When you talk to Andrew Garfield, it’s hard to get a grasp on just how he feels about the whole “not playing Spider-Man anymore” situation. At times, it sounds like he’s happy to have the time now to actually make movies not involving Spider-Man, like this week’s 99 Homes, which is Garfield’s first non-Spider-Man role in five years — his last was way back in 2010 with The Social Network.
Then there are times it sounds like Garfield genuinely sounds like he’s going to miss it — that it hasn’t totally sunk in yet he’s not going to be continuing on with the character. It’s almost as if Garfield is using this press tour to work through this publicly, to get down to how he actually feels. Because, like most people, every big life change takes some getting used to and the real answer is always somewhere in the middle. Garfield is an emotional guy and, personally, I appreciate that he’s not using talking points. I believe him when he says he’s looking forward to the new Spider-Man movies, but I also believe that he will miss playing him.
As noted, Garfield’s first non-Spider-Man film in five years is 99 Homes. Garfield plays Dennis, a man whose home is foreclosed upon and, to make ends meet and in an effort to get his home back, winds up working for the very man (Michael Shannon) who took his home away.
Ahead, we spoke to an, at times, emotional Garfield who is happy about his future – he did just wrap Silence, Martin Scorsese’s latest film – but explains why leaving Spider-Man behind is bittersweet.
It’s hard to believe 99 Homes is your first movie that’s not Spider-Man since 2010’s The Social Network.
I totally hear you. Gosh, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? My experience was, those Spider-Man movies were so consuming. And I was happy to be consumed by them because they meant so much to me. Playing that part, as I’ve said [laughs] in countless different interviews, meant so much to me that they really took all of my energy. They really took all of my heart and soul because I knew the work would never be done on them. It was never going to be enough to make it all that I wanted it to be. So, I was really dedicated to that and only that. In the middle, in-between the two films, I did get to go and do Death of a Salesman…
And get nominated for a Tony…
Right. So, that experience was a beautiful antidote in terms of a contrasting room to be in. And, yeah, it is strange that this the first film that I’ve done since that five-year summer camp of Spider-Man. It was very interesting being back on a film set and being on a totally different type of film set with a totally different atmosphere with no trailers. It just felt better to me; it just felt more like my senses were keener. How do I put it?
It seems like something you’d appreciate after that long of a gap.
Yeah, totally. I felt that way on The Social Network, David Fincher was so adamant. All the money was spent on time and getting each scene right. It’s not all that fancy, but he put it all into the story. And I think on the other, those big-budget movies, there’s so much kind of spillage of resources and time and I think I was really excited not to get used to that. It’s inevitable, because you’re building a whole village when you’re doing those films. It was really cool to just have my truck on this film and be able to go back and smoke a cigarette in my truck, go and do the take, then come back to my truck. It just felt very kind of — how to I say it without sounding clichéd? — it just felt kind of exciting. I don’t know, man, it just brings me back to the pure gratitude of being able to do this job with less resources. It brought me back to the fight of being able to create film and create story that has meaning.
I hope the stress from all this didn’t lead you to start smoking.
[Laughs] It was American Spirits!
That’s not good for you.
I’ve been a smoker on and off since I was a teenager, but it did hit a heavy dose when I was doing this film. But I don’t have all that addictive of a personality, so I knew I’d be able to kick it very, very quickly afterwards.
There was something about the research I did and the time I spent with men and women who were going through what the character was going through the very thing the character is going through. Smoking was kind of a lifeline and a felt like a necessity to take the edge off of the stress and the despair setting in of, “how am I going to make sure my son or daughter doesn’t starve?” It was always a pack of cigarettes — that was just kind of a constant thing.
I saw 99 Homes at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014 and I’m glad it’s coming out and people will get to see it. I’ve been talking about it for a year.
Yeah, really weird, right? Doing films is really weird as an actor — and I was kind of a producer in this one so I felt more connected to it from its inception to completion. But, it’s still not enough. I really am hungry for hands-on creative collaboration.
Does that mean directing?
Yeah, probably directing would be the next logical step. I am really interested and I admire it so much and I love the idea of risking. And I want my life to be filled with risks and failures. And the way to fail is to risk and then, hey, maybe you’ll get something right.
You just worked with Martin Scorsese on Silence, does watching him help make you feel that way?
I don’t know if it’s that. I think it’s more, as an actor in film, the control that the actor has in making a film — unless you are part of the editing process and whatever — it’s very limited and it’s very limiting and I find it frustrating. I started in theater and that’s where I feel most at home. It has a lot to do with the fact that when the curtain’s up, it’s just the actors and you get to define what the night is. And there’s an immediate response from an audience and you’re not waiting for a year or two years for people to see work you did two years previously.
You have to be present again for when people are watching it and you have to be watching it with them — maybe not literally and physically, but you’re watching their reaction to watching you and it’s this horrible kind of terrifying, “How did I do, Dad?” kind of thing. It’s like, fuck, I would rather just give it, have the response that’s happening in the moment… And then you go home and try it again the next night. So, I think my desire to direct and be part of the process in a deeper way comes out of that feeling of separation between my work and the final product.
That was the thing with Fincher, he had so much raw material because we did hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of takes. And you know he’s such a fucking genius. And you go, “With you, man, I’ll give you everything I have to give because I know you’re going to take the bits that make the most sense in service of the story and the rest, I bow to you.
And five years later, The Social Network is a classic already.
And I think a lot of that is down to Fincher being a genius at filmmaking. He really fucking got that character. He just really got that character. He just knew what that was, the Zuckerberg character — I say “character” because it’s obviously it’s an interpretation. And it sprang from his heart: He knew the struggle; he knew who this guy was. And therefore he knew everything around it that would serve it and he just knew how to shape it.
If you would have done The Amazing Spider-Man 3, would you have been able to do Scorsese’s Silence?
That’s a good question. I was always going to do Silence after the second Spider-Man film, that was always on the cards but it got pushed a couple of times. When we ended up shooting it, there would probably have been a little difficulty in terms of Spider-Man’s schedule and the Silence schedule. So, yeah, it’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? I also look back — and I think we all do this, right? — where we kind of go, oh, what was the alternative route? And did I have to take this route? And what if I hadn’t done any Spider-Man films? Where would I have gone, or is it even worth thinking about that? And then of course you reflect and go, “So what did I learn about myself, about the business, about storytelling, about where I want to go next from what I’ve just been through?”
So, upon reflection, I’m really kind of stoked on the Spider-Man stuff.
From an outsider’s perspective as someone who is an admirer of your work and until now hasn’t seen you do anything other than Spider-Man for five years, maybe things worked out the way they were supposed to? Last time we spoke, there were rumors of four movies plus a whole spin-off universe that would have taken who knows how much of your time.
No, I hear you. And that’s a very positive, optimistic outlook and I appreciate it. And I don’t know where I’m heading, I just know I’ve learned a hell of a lot. And you know what? The two highlights of the whole Spider-Man time were the two Comic-Cons that I did, where I could just fuck around.
People loved you at those two Comic-Cons.
I loved me at those! It felt the most authentic version of Spider-Man that I could bring. You know, you’re right: It is kind of perfect. I also don’t feel too tied to the character. I did my best with and offered myself as fully as I could. And I think it has given me opportunity to wait — and wait and wait and wait until the right thing comes along.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.