When Andrew Garfield won the role of Spider-Man in July, most people asked, “Who?” Now, after the one-two punch of “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network,” Garfield has become one of Hollywood’s most recognized young actors, picking up a Golden Globe nomination and sharing a Screen Actors Guild ensemble nomination for his work in “The Social Network” and being named … wait for it … an Esquire magazine Grooming Icon for 2011.
“My mum would be, ‘Yes, yes, you have lovely hair,'” Garfield says, laughing, while looking at the magazine. “I’m really flattered that these guys have noticed the work it takes to control a lion’s mane on a human head.”
Garfield, 27, was born in Los Angeles and raised in Surrey, England. He has a slim build and a quick wit that he hasn’t yet been able to exploit in any of his film roles. But there’s plenty of time. Meanwhile, playing Eduardo Saverin, the young man who bankrolled and was ultimately betrayed by Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) in “The Social Network,” Garfield provides the movie with a necessary decency in the crucial role of empathetic observer. It’s a subtle, commanding performance, worthy of all the attention.
We spoke recently to the well-groomed Garfield just as he was about to return to London and his family for the holidays:
You’ve made a number of fine movies, but “The Social Network” is the first to hit commercially.
I’ve learned you can’t second-guess these things. The first film I did was “Lions for Lambs” with Robert Redford directing and Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise starring. It was a very worthy script, and I thought, “This is literally going to define our time.” And the film didn’t do well at all. People hated it, to be honest.
True. But it was nothing personal.
Thank you. What happens after you make a movie can’t really matter, but that’s easy to say, more difficult to practice. “The Social Network” was the first time I’ve been able to come away from the process deeply gratified and fulfilled.
Knowing director David Fincher’s penchant for perfectionism, it was probably a longer process than you’ve ever had.
I remember speaking to Jesse before we started shooting, and we were both really concerned. “I like the first take. It’s usually the best. You’re raw. You’re going on adrenaline.” So we went in with a preconceived notion about how negative the experience was going to be.
But you came out a convert?
Yes, because what David affords actors is freedom and not having to get it right. By focusing on getting it right, you’re going to do something tight or pedestrian because you’re trying to hit something in a way you deem correct. David makes you go again and again until you trip up and something spontaneous happens. In not having to get it right, you get it right.
What was your record for repeated takes?
Somewhere in the 70s. But that first scene between Jesse and (Mara) Rooney … 99 takes.
I imagine it won’t be hard to find an audience for your next movie … the Spider-Man reboot.
(Laughs) What if no one sees it? It’d be hilarious. Maybe there’ll be boycotters. My self-sabotaging makes me want to head the boycott.
But this is the role you’ve played since you were a child.
Yes. On Halloween. Bedtimes. Tuesdays. When I was auditioning, my parents sent me a photo of me as a kid in the Spider-Man costume. I gave it to my agent, and my agent slipped it to the studio as they were making their decision.
What skinny kid wouldn’t love that character? I can’t overstate enough when you start to actually identify what’s happened and you go, “Yeah, I did dream of being Spider-Man when I was a kid.” I’m trying not to lose my mind about it. But it’s not superficial to me. It’s not frothy or frivolous.
That sense of responsibility nicely dovetails into the character, doesn’t it?
Yes, the overriding theme of the comic is: With great power comes great responsibility. And, yes, I feel a huge sense of pressure and responsibility.
I didn’t mean to add to it.
Oh, my God. There’s no way you could add to it. It’s infinite and never-ending.
But … um … hopefully fun too, right?
(Laughs) We’re two weeks in. The first week was full of stunts, and I’ve never felt happier in my whole life. I’m all bruised and scratched up, and it feels really good. It’s just me throwing myself up against walls, which is incredibly fun and painful and testing my manhood. It’s a childhood fantasy I’m living out.