Andrew Garfield, who’s already won a BAFTA, may win a Tony next now that Death of a Salesman is the clear favorite for this awards season. The play scored a total of seven nominations, including Best Featured Actor in a Play for Garfield, for his portrayal of Biff opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman. Garfield, of course, will also be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man at the multiplexes this summer, so his Death run will be coming to a close on June 2 to give him some time for movie promotion. For now, he’s still trodding the Barrymore, even during a bout with bronchitis, for which he refused to cancel any performances earlier this month. Now that he’s on the mend, Garfield chatted with Vulture about his Tony nod, wanting a call from Samuel L. Jackson, and that weird YouTube video we came across recently.
I’m good now. It was nasty for about a week. I had all this mucus in my chest and it was really interfering with my voice, and I was generally feeling like shit. But my doctor is a genius, and she dosed me up so I could keep doing the show. All this culminated in a week when we were doing the show and doing press, so every moment I wasn’t onstage, I was talking about myself, which just made me sick of myself. And then my family came in, so it was all this big apex.
Hopefully the Tony nomination made you feel a little better? How did you hear the news?
I was sleeping, and I woke up to all these lovely e-mails — people were really excited. And I’m excited, too. It’s such a nice honor to receive, and I’m really moved by it. But awards are a funny thing, aren’t they? Part of why I wanted to be an actor is that it’s not a competitive sport. I was brought up with sports, and that’s a very specific way of seeing the world, and part of me didn’t want to see the world like that. I wanted to be more tribal-minded, as opposed to pitting myself against someone, trying to win. I mean, there is such a thing as healthy competition, but I just really wanted to be a part of a community, part of a troupe. And awards undermine that a bit, because they’re subjective. Who’s to say who’s better? We all see different things in a performance, because we’re projecting ourselves. But it is an honor to be acknowledged, and ultimately, it should be treated as a celebration. And I am lucky, lucky, lucky to be doing this play.
At the NY Drama Critics Circle Awards, you said three people shaped your life: “a street busker, my girlfriend [Emma Stone], and [director] Mike Nichols.” The last two are obvious, but the first?
I had a very profound experience when I was 20 years old. I was on the South Bank of London, and I was about to do my first public performance as an actor at the Globe, which really isn’t that big of a deal, but it was to me at the time. I was going through this moment of self-doubt, whether or not I was built to be an actor: Who am I anyway? I’ve been training for three years, and I have nothing to offer. I’m a fraud. You know? And I felt totally exposed, like all those fears had come slugging their way to the front of my consciousness. And then I walked by this street busker, who was singing Don McLean’s “Vincent,” and not very well, but he was still doing it. He wasn’t doubting himself. He wasn’t judging himself. He was allowing whatever talent he had to come out. And thank God for that, because it changed my life. Maybe it was because it was a song about an artist being sung by an aspiring artist to another aspiring artist, but whatever it was, the planets aligned themselves and it was like a lightning bolt to me, that moment. And I thought, I’m going to go up there on that stage and give whatever I have to give. It’s a scary thing, whether or not you do it for a living. But that moment really did stick with me, and I think about it every day.
Is that why you’re so open to singing silly things, like the Spider-Man song?
Is that online? That’s hilarious! There’s nowhere to hide! [Laughs.] That was just me and Emma taking the piss. We were given these things to do for different stations and websites, and we said, “This one doesn’t make sense.” We can’t say, “This is so amazing,” so we sang it to make fun of it, and we didn’t even think they would use it. We were so hyper and we had just gotten our second wind, so we were being just completely stupid and ridiculous.
You may not have realized, but Death of a Salesman and The Amazing Spider-Man actually have a few things in common.
For starters, George C. Scott starred as Willy Loman in the 1974 revival. His son, Campbell Scott, plays your dad in the new film.
Oh, wow! I didn’t even think about that. I love that. That is so cool. I don’t know what that means — that it’s a small world? And if you think about it, both Biff and Peter have huge father issues. They’re both trying to figure out who they are in terms of their dads. That’s something that I was interested in there.
Didn’t you spend some time in Queens with kids there, as well as some pro skaters, to get in character as Peter?
That was the fun part of my homework. My dialect coach and I, we took a trip there together, and we sat in a room for a couple of days with some great kids who helped us out. It was mostly about trying to make it personal, and explore Peter in a different way — like with the skateboard. He’s a pretty shitty skateboarder at the start, and then you’re able to see how good he becomes with his new abilities. And I was so lucky, because I have a great relationship with Spike Jonze, and Girl and Chocolate, that whole [skateboarding] team. And they were generous enough to help me out with choreographing some cool stuff.
There’s supposed to be some sort of Donald Glover shout-out in Peter Parker’s bedroom. What is it?
I’m not going to tell. [Laughs.] But I love him, and he is brilliant, and I appreciate him so much as an actor, as a rapper, as a comedian. So this is just me tipping my hat to him to let him know he is appreciated. It’s a very subtle thing, but someone with a discerning eye can see it. I can say that it will be visual — I don’t get any say over music used!
Have you seen The Avengers? If Sony would let you assemble, would you? After all, Spidey eventually becomes a member of the team in the comics …
I saw it, and I was blown away. And I’m going to see it again this weekend. I have no problem adding to the amount of money it’s making! [Laughs.] Joss Whedon is a genius, and it’s an incredible cast. I was very, very jealous, and I wanted to jump on the screen and play with them. It killed me that I wasn’t in it, but I understand why, and I’m not insulted. But hey, if Samuel L. Jackson wants to give me a shout, I’m there for the next one!