside.
GALLOWAY: Because, you know, Laurence Olivier had the right nose and the right voice, but he’s brilliant.
GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He is brilliant in his own way. But I don’t connect. I don’t connect to his work as much. It’s a weird thing. You connect to what you connect to, and I don’t feel like I’m part of his lineage so much, you know?
GALLOWAY: I regret never having seen him on stage, but when you see something like Marathon Man… Have you seen that film where he plays…
GARFIELD: Him and Dustin Hoffman.
GALLOWAY: It’s the most terrifying… He’s a Nazi who’s on the run, comes back to New York. It’s one of the great thrillers, and there’s a very famous scene where he torchers somebody with a dental drill. And he’s extraordinary in that.
GARFIELD: It’s great.
GALLOWAY: You went from this to this blockbuster The Amazing Spider-Man. Not necessarily as happy and experienced as some of the others I think.
GARFIELD: Well it was actually. It was very happy in so many ways. I got to work with incredible actors, and I got to work on this incredibly big canvas, and I got to work harder than I’ve ever worked to make something soulful and to make it thematic. And I got to do my own study around The Hero’s Journey and Joseph Campbell and mythology, and I woke up, or I was awoken to the opportunity that those kinds of films give when you offer them to a mass audience, because a lot people see those films, and there’s potential to put so much medicine, for want of a better word, into them, because stories for me have always been medicine, have always been this kind of soothing balm to give context to my life and to give understanding to whatever it is I’m going through. I remember going through a breakup, like my first big breakup, and I saw I Heart Huckabees, that David O. Russell movie. And I don’t know why. It just made me go, “I’m all right. I’m all right.” Bizarre. Bizarre. Like, such a bizarre film, but it was just this gift from the gods of art that just kind of was like, “You’re okay now. Go and dance in the park for a while.” So I felt like this incredibly beautiful responsibility, and obviously it’s a character that I wanted to play since I was three years old. My first Halloween costume, you know, all that bullshit [LAUGH]. But it’s the truth. And then you get the opportunity and then you go, “OK, well let’s fucking, let's like, let's give young people a true reflection of what it is to be totally ordinary and to be totally extraordinary, and how do you fathom those two things, and how do you find what your extraordinariness is and what your genius is, and how do you reconcile that with being just a regular human being, and how do you navigate adolescence, and how do you navigate puberty, and how do you navigate sex, and like, being who you truly are in a world telling you not to be who you are, and being misunderstood, and all these things?” So all these things. So I was like, “Oh my God! I’m going to, like, heal a generation of kids.” [LAUGH] That was a bit highfalutin, in retrospect. But, the opportunity is there to offer your heart in that way. And so in that regard, it was a beautiful thing to be able to explore all that and attempt to infuse the process and the story with that kind of heart and soul. And you know, there were obviously tricky elements of it too. The tricky part is that sometimes, you know, your desires don’t match up with other people’s desires and then you fight a little bit, and you hopefully come to a compromise, but you know what? I’m really, really glad that I had those experiences and they were totally forming, you know, and I learnt so, so much, and I got to meet incredible, incredible people, like Emma [Stone].
GALLOWAY: When I was choosing the clips, I was torn between two. We’re going to watch one. There’s one scene where the two of you, on the sort of terrace with her, where you both act so beautifully, and when you are choosing a clip, you sort of find your in-and-out moment, you watch it a lot, and you suddenly start noticing things in the actors, just a flash of anger in her as she comes in with a kiss, and it’s perfect. But because we’ve shown some intense scenes, I wanted to show everybody your range. Let’s take a look at a clip that’s more fun, where you sort of discover your powers in the subway. So this is a clip from The Amazing Spider-Man.
GARFIELD: It’s fun.
GALLOWAY: You trained as a gymnast when you were younger?
GARFIELD: I did, yeah.
GALLOWAY: How much did you do it, and how much did that helped with this role?
GARFIELD: A lot, it helped a lot. I loved it. I didn’t love training as a gymnast, but I loved elements of it. There was a-there was a moment where I think, where I realized I had to quit where I was a 12-year-old boy with, you know, doing the splits, box splits, and there was a man who was probably about 200 pounds sat on my back, like pushing my chest to the floor, and I just thought, this is not a life [LAUGHS] for a 12-year-old to be living.
GALLOWAY: Simone Biles.
