Andrew Garfield strips off the red and blue suit and reveals what he’s truly made of in exciting new projects
Andrew Garfield crawled onto the public’s radar when he played the title role in The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, released in 2012. After the 2014 sequel, however, Sony canceled further outings. Despite this short-lived stint as the spandex-clad superhero, the young thespian’s career has enjoyed leaps and bounds.
“[The Amazing] Spider-Man made me visible to a wider audience internationally,” says Andrew. “It’s been a real blessing. I can’t deny the fact that I owe my recent projects and work with two master American filmmakers to the fact that I played Spider-Man.”
His recent double whammy of critically acclaimed work is summed up in Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.
Scorsese’s Silence is an adaptation of Shusako Endo’s 1966 novel of the same title about the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan. The tale follows two Jesuit priests (the other played by Adam Driver) sent to Japan to look for their mentor (Liam Neeson). There they are imprisoned and must endure faith-testing trials. Meanwhile, Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s directorial comeback, showcases the true story of Desmond T. Doss, the army medic who saved 75 soldiers in the Battle of Okinawa without firing a single weapon, due to his religious beliefs. Andrew’s outstanding performance in the title role earned him both a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.
These diverse role choices demonstrate Andrew Garfield’s own journey and his choice to play heroes other than the comic book kind. Next, Andrew will appear in Andy Serkis’ upcoming drama, Breathe. Here, he plays yet another man whose inner strength is challenged when he succumbs to the paralysis of polio. Look for that later this year.
“There is something inside me that I am trying to figure out,” Andrew says. “That is — how do you survive life and all of its extremes, suffering, chaos, anarchy and contradiction? And how do you find your own center within such challenging circumstances?”
Scorsese’s Silence is set in Japan, though filmed in Taiwan. What was special about that experience?
You see Martin Scorsese, in his mid-70s now, hiking with his cane up rugged terrain to the edges of these cliffs, then trudging through two feet of dense wet mud. It’s raining and the wind is blowing. He is in this glorified position, like King Lear, and loving every second of it.
The fact that Marty was able to withstand these conditions and not just physically — that was really tricky. But also the emotional and spiritual condition of trying to get this film made for 28 years and then finally being on these locations. And going, ‘how am I going to get to the top of that mountain to see what the actors are doing?’ And seeing him, hiking up, like a penance, and reaching the peak and feeling the relief, the bliss to find that suddenly, we can work on the film.
All the challenges were somehow part of the ritual of making the film. It was all one thing — there wasn’t one moment that was somehow not related to the struggle of these characters. Marty is an asthmatic, a New York City kid from Queens. He doesn’t do nature. But here, he had this profound relationship with nature that started to happen when he finally made the film.
He meditates now, too. He is a transcendental meditator and this is all a new Marty. So it was really following his lead. He was the band leader. He was leading us up the mountain every day. That was inspiration enough for all of us to starve, struggle and ultimately, walk through it together, kind of holding each other. It was a very communal experience.
In the film you worked with a cast of outstanding Japanese actors. What did you learn from them?
Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Yosuke Kubozuka — all these wonderful actors. They made me want to start my acting training all over again in Japan, because of their elegance and the craftsmanship that comes through in every single gesture, movement and relationship with whatever object.
Being in a scene with Ogata and with Asano made me feel like I was being hypnotized, as the character and as the actor. There’s just something so mysterious about the Japanese process and something so poetic about working with these Japanese actors. It made me go ‘Okay, I am either going to become a priest or a Japanese actor.’ That is the next journey I want to be going on.
Your performance in Silence is so deep and spiritual. What was the process of getting into that state?
I would say there were two people who were my main directors. The first, of course, was Marty. But the second person is Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest in New York City. He became my spiritual director and he still is. It’s impossible really to sum up the experience I went through with Father Martin, because it was such a private and deeply transformative experience for me. It transcended making a film, even being an actor. It was just about my relationship with a higher power, a spirituality that is my own and one I felt I needed to know more about in order to support Marty’s vision in a really rich way. Father Martin helped me to truly inhabit the character.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
Dancing. A lot of dancing. What I do is much more free-form dancing than tap or soft shoe. I have a lot of weird things that I do. Also, I travel as much as I can with my family and friends.
Where are some of the places you go?
After making Hacksaw Ridge, I went up to Byron Bay (Australia) which is an amazing place. In California, Big Sur and Mendocino are just two of my favorites. I surf, read and see films — just the usual kind of young man’s stuff. But dancing really is the thing. I need to remind myself, it’s all a dance. Like if we are all doing it right, we dance all the time, even in the suffering. And even in sorrow, it’s all a dance.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Smile magazine.