And when the pressure starts to weigh on him, as it does in waves, he simply has to remind himself why he did this in the first place: to please that inner 3-year-old who idolized Spider-Man for all that he represented. You see a glimpse of that 3-year-old in a YouTube video taken at Comic-Con last July. As a moderator prepares to introduce a panel of the film’s key players to the crowd, an audience member wearing a baggy, head-to-toe Spider-Man outfit and a fanny pack commandeers a microphone and addresses the crowd. When he removes his mask seconds into his speech, it’s Garfield, looking exhilarated. The audience roars.
“Stan Lee says that the reason why Spidey is so popular is because all of us can relate to him, and I agree,” he tells the crowd, breathlessly. “I needed Spidey in my life when I was a kid, and he gave me hope. … He has inspired countless people — girls, boys, men, women, all of us. He has saved lives, and he saved my life.”
For those two minutes, Garfield radiates pure joy. There’s no fear, apart from a few speaking-before-a-crowd-of-thousands type of nerves. He’s simply enjoying this crazy ride. For those two minutes, he is 3 again.
So what would that 3-year-old think of Garfield’s portrayal of Spider-Man?
He smiles for the first time during our interview.
“That’s a lovely question,” he says, suddenly nostalgic. “That’s such a nice thing to think about.” After a moment of thought, he grins. “There’s swinging in the movie, so I think that’s all that would matter to him,” he says. “ ‘Just get to the swinging.’ ”
As the sun takes its final bow after a day spent showing off, it’s time for Garfield to say goodbye. He’s off to another engagement. As we take the elevator down to the ground floor, he pulls out his iPhone and begins texting.
Standing there in his Converse sneakers, maroon corduroys and gray sweatshirt littered with balls of white fuzz, pecking away at his touch screen, he looks like any other 28-year-old with an enviable head of thick hair and a chiseled jawline. But he isn’t, of course. At least, he won’t be much longer. When the elevator doors open, we shake hands and part ways. “Good luck,” I say. “Thanks,” he replies, before exiting through a back door.
When I step outside, as expected, the NYPD is still holding court. I watch in anticipation, waiting for them to stop traffic for Garfield’s car or to shield him from autograph or picture seekers. But several minutes later, they haven’t moved.
Confused, I turn to leave. While I wait at a crosswalk for the light to change, a man walks up beside me with a child holding on to each hand. Apropos of nothing, the little girl on his right looks up at me confidently and says, “Michelle Obama’s in there.”
“Oh, really?” I ask, her father confirming with a nod.
The thought crosses my mind to tell her that, in addition to the first lady, Spider-Man was in there, too, but I stop myself short. They’ll know about Garfield soon enough. Today, for maybe one of the last times, he managed to slip away, undetected. Better to let him enjoy his fleeting anonymity while he can — without the aid of a mullet and a Fu Manchu.