GARFIELD: But I could have been Simone Biles yeah that’s the thing, I didn’t realize. I wasn’t meant to be Simone Biles. That’s all right.
GALLOWAY: I did read that when you did your first back flip, it was extraordinarily...
GARFIELD: Oh yeah, I was just like a kid and I just flipped over backwards, it was hilarious. There were other kids that were doing it, and I thought I’ll try that, and I tried it, I did it, and I was like, you felt like an astronaut, you know, you felt like you had discovered some other planet. Yeah, it was very, very cool, and you know, I got to use all of the fun parts of you know, the man sitting on my back in the film, you know. It got to just be a kind of joyous celebration of the body, as opposed to this kind of rigorous like, kind of army experience, which wasn’t for me.
GALLOWAY: How much is that you doing what somebody’s choreographed, and how much of you saying, you know, when you’re on the pole, and you flip a certain way, or when you fall down, and you’re falling like a spider.
GALLOWAY: What are the conversations there?
GARFIELD: Yeah, no, it’s collaborative. You know, one of the great parts of this process was the stunt coordinator, this guy called Andy Armstrong is this legendary stunt coordinator, him and his brother Vic. They’ve been around since, oh god, I think Vick was Indiana Jones’ you know, stunt double, and you know, all these things, Harrison Ford’s guy in all of his movies, and much, much more. And Andy was so collaborative and so open and really wanted it to be, and I have a great movement coach from back home that I studied with, called Vanessa Ewan, who’s just brilliant and her specialty is animal studies, so I worked with her. Yeah, you know, that was one of the things we did at drama school, like there was a whole term where we would go to the zoo every Friday, and just watch, you know, London Zoo, and watch animals. And go into like this big open green park, part of the zoo, and then pretend to be animals. [LAUGH] Like 30 acting students pretending to be zebras, and you know, slow lorises, and giraffes and, it was amazing. What an amazing thing to be able to do for a year. [LAUGH] But she’s brilliant, and you know, but then it’s like De Nero based his character in Taxi Driver on a crab, you know, it’s all these kind of things, and you start to listen, hear and go oh, God, there’s something to it. So anyway, it was a wonderful opportunity to take it further than, oh I’m strong, and I can, and I can shoot webs and all these, like well, how does a spider, what does it-what does it mean to have human DNA, human blood, and spider blood moving, like what does that do to the senses, what does it do to the, you know, I could get to that corner so, so quickly. What does it mean? And I’ve got eyes here so I can see everything, and so what does it do to a human being that’s just — I mean it’s fascinating to play with. Um, so that was again, another thing that was...
GALLOWAY: And what does it do?
GARFIELD: Yeah, well it does that, and it kind of creates anxiety. Creates a lot of anxiety, and...
GALLOWAY: I mean, I love the scene where you’re doing these things, like that, and apologizing.
GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s pretty English, that’s very English.
GALLOWAY: It’s very English.
GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, an English Spiderman.
GALLOWAY: Sorry, I killed you.
GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Awfully sorry.
GARFIELD: Yeah. [LAUGHS] Yeah, so...
GALLOWAY: Why are we always apologizing?
GARFIELD: I don’t know, why are we? Maybe we should...
GALLOWAY: Sorry to ask you but …
GARFIELD: It is an interesting thing isn’t it?
GALLOWAY: You only did two of the films, were you disappointed not to do more?
GARFIELD: Yes and no, you know. Of course yes, and of course no. [LAUGH] I don’t know, I’m still processing it I think. Obviously I would have loved to have done more, but I would have wanted more opportunity to go deeper, and be a bit more radical. Because it’s a radical character, and it’s hard to be radical in films where there’s a lot riding on them, financially and those kinds of things.
GALLOWAY: Did you have studio executives talking to you saying well, you have to do this, you have to do that, or was it really all filtered through Marc Webb, the director.
GARFIELD: Marc’s wonderful. Marc is a wonderful, wonderful director. You know, it’s a tender thing to get into really. The good news is I’m really excited actually, ’cause Tom Holland’s really good I think, I think he’s a really good actor, and I’m really excited to see, I haven’t seen the new, is it Captain America? I have seen the Captain America one yet, but I hear he’s amazing in it. Did you see that movie The Impossible?
GALLOWAY: Yeah, I loved that film.
