Andrew Garfield On Asking The Big Questions With ‘Under The Banner Of Heaven,’ And His Spider-Man Future

Andrew Garfield has never seemed concerned with being famous. He is, of course. You can’t put on a superhero suit as iconic as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’s (or date Emma Stone) without becoming a pop culture icon. But fame always felt like a side-effect of his career choices, not the underlying cause. He’s been happy to spend a year meditating in prayer for a role in a Martin Scorsese passion project or banging out a Los Angeles-set indie with Gia Coppola while his peers angle for big-budget franchise fare and multi-movie streaming deals.

This is what makes his recent slate of work so interesting. From a comically tight-lipped cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home to his biopic with Jessica Chastain to his Oscar-nominated turn as Jonathan Larson in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick Tick … BOOM!, Andrew Garfield is everywhere right now. And honestly, it seems exhausting.

He’s just finished up a grueling awards season run when I grab some time with him for his latest project, FX’s gritty true-crime series Under The Banner of Heaven. The show, inspired by a bestseller from Jon Krakauer, recounts the events that led to the 1984 murder of Brenda Lafferty and her newborn baby, killings that shocked the close-knit Mormon community she belonged to. Created by Dustin Lance Black, the series follows a Mormon detective named Jeb Pyre (Garfield) who begins to question his faith after learning about the murder’s insidious ties to fundamentalism and the beginnings of the LDS church as he hunts one of its most prominent families. The show see-saws between the past – the creation of Mormonism in the 1800s – and the present, weaving timelines together to tell a cautionary tale about the dark side of religious zealotry.

It’s the kind of prestige drama that will likely net Garfield (who’s terrific in it, by the way) an Emmy nod, which means he’ll be doing more of this in just a few months’ time. Like I said, exhausting.

Uproxx chatted with Garfield about his fascination with spiritually conflicted characters on screen, why asking tough questions is important, and if he finally got closure with his surprise Spider-Man role.

You’ve been doing a lot of press lately. How are you holding up?

No comment. No, I’m very happy because I get to talk about things that I care about. All these projects, from Tick, Tick… BOOM! through to Spider-Man to Under the Banner of Heaven, I really believe in these stories as healing vessels. Under the Banner of Heaven, it has the potential to be incredibly expansive [for the] consciousness [of] people, but also, it’s just a very compelling, true-crime story. And who doesn’t love that?

The theology vs. the hard-boiled detective slant: Which drew you in more?

I wouldn’t say it’s hard-boiled. [Jeb’s] a pretty innocent, sweet, boy-scout kind of guy that’s thrust into a hard-boiled situation, but I was attracted to it because of the book. I love the book. I read it when it first came out over 10 years ago, adored it, just thought it was such an incredible study on fundamentalism and how it leads to acts of violence justified in the name of love and in the name of God — unpacking of how that gets enabled is fascinating to me. And then I thought Dustin [Lance Black] just adapted it so elegantly. And creating this fictional detective of Jeb Pyre as the audience’s eyes felt like a very smart move and giving him this crisis of faith, it was just a juicy role and a juicy thematic kind of story and a great company of actors. I was kind of sold immediately.

We time-hop quite a bit in this show. Why was it necessary to include so many different timelines to tell this story?

I think it was important to include all those timelines because I think it is about, ‘How do you solve this case? How do you understand how something so horrific could happen?’ You have to go back to the founding of this religion, which inspired these murders. And it’s an unflinching look, it’s a very uncomfortable look for people who are within this religion and it’s vital. All the ingredients are absolutely vital. So I feel very proud of Dustin for weaving in all of these different plots, subplots, and historical time periods in a way that is cohesive and thrilling, and that keeps us on the edge of our seats. And it’s just kind of psychologically, so illuminating.

I know you like to immerse yourself in a character beforehand. What did that research period look like for this show? Did you go all in?

Yeah, I did. I felt like that was my duty. If I’m going to take on a role, I have to be fully committed. It’s important for me. I studied. I went to Utah. I spent some time with a lot of Mormons out there — ex-Mormons, LGBTQIA+ Mormons, Mormon detectives, bishops, I really immersed myself in the culture. I read a lot of books. I just kind of studied to know what it was to live culturally as a Mormon, to know what my value system would be because it needed to be very secure. That value system and that psychological structure in me, as the character, needed to be very, very secure at the beginning of our story so that it can be destroyed, so that it can be taken apart. Without that being authentic, then there’s nowhere to go. So I needed to make sure I was as Mormon as could be stepping into the role, and then slowly have it crumble before my eyes.

There’s probably a lot about this role you wanted to shake off but did anything stick with you when it came to learning about this particular faith?

Oh, so many things. There are beautiful aspects. The built-in community of Mormonism, the support system that you have in your immediate vicinity, the genuine love that can exist. The family structure is such a beautiful thing. Then obviously the inherent issues with any organized religion are kind of… evident. I don’t need to talk about that.

You’ve said the spiritual pursuit is the only pursuit you’re interested in right now. Is there a question you’re still seeking the answer to that draws you to some of these roles?

Yeah, I think… I think it’s how to live. I think it’s, ‘How do I live as alive as possible? And what does that mean for me personally? And how do I honor life? How do I honor not just my own life, but other people’s lives?’ And I think that is a spiritual pursuit. The question of how to live and why are we living? What’s the meaning that we create from it?

I’m sure you’re happy you don’t have to lie about Spider-Man anymore. If No Way Home is the last time you put on the suit and play Peter Parker, are you happy with where you left him? Did you get closure?

I mean, I don’t want to think about whether or not I’ll do it again. I don’t want to marry myself to an idea of retirement from Spider-Man. But I’m very, very happy with that project. Being a part of it, being a small cog in the wheel of that incredible Jon Watts film and Tom Holland’s trilogy, with Toby [Maguire] for crying out loud, it doesn’t get better. So you’re kind of like, ‘Well, do you peace out then and say, I’m done?’ Do you leave at the height of the party [with] everyone feeling really good? Time will tell and, never say never … what else can I say that’s coded? I’m very, very grateful for that period of time, to be involved and to know those guys, to know Tom and Toby in the way that I now know them, and to have shared that very special sacred brotherhood.

‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ premieres on FX April 28th.