Andrew Garfield: Spiderman... with a hint of Surrey

He beat some of Hollywood's biggest names to become Spider-Man. The British star tells Jonathan Crocker why it's a dream come true

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The Independent Culture

"I hate actors' interviews," admits actor Andrew Garfield, promisingly, as we begin our interview. "I have nothing interesting to say." He takes a sip of coke and smiles. "If I read another interview where it says, 'He walks in and he's so /normal/. He eats and crosses his legs and...' Who cares?"

Right now? No one. That's what's interesting. Despite the fact we're sat in the busy bar of London's Soho Hotel and no one's looking at Garfield. Despite the fact it's been splashed across 40ft cinema screens in movies starring Tom Cruise, Heath Ledger and Justin Timberlake, no one recognises the face that sits under a thick mushroom of brown hair.

That changes in about a week. Taking on the biggest role of his career since wowing in 2010's Oscar-nominated drama The Social Network, the 28-year-old Brit actor is about to swing on to the big screen as the web-slinging star of $220m 3D superhero blockbuster reboot The Amazing Spider-Man. As Brit talent dominates Hollywood's comic-book franchises – along with Batman (Christian Bale in this summer's The Dark Knight Rises) and Superman (Henry Cavill in next summer's Superman: Man of Steel) – Britain's most gifted young actor is perched on the brink of stardom. And it feels... "Lucky!" nods Garfield, with a grin. "I feel incredibly lucky. I've done films that not many people have seen in the past. Spider-Man is like a dream. I was so nervous in the audition because I knew it was a dream of mine. I felt like I was begging as soon as I walked in. I worried that I was too old. And I thought, 'This is too surreal to be real...'"

Luck only had so much to with it. Just about every young actor in Hollywood was talked up to take to the role after Tobey Maguire stepped down: Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Pattinson, Michael Cera, Aaron Johnson and Jamie Bell. "Jamie and I ended up going to dinner together two nights after we'd both screen tested," recalls Garfield. "We were both feeling stupid as hell. And it was really nice and reassuring, comparing embarrassment!"

Garfield thought he'd botched the audition. But it wasn't Bell or Pattinson or Radcliffe. It was him. He clearly remembers the moment he found out. Marc [Webb, the director] was there with the producers and some champagne," he says. "It was something I'd always wanted. I knew I was about to find out whether or not I did in fact want it. Whether there was such a thing as the top of the mountain. It was always a dream of mine – and most other young skinny boys – to be Spider-Man. I've been pretending since I was three so this was just an extension of that."

It was around that age that Garfield and his family moved from Los Angeles to settle in Surrey. The first films he can remember seeing were The Goonies and Bugsy Malone, but cinema wasn't something he was serious about. "I was very confused as a teenager," he remembers. I didn't know who I was. I started skateboarding when I was 14 and I thought, 'That's it, I'm going to be a professional skateboarder.' And then I broke my wrist and gave up."

Skateboarding, painting, drawing, music, acting... Nothing stuck. Except, when it came to the acting, one of Garfield's teachers just wouldn't let him quit. "I'm a lucky one, who got someone who woke me up a bit and said, 'You can do this.'" Turns out, he could. Graduating from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 2004, he rapidly won a MEN Theatre Award for his performance in Kes at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre and Outstanding Newcomer at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

From there, Garfield's career has gathered momentum at a startling pace. Two years after his screen debut in Channel 4's edgy teen series Sugar Rush, 2007 proved an extraordinary year for him: from battling Daleks in BBC's Doctor Who to winning a Bafta for child-killer drama Boy A (prophetically, Garfield's character is seen pretending to be Spider-Man in a childhood flashback) to starring political opus Lions for Lambs with Tom Cruise .

"I feel like everything's happened very, very quickly," he nods. Of course, like any actor, Garfield has taken his share of knockbacks. Favourite example? The time he was rejected for the role of Prince Caspian in the first sequel in the Chronicles of Narnia saga. "They said I wasn't handsome enough," admits Garfield, with sheepish smile.

If his confidence was dented, it didn't show. Next came an exceptional performance as a young journalist chasing a serial killer in TV's Red Riding trilogy, before a role in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus made him one of the last actors to co-star with Heath Ledger before the Australian tragically died.

But 2010 was his most seismic year yet: an emotional performance in mystery drama Never Let Me Go with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, then another tremendous turn in David Fincher's Oscar-nominated all-star drama The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg's frenemy Eduardo Saverin. It confirmed him as Britain's most exciting new big-screen actor.

But the bigger you get in Hollywood, the closer you get to the hot burn of the spotlight. The Amazing Spider-Man will bring stardom and the glare of celebrity, something Garfield has only brushed past so far. "I've experienced a little bit at certain places where suddenly you can't be a part of the world," he says. "That was the only thing that made me hesitate. I had to make the decision about whether I wanted to sign my life away. It took me a month, but I knew the answer immediately was yes.

Plunging into four months of stunt training, fight training and wirework, Garfield has put his own spin on Peter Parker, the high-school kid who inherits extraordinary strength, agility and sensory powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. "I wanted to get stronger and more muscular, but more like Bruce Lee than Jason Statham," he says. "I love the image of a skinny kid beating the shit out of big guys. That's always been my fantasy and every other skinny boy's fantasy. So to enact that for myself and for everyone like me, it kinda awesome."

He might be wearing a skintight suit and fighting a giant reptile – the movie's villainous The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans – but Garfield is treating Spider-Man with as much seriousness as any of his previous realist roles. "We're approaching it from a very grounded, organic place," he explains. "So the idea of that spider DNA going through your blood stream – what does that mean physically? I was imagining I had more limbs, more eyes. What happens if this arm moves? How will I dance differently? We played with how super-aware they are: when they're waiting on the web, the slightest vibration is terrifying. The slightest breeze will feel like a thunderstorm. So for that to be happening to this kid, it's terrifying."

You can sense the sense the empathy here. Like Peter Parker, Garfield is changing, transforming, being shaped by forces bigger than himself. He'll turn 29 years old on 20 August and, with his teenage years now a decade gone, he's settling into manhood. "I like the idea that Peter Parker is chaotic, he's trying to find who he is," says Garfield. "But when he gets bitten, he finds a stillness, because a spider is the most patient animals. When I put on the suit for the first time, it was too surreal. It didn't make any sense. It still doesn't make sense. And that's something about Spider-Man: I don't think Peter Parker ever feels like Spider-Man. I think Spider-Man is bigger than any one person, that's what's wonderful about it. He's not mine, he's not Tobey's, he's everyone's."

If Garfield doesn't feel like a movie star, that's OK. He feels ready. And that's enough. "I can feel something happening," he nods. "I don't know what's going to happen, but it feels positive, whatever it is. I've realised that at the top of the mountain, there's another mountain..."

'The Amazing Spider-Man' is out in cinemas on 3 July