GARFIELD: He’s the best thing in it. Him and Naomi Watts are just like, like I think that film...
GALLOWAY: That film, many of you were here for Ewan McGregor last week, I so wanted to show a clip from that, and I’ve actually been reading a book called Wave, which is a woman who lost her two kids, husband, parents, in that tsunami, and somehow that film does capture, it stays with you...
GARFIELD: It really does. By Juan Antonio Bayona. Beautiful filmmaker. Anyway, but Tom is, I think, I don’t know him, I’ve never met him actually, but I really admire him as an actor, so I’m really happy that he’s holding the mantle, and I’m really excited to see, to watch, it’s kind of nice to be able just to watch as well.
GALLOWAY: Was fame not a comfortable thing?
GARFIELD: That was a part of it, you know, and that there was this weird separation. There was this weird separation that I started to feel, between me and the world. Which felt very uncomfortable, and I was starting to be treated better, I didn’t like. You know, this weird thing like, there was one day that the person at the coffee shop was rude, and then the next day they were not rude anymore, and it just made feel a bit freaked out. It wasn’t authentic right, you know, it kind of, suddenly, no I haven’t changed, I’m still as fucked up as I ever was, and beautiful and-whatever. [LAUGH] I’m both fucked up and beautiful, as we all are. But, suddenly I’m getting treated better than that guy over there, and it just felt very uncomfortable, if I can put it into like a micro cosmic thing. And it just didn’t feel right to me. And then suddenly, it’s harder to be in the world, and I just didn’t like it. And also as an actor, the thing is, if we’re doing our jobs, we’re reflecting humanity. The whole false idol things scared the shit out of me, and we’re in a time right now, obviously, where we don’t have, where we’re looking in all the-for me, and I’m a culprit of it too, like I want to know Kayne West is doing, I want to know, I want to know what Kim Kardashian’s wearing tomorrow, you know, I want to see, like what’s her hair, like what color is her hair going to be, and you know, like I want to know.
GARFIELD: It’s like, that’s crazy that I want to know that. I don’t really want to know, but like, I’ve been taught to want to know. That’s fucking, like what is she, what is she? What is she? [LAUGH] She’s a human being with hair and a body and a dress on, and she’s talking about diet pills or something, I don’t know. Like what is she doing, it’s fascinating, it’s fascinating. And I want to know. But why do I want to know, what have you done to me culture? No, you’ve fucked me up, culture. And I’ve got-the only person that can fight you is me, and you guys can help, ‘cause we can all fight together. Vote Bernie, 2016. You know, it’s like...
GALLOWAY: Too late for that.
GARFIELD: I know, oh I know. Anyway, we can’t go there yet, I can’t go into that, but anyway, but it’s fascinating. Anyway, so I had a very, I dipped my toe into the water with the Spiderman thing, and I was like oh, no, it’s horrid, it’s horrid. I just like being a person, it’s nice to be a person. And I don’t you know, oh it’s just crazy. It’s crazy what happening. And I feel, I actually feel for the young people, like luckily it happened to me when I was 26, 27, which is still pretty immature, I will say, I was definitely, kind of immature. I’m very mature now. [LAUGH] But if it happened to me when I was 18, or 19, or 21, which is where, you know, you’re at your ripest for the guys in the top of the chain and these corporate America got all-pick up the little girl, we’ll get her naked on a billboard, it’s like what the fuck are we doing to ourselves and each other, and so, I have a genuine concern for the young people that get dragged into something. I even saw these like-Stranger Things, I love that show, that Stranger Things show, it’s beautiful, right? And it’s inspiring and it’s like, I don’t know, and the kids are great actors, and I’m terrified for them, as soon as I saw them delivering stuff at the Emmys to the people, I was like oh no, just like go home and watch the Emmys from TV, and like, you know, just keep acting, that’s fun, but like don’t become-don’t get used, don’t get used. I just see like a lot of capitalizing on youth, capitalizing on the new thing, and then when the new thing is not the new thing anymore, well who are-oh you did the Stranger Things, well we’re not into Stranger Things anymore, we’re in blah-blah, you know, it’s a scary-anyway.
GALLOWAY: I feel that too, did you see that film Beasts of the Southern Wild?
GARFIELD: Yes, I did.
GALLOWAY: I love so much, did you see that?
