Like the character he plays, Andrew Garfield had to think long and hard before taking on the role
SOME young boys want to be firemen when they grow up. Others plump for astronauts, while another group of dreamers might tick the box marked “rock star” or “star striker”. Of course, they’re just childhood dreams. No one’s childhood dream ever comes true.
But try telling that to Andrew Garfield. His childhood dream was very simple: to one day become Spider-Man, the superhero with whom he had connected emotionally as a very young boy. “I was 3 when I had my first Halloween costume,” smiles the 28-year-old, still fighting the urge to pinch himself. For, after bagging the title role in The Amazing Spider-Man, his childhood dream has been well and truly realised.
But it didn’t happen without a suitably Peter Parker-esque bout of soul-searching. Garfield, previously best known for his performance in The Social Network and a Bafta-winning turn in the television film Boy A, had to think long and hard before taking on the role. After all, he — perhaps more than any other actor who’s donned Spider-Man’s red-and-blue tights — knows that with great power comes great responsibility.
“There was plenty of doubt in my mind,” says Garfield, who becomes the first Brit (albeit one with an American father) to play Spider-Man. “I’ve been thinking about the responsibility of it since I read the comics, and what the character’s always meant to me. To take on that mantle, I don’t take it lightly. I really, really don’t.”
Garfield won the role after one of the most hotly contested audition processes in Hollywood history, beating out a cadre of some of the finest young actors in the business. “He was just the right guy,” says director, Marc Webb. “In his screen-test, he killed it. That night, I was cutting it together and I couldn’t stop watching it. Even though he’s a little bit older than Peter is, he had the humour, the awkwardness and an ability to go very deep in a way that very few actors can do.”
“I was always going to go ahead and put myself up for it, because it meant so much to me,” says Garfield. “I realised ultimately that no matter how much you procrastinate, the choice has been made for you internally, and I guess you have to let your gut or heart guide you.”
Garfield was introduced to the world as Spider-Man at a Sony event in Cancun, Mexico, in July 2010. He’d been told the good news by Webb and Sony studio chief Amy Pascal, just 20 minutes earlier in Pascal’s hotel suite. “I was sure she was going to let me down easy,” laughs Garfield. “But when I walked in, there was champagne and a full camera crew! It was a pretty insane moment, and one I won’t forget, no matter how hard I try. Then we were out in front of the Press, and I got to feel like Elvis for a moment, which was fun.”
After that, though, the hard work began, and Garfield began sculpting his take on Peter Parker and his masked alter-ego, Spider-Man. “It’s Peter,” he insists. “I don’t think even Peter sees himself as Spider-Man. I don’t see myself as Spider-Man, I see myself as Peter.”
The Peter in the Marvel comic books has been through a lot since he was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the 1960s, including a marriage, and a gradual slide towards his early 30s. The Peter Parker of The Amazing Spider-Man would, on the other hand, be a gawky, gangly 17-year-old, who lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben following the mysterious disappearance of his parents when he was just a young child. An academic genius, and a whizz with a camera, Peter is also relentlessly bullied at school, something that spoke to Garfield as he prepared to play someone almost a decade younger than himself.
“It feels important to talk about,” says Garfield. “Stan Lee included it in that first comic, and Peter is a suppressed character. He goes through all the stuff that kids go through, which is a very confused moment about why they’re being suppressed or mistreated. And I came up with this idea that putting on that mask makes you feel safe. It did for me as a kid. Peter, like me and so many others, felt stronger on the inside than they looked on the outside.”
When Peter is imbued with his incredible powers, including the proportionate speed, strength and agility of a spider, after he is bitten by a radioactive spider during a visit to the Oscorp lab of his mentor, and eventual nemesis, Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the temptation to wreak revenge upon his tormentors, including Chris Zylka’s Flash Thompson, is almost overwhelming.
