It is unusual for an actor, in the middle of a publicity tour, to admit that some people hate the movie he’s publicizing. (When broaching this subject, I even tried to soften that sentiment by instead saying, “People don’t know what to make of it.”) But this is all kind of fitting for a movie like Under the Silver Lake, which, while watching, emotes a, “Love me, hate me, whatever!” kind of blase attitude. This is a movie that doesn’t seem to care what the audience thinks of it (which is a big reason I found it fascinating).
Andrew Garfield plays Sam, a sort-of L.A. slacker who, after his neighbor suddenly disappears, looks for clues in popular culture to try to find her – and to unravel a greater, larger conspiracy theory. Director David Robert Mitchell (coming off his 2015 hit It Follows) makes the clues so absurd – one is a map located on the back of an old cereal box; another is hidden in the first issue of Nintendo Power magazine – that he’s obviously poking fun at the people who painstakingly look for clues in every movie, fueling grandiose fan theories.
But it’s Garfield who loves a good conspiracy theory, going on and on about why he finds them fascinating. At one point, just to clarify something he said, I had to actually ask him if he’s a 9/11 truther. (He is not.) So this is a big reason why he took this role in a movie so strange even the studio, A24, doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with it. (It was supposed to come out last summer, then was delayed to the fall, then was delayed again until now, as it’s getting a quick theatrical release this weekend, then will be on video on demand.)
There’s even a scene that kind of addresses Garfield’s time as Spider-Man, that Garfield claims was in the script even before he was attached. (They considered taking it out for being too meta.) As Sam wakes up, his hand covered in blood, he reaches for his coffee table but a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man gets stuck to his hand. He desperately tries to shake it off but it just won’t budge. Yes, it’s difficult not to read something into that.
How have you been?
I’m pretty good, man. I’m alright. I’m just in L.A., and it’s nice weather, and I’m gonna eat a soup in a minute.
What kind of soup?
It’s like a chicken tortilla soup, L.A. style.
I have not had lunch yet, so I am envious.
Oh my God, that’s really late for you not to have had lunch.
You’re in that grind. You’ve got that hustle culture. You’ve gotta check out of that stuff. You’ve gotta slow down in that space!
Oh, you don’t have to tell me that. I am very well aware. By the way, I like this movie quite a bit. And I say that because I feel you’re getting one of two things, either, “I don’t get it,” or, “I love it.”
And maybe a little bit of, “I hate it.” But that’s cool, too. That’s kind of enjoyable. I say that a bit glibly, but I know that David wants everyone to have their own feelings and to have their own responses, and he’s so excited for that. I think the one thing that he found a little bit heartbreaking, and a little bit upsetting, is that he feels a little bit like anyone who feels hurt by the perceived misogyny in the filmmaking, he feels misunderstood. His intentions were to make a comment on the misogyny of Hollywood, and the misogyny and the patriarchal fucked up-ness of the system and the city and in that particular industry.
Is it because some people are taking the movie at face value and others look at it more like a parody?
I agree. And it’s fun, you know? It’s fun to be having to talk out these issues because of the film and I think it’s really interesting. I love that it is polarizing. I mean, I think at least it’s not a vanilla, down the middle kind of softball, you know?
Speaking of, there’s the Spider-Man scene where a comic gets stuck to your blood-soaked hand. Whose idea was that?
Well, it was interesting. It was in the script when I read it. And I thought, oh, I wonder if David put this in as a meta thing? Just because I’m reading it? And I asked him about it, and he said, “No, that’s just in the script. Should we take it out? Maybe we should take it out.” And I said, “No, I love it.” I love that there are little subtle ways that the script is nodding to itself, and the film is nodding to itself and winking at the audience. I love all that stuff. I find that stuff really gleeful as an audience member.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s the issue where Gwen Stacy comes back to life, so it works on a couple levels…
I love that. I was really adamant we keep it in. I really enjoyed that feeling of something being stuck to you that you’d like to just be able to move on from. You know what I mean?
Let’s pretend that scene is not even in the movie. This does feel like, “Hey, I’m not Spider-Man anymore, deal with it.” Dealing with all the fan theories questions you had to answer. I might have even done that to you in a past Spider-Man interview…
Yeah, I might be guilty myself. But this movie does feel like that.
Well, I mean, yes and no. I think I’ve been aware of that possibility that such a seminal iconic role can follow an actor around and it takes a lot to shift the consciousness of an audience, and shift the consciousness of people. But I feel like I’ve been really intense on doing that since finishing Spider-Man. And I feel I just a bit more comfortable that I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve in a sense of just coming back to being known as an actor that is interested in lots of different kinds of stories and different kind of characters. Yeah, I do think that there is an anti-hero quality of Sam, and I love that about the character. Even though he believes himself to be the Travis Bickle, the one that’s gonna clean up the streets.
That’s a good comparison.
