Andrew Garfield is an emotional evangelist. The 27-year old actor is a startlingly skinless presence, navigating his way through the world seeking out anything that packs a visceral punch. For instance, the normally soft-spoken actor, best known as the guy who played Eduardo Saverin in “The Social Network” (and as Tobey Maguire’s replacement in the title role of the upcoming Spider-Man reboot), fumes as he recounts an encounter at a press conference during which a woman got up in front of a room full of snickering journalists and over-shared about her personal experience with organ donation. The response: Funereal silence. It was an undeniably awkward moment for anyone who was there — anyone except, perhaps, Andrew Garfield. “It was beautiful because it was a real opportunity for people to deal with someone’s heart being placed in front of them,” Garfield recalls. “I got really upset with the moderator and upset with people’s snarking because it was so un-inclusive and narrow. People were saying, ‘This isn’t appropriate. This isn’t a therapy session.’ Its like, fuck you: Why can’t it be a therapy session?”
Clearly, Garfield has a higher tolerance than most for strong doses of the messy, raw humanity that underlies even the most polished of soul-bearing creatures. In fact, he almost seems hooked on the stuff. “I find vulnerability very sexy. I find it very attractive in other people. I really appreciate it in other people. I think it’s something we — especially men — are kind of scared of and understandably so because we’ve been kind of told to not cry. So I find it kind of brave and admirable when anyone can be vulnerable.”
Both on screen and off, Garfield is a kind of sensitive soul on steroids — the kind of guy for whom an unguarded emotional outburst is the ultimate act of macho heroism. From the guileless best friend and business partner he played in “The Social Network” to his introspective romantic entangled in a tragic love triangle in “Never Let Me Go” (based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro) — Garfield serves his characters raw. Tellingly, the scene that resonates most for him in his own body of work is one in “Never Let Me Go” in which his character unleashes a bone-rattling primal wail. “There should be a room in every office block in the world where people can go into a sound proof room and scream about the guy who bumped into them on the subway or the mother that betrayed them when they were four years old,” says Garfield. “It’s one of those things that everyone is scared of for some odd reason. I can’t quite decipher why, as we grow up, we become repressed. We move further and further away from who we were when we were born, that pure and joyous and free state. I guess it’s a societal thing, a social thing, a Western Civilization thing, but I just find it, um…sad.”
Garfield is the kind of emotional muckraker you’d find sprawled in the hallway of your freshman dorm, reading Rimbaud at 3 am. His poetic sensibility is the driving force behind his potent on screen presence (think: “Taps”-era Sean Penn mixed with “Ordinary People”-era Timothy Hutton). It’s also offers some insight into Garfield’s almost fetishistic attraction to playing soul searchers drawn from literary source material. With the exception of a forgettable role in the top-heavy Tom Cruise-Meryl Streep-Robert Redford thriller, “Lions for Lambs,” a pivotal part in 2009’s Terry Gilliam fantasia, “Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” and last year’s turn in Spike Jonze’s celebrated short film, “I’m Here ,” Garfield’s filmography is entirely stocked with book-based projects. He launched his movie career as the titular tormented ex-con in “Boy A” (based on Jonathan Trigell’s bleak eponymous bildungsroman). He then cemented his status at the front of the current pack of brooding British young actors as Eddie Dunford, the enterprising reporter investigating a gruesome murder in the screen adaptation of Red Riding, based on David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet. Garfield even racked up a credit in the disappointing adaptation of Phillipa Gregory’s blockbuster historic epic, “The Other Boelyn Girl.” “I’m attracted to material that is rich and deep and has more humanity than the majority of spec scripts flying around the world in actors luggage,” says Garfield. “I feel like when you start from a beloved piece of literature it just has more depth because it’s much easier to write a unique book with rich and universal themes than it is to write a unique script. Most scriptwriters are forced into creating some kind homogenized generic appease-the-demographic, get-mom-to-put-your-work-on-the-fridge type of piece.”
There will be no shortage of opportunities for Garfield to test his emotional stamina exploring Peter Parker’s tormented youth as the next Spider-Man. “I see that character as a Shakespearean character,” says Garfield, who will start shooting the reboot, directed by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer“), next month in Los Angeles. “I see this character as being as rich and thematically important as Hamlet. I see the Spider-Man mythology as incredibly important as well.” How so? “There are very few people in positions of power and usually those people in positions of power are abusing those positions of power. So there’s a lot of injustice to be fought.”
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