GALLOWAY: Quvenzhané. And I’m worried, please don’t let that girl become a product of the Hollywood system. It’s interesting you went for this, and not only did some independent work, but also took a producing role, I’m going to show a clip from 99 Homes.
GALLOWAY: Which I liked very much myself, but the second time it’s really excellent. So Andrew plays a guy who’s evicted from his home, with his mother and son, has to move into a motel, and finds himself working for the very guy who’s evicted him. I would have loved to show a scene with Andrew and Michael Shannon, but I chose this scene where somebody recognizes Andrew’s character, and confronts him outside the motel. So here’s a clip from 99 Homes.
GALLOWAY: So first question about that is how did you end up being a co-producer on it?
GARFIELD: I kind of just wanted to. Well first of all I read the script, and it’s obviously a very moving story. And the essence of it is, it felt very, very personal, to me, in a weird way. Because I think it’s a personal story for everybody who sees it. It’s the American Dream. That was the American Dream. And, I think everyone was touched by the failure of our economic system in some way. And we had our own version of it happening in the UK. And my father, who was the main bread winner of our family, was massively touched by his own struggles around this subject, and because it’s a system that’s setup to fail you, as far as I can see. Unless you’re Donald Trump, you know, who just walks all over people and doesn’t you know, Michael Shannon’s character probably read The Art of the Deal, you know. And Trump would be one of his heroes, you know, on his bookshelf. That kind of thing. So, it felt very personal, I wanted to have my hands on it, I didn’t want to just be an actor, the last thing I did was the second Spiderman film, and I was realizing that as an actor I wanted more autonomy, I wanted more control over what was on the screen, and that was my first foray into making that happen.
GALLOWAY: Did you enjoy the producing aspect?
GARFIELD: I did. I liked it a lot actually. I liked it, I love it. It feels comfortable, it doesn’t feel odd to me. But it’s not for everyone, and I haven’t done since then, but I intend to again.
GALLOWAY: You said you were between the age of 10 and 17 when your father went through a very hard time. But there was this horrible fear and insecurity about what, losing your home in England?
GARFIELD: Yeah, about money, about the foundations of our life. Because of troubles with money, because of troubles with his business, and you know, I was a kid. You pick it up by osmosis, you can feel the tension in the house, and you can feel that maybe this is just survival and not actually living, what we’re doing. They worked so damn hard, him and my mother, to keep me and my brother protected, you know. Our school wasn’t interrupted, doors were closed when arguments happened, you know. They did their beautiful best to keep us kids.
GALLOWAY: But it is funny, my parents went through a similar thing when I was the same age, and you just, you do just feel, and I’m sure many people have been through much harder times, but you do feel it through a strange kind of osmosis when they think they’re hiding it from you.
GARFIELD: Right, yeah, they do their best to, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Do you think that insecurity actually helped you as an artist?
GARFIELD: Gosh, well, I think every experience can be turned into, you know, it’s this weird, perverse thing where you know, just recently I got really sick, really, really sick. I was in London, and I was so, so sick. And I had just gotten like, I was going to South Africa, and I got like a jab for polio, and for like a bunch of a different stuff, and it happened to coincide with getting tonsillitis and also having food poisoning. So about 11:00 at night, I started to feel literally like I thought I was going to die. It was that bad. But I didn’t call an ambulance, I didn’t call anyone, I just kind of sat there going, this is going to be great in a movie, and I’m going to have all this to draw on. There was this kind of like weird kind of watching, of the sensations, and of my behavior, and of my petulance and of you know, my, all the neediness that came up, it was fascinating. I’m a lucky person that gets to live his life so awake, attempt to be so profoundly awake, to everything that’s going on, in order to then give it through this medium or on stage or through writing, whatever it is. So there’s something beautiful about turning such grief into some hopefully generative act that reflects the struggle of other human beings, you know, and meeting people in my research for this was one of the highlights of my life so far, was being able to sit with people, and listen to their stories of how the economic system failed them.
GALLOWAY: How did you do that?
GARFIELD: Ramin [Bahrani], the director, had been researching for so long. So he had inroads in Florida, so I went to Florida and he set me up with a few people. And that lead to other people, and then suddenly I was inundated with people who wanted to talk, because they had not been heard, and because they had not been listened to deeply. Because you know, who cares about that guy? You know, who gives a shit? What value do you have in our culture, right now? You don’t, so we’re going to, you know. We got to look and see what Kim Kardashians hair’s doing, that’s much more important than the fact that you’re moving into a motel, you know, I’m being glib in a bit, you know, poor Kim. She’s fine, she’s great, she’s lovely, whatever, it doesn’t matter. I’m using her as a symbol which is unfair as well. She’s a human being, and sorry, sorry Kim.
