NEW YORK—Andrew Garfield will be 29 in August. That’s a good age for playing Biff in Death of a Salesman on Broadway, for which he recently won a Tony nomination. But it’s probably not the best time in one’s life to be playing a high-school student, with all the Sturm und Drang that goes with high-school behaviour.
However, when Garfield heard that auditions for The Amazing Spider-Man were being held, the lifelong Spider-Man fan immediately asked his agent to get him in. He brought in a hamburger, sat looking at it, and then ate it with the kind of enthusiasm that would fit a teenager.
Once he got the part, he had to act the dual roles of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. The audition might have worked out well, but now he had to deliver. In a New York hotel’s interview room, he says he knew the key to the role was teenage angst.
“The teenage element is vital to this character, and Peter goes through the same stuff as everyone does. I spent time in Queens hanging out with teenagers to help me pick up the voice and intonation and phrases that I might not be aware of in order to capture the malaise and the awkward shyness and every other aspect. Then I read a book about teenagers that is mostly photos. I felt that the energy of the photos was like putting your head out of the window: that need to express feelings and kick the walls down irrationally. When you combine that with being a superhero, it was kind of exciting.”
If there is a difference between the original Spider-Man and the remake, it could be the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). It’s a more complicated version of the love story in 2002’s Spider-Man between Peter (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). In this version, which opens in Vancouver on Tuesday (July 3), Gwen’s father (Denis Leary) is the police chief and he is out to shoot down Spider-Man. The character is also more self-assured in the early stages of the film than in the original. Garfield says it was important to show him as someone who could rise to the occasion early in the film so that his eventual heroism made some sense. He also says he called on memory to find his inner superhero.
“It was important that he started with a heroic impulse without the physical power to do anything about it. That was how I felt growing up. I was a skinny kid. I always thought that being big was better because society always tells you that. I played rugby, and I was good at it despite being a weakling. So I identified with him because he felt stronger on the inside than he was on the outside. And there is nothing better than seeing a skinny guy beat the crap out of bigger guys.”
The danger of being an überfan who stars in a film made from a Marvel comic book is that eventually you have to go to the set knowing Stan Lee will be there. Lee created Spider-Man and several other Marvel characters and appears in a cameo role in every Marvel Entertainment film. Garfield says that on the day he met his idol, he was, literally, speechless.
“It was a weird thing because he is too iconic to be real. It wasn’t like I was in the room with a human being. I was in the room with a wax figure. I was in Madame Tussaud’s. I wasn’t nervous; I was just one of those annoying people who was kind of stunned and can’t speak. He came on set and I met him in the makeup trailer once, and then he did his amazing cameo. It was just beautiful. When you understand that he has given so many kids hope and joy, he can’t be thanked enough.”
Watch the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man.