Andrew Garfield isn’t in the business of accepting random Facebook friend requests. “I don’t like to reject anyone,” the 26-year- old actor says. “If I see them and they go, ‘Oh hey, I requested you on Facebook,’ I say, I never use Facebook, sorry.” Of course, that’s not quite true. “I wish I didn’t,” he adds sheepishly. “But it’s just too easy and it preys on the laziest, most idle part of our nature. I really wish it hadn’t been invented.” But if that were true, the British-bred, L.A.-born dual citizen wouldn’t have landed a starring role in The Social Network, a film about the creation of Facebook directed by David Fincher, written by The West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin and co-starring Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg.
Garfield, who got his big break—and a BAFTA award—for his wrenching performance as a recently paroled teenage killer in Boy A, appears this winter in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Heath Ledger’s last film. “I’m really thankful to have gotten to meet Heath and spend time with him,” he says, despite the fact that Ledger wasn’t easy to be around during rehearsals. “I was younger than Heath and I was the new kid on the block, and he gave me a hard time because the characters we were playing were at odds. It was really horrible, because I respected him and I wanted him to like me. I was really pissed off at him and jealous of him and suspicious of him, and it all worked! It was perfect for the film.”
Next year, Garfield will appear in an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan. This year, he stars in the Red Riding Trilogy, a series of pitch-black murder mysteries filmed for British television. For his part as a cocky investigative journalist working in 1974, the actor grew some intense sideburns. “I didn’t shave for about a year and they had to be trimmed down because they were a bit too bushy,” he says, laughing. “I was kind of proud of that.” His girlfriend was less amused. “She was like, ‘Oh my God, you look like one of the Jonas Brothers!’ That was the opposite of what I was going for.”
So let’s talk a bit about The Red Riding Trilogy. You are brutally tortured in the first film. What was it like filming that? Yeah, brutal. It felt worse than it looked. It wasn’t fun actually to do those scenes. I get quite sick of seeing people doing torture scenes. It feels very like, “Now we’re doing a torture scene. Now is going to be my moment to show how good I am at getting tortured.” So there always seems to be a sort of self-consciousness about it as a “cool” thing to do, but it really isn’t. Or wasn’t. I just thought, “Ok, how am I going to avoid being someone that I diss.” I went pretty deep and it wasn’t fun. I kind of wish I had just only scratched the surface
Do you have that choice? Of course, I could have done it with only scratching the surface and it would have been rubbish. It would have been pointless. Those extremes can be quite fun in a way. It’s kind of masochistic, but if you’re in the mood for a bit of masochism, it’s fun.
Was it fun having those crazy sideburns for a month? Yeah I just let my facial hair grow. My facial hair career so far hasn’t been very prolific, so this is my first real opportunity. I didn’t shave for about a year. I let whatever hair was growing grow. I was kind of proud of that. And for the movie, they didn’t have to paint it or anything, just trim it down because it was a bit too bushy. I felt like one of the Jonas Brothers. One of them has really big sideburns and at one point I was doing Skype with my girlfriend and she was like “Oh my God, you look like something Jonas.” And I was like, “That’s kind of the anti of what I’m going for.”
How do you feel about that whole experience of making The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which obviously must have been very intense. I’m thankful for it. I’m really thankful to have gotten to meet Heath and spend time with Heath. I really appreciate that. There are so many great things about it and awful things about it. Well one awful thing about it, which was far worse than anything good about it. He was just an incredible person to spend time with and work with because of who he was as a person, as an actor. It’s difficult to avoid the very huge, extreme conflicting emotions that event brings up. But it was great to work with him and to work with [director] Terry [Gilliam] was an experience that not many people get to have.
We did a piece with Terry and Lily Cole, who is also in the film, and Terry said that Heath gave you a lot of shit because he got into character, Tony, and he decided that Tony didn’t like your character. Yeah, that was really horrible because you kind of go, “I want to be friends with Heath, but I don’t want to be friends with Tony.” I was younger than him and I was the new kid on the block and he just gave me a hard time for the first three rehearsals. I knew exactly what he was doing. Our relationship on screen, he abuses me, steals my girlfriend, steals my job, steals everything. He’s a sly guy. He’s a chess player and he knows how to push people’s buttons. And the role I was playing was an open hearted, non game playing guy with genuine love and joy and joyousness about the world. The characters we were playing were at odds and that was kind of reflected in our relationship during rehearsals. It was tough because I really respected Heath and I wanted him to like me. I was like, “Why is he so mean?” It was perfect. It was absolutely perfect for our relationship on screen. I was really pissed off at him and jealous of him and suspect of him, and it all really worked. That changed when we started shooting. We were able to access it and then be ourselves.
Would you do that for future roles? Imitate the relationship the characters have in rehearsal, or off camera? I think it happens naturally. I think if a film is cast well and put together well, then the feelings toward the people you’re supposed to have feelings towards will be there anyway. Right now me and Jesse Eisenberg are playing best friends and I don’t know if it’s subconscious because I have to portray it on screen– I don’t think it is– but I feel like we really get on as people and I have a lot of love for him even though I’ve only known him for two weeks. I think if you’re in tune with what you’re doing and you’re subconsciously working towards something then all that stuff happens naturally and you haven’t got to force it. I don’t think I could ever set out to be mean to someone. That’s just not in my nature. To consciously put someone through shit, even though it helped me with Heath, and I respected him for doing it because it’s a really brave thing to do, I get too upset when I have a negative effect on someone. It’s kind of naïve of me.
Or nice of you. Are you big into Facebook yourself? I wish I wasn’t, but it’s too easy and it preys on the laziest, most idle part of your nature. So I really wish it hadn’t ever been invented.
How many friends do you have on it? Not many. I get too scared. Do I want this person to know when I’m online?
Do you have a very strict friending policy? No, I just ignore them. I don’t like to reject anyone, I just pretend and if I see them and they go, “Oh hey, I requested you on Facebook,” I say, “Oh I never use Facebook, sorry.”
Has it gotten to the point where people Facebook message you because they know you from movies and want to be your friend? I don’t use my real name in arrogant fear that that would ever happen. Maybe one day it’s going to get to the point, but that’s really just wishful thinking.
I feel like if you’re on a reality show it happens to you, so the bar’s not that high. I think if you want that to happen it’s very easy to make it happen and if you don’t want it to happen it’s very easy to avoid.
You filmed Never Let Me Go between Parnassus and The Social Network. Had you read the book before the screenplay? No I hadn’t. People had been talking to me about it and it was on my list. So I read it and it was kind of a sucker punch to the gut. It’s a beautiful book. It’s slow, it’s a slow fucking stab wound.
Do you feel, at this point, when you start a film, “I totally know what I’m doing in front of the camera. It’s going to be fine.” Never. I just sabotage myself. It’s a really irrational thing. I care about the job so much and I don’t really understand why. When you actually look at it you go, “Just go to work and do your best.” It’s pretty simple, so why all this unnecessary pressure? It doesn’t help. It’s a very odd moment to objectively look at it. It doesn’t make sense.
It’s hard to stop caring about something though. I know, but why? I do know why. At best, making films and plays, and telling stories, and writing books, at the end of the day it’s important and it may not be as important as other things, but people want to see themselves reflected and feel like they’re not alone. If I’m going to do any job, I want to do it to the best of my ability and be as generous as possible.
Are you living in L.A. now or just going from set to set? My home is in London. My girlfriend is in L.A. and I have two nationalities, so I can be either here or there, so it doesn’t really matter. I’m ok with being kind of slightly nomadic.
Do you like L.A.? Yeah I do actually. I really do I love the weather. I like surfing and I like snowboarding. I’m better at snowboarding than surfing. I used to skate, so I have an aptitude for it. I can catch waves and turn right. I can’t really turn left. I can do it, but it’s like a one in 10. I’m not really interested in killing myself so I’m quite happy to cruise. Unfortunately, my face needs to stay intact for work.
Do you watch television? I’m half way through the second season of The Wire so I’m still in the early days, but I want it to last my whole life. I don’t want it ever to end. I want to spread out watching the whole five seasons until I’m 80, so I only find out what happens at the end and I’m 89 years old.
Do you have a kind of movie that you really like to watch? I love all movies generally. I’ve been trying to watch Where the Wild Things Are for the past ten nights it feels like, but something always comes up. I just worked with Spike [Jones] on a short film and it was one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve ever had. He’s just an incredible person to be around and to play with and play fight with and mess around with. His sensibility and his desire to be a child is so present in every single move he makes. Life’s like a total playground for him. So I’m excited to see that. I also love all the films from my childhood like Karate Kid and The Goonies and anything Michal J. Fox was in. Teen Wolf, which they apparently are going to remake. That’s the only remake I think I’d do, if I was lucky enough to get that call to audition for Teen Wolf.
Photo by Eric Levin Grooming Sean Byrne @ UMI