Los Angeles-born Andrew Garfield first hit the headlines when he won a 2006 Evening Standard Theatre Awards for his West End stage work. He showed glimpses of his much-talked-about acting talent in the British indie film Boy-A (2007) and then again in 2010 with David Fincher's The Social Network and Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go.
He even got a Golden Globe nod for his portrayal of Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network and was showered with rave reviews for his role as Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman on Broadway. The play, directed by Mike Nichols, also starred Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The 28-year-old, born to an Essex mum and a California-native dad, will play the lead role in this summer's much anticipated The Amazing Spider-Man. The actor talks to alpha. about playing Peter Parker in his biggest film yet.
How would you describe the past two years?
Two years is a long time and it's complicated. I'd describe it as a lot of Spider-Man. Just a lot of thinking about that, a lot of every day has some way been about that, which is crazy. Dedicating two years to something like that is kind of crazy. It was very worth it because I love it so much, I learned a lot.
Did it surprise you, the fervour that people have for this character?
No. I understand it, because there's a reason why it's so popular, and there's a reason why it's so universally accessible. It's accessible to everyone, which is wonderful and so unifying. Going to Comic-Con was the most unifying feeling. I felt so at one with everyone in that room. We had launched the trailer there and fans showed up. It was so beautiful to feel part of a community. I felt tremendously responsible, but I want to do it justice and I want to do them justice. I want to be open to fans, actually. I want to take it if they say, "I didn't like this." I want to be able to hear it; I want to say, "OK, interesting." It's a community. I'd love to enhance that any way that I can, and keep that alive.
Two years is such a long period. Did you need to take off to work with Mike Nichols on Broadway?
This movie was so immersive. I lived and breathed it and ate and drank it and slept it. I dreamed about it every night as well, and it was intense for me to take on. And I had some time off after and then I felt equipped to start something else that was intense and so extremely different. And I'm thankful for that because it's given me the breadth and the space I needed to come in to talk to you guys and to feel like I can re-engage with this. So I feel lucky. A little bit overworked, but very lucky.
Besides the Spider-Man comics, has there been any other piece of writing or any work of art that made you find a sense in life?
Oh yeah, plenty. There's lots of silly things that we all need. My guilty pleasure is Eighties movies - some good, some bad - like Big which is a good movie, Teen Wolf, which was not a good movie. But I love it just as much. The Back to the Future movies, Adventures in Babysitting, Goonies, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - all of those things mean something to me. I'm reading a lot of Rainer Maria Rilke and that's about being an artist, being a young poet, the perfect kind of support group for an artist. That book has had a profound effect on me. And of course the obvious one in line with this movie, The Catcher in the Rye, something that I wanted to read again. Holden Caulfield and Peter Parker, I think those two are related in some way.
Did any of that drive you towards becoming an actor in the first place?
Subconsciously yeah, I think those movies, when I was a kid, brought me to where I am now. I was never like, "Oh I want to be an actor," ever. The first time I said I'd try a school play was when I was 16 and that was a fun experience. But I never dreamed of this.
So how did you start this career if you didn't want to become an actor?
I didn't say I didn't want to. I just didn't think it was possible. I didn't think it was a viable option. I had a very encouraging drama teacher at school, who saw this play I did and he said you should take it for real, and I said OK. I was desperate for encouragement; I was desperate for a place, for something to do, to feel like I was of use somewhere. And I tried it and from then it just grew and I went to drama school and I started to really understand the importance of it.
Did you identify with Peter Parker's character? Are you a confident person?
I am just an actor and I'm just a guy that happened to be given this opportunity. I definitely worked hard to make sure I did everything I could, but yeah, there is so much self-doubt. But that's one of the amazing things about this character. Peter Parker has so much self-doubt, because he's so human and fallible and he makes mistakes and he makes the wrong decisions and he gets himself in trouble. He beats himself up and then he drags himself back up again. So I felt like it was another way to access this guy and play it truthfully. But yeah, every day there was that doubt and then once a month I felt a minute of confidence. Peter Parker is not just tormented, he has got a lot of stuff that he goes through. But also, there's such joy to it. And there's a confidence that he feels within himself when he gets his powers. So all of those - he's just as human as all of us, and just as complex. To try and bring all those elements out is a big feat.
Can you remember your first day on the set?
It was a very simple day but I made it very complicated of course, as I'm wont to do. It was a real opportunity to explore the character's physicality, but I was so nervous about trying to explore it. I was worried about it being too extreme. There was no dialogue, it was a very simple scene. But I land somewhere very hard and I'm just discovering what my powers do and I'm discovering my new pain threshold.I really wanted to pull myself up to be like a spider stretching, and I was like, "I wonder how they can react to this. I wonder if this is going to look stupid". And they loved it and it was very, very reassuring. I felt then like I was good to go.
Could you actually see or hear anything when you wore the mask?
Yeah, not much, but it was fine. It was OK, I survived it. There was one day where I waterboarded myself, it wasn't good. There was a scene where I'm in water and I was getting into it. And I get into things like an idiot, and I dipped my face in a pool of water and I literally just couldn't - I was suffocating. And it takes a long time to get out of the suit so I was, like, suffocating like a minute, it was tough. But outside of that, it was fine.
The millionaire playboy who has a vigilante alter-ego. Now where have we heard that before? Before Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, there was Richard Wentworth who lived in New York during the Great Depression. Wentworth's alter ego, The Spider, donned a black cape and a slouch hat and fought crime on the city's streets. The Spider was an American pulp-magazine hero in the 30s and, according to Stan Lee, served as an inspiration for Spider-Man's character.
Jack Kirby was asked to flesh out Spider-Man. But Lee didn't like Kirby's sketches and replaced him with Steve Ditko. He wasn't sure Lee would like the idea of covering the character's face but he thought the mask was important because it hid a boyish face and added mystery to the character.
Peter Parker's alma-mater the Empire State University is modelled on Columbia University and New York University. Other notable alumni from the university include Steve Rogers (Captain America), mutant Emma Frost (from X-Men), Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic of the Fantastic Four), Victor Doom (who later becomes Dr Doom).
So popular was the Spider-Man series in India that Marvel decided to publish Spider-Man India. Peter Parker became Pavitr Prabhakar and the story was set in Mumbai. The series was created by Sharad Devarajan of Virgin Comics fame.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is the most expensive musical in Broadway history. It cost around $70 million (Dh257 million) to produce and had a score written by Bono and The Edge.