Six contenders — also including Mahershala Ali, Andrew Garfield, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dev Patel — on what it takes to play a real-life person, making a drug dealer likable, turning down parts and the agony of acting: “The very thing you love is the thing you hate.”
Halfway through this year’s Actor Roundtable, just as THR’s group was settling in with one another, Casey Affleck paused to look at Jeff Bridges with something bordering on awe. “Jeff,” he said, “not to draw attention to your age or anything, but I just want to point out that when I was born in 1975, you had already worked with Peter Bogdanovich, John Huston and Robert Benton.”
“Yeah,” Bridges shrugged.
“So you were bushed before I was born, man,” said Affleck.
That gives some idea of the warmth that flowed among the group, one of THR’s younger-skewing actor gatherings, with Bridges, 67 (Hell or High Water), playing patriarch to Affleck, 41 (Manchester by the Sea); Mahershala Ali, 42 (Moonlight); Andrew Garfield, 33 (Hacksaw Ridge, Silence); Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 35 (Snowden); and Dev Patel, 26 (Lion).
Many confessed to being nervous, especially beside the elder statesman. But Bridges surprised them at the Nov. 12 shoot in Hollywood by admitting he was jittery, too — and that after all these years, he still feels fear when he takes on a role.
What do you most like about acting and what do you like the least?
Andrew Garfield: I just like knowing everything I can. I love the fact that I get to train for a year as a Jesuit priest and then train to be a cop and learn how to make a rocking chair. I want to know everything about everything, and that’s not possible and it won’t be possible. I’m not ever going to reach it. Neil Young has a recurring dream where he has the perfect melody — and he wakes up every time and can’t remember it. And that’s what it is for me. There’s something to aspire to always, there’s somewhere further to go. And the thing that I hate about acting is — well, everything I just said. (Laughter.) The longing is so f—ing painful sometimes.
Andrew, you had a very tough shoot on Silence.
Garfield: When you see Martin Scorsese trekking up the same mountain as his crew, with mud this deep and rain coming down, like a 15-year-old boy, there’s nothing to complain about. And he’s been wanting to make this film for 28 years. But what the character goes through was deeply uncomfortable. [He plays a 17th century missionary in Japan who’s tortured.]
Did you read a lot about Saint Ignatius Loyola?
Garfield Yes. He was a pretty amazing cat, to patronize him. (Laughter.) He was a soldier, he was a warrior and a womanizer. He was all machismo, and then he got very badly wounded and was bed-ridden for months, and had this spiritual awakening and decided to be the most extreme version of what it is to be Catholic, went out into the wilderness and begged for alms and starved himself. He was the extreme warrior version of a spiritual missionary, and he created this Society of Jesus and they called themselves Soldiers for Christ. The biggest gift he gave the world were these things called the Spiritual Exercises, which are actually the basis for all 12-step programs and also inspired Carl Jung with his work with dreams and active imagination. It’s a monthlong retreat where you meditate on the life of Jesus — I mean, you imaginatively place yourself in the story of Jesus from his birth to his resurrection. And I’m not a Christian person. I would consider myself pantheist, agnostic and occasionally atheist and a little bit Jewish. (Laughter.) But mostly confused. I spent a year with one particular Jesuit priest, Father James Martin, who was a consultant on the film.
Did he say anything that changed your view of life?
Garfield Yes. He said, “I have two pieces of good news: There is a Messiah, and you’re not him.” (Laughter.)
That’s a great line.
Garfield And it’s pretty good for our egocentric culture right now.
Last question. You’re on a desert island and can have one actor or actress with you. Who?
Garfield: Emma Stone. I love Emma. [They dated for several years.] She’s all right. She can come.