Yeah, he believes he’s gonna be the one that’s gonna change things, save the divine feminine in Hollywood. But in fact, he finds himself perpetuating the same misogyny that he so attests that he despises. So I love that he’s a little bit fucked up, or a lot a bit fucked up… [my phone’s text message sound goes off]. Wait, was that Star Wars?
I’m going to mute that. That is what plays when I get a text message.
Kind of perfect.
I’m glad you got to hear that.
I can see a lot of actors not wanting to do this role. At what point did you know you were in?
It was pretty early on. It felt like a quest, like a Goonies kind of quest. And I thought, oh, a grown-up, regressed, kind of Goonies character, that really shouldn’t be going after buried treasure anymore. That sounds like a lot of fun.
They always talk about making another Goonies movie, and sometimes they mention using the original cast, and this is what it would be like. It would be horrifying.
Yeah, it would be deeply uncomfortable and really inappropriate, but so fun. It was a bit of like childhood fantasy fulfillment for me in the sense of I became an actor after I was too old to make one of those kinds of movies. I was in my 20s, and I was already too old to make a Goonies, or to make a Teen Wolf, or any of those kind of seminal films.
You could’ve made Teen Wolf. Michael J. Fox was in his 20s.
I guess Spider-Man was my version of that. When I was 24 or 25 I was playing a high-schooler.
Even though I still believe I look like a high-schooler, because of my mother’s genes, but yeah, so I guess Spider-Man was my version of that.
Do you know anyone like Sam? I have a friend who loves conspiracy theories.
I think especially in L.A., I come across these kinds of guys, more often than not, and I love it. I absolutely love it. I remember when I first watched that zeitgeist movie, and all those kinds of YouTube, viral things that were debunking 9/11 and all this stuff. And I love all that stuff personally and I find it really interesting myself anyway. So maybe I’m the closest person that I know who’s like them.
Do you enjoy it as a slice of like, “Here’s what a group of people think“? Or are you like, “Oh, they have some interesting ideas. I might believe this”?
Yeah, the second one.
Yeah, the second one. I am someone who questions the surface of things all the time. I love trying to get underneath things and find the hidden connections between things. You know the documentarian, Adam Curtis?
So one of my favorite documentaries of his is The Century of the Self. Another one that I love is, of course, HyperNormalisation. But he’s someone who does the thing that I think that Sam is trying to do in this film. He’s trying to get underneath the power structures that are influencing our society and the individuals in it. And I think it’s great investigative journalism. And I think that’s a really worthy thing to want to attack. But yeah, it can tip over into the absurd, like the guy who thinks that everyone in power is a lizard person. Is it David Icke? David Icke, I think his name is.
Or the QAnon people?
I don’t know about the QAnon people. I mean, David Icke was a professional soccer player in England, and then he became this conspiracy theorist that has actually had a lot of his predictions and ideas proven true, but a lot of them not. Like the fact that Hillary Clinton and George Bush and Donald Trump and Barack Obama are actually lizards. That hasn’t been proven, yet.
Right. That has not been proven.
[Laughs] Proven, yeah.
I need to follow up because you mentioned 9/11 videos. Are you a 9/11 truther?
Noooooo, no, no, no.
Well, because you mentioned that video specifically, so I wanted to get that cleared up.
No, no, no. [Laughs] Don’t you dare mischaracterize me as a flat earther, or a 9/11 truther, no.
I would not.
I’m just really curious about what’s going on underneath. And I have a healthy dose of cynicism in me as well, so I don’t just believe things that are blasted out without anything supporting it. But, no, I find it fascinating. And I do think that we’re all being controlled by unseen forces, whether it’s advertising, marketing, all the power structures that are so complicated. We’re seeing it today with the redacted Mueller report coming out. You know?
Right, yeah, it’s been a strange day.
And how it’s already been spun, and spun, and spun, and spun some more. Even before we’ve had our eyes on any of it, let alone all of it. So it’s being framed in a way already where we don’t have access to it. So how are we supposed to make our own value judgments and how are we supposed to have our own sense of truth, our truth and our response to it, without being given all the information? And of course, that is in the vested interests of those in power to not give the information.
On a different note, I’ve never seen anyone sing “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” in a movie before.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that was a fun scene for sure. I mean, I love being the old guy in the party. I’m not a big party-going guy, but recently, in London, I found myself at a Central Saint Martin’s fashion show. So it’s all these undergraduate, new, young fashion designers in King’s Cross in London and they were in their late, late teens and early 20s. And I went to their show to support, and then I went to the party afterwards. And I said to my friend, “Well, we’ll stay for two minutes, and then we’ll let these youths get along with their lives.” And I was convinced to stay. And I had the most fun night with these young, hopeful, creative, inclusive, joyful people. It was so much fun. And I think there’s obviously part of Sam that is holding onto his youth in a pretty unhealthy way, but I was really grateful, as Andrew, to have felt very welcomed in by these young kids. It was really, really fun.
‘Under the Silver Lake’ opens in theaters this weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.