This is a big couple of months for Andrew Garfield. With both Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Martin Scorsese’s Silence coming out, in a way, it almost feels like a comeback for Garfield. But “comeback” is kind of a dumb word to use for someone who received international fame for playing Spider-Man. But it’s worth noting that between 2010’s The Social Network and last year’s 99 Homes, Garfield only starred in Spider-Man movies. It’s only now that we are getting to see Garfield playing a wide range of characters.
Remember when it was announced, what was it, there would be something like four The Amazing Spider-Man movies, plus a built in universe of movies? If that version of Spider-Man hadn’t been canceled, well there’s little chance he’d be in both of these movies. Up first is Hacksaw Ridge. Based on a true story, Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a man who voluntarily signs up for the military during World War II, but refuses to use a weapon out of his deep pacifist convictions. (There’s a religious angle, but we also find out there are other reasons.) The film takes us from Desmond’s fight to serve (and avoid a court-martial) to some of the most intense battle scenes seen on film since Saving Private Ryan.
But just making this movie was a leap of faith. Mel Gibson’s tribulations have been well documented, and Garfield explains why he decided, in the end, to work with Mel Gibson and what that decision process was like. He also gives us a preview of what we’ll see in Scorsese’s Silence (a film Garfield prepared a full a year for), and he takes a look back at Spider-Man and how things all work out the way they do for a reason. And, as always, Garfield is extremely complimentary of our new Spider-Man, Tom Holland. (But, no, he hasn’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet.)
The battle scenes in Hacksaw Ridge are the most intense I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan.
I’m really glad you feel that way.
Is it intense when you’re filming?
You can tell it will be intense, but I didn’t know it would be that magnificent. I didn’t know it would be that visceral. And it’s a testament to Mel’s vision, really. He’s able to visualize these incredibly specific and detailed action sequences in a way that’s so compelling and horrific. I think he really honors the horror and experience of war.
You mention horror, at times this felt like a horror movie. I jumped out of my chair a couple of times.
Yeah, totally. I think that’s Mel’s intention. He wants you to react with your body. He wants to take the observer and put them there right in the thick of the action.
There are a couple of times I found myself wishing Desmond would just pick up a gun during basic training. Sometimes you see the point of other characters who are trying to meet him halfway.
I know, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? And I don’t think you’re alone in that feeling. He’s a character that is incredibly confounding because he’s so committed to not compromising one inch. 99 Homes is another film that deals with that idea: a guy will compromise a bit of his integrity and what his soul tells him to do and you justify it any which way you want. But Desmond knew if he gave the smallest betrayal to his own ideals – and, also, they weren’t even ideals. They were a deep knowing that he had. That’s how I perceived it. And it went beyond any dogmatic, religious set of rules.
It seems lucky that, as Desmond, you get to laugh at some of the lines Vince Vaughn is yelling as his drill sergeant. Because some of those lines are funny and it’s Vince Vaughn yelling them. I’d not be able to keep a straight face.
I tell you, that first day that Vince shot was the scene when we were first introduced to him. It was a riot. It was a truly riotous day. You know, I’m crying with laughter. I’m really struggling. And of course Vince improvised a lot…
I did not know that.
Oh yeah. A lot of that is improvised. A lot was written and he’s honoring what was written, but then of course he was encouraged to go off-book and he did. And no one is really better at that then him. He’s a magician with improv, with thoughts that are rapid fire and genius and wild. It was absolutely ridiculous. [Laughs.] He was asking me, “Do you shave your body hair?” he went on this whole riff about, “Do you use the same razor for your body hair that you do your face?” It’s just ludicrous.
What does that even mean?
Exactly! It doesn’t mean anything! But the design was to make us all bamboozled.
Mel Gibson makes great movies, but there are obviously other issues. To work with him, what kind of decision-making process did you go through?
You know, it’s twofold, really. First of all, I of course share your sentiments about Mel as a filmmaker. He’s one of our great living filmmakers. He tells a story for everybody in a very deep and compelling way. He doesn’t compromise his vision, yet he manages to tell a story that’s universal and has the power to touch every human being that watches in a very deep and profound way. So that’s one thing. The other thing, I met Mel before committing. I sat with him a bunch of times. And all I can say is I got to know him in a deep way and I felt very, very comfortable going to work with him and going to collaborate with him. And I really got to know him in a very real way, away from any noise there may be. And in the same way inspired by Desmond, I got in touch with the deepest part of myself and it was very clear and very easy to go, “Let’s go make this film.”
People who work with him say similar things that you just did.
It’s universal. Anyone who works with Mel would agree, yeah. And anyone who knows him in that same deep way, there’s a loyalty and there’s a very deep love he engenders because of who he is.
And then you have Martin Scorsese’s Silence coming out. Have you seen Beverly Hills Cop?
You know that scene where Axel Foley is trying to get a hotel room and he says he’s doing an article called “Michael Jackson is Sitting on Top of the World”? That’s you right now.
[Laughing.] That’s amazing.
That’s my title, “Andrew Garfield is Sitting on Top of the World.”
[Laughing.] Oh my gosh.
You’re having a good fall.
I’m not going to disagree. I fell very, very luck and very humbled I get to be on a film set with two masters, with Scorsese and Mel Gibson. I can’t quite believe my luck and good fortune. I’m trying to be as grateful as possible for a moment like this because they are very, very rare. As we all know, we don’t often get to be in collaboration in the kind of creative environment those to filmmakers create. So no matter how those films are received, or anything like that, the act of making them was payment enough. I would have paid to be a part of them.
Have you seen Silence yet?
I have. I have.
Irwin Winkler has said it’s the best Scorsese movie, and he produced Raging Bull and Goodfellas. That’s a lot to unpack.
Yeah, there is. And I’m obviously incredibly close to the project and Marty. It’s been in his imagination for 30 odd years. So, obviously, it’s really his baby. And I feel fortunate I got to be a part of his final vision. You know, as far as being an actor goes, you don’t often get to prep for something for a year. And I did with that. I had a whole year to immerse myself in all things Jesuit and in all things 1600s – and the struggle sand the horrors that were happening in Japan at that time and what Christians were being subjected to.
And, also, the controversies of what is it to live a true life of faith? This is an epic question fit for poets and theologians and philosophers, alchemists – and Martin Scorsese, being all of those things. And I’m very, very close to it and have been for the last I guess two and a half years, maybe. So my opinion doesn’t really count. I’m very, very excited for people to see it. I think Marty has really transcended himself in the making of this film.
And if The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and 4 happen, you probably don’t get to make these movies.
Yeah, you know, we have to really trust that we’re being guided and being taken care of in a way that is supportive of what our lives are supposed to be. Of course, there’s a part of me that wishes we could have kept exploring the Spider-Man character and I could have kept on having fun with that. But also, it was rather easy to let go of because… well, I don’t know. Because I did know these two things could have been a possibility at that time. And, yeah, a door closes and others open – maybe sometimes not until a door closes do the others open.
And now, saying that in the same breath, we have a new Spider-Man who is a remarkable actor and Spider-Man is back with Marvel to a certain degree, which I am incredibly excited about. I’m just so, so excited to see what that studio does with that character back in its fold in a deeper way. So, I’m super stoked for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
I know how busy you’ve been, but did you see him Captain America: Civil War?
Not as yet. But all I’ve been hearing is he’s absolutely marvelous and I have no doubt he would be after seeing The Impossible.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and 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.