Just once in a while you see an actor on screen and instantly know he or she has got the right stuff. It's hard to explain precisely, but at heart it has to do with confidence voice and demeanour are important, but it's the unflinching look in the eyes that tells you: I am in command. Those who saw the Robert Redford movie Lions for Lambs will have recognised just such a one in Andrew Garfield, who plays a Californian student being provoked from his apathy by his politics professor (played by Redford himself). The movie was the dampest of squibs, but Garfield was mesmerising; and stole every scene