For many young actors, landing the role of Spider-Man would be a dream come true. And in 2012‘s The Amazing Spider-Man, there was a real sense in Andrew Garfield’s performance that he was enjoying every moment in the part.
During our visit to the set of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, director Marc Webb and the producers were quite open about the first movie’s shortcomings, with the script being the most commonly-cited weak point. But even the 2012 movie’s harshest critics would agree that Garfield’s performance shone through, and as we sat with him for a round-table interview between takes, his enthusiasm for the character was still very much in evidence.
Here, Andrew talks about the efforts gone to improve on the first movie, working with Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti – who play the villains Electro and Rhino, respectively – and how the sequel will introduce a new element of physical comedy.
How has your mindset changed from the first movie? You must feel more confident now, since the first was a success?
No, I don’t feel more confident. I feel just as nervous. I feel more confident in the script. I felt more confident coming into this only in the sense that I was really happy with the way the script was right in the beginning – two, three weeks before shooting I was, like, we could shoot this now. The story is beautiful and layered and rich. It feels like an ensemble piece, the story has a logic to it, and also an emotional trajectory.
So in that respect, I came in much more confient. I didn’t have that experience in the first one, and it’s a real testament to the team on this that they’ve wrangled these two gifted writers – three, really, Jeff Pinkner as well as Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzmann.
I came in more confident that we’re not retelling an origin. It kind of links in with the feeling I had when I read the script for the first one after I signed up. Which was an interesting decision on my part. As a young actor and a Spider-Man fan, at that time, all I was thinking was, after a lot of deliberation about whether I would sign up – I’ve said this in interviews before – I couldn’t strangle the three-year-old in me. There’s no way I’m not going to do this, no matter what it is.
I rolled the I Ching – I don’t know if any of you use the I Ching for your decision making – and the I Ching gave me a very interesting, strong, two thumbs up. The result was very positive. I trusted it, and I still do trust the experience. I learned such a lot on that. We all did as a group of filmmakers.
I think we’ve been really diligent in putting that into practice in this one. So Alex and Bob and Jeff have collectively fashioned a story that we could all get behind. What was important was that we were all going towards the same goal, and I think that’s very rare in movies. You very rarely get to sit down and decide what’s the spine of this movie? What’s the theme of the movie?
It’s like that [Sidney] Lumet book, Making Movies. It’s the first thing he talks about – he talks about the spine of a story in the first chapter, and it’s just beautiful. You need that, and everyone knows where that final point is. We all have that one spine we’re able to respond to. It also feels like we’re serving something much greater than ourselves. Not that we were serving ourselves in the first one, but we didn’t really have a solid story that we could get behind in a cohesive, dynamic team way. This time around it’s, thankfully, the opposite.
We’ve heard that the first movie was about Peter Parker finding Spider-Man in him, while in this one it’s Spider-Man finding Peter Parker in him. Can you address that a little bit, and how has Spider-Man taken over your life?
That’s a good question. I asked that to my self before we started shooting. It’s this idea of two people, now, Spider-Man and Peter. That’s what I discovered doing this. There’s a part of it that, to me, feels like a sibling rivalry: Spider-Man’s the one who gets all the praise and the love, and has all this amazing skill that he’s able to show off. Peter’s the young brother in the shadow of his older brother, and kind of stepping in dog shit, with no one there to help him clean it up.
I found that dynamic, to find that inside myself, fascinating. So yeah, it’s not just that. Peter’s life does genuinely suck. He almost goes through too much to make any sense. But that’s what I’ve always loved about the character since his inception, is that he goes through a ludicrous amount of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He has to carry the world on his shoulders. But there’s also a weird dychotomy, where he resents Spider-Man, but also feels this huge relief when he gets to be Spider-Man. He gets a break from being human. He gets a break from the grey area of humanity, the ups and downs.
When he becomes Spider-Man, he goes into a very pure state of being where he’s just serving something. And on top of that, it’s pleasurable for him, because he’s doing things we all wish we could do. That was an important part of playing Spider-Man, especially now that Peter feels a real sense of ownership over him. There’s that thing of – you know Usain Bolt, the fastest man on Earth right now? His last 15 minutes of preparation for his race, he calls play.
