Andrew Garfield Talks to Movieline About Never Let Me Go, Spider-Man, and 'Death Around the Corner'
Andrew Garfield's lunch arrived before he did this afternoon in Toronto: a light salad with chicken and broccoli, vinaigrette on the side, and six slices of tomatoes. Digging into the greens, one of the journalists gathered to discuss Garfield's new film Never Let Me Go asked if this was actually the Spider-Man diet. "It's food that I'm eating," the actor replied. "So yes." And so continued the enduring push-pull between the 27-year-old's smoldering, carefully cultivated dramatic presence and his future as the Great White Blockbuster Hope.
Premiering here this week and opening Wednesday in limited release, Never Let Me Go features Garfield as Tommy, a graduate of the Hailsham House boarding school and unrequited love interest of utterly ordinary Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan). Stolen long ago by Kathy's unscrupulous childhood friend Ruth (played as an equally unscrupulous adult by Keira Knightley), Tommy represses a formidable temper and lingering dread over the trio's role as "donors," born and raised for the express purpose of providing organs -- until they die, usually in their 20s -- to ailing patients around Great Britain. Moreover he represses his own feelings for Kathy until they've reached an age too old to conceive anything like a normal life together. Or have they?
It's the next to last role featuring Garfield (the other, The Social Network, opens Oct. 1) before he dives into the franchise whirlpool that is Marc Webb's Spider-Man reboot. That future raises some existential questions of its own for an actor best known for searing roles in the far leaner efforts Red Riding Trilogy, Boy A and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. For better or worse, those are the first ones Movieline sought to answer when Garfield met the press today. And things got... well, dark. (And mildly spoilerific.)
You're at a pretty intriguing career threshold at the moment, moving from this small film with big ambitions to a huge film with equally huge ambitions. What is your sense of this moment?
I'm very happy. I'm not thinking about that in that respect. I honestly try not to have an awareness -- an objective perception -- of those things. Never Let Me Go is a story I care about deeply, and I wanted to be a part of it desperately. I auditioned my ass off, and I worked really hard into filming. Everyone did; everyone cared so passionately about it. And then I went into a short film with Spike Jonze, and I approached it with the exact same attention. And then I did a film with David Fincher and approached it with the exact same attention. I'm just going to act the same way. I'm going to approach the Spider-Man thing the exact same way: like it's another role that I just want to play, that I feel very passionate about. It means a great deal to me; it always has, since I was 4 years old. It's all the same to me. I just love working. I haven't seen either of these films; I haven't seen Social Network or Never Let Me Go. Both of the experiences were so rich unto themselves.
Is there ever a time where you've thought this might be a point of no return? That you are not going to be able to come back to smaller films for a while?
No, I don't think so. I don't think so. I haven't thought about it like that, not at all. I just like acting. I want to act for the rest of my life and get lost in roles and just explore the diversity of what it is to be a human being and the different experiences that we all go through -- the collective experiences and the unique experiences. Maybe that's naïve, I don't know. I only want to do something if I'm really excited to do it -- for the right reasons. Like, I'm very aware of my intentions with things. If I was going into something with the wrong intentions, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Doing this film was so beautiful, and it wasn't to do with anything but just telling the story in the most simple and transient way from novel to cinema. I don't know if we achieved it, but I know everyone's intention was the same: We all just wanted to honor Kazuo's story. And I want to honor the Spider-Man mythology, because I feel the same way. It's all kind of transposed; my attitude is very similar. Size doesn't really come into it.
To what extent does Spider-Man represent an advantage for the smaller films? Is that part of the consideration as well -- that you can actually bring some awareness to the smaller films you want to do later on?
That's not my job. I think if I got caught up in that I would just stress myself out and it would keep me away from what I love doing, which is creating. You know? If I was so calculated, it would just detract from the good stuff, you know? I'm obviously aware of... Actors can't get work. Like, I'm an actor. I have to be working. That's all. It's difficult to get work. There are so many talented people -- much more talented than I am -- that I know who aren't working. Actors are at the mercy of other people -- sometimes foolish people -- because their eyebrows are too big. I'm talking about myself. Or they're too skinny, or they're too lean, or they're too in perfect shape, or their jawline is too attractive, or their too flabby. God, it's death out there, man! It's tough!
So no, I'm just happy to work. I just soak up every moment I can of being allowed to be creative in that respect. You can only do so many Shakespeare speeches by yourself alone in your room. It's fine to feel a little bit like maybe you should give up, because you want to be generous. You want to give something. For me, that's what purpose feels like -- when you're giving something. When you're giving of yourself and you're exposing yourself to serve a story and therefore serve an audience who are being told a story that is in tune with the universal themes of being alive, you know?
Your character Tommy has a temper as a boy, when he's picked on and finally gives way to an angry outburst at school. His next doesn't occur until 20 years later once his fate is known; in between he has this odd reticence or quietude. Your screenwriter Alex Garland called it "acquiescence." It's not clear why this behavior is, however. What happened to him?
I think he does what's necessary. He does what we all have to do in terms of: When we're in a situation, we deal with the situation. We deal with what it means to be alive. You become a man and you suppress things. You get burned, and then you have to heal your scar and you have to bandage it up. And then you have to avoid that pain again. Like I remember the first time I broke up with someone. It was the greatest pain ever; it made me never want to love again. We all know that feeling. So you do everything you can to distract yourself from the one thing that... I think that's what Tommy is doing. He has to hold on through this free-floating anxiety -- this knowledge that something is not right in being alive. There's something that's not fitting with this life. What's around the corner? It's death. It's death that's around the corner. We have no frame of reference to deal with death.
So he does what we all do: He deflects. He ignores. It's like there being a live tiger in this room right now, and all we're doing is focusing on everything that's not that tiger, you know? We're just trying to survive because we can't leave the room, and we have to somehow live. It's so relatable. We all do it. There are these burning, upsetting tinglings in all of us -- these dissatisfactions with existence, these worries that we're not being looked after, these worries that there's no one above watching us, these worries that there is no purpose. If you were constantly in that thought process -- in that consciousness -- we would all be constantly screaming and thrashing and breaking things because life is f*cking unfair. Life is impossible sometimes. And once you own up to that and see that it's very difficult not to scream and shout because you've been given this consciousness.
We're not just animals, unfortunately. We have a consciousness to supposedly elevate us, but I think it's less useful than it is useful. It does more harm than good sometimes. And in between, he's trying to come to terms with what it means to be alive. He's trying to come to terms with life, like we all are. He has that hope for a reprieve; he has that hope for a deferral with Kathy. And he goes to great lengths that he has the opportunity for it. He believes; he has hope. It's a religious hope. He's dedicated and he's lived his life as well as he could. He's looked after his body. He's done everything he can, and he should be rewarded for that: for being moral, for being good, for not betraying people, for looking after yourself, for fulfilling the purpose you're supposed to fulfill... There should be some payback for that.
And there's not, he finds out very brutally. There's silence. There's just silence. He screams, and there's nothing. No one rescues him. He gets held very tightly by someone he loves, and I think that's what Ishiguro is trying to say: We have very short time here, and love as much as you can, and love as many people as you can. Hold on to the people who mean something. I think that's a microcosm of what he's talking about. It's very simplistic. People say it's much deeper or richer than that, but if you wanted to sum it up, you could probably sum it up in that way.
[Top photo: Malcolm Taylor/Getty Images]