GALLOWAY: Who did you meet who shocked you the most in that research?
GARFIELD: I actually met a guy, who evicted his best friend, who was laid off from his job, I think at Home Depot, and he started working at a real estate company. And he was given the really tricky work, the difficult work, and then he was promoted to being someone who evicts people. And he found himself knocking on the apartment door of one of his best friends. And he was like, I got to do it, I’m sorry, this is my job, and if I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it. And it’s like that scene in Grapes of Wrath, where the guy is on his tractor and is about to now down his neighbor's house, and the guys like, we’ve lived next door to each other for 30 years. And what the hell, it’s like, the guy on the trailer is like, I got to get paid, and if I don’t do it, some other poor sucker’s going to be on this thing. And you know, just get out of the fucking way, I got to get, anyway. It's brutal out there, so anyway. They didn’t talk, these two friends, they didn’t talk for two months.
GALLOWAY: Oh, I thought it’d be longer.
GARFIELD: No, the guy was understanding, that’s the craziest thing. The guy was like, I get it, I would have done the same.
GALLOWAY: I wanted to talk about Hacksaw Ridge in a minute. Just before we do, tell us about Silence with Scorsese, how the part came about, it’s 17th century Japan.
GALLOWAY: Tell everybody what the movie’s about, and what the challenge of that role was for you.
GARFIELD: Yeah, it’s crazy. So, I play a Jesuit priest, inspired by Saint Ignatius, and in the 1600's, as a Portuguese Jesuit priest, who goes on a mission to Japan where a bunch of missionaries have gone before him, to spread the good word, spread the gospel. And at this point, Christianity has been outlawed in Japan, and priests are getting executed, tortured to the point of renouncing their faith. They’re being forced to renounce their faith, and if they don't, they’ll just get tortured more. And they’ll have other people, like villagers who are Christian, they’ll be tortured in front of them, and executed, it’s just brutal. It’s a Buddhist regime. Who knew that even you know, no religion is exempt from atrocities in the name of God? Anyway, it’s fascinating, it’s a fascinating piece of history. So I play a guy, a young priest who’s going to find his mentor who’s disappeared in Japan and also to keep the gospel alive in Japan, in a hidden way. And it’s like undercover mission, as a Jesuit. It’s fascinating, it’s really, really cool. And brutal. Scorsese’s been wanting to make it for a long time, and it’s very, very personal to him, it’s based on a book.
GALLOWAY: What are the conversations with him about creating a role, like do you discuss, am I going to do it with an English accent? How does he guide you?
GARFIELD: We had a year actually, I had a year before getting the part and shooting it.
GALLOWAY: Why so long?
GARFIELD: Because he kept pushing, and also, I’m thankful, because I got to study for a year. I didn’t work, I just studied.
GARFIELD: Yeah, I studied with this amazing Jesuit priest called Father Martin in New York City. He’s one of the editors at America magazine, he’s a writer, a spiritual writer. Beautiful, beautiful guy, and he became my spiritual director, and kind of taught me all this Jesuit, but deeper than that, you know. We talked about life, and about how to live, and the tenets of this particular spirituality, and I did the spiritual exercises, which are no mean feat. It’s like a 30-day retreat where you meditate on the life of Jesus, and you put yourself in Jesus’ company, going through from his birth through to his death and resurrection. And it’s this very deep meditation that you do, where you literally imagine yourself into his life, and you’re walking with him. And it’s profoundly transformative, really, really, beautiful, to hang out with Jesus, [LAUGH] in a way that’s like tangible and visceral and you’re devoted. It’s like deep, deep devotion, I’m kind of a bit emotional thinking about it, because it was a truly transformative experience for me. And you know, it’s like, you take on a role like that, you don’t ever want the preparation to stop, because it’s endless to understand. And with Marty, we talked endlessly until words ran out. And they always would. We would talk for three or four hours at a time. And then at a certain point, the words would just go, because we would always come back to the same thing, which is the question of the film, which is about how do you live a life of faith? And what does living a life of faith actually mean? And what does living truly in line with yourself, with your true self, your deep self? What does that mean? And we’d always end up in silence together. That was the incredible thing. Every single conversation would end up in a silence. And we’d go okay, I mean I guess that’s it for the day. You know, it was profound.
