Just before this summer's most anticipated blockbuster hits the screen, James Mottram talks to Andrew Garfield about the superhero he "dreamed of becoming"
The Amazing Spider-Man and how Andrew Garfield's dreams came true
Andrew Garfield must feel like the luckiest man alive. A Bafta-winner, he has already shared the screen with everyone from Robert Redford to Heath Ledger and Keira Knightley. But all that must feel insignificant next to his latest achievement: winning the lead role in The Amazing Spider-Man. Forget the fame and fortune that comes with playing the iconic superhero, for the 28-year-old Garfield, this is the culmination of a lifelong ambition. "I dreamed of becoming Spider-Man when I was a kid," he says.
He's not joking, either. From dressing up like him at Halloween to taking up gymnastics to emulating his acrobatics, his childhood was filled with Spider-Man hero worship. Growing up in England, in the quiet middle-class town of Guildford, he felt like Spider-Man's teenage alter-ego Peter Parker - an outcast who was bullied at school. "That's why everyone loves this character so much," says Garfield. "He's just the most universally normal, teenage kid - rebelling, and kicking out against his hormones and situation."
It didn't stop there. Garfield can remember being 19 and watching Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man twice, back-to-back, then reciting the dialogue with a friend. No wonder he's super-charged to play the role, even if it means following Tobey Maguire, who played the character in Raimi's US$2.5 billion (Dh9.18bn) grossing trilogy. Intimidating? "Yeah, just like it would be intimidating to play Hamlet after Laurence Olivier, or Ben Whishaw or Rory Kinnear or Jude Law," he nods. "Of course it is. But you just have to make it as personal to you as possible."
If the cynics will sneer at the opportunism of rebooting a franchise that saw Maguire last play the character just five years ago, there are differences - from the new villain (Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors aka The Lizard) to the love interest (Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy). Today, looking trim in a maroon suit, Garfield's natural athleticism - gymnastics aside, he loves surfing, swimming, rock climbing and skateboarding - makes him a more natural fit for the character than Maguire.
While the purists will complain that Spider-Man's latest incarnation is British, at least Garfield can point to the fact that he was born in California, which is where his father is from. His family moved to England when he was three and his parents ran an interior design business.
Garfield studied acting at London's Central School of Speech and Drama before graduating to parts in British TV shows like Doctor Who, a Bafta-winning turn in Channel 4 film Boy A and a starring role opposite Robert Redford in his 2007 film Lions For Lambs.
Yet Garfield's artistic leanings, and how he'd handle them, were in evidence much earlier. "I used to draw so much as a kid," he recalls. "I remember there was one day, my mum and dad saw something I drew and I got the first bit of praise for something I did. They put it on the fridge, and suddenly I was like 'That felt so good!' So then your creativity is stripped. You start to tailor everything to getting on the fridge! So I stopped that."
It sounds trivial, but it highlights what an instinctive performer Garfield is - for him, it's about the process, not the praise. Which may explain why he's indifferent to all the plaudits that will surely come in the wake of playing Spider-Man. "That's hypothetical," he shrugs. "You don't know that. You can guess that. In the same breath, I can guess people won't be interested at all. It's totally hypothetical. Who knows what the future holds? I have absolutely no idea."
While Hollywood is awash with rumours that Garfield and co-star Emma Stone are dating, the actor isn't about to confirm or deny. "My life is very separate to my work," he says. "I don't need to talk about who I am in my day-to-day. I don't think it would be good for me as an actor, because I don't want people to know much about me, because it doesn't really matter. I'm not interested in me, and I don't think other people should be interested in me."
A period of re-adjustment to the spotlight will undoubtedly be required. For the moment, despite starring as the Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, Garfield doesn't have a Facebook account or a major Twitter presence. "Certain people use that well, and want people to know about them, and they want to be connected with the people that are watching them in films," he acknowledges. "But for me, I put all of that [energy] into work."
If it makes him sound a little precious, having worked on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Heath Ledger's last film before he died from an overdose of prescription drugs, Garfield must be aware of the corrosive effects of fame. But he has other ideas for the after-effects of The Amazing Spider-Man. "If you can inspire kids to look after each other, and to maybe consider next time they want to throw a punch in a schoolyard, then that's an awesome message."
• The Amazing Spider-Man opens across the UAE today
It's the suit that makes the man, they say and Andrew Garfield knows that only too well. Donning Spider-Man's famous all-in-one red-and-blue outfit was no mean feat - not least because it took 20 minutes to pull on. "I think we got it down to 10 [minutes] but at the beginning, it was just hell," he laughs. "You had to bend yourself and contort yourself." Looking to create a less muscular look, costume designer Kym Barrett took inspiration from the stretchy wind-resistant fabrics worn by cyclists and Winter Olympics athletes. Problem is, once Garfield was in it, it was impossible to go to the bathroom. "I had to exhibit great bladder control. The suit was designed very beautifully, but not with a human being in mind, with functioning body parts that needed respite! So yeah, it was rough!" In total, 56 suits were made - 17 for Garfield and the rest for the stuntmen, all designed to show different stages of duress (some with claw marks, some with broken web-shooters and so on). To date, Garfield hasn't managed to keep one as a souvenir. "They wouldn't let me but I intend to steal at least one of those suits. They have a bunch, so they could do without one!"