Tired of the rigorous training requirements of gymnastics, he quit to take up — as he puts it — typical teenage “navel-gazing.” With no sense of purpose, Garfield was encouraged by his parents to take acting classes. Though the arts weren’t seen as a viable career option in his community, he latched onto the craft, citing filmmakers like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and David Fincher as inspiration. He went on to study at London’s prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama for three years.
The budding actor began doing stage and TV work in England and soon landed small parts in big movies (his film debut, Lions for Lambs, saw him going head-to-head with Robert Redford) and big parts in small movies (he starred in the 2010 film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go). Then, the game-changer: 2010’s The Social Network, which won three Academy Awards and sparked Oscar buzz for Garfield, who played ousted Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.
All along, a certain web-slinging superhero was never far from his mind. He recalls reciting Maguire’s dialogue from the 2002 film in the mirror with an actor friend and fighting over who would make the better Spider-Man. Just a few years later — after beating out dozens of other bigger names like Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner and pal Robert Pattinson — Garfield was being offered the role he’d coveted since childhood. A few months after that, he was on a film set in Los Angeles, fighting back tears as he put on the second Spider-Man suit he’d ever worn — this one tailor-made out of a top-secret material to fit his (significantly bulked-up) body.
All of that led him to where he is today: curled up in a ball on a couch, telling his fears to a stranger.
“I was in one movie that people saw, really — and that wasn’t planned, that just happened,” he says. “Now obviously this movie is going to be a movie that a lot of people see, and it’s going to be difficult because I don’t think I want — well, I know I don’t want — that kind of isolation. Because it is isolating.”
But he’s willing to — or, rather, as he claims, he had no choice but to — take that risk, because of the significance of such a character and his message. Keeping in step with the franchise’s various interpretations being reflections of their times, this one touches on themes of bullying and prevailing underdogs — something Garfield knows is relevant now more than ever.
“To see someone skinny like me rise up and find strength and power and use it positively, use it for good, is inspiring and important for kids to see,” he says.
Garfield knows that, to borrow his character’s guiding principle, with great power comes great responsibility. And he certainly feels an obligation to do the character — and the fans — proud.
“My only want is for the character to be served and for the symbol of Spider-Man to be honored,” he says. “What I’d love is to feel like the fans retain ownership over the character because that’s as it should be. Because it’s not ours, it’s not anyone’s. It’s everybody’s.”