GALLOWAY: In person or on the phone?
GARFIELD: Mostly in person, yeah.
GALLOWAY: What surprised you about him?
GARFIELD: He’s so loving, just a loving man, just like a loving generous man, and just kind of, I mean his brilliance didn’t surprise me. But there was something about his kindness and his softness that was surprising. Because you know, you see GoodFellas and you go, a soft guy didn’t make this. You see Casino, you see any of these things. But then you see Kundun, which I hadn’t seen, and you go oh boy, that’s like a big old heart. If you guys haven’t seen Kundun.
GALLOWAY: Something about the Dalai Lama.
GARFIELD: Such a beautiful film.
GALLOWAY: I want to show a clip about Hacksaw Ridge, and talk about that. But while the clip is playing, should we get the young men and women who have questions to come up? So this is a film that’s coming out later this year, directed by Mel Gibson. This is a true story about conscientious objector who still wanted to go to war. And here he’s put on trial, because he insists he’s still going to go out there. So this is the courtroom scene, part of the courtroom scene from Hacksaw Ridge.
GALLOWAY: How important is finding the voice to finding the character?
GARFIELD: Yeah, I like that work. I like working with voice and accent. But quality of voice, I really enjoy. And this was just a joy to play with. The only footage I had of him speaking was the real guy, like his real stories, this guy is amazing, this amazing guy called Desmond Doss, Jesus, Jesus. Talk about Jesus, like he was as close to Jesus in my heart. Just a beauty. There’s a great documentary called The Conscientious Objector, and he talked, I won’t be able to do it now. He has the cochlear implant, so he’s on a delay, and he kind of talks out the side of his mouth, and he kind of talk like this, but he kind of, I kind of had to work backward from this strange like, he couldn’t quite understand, you can’t even understand what he’s trying to say. I’m like OK, I can’t do that. But what’s that when he’s a young man, and there’s a little bit of footage when he’s a young man, but it’s so extreme. Anyway, yeah, beautiful, and you know, I got to visit where he was raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, and kind of Appalachia and you kind of, you start listening to music from that part of the world.
GALLOWAY: Wow you did that?
GARFIELD: Oh yeah, all that, and then that informs your rhythm.
GALLOWAY: Yeah. These are very difficult decisions, because this isn’t about what you can do as an actor, this is about your making an intellectual decision on how much to do. Because at the end of the film, they show some footage of the real guy, and if you did play it that way, it would seem like a caricature.
GARFIELD: Right, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Because he’s so extreme, you know. So then who do you turn to for advice? Do you talk to Mel Gibson about that, your voice coach?
GARFIELD: Yeah, I talked to Mel. Who’s great, who’s a great director, who just kind of trusts you. Again he’s one of those guys that just goes, trust yourself, and if something’s feeling off, I’ll let you know, I’ll figure it out. But no, you live and die by your own choices, I think. And I think that’s the beautiful torture of doing something that’s so vulnerable for a living is that ultimately, I find, I always have to come back to myself, and go okay, it’s no one else’s face up there, it’s mine. I’m about to make this stupid decision. Is it stupid? Or is it the right kind of stupid? Or is it the wrong kind of stupid? And I’ve always just got to go, no matter who’s throwing what at me. Even if it’s like, you know, Scorsese going try it this way, I’ve always got to check in with myself. That’s a hard thing to do, especially when it’s Scorsese.
GALLOWAY: Right, yeah.
GARFIELD: Or Mel for that matter, you know.
GALLOWAY: What makes Mel a great director?
GARFIELD: He’s in the scene with you. He’s in the frame with you. He’s all flesh and blood and passion. And again, maybe the most loving director I’ve ever worked with, just in terms of holding space for his actors and his crew, and everyone being treated equal, and wears his heart on his sleeve. You always know what he’s thinking. Which, you know, is interesting, sometimes.
GALLOWAY: Oh? In what way?
GARFIELD: But you know, well, with someone who’s so kind of, emotional, and instinctive, and just kind of responsive, you know, there were times where he would give notes. And coming out of anyone else’s mouth, they would be insulting, but they weren’t coming from him, because he’s got this childlike guileless kind of quality. And I remember there was one time where I was like, I wasn’t getting it. And he kept on coming up to me and like not knowing, like he’s very physical, he’s very kind of like. And I’m like, and he’s like. I’m like “what is it you want?” After like take six or something, and he’s like, “nothing that you’re giving to me.” But it wasn’t hurtful. It was just like so sweet, and I was like aw, I really want to give you what you want. How do I give you what you want? Let’s do it, let’s figure it out together. There’s no judgment in it. There’s this weird like, he lets things go, like the next moment. It’s like oh, nothing just happened, like this childlike way of being present in the world.
GALLOWAY: What was your toughest moment in that film? The big battle sequences?
GARFIELD: Yeah, because it is the film, I hope you guys will see it, I think it’s a very beautiful film. Very violent, but hopefully honoring the violence of war. The brutality of what it is to be on the front lines. That stuff was really hard, but you know, nowhere near as hard as actually being there. So it’s kind of like, how do you talk about how hard a film shoot was ever? Knowing that people are living it somewhere right now, in their version of it, the modern version. So no, I mean yeah, that was hard, but I’m out of time, so silly, texted Vince Vaughn who’s in the film one night, I was like, [GROANS] pretend war is hard. And it’s just ridiculous to kind of even remotely complain about what we do. It’s a gift that we get to tell stories, and tough stories, stories that are painful sometimes to watch, but ultimately healing I think, if you go into the wound enough. And this film goes into the wound of war, the wound of battle, the wound of PTSD, those kinds of things. So, I’m really excited for people to see it.
GALLOWAY: Yeah, I think he’s unbelievably talented.
GALLOWAY: And very sweet, contrary to what people think, you know.
GARFIELD: So sweet.
GALLOWAY: And tormented, but what a great artist.
GALLOWAY: OK, student questions, but before the first one, I have two very quick questions. Did you really get fired three times as a Barista?
GARFIELD: I was moved to three different Starbucks yeah, because I kept sitting down. I wasn’t allowed to sit down. You’re not allowed to sit down. I didn’t get it. I kept on going to like, to the store room to sit on the boxes of coffee, because no one was drinking coffee in Hendon, in North London, attached to the Sainsbury. It’s like Sainsbury’s a grocery story. Hendon is a place that not many people go to coffee shops. So you know, American you have no idea about Hendon. Hendon is a very weird place. But anyway, I kept on being moved, because I just kept sitting down.
QUESTION: My major’s film and TV production. My question was, out of all your performances, which do you find the most personally satisfying and why?
GARFIELD: Oh. Good one. Gosh. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. They all give me, they’ve all given me something. They’ve all given me information, they’ve all given me a closer relationship to myself in some way, even if they’ve steered me off my path in some way. Especially if they’ve been difficult, they’ve given me a very intimate relationship with aspects of myself, that maybe I didn’t want to know. You know, it’s like when you’re in a relationship that triggers you, that brings up jealousy or your anger or your, you know, competitive(ness) or whatever it is. I got very intimate with myself on the difficult ones. So I don’t know if I can. And it’s weird being a person and being a person that makes things, because there’s not even going to be, I think I’m realizing more and more and more, especially it’s interesting after looking at pieces of stuff that I’ve done back to back, and thinking about it in that way, it all feels like one thing. And I think it’s all going to feel like one thing until I’m no longer alive. I think it’s all just one big thing. With different twists and turns and colors and mistakes, and things that work for some odd reason and things that don’t. It’s all a bit of a mess, and I don’t know. So I’m deeply satisfied by all of it and perpetually dissatisfied by all of it. It’s this very strange, mysterious place that I think we have to live in, as artistic, creative people. Because without it, maybe we don’t show up anymore. And maybe we’re not longing anymore, you have to have that deep longing.
QUESTION: I was wondering what it was like tackling Aaron Sorkin, and then having to repeat it over and over and over again with David Fincher directing? Did you have a coping mechanism, or did it become muscle memory, or what was it like?
GARFIELD: It was a gift, it was amazing, it’s like working with great rap lyrics, or great poetry, where everything flows so beautifully into the next thing. So your job as an actor I think, I said it earlier is just to kind of get out of the way, and let it work on you. It’s like working with Shakespeare you know. Doing it over and over again is like, you know, when you repeat a word over and over again, it becomes, you know, meaningless, you know. And then you start to kind of dismember the letters, and you kind of go, what is language anyway, [LAUGH] and wait what are these things that I see, like everything because a little insane. It’s like that bit in Inside Out, if you see that movie Inside Out, where they go through all those different rooms, I forget what it is. The abstract thought, and yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Beautiful, like so beautiful, so that’s what happens. There’s a period of time in every single scene, usually between take 15 and 35, where you enter that room.
GARFIELD: Where you enter that abstract thought room, and everything just suddenly just becomes like, everything. You’re just on every drug that you could ever imagine being on.
QUESTION: My question was, like obviously you have to use a lot of American accents. How do you develop the most accurate one, and keep it throughout the whole process?
GARFIELD: That’s a good question. It is muscle memory actually, it’s like being a ballerina and doing the thing, the Plie over and over again until your body just naturally does the Plie. So that’s how I like to do it. And then, you know, you make choices as you go. And you throw things out, and you take things too far, you bring it back. Yeah, I have fun, just fun. And it’s also like a nice technical thing that I can hold onto. Because the rest of the work, I find to be incredibly ephemeral and impossible to like, nail down. And there’s so much faith involved. There’s so much trust and leaping and falling involved. And just hoping it all works out kind of thing. There’s something really nice. I get really excited to work with an accent because it’s something that I can really just like, distract my brain with, to be honest.
GALLOWAY: Do you go from doing a take in the accent to then going back to your regular voice?
GARFIELD: No, that’s another thing I do. I like to stay in the voice, because otherwise it’s just one less thing to think about really. And also it’s the muscle memory thing, where it just becomes easier to stay in the voice. And for the other actors, I think it would be distracting if I was, oh how you doing, you all right. Then it’s like hey, I’m from America now, so how. And also it used to be harder for me to convince myself. Because one of the big parts of the job for me, is do I believe me? It doesn’t matter if you believe, do I believe me? Because if I believe them, then you can have your own experience. But if I’m trusting what I’m doing is true, then everything else kind of.
QUESTION: My question was, you’ve done quite a few roles that are sort of based on real people. So I just wanted to know whether you approach the process differently when there’s a real person that you’re playing, versus a fictional character.
GALLOWAY: On The Social Network, did you speak to Eduardo personally?
GARFIELD: No, I didn’t get to meet him. I had two pictures, one of him when he was drunk, and one of him when he was sober. But he was in Singapore by then, so he’s with his billions in Singapore, so he’s all right. But the approach is only different because I have more information. When it’s a real person, there’s usually more material to work with, which is a gift. And therefore, more responsibility. But also at this point, Peter Parker’s kind of a real person in a weird way. He’s become iconic you know, so there was more information about him than there was about any of the real people that I’ve played. So, that’s interesting too. So no, the approach is always, terror and how the hell am I going to do this, and do it justice? That’s always the way I walk towards a part, which is probably unhealthy.
QUESTION: I’m a sophomore, I’m studying film and theology.
GARFIELD: Cool. Oh, cool.
QUESTION: And I guess I heard that you grew interested in acting around the age of 16 which isn’t far off from many of us sitting in this room. So I was wondering if you had a single piece of advice or encouragement to offer to young aspiring actors, and artists, what that might be.
GALLOWAY: Good question.
GARFIELD: Oh, I love that.
GALLOWAY: Save the toughest for last.
GARFIELD: It’s lovely, it’s lovely. It’s lovely. [LAUGH] It’s a lovely question. I ask that question too. That’s a question that I think we all live with until we’re not here anymore. I think we’re always looking for mentors and people to show us who we are, where we’re meant to go next, what’s going to serve us, what’s going to serve the world. Whether we’re doing the thing we’re supposed to be doing. And if we’re not, who breaks it to us. Read Letters to a Young Poet. That’s a really good one. Advice is a word that I’m not crazy about, to be honest. But I can talk from my own experience, which is if you have to do it, you have to do it. And do it in a way that’s true to your exquisite uniqueness and sensitivity. And don’t be anyone else. Don’t try to emulate anyone else. Learn from the masters, learn from the greats, learn from other people that you admire and look up to, and follow those threads towards the people that turn you on. But ultimately, I want to see what you have to bring to the canvas, and to the world.