Andrew Garfield is an actor on the verge of superstardom — and he's only 28 years old.
Although Garfield may be best known to American audiences for playing Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, Garfield started acting in England, where he grew up. There, Garfield made notable turns in the critically acclaimed Red Riding Trilogy as well as in Never Let Me Go, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Now Garfield is nominated for a Tony Award for his role as Biff Loman in a Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman that also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman.
And this summer, Garfield dons a very famous red-and-blue suit in the reboot of one of the biggest movie franchises of all time: He's playing Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man. As Garfield tells Morning Edition's David Greene, he's taking a serious approach to what many consider a summer "popcorn" movie.
"When you really look at the reality of ... Peter Parker's life and the stuff that he goes through," Garfield says, "it's a pretty serious set of circumstances that he finds himself in.
"If you really look at the idea of being bitten by a radioactive spider, and what that would mean to a 17-year-old boy going through adolescence, and attempting to find out the truth about the abandonment by his father ... and falling in love for the first time, and then there's a giant mutant lizard he discovers — it's too much for anyone, let alone a 17-year-old kid."
For Garfield, the struggles Peter Parker endures are the source of Spider-Man's trademark sense of humor.
"He needs to laugh," Garfield jokes, "otherwise he'll just be crying all the time."
Garfield says he identifies with Spider-Man the same way the character's millions of fans do.
"It's fantasy fulfillment," he says. "He's a human hero that goes through all of the same struggles that we all have gone through, especially the skinny ones that want more power than they feel they have. I think it's a very inspiring, aspirational character that symbolizes goodness — and how difficult it is to be good — but how worth it it is."
On Spandex And Moving Like A Spider
Garfield's love of Spider-Man goes back to childhood, and there's photographic evidence to prove it: When Garfield's parents found out he was auditioning for the role, they quickly dug up a photo from his childhood showing him in a Spider-Man costume.
Garfield insists that his agents, not he, forwarded it along to the studio and director Marc Webb.
"I think that's the only reason I got the part," Garfield quips. "I think he was just like, 'Well, that kid's cute. I'll have to give it to that kid,' because I think no one else sent in pictures of themselves at 3."
As an adult, when Garfield finally put on the spider suit, it was an exciting experience — but also very uncomfortable.
"The reality of it is it's kind of that crazy-awful thing where fantasy is no longer," Garfield says. "You're truly in spandex, which actually sucks, in reality. It's hard work being that guy; it's tough."
To compensate for the limitations of the suit, Garfield studied the movements of athletes like Muhammad Ali and the soccer player Ronaldo.
"I wanted to have a sense of freedom," says Garfield, "because that's part of the point of a disguise. Because it gives you anonymity, and therefore freedom. I wanted to feel sexy in it — I didn't want to feel uncomfortable and like I was adjusting all the time."
So he studied great athletes and the beauty of their physical acts, as well as studying spiders' movements.
"If you're gonna do it and treat it real — if my DNA is being mixed with that of an actual spider," Garfield says, "then why not actually bring in the physicality of a spider? The lightness, the stillness, the patience and how that changes a 17-year-old boy. That's a fun thing to play with, as well."
A Game-Changing Role
When Garfield first considered auditioning, he thought about whether he would become too identified with the role, whether it would define his career.
"I know that deep down I just want to be an actor," he says. "I want to get to lose myself and have an audience suspend disbelief, so I did consider it. But there was a 3-year-old in me, and I couldn't strangle him, and he was just like, 'You're doing this for me.' You get one life, and who am I to turn down playing one of my greatest heroes?"
But Garfield seems already wary of the fame that may come with playing Spider-Man.
"It's a fascinating thing to step into, and it's a ride," he says. "It's a ride that I intend to have my eyes wide open for."
If the film is a success this summer, Garfield may be on this ride for a while. He's already signed up for two sequels.
Garfield says he most worries that the nature of how he meets people and talks with them will change.
"I like walking around," he says, "and I like talking to shopkeepers and people with dogs on the street. And I like being able to sit in parks and strike up a conversation with a family that I'm sat next to without having a photo taken with them. That would be nice."
That might be difficult to sustain, Garfield says, if The Amazing Spider-Man is seen by a lot of people, which he assumes it will be.
"It does get weird when suddenly people think they know you," he says. "But I guess that's just another thing to be curious about."
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's hear now from an actor who is on the verge of super-stardom. Andrew Garfield started acting in England, where he grew up. He went on to make movies like "The Social Network." Now he's up for a Tony Award in the Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman," and he hits big screens this summer in a very famous red-and-blue suit as Spider-Man.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN")
ANDREW GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) This life is not an easy one. I've made enemies, put those I love in danger. But when your past is a mystery, how do you ever stop looking for the truth?
GREENE: "The Amazing Spider-Man" doesn't open until July, but we're going to do a little truth-seeking with Andrew Garfield now. I started by asking him how he takes a serious approach to what some consider a popcorn movie.
GARFIELD: It's very easy to take it seriously for me, because when you really look at the reality of this boy's life, Peter Parker's life, and the stuff that he goes through, it's a pretty serious set of circumstances that he finds himself in. If you really look at the idea of being bitten by a radioactive spider and what that would mean to a 17-year-old boy who's going through adolescence and attempting to find out the truth about the abandonment by his father and his orphandom(ph), and also falling in love for the first time. And then there's a giant mutant lizard that he discovers...
GREENE: It's a lot to handle.
GARFIELD: ...it's too much for anyone, let alone a 17-year-old kid. And that's where his humor comes in, because he needs to laugh. Otherwise, he'll just be crying all the time.
GREENE: Well, as I understand these circumstances, I mean, you sort of identify with them, in some way. Why is that?
GARFIELD: Yeah, of course. Some aspects of them. I mean, like, you know, the giant mutant lizard thing...
GREENE: Maybe not.
GARFIELD: ...was a big part of my five-year-old - when I was five, that was big - but, no, I mean, you know, I identify with him the same way that all the millions and billions of fans identify with him. It's wish fulfillment. It's fantasy fulfillment. He's a human hero that goes through all of the same struggles that we all have gone through, especially the skinny ones that want more power than they feel they have.
You know, I think it's a very inspiring, aspirational character that, I don't know, symbolizes goodness and how difficult it is to be good, but how worth it it is.
GREENE: If there's any symbol of your being a Spider-Man fan as a youngster, there is a picture, as I understand it, of you and your brother, and you're in a Spidey outfit.
GARFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's - my mom and dad were hasty to dig that up as soon as they heard I was going to be auditioning for the role.
GREENE: But you did send it to the director of "Spider-Man."
GARFIELD: My agent did. My agents did. Yeah.
GREENE: Do you think that helped you get the part?
GARFIELD: I think that's the only reason I got the part.
GARFIELD: I think he was just like, oh, that kid's cute. I'll have to give it to that kid. Because I don't think anyone else sent in pictures of themselves at three.
GREENE: What was it like for you as an adult when it came time to put that Spider-Man suit and the mask for the first time?
GARFIELD: It was very exciting, but very uncomfortable. And kind of the reality of it is it's kind of that crazy, awful thing where fantasy is no longer. You know? And, you know, you're truly in spandex, which actually sucks...
GARFIELD: ...in reality. It's hard work being that guy. It's tough.
GREENE: As I understand it, I mean, there was some studying that you did, I mean, people like Muhammad Ali and a soccer player, Reynaldo, to try and understand the best way to move in an outfit like that, that's uncomfortable.
GARFIELD: Well, I wanted to have a sense of freedom, because of course, that's a part of the point of a disguise, is that it gives you anonymity, and therefore freedom. And I wanted to feel sexy in it, you know. I didn't want to feel uncomfortable and like I was, like, adjusting all the time. I wanted to feel free and sexy.
So I looked at a lot of, like, great athletes. And you watch the, kind of, the spectacle and the beauty of these physical acts. And I also studied spiders for the actual physicality.
GARFIELD: Yeah, because if you're going to do it and if you're going to treat it real -because, like, if my DNA is being mixed with that of a radioactive spider, then why not just actually bring in the physicality of a spider? The lightness, the patience, the stillness, and how that changes a 17-year-old boy. That's kind of a fun thing to play with as well, you know.
GREENE: You know, staying on this theme of kind of disappearing into this fantasy, I sort of wonder if you worry about, you know, you becoming too much this character, and if it could somehow define your career in many ways.
GARFIELD: Well, you know, I've thought about that a lot. You know, that was a big concern, of whether I was going to take on the role or not. Because of that, because I know that deep down, I just want to be an actor. I just want to be able to get to lose myself and have an audience suspend disbelief. And so I consider it, but there was a three-year-old in me, and I couldn't strangle him. And he was just, like, you're doing this for me.
And, you know, you get one life. And who am I to turn down playing one of my greatest heroes? So - but it's a fascinating thing to step into, and it's a ride. You know, it's a ride that I intend to have my eyes wide open for.
GREENE: What worries you the most as you get on this ride?
GARFIELD: I like meeting people. I like actually being able to hang with people. And I guess I'm concerned of the nature of that changing, not being able to meet people on just a - you know, meet strangers. You know, that sucks. I like walking around and I like talking to shopkeepers and people with dogs on the street, and I like being able to sit in parks and striking up a conversation with a family that I'm sitting next to, you know, without having a photo taken with them.
That would be nice, but I think, you know, that there's a - if the movie is seen by a lot of people, which I'm assuming it will be, that's going to be difficult to sustain. But, yeah, it does get weird when so many people think they know you. But I guess that's just another thing to be curious about.
GREENE: The reality of Hollywood, I mean, there must be already talk of a sequel before the first one comes out.
GREENE: Have you already signed on for a second movie, or are you going to wait and see how this goes?
GARFIELD: Well, what happens is when you screen test, if you want a screen test for a movie like this, you already signed a contract saying that you will do the movie if they ask you. You are basically signed on for three. And if - unless they don't want you anymore, which, you know, I mean, like, that would be a weird thing, but I don't think they'd want to do that. I hope not.
But, yes, so I am signed on for another two if we make them. And - but, I mean, let's get this one done first, and then we can talk about the others.
GREENE: Best of luck with "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and 3," if it comes.
GARFIELD: Thanks. Thank you.
GREENE: Thanks so much for joining us.
GARFIELD: All right. Nice to talk to you. Thanks so much.
GREENE: Andrew Garfield is up for a Tony Award for playing Willy Loman's son Biff in the Broadway revival of "Death of a Salesman," and he will be playing Spider-Man in "The Amazing Spider-Man," which is due out this July. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.