Andrew Garfield reflects on 'Never Let Me Go'

Compares to drastically different 'Spider-Man' from Telluride

Though his "Red Riding" films screened at Telluride last year, Andrew Garfield, who co-stars alongside Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan in Fox Searchlight Picture's drama "Never Let Me Go," is up at the festival for the first time this year. The new film, directed by Mark Romanek, screened Friday night. I got a few minutes to talk with Garfield Sunday about his experience at the fest, the psychology of Tommy, the fragile character he plays in "Never Let Me Go," and his future as Spider-Man. (Read more on Jay's Risky Business blog.)

What's your experience of Telluride so far?

I've really liked it. It doesn't feel like a festival, it feels like a holiday. It was so nice to be able to see Danny's movie last night and I went for a hike yesterday. There's no pressure. It's very easy to get caught up when your film is at a festival, and you get caught up in how people are responding to it. Here, I find it much easier, I still get a bit caught up, but it's definitely easier here because the consciousness isn't about what's the film to see, what's hot. It feels more like a genuine celebration of creativity.

Tommy is so vulnerable in the world, almost like a raw wound. He has a kind of awkwardness to him. How did you relate to him?

It was definitely genuine. [laughs] I am very awkward. That whole idea of being raised in an institution and not being given the proper attention, that love a child needs -- within this school we don't have a mother, we don't have a father, we have patriarchal and matriarchal figures, but we don't have blood ties anywhere. And we're obviously encouraged to be creative in the school and to express ourselves, but Tommy needs a bit more encouragement and love and nurturing than most. So that's where I started from. I just saw him as a kid that has more special needs than others. He's just more innocent and more in the moment, and therefore he doesn't learn as fast as other people. I don't see that as a negative thing. In playing him I couldn't see him as slower, I just saw him as more in the moment. I can't define it, I can't wrap it up and say, This is who he is. Because it's exponential when you're dealing with a human being, when you go into the chaos of what it is to be human.

Given director David Fincher's exacting reputation, what was your experience of working on "The Social Network?"

It was just the greatest, really. The amount of trust that you feel for him, that you can place all of your trust in him if you're a fan of his work. Which I am, I'm a fan of all of his movies so I love his taste and I love the performances that he gets from people, that he edits from people. So going into it like that, you go, "I can let go." You can let go in a scene, and you don't have to worry about doing what you want to do because you know that whatever he's got in mind is going to be better than what you want to do. He does do a lot of takes.

The lore is that he often gets up in the 70s.

Oh, yeah. Every time. But it's the best, the most freeing filming experience I've had, and the most enjoyable filming experience I've ever had just because of the sheer freedom. And you leave everything there. You do the scene every single different way you could have ever done the scene. He just wants you to f**k up so that you become more alive in the moment. And we're working on the red cameras, it was digital, so he'll just delete things if it doesn't work.

What does that feel like?

It's wonderful. It's liberating! If you surrender to it and trust him, which I do implicitly, it's just so liberating because you can f**k up and f**k up. He just likes to squeeze everything out. His theory is if we're all here and we're all being paid to be here, why aren't we just doing everything we can to squeeze every little drip of juice that we can. Yeah, it's boring sometimes and it's painful, but then what's the point otherwise? I'm a total advocate of that. For young actors especially who are hungry to explore the craft of acting, and working with Aaron Sorkin's words, and then having Fincher steering you and guiding the ship, we all kind of wanted to savor every moment.

Did you get to spend much time with Justin Timberlake?

Yeah, such a good guy. At first I was very intimated because he has this iconic status. Which is such a weird thing for a human being to have. He's just a good person, genuinely funny, engaging, warm, supportive. Very generous. That was one of the other great things, there was no competitiveness between any of the actors on the set.

Really? I'm surprised. I would think that because of the nature of the story that that would actually help the dynamic onscreen.

Yeah, he was pitting us against each other in the scenes. But outside of that, he cast a group of people that got on very well. Everyone felt very lucky to be there, so that permeated the feeling on set. But Justin was amazing, and great to work with, and I love Jesse [Eisenberg] so much.

Did you guys get any time together off set? Go to ball games or anything?

Yeah. We did. Me and Jesse, after Boston we were shooting in Baltimore for four days, and we spent Halloween in Baltimore on our own hanging around this awful shopping mall with a Hard Rock Cafe and a Cheesecake Factory and a Borders. And then we saw a Ravens game. We saw a Celtics game when we were in Boston, which was f**king amazing. And Jesse got the green clover drawn on his face. He has all these different personality facets. He's so smart and so funny and so cerebral and neurotic and vulnerable. But then very defensive and then kind of stupid and irreverent. But mostly geniusly funny, and can turn any situation into something Seinfeldian. He may differ with this because he's a contrarian, but I feel like our relationship reflected the best-friends thing during shooting. For me, anyway.

Have you been prepping for Spider-Man?

I have been waiting for this phone call for 24 years, for someone to call me up and say, "Hey, we want you to pretend to be a character that you've always wanted to be all your life, and we're going to do it with cool cameras and cool effects and you're going to feel like you're swinging through New York City. Do you want to do that?" [laughs] "Let me just consult with my seven-year old self and see what he thinks..." So my seven-year-old self started screaming in my soul and saying, This is what we've been waiting for. Like every young boy who feels stronger on the inside than they look on the outside, any skinny boy basically who wishes their muscles matched their sense of injustice, God, it's just the stuff that dreams are made of, for sure. It's a true f**king honor to be part of this symbol that I actually think is a very important symbol and it's meant a great deal to me, and it continues to mean something to people. So yeah, I feel like I've been preparing for it for a while. Ever since Halloween when I was four years old and I wore my first Spider-Man costume.

What's your approach to wrapping your brain around the coming shift in terms of your increased visibility with Spider-Man?

Not to give it credence, not to give it any of my energy. Just approach it like any other job that I care about deeply. That may be naive of me to think that I can just get away with that. But if you give focus to something, it will grow. I just want to be an actor, really. And of course all those things came into consideration when I was making the decision. But at the end of the day, I had faith that I would be able to not be defined by it. And I still have faith that I will be able to get lost in roles and just keep doing what I love to do.

Have you gotten any advice about how to balance it?

I've witnessed other friends go through it, so I'm aware of the pitfalls, for sure. So I already feel as prepared as I can be, and also no advice can really prepare you for something so visceral.

Is there any other prep work you'll need to do? Will you need to change your physicality or do training?

I'm sure there will be a bunch of that, yeah. Flexibility is my main focus right now. Making sure that I can be as flexible as possible. It's all kind of starting up so I haven't really got much to say about it.

You start shooting in December, but are you planning anything else after or in the meantime?

There's a film that I really like that I shouldn't really talk about. I really want to do a play afterwards. I was already thinking, "How am I going to offset this experience and create equilibrium within my system after this incredibly big thing?"