“He’s always good at his core,” insists Garfield. “It’s a choice. I think we all have the ability to be both. Good or bad, that duality lives in all of us, and it lives in Peter Parker. He always makes sure that he takes the higher path, and I love that. I find that incredibly inspiring and I’ve always had an affiliation for the underdog because I’ve always felt like an underdog. Peter Parker is the king of
Over the course of the film, Peter’s journey will see him use his scientific prowess to create artificial web shooters, an idea torn straight from the comic book (“I thought it was a fantastic thing to explore and it adds an element of his scientific genius”), delve into the mystery of his parents’ disappearance, and discover just what it means to become a hero as he has to contend with both the NYPD, who believe he’s a dangerous vigilante, and Connors, who mutates into The Lizard, a reptilian villain who’s faster, stronger and more agile than Peter. But perhaps the most important relationship for Peter is the one he strikes up with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, the high school student he admires from afar, before they become involved in a sweet, funny, feisty romance that gives Peter something to fight for when the chips are down.
“It’s really a beautiful love story between these two,” says Garfield, “fraught with the difficulties of adolescence and what Peter’s going through and what nobody else can fully understand, and the dangers that brings with it. I can’t wait for the audience to witness it.”
A long-time fan of the comic books, and the Avi Arad-produced 1990s animated series that began its run with an episode featuring The Lizard as the villain, you could be forgiven for thinking that Garfield didn’t have to do much research into the character. But his unique approach to Peter and Spider-Man ensured that he had to sit down with a pile of comic books to get into Peter’s head.
And, perhaps more pertinently, his body language. “I wanted to be as authentic to the comics as possible,” explains Garfield, “and also to this idea of being a spider-boy, of being a guy who has DNA running through his bloodstream and how that would change him, how that would change his gravity, how that would change his sense of space, how that would change the way he sees the world.”
Garfield worked extensively with his three stunt doubles, Ilram Choi, David Elston and William Spencer, on striking a series of Spider-Man’s most memorable comic book poses. “It was like being in Spider-Man Camp,” he laughs. “I went through as many comics as I could lay my hands on, and tore out every panel I thought was interesting or excited me in some way. My personal trainer, Alejandro, wanted to create this Bruce Lee-style sinewy body; we wanted to add bumps to the shapes, to the knuckles.”
But all the preparation in the world couldn’t ready Garfield for the day when he had to put on the Spider-suit for the first time. “You don’t feel that good when you’re first in it,” he laughs. “Peter feels different when he’s in the suit, when he’s allowed to express the power that he has. When he’s in his civvies, or when he’s in public, he has to hold that down, he has to be something else. There’s a very powerful reason — he doesn’t want to be found out. When he’s in the suit, I let it do whatever it would do to me. I didn’t plan it.”
Nor, indeed, could a lifetime of reading comic books prepare Garfield for the heady rush that comes with swinging as Spider-Man for the first time. “I think we were downtown in a parking lot in LA, doing a night shoot,” he recalls. “It was a scene where I had to have fun. We were out in the middle of downtown Los Angeles and there were paparazzi who were definitely taking unflattering shots of a skinny English kid in a red-and-white spandex suit. I was aware of that but I said, ‘I can’t let that get in the way of the fun that Peter is having in this costume and the fun that Spider-Man is having in this scene’. I had to put the character’s needs first. I really felt the enjoyment of being anonymous and the real fun of not being able to be seen in the stuff I was doing, even though I knew there were going to be some terrible shots of me online the next day!”
There’s no doubt that, with two more Spider-Man movies to go, that Garfield feels a deep connection with the character; that he almost sees himself as the keeper of the flame. At the San Diego Comic-Con last July, Garfield made a surprise appearance at The Amazing Spider-Man panel, showing up as a supposed audience member in a Spider-Man mask, before delivering an impassioned speech about the character to a whooping, cheering crowd.
“There’s something so deeply important to me, and to the millions of others, about the character,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t alone. I like the idea of keeping the mythology alive, and what it means on a deeper level alive. I think that we need this character, and we need these stories because it’s a reassuring character.”
He stops, and smiles, as if remembering the naive 3-year-old boy who once dressed up as Spider-Man for Halloween and wound up starring as him in a major movie a quarter of a century later. “He’s a character that I think is important, basically, for whatever reason, for skinny boys across the world!”. - Sony Pictures Releasing International