That 15 minutes I wanted to somehow capture in Spider-Man, that Usain Bolt experience. That freedom of play, of doing things not only because they’re heroic, but because they feel good to do.
It kind of felt like that when you were getting ready behind the stage. It looked like you were psyching yourself up for the 100 metres.
Right. Well, that’s the thing with this scene in particular. I’ve literally just turned up as Spider-Man. I’ve taken my mask off to arrive here, and I’ve just come from doing some incredibly acrobatic, joyful, fun, playful things, and I’m still in that mode. It’s kind of slipping into Peter, and I’ve got to chill a little bit.
We’ve got two new villains this time, and two great actors in Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti. How was it working with those guys, and what did they bring to the movie?
Amazing. I have one more big scene to do with Jamie, which I’m excited about. Jamie is this incredible combination of insanely funny, incredibly moving as an actor – such pathos – strength, as we saw in Django [Unchained] and a bunch of other performances of his. He’s one of those surprisingly sensitive and generously spirited [people]. When you see him in the morning, he’ll just compliment you immediately and make you feel like a million bucks. He always finds something incredibly specific to say to everyone. He’s incredibly entertaining as an actor and as a person.
How did your scenes with him vary from Jamie’s?
Oh, massively. Our dynamics are different. I don’t want to give too much away. My dynamic with Jamie is very different from my dynamic with Alexei. Paul, I’ve never seen someone so committed to something, and brave. Marc [Webb] showed me the first set of dailies, which I wasn’t there for, and it was one long take, and I was just mouth agape, because I couldn’t believe what he was doing. Well, I believed what he was doing, but it was just so larger-than-life. He was a rhino. He was an animal. I was just like, that’s genius.
I admire that so much. I think a lot of movie actors, there’s a lot of minimalism in movie acting now. I have an appreciation for it, but it’s somehow become trendy in a way that I get a bit fed up with. Basically, what I’m saying is that I like seeing someone put his balls on the table.
How about the action aspect? Do you feel you have to compete with Superman and Batman, or maybe the action in Fast & Furious? What’s the strength of the action in this movie?
That’s not my forte in terms of comparing. They say compare and despair. I feel we do our own version. I think what’s great about Spider-Man is his physicality and his way of fighting is very specific to him. He’s not going to just throw punches and push his chest out. He has a trickster element, which Spider-Man has always had, with his wisecracks and his impossibly fast movements.
I read about the trickster archetype, and what he does is uses his enemy’s weaknesses against themselves. Bugs Bunny would be a good example of that. If I can defeat these people by not touching them, and just let them beat the crap out of themselves, that is brilliant. Intelligent, and kind of pacifist.
I think that’s an important thing for kids, as well. I don’t particularly want to get into the state of the nation right now, and all the tragic violence and inhumanity that’s occurring right now between human beings, but I think it’s important that, in the wake of all these things, which seemed to be happening one after the other after the other, that we have a responsibility to the younger generation to not promote violence. To actually demote violence, to promote compassion and understanding. So that was a huge thing.
With that trickster thing, I was watching a lot of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. There’s a man on stage who’s playing the principal – Cal McCrystal, and he’s a British, physical comedian and physical comedy director and expert. And he did a great West End show, going into Broadway, called One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden. I’ve seen parts of it, and I thought, let’s get that guy in to help choreographing, not just the regular action sequences, but just Bugs Bunny stuff. I’ve been into Bugs Bunny – I’ve got every box set, and he’s had a very specific impact on certain sequences of the movie. That’s a real added element that I’m happy about.
We saw you kiss Gwen Stacy on stage. Doesn’t that show that Peter Parker’s broken his promise to stay away from Gwen?
Oh, the kiss wasn’t scripted. I didn’t know I was going to do it. I just thought, “I just missed my girlfriend’s valedictorian speech. How am I going to make it up to her?” Then I was thinking, “I’m graduating. I don’t really give a fuck about this place, and fuck all of the people. So I’m going to go in and have fun. And embarrass her!”
Andrew Garfield, thank you very much.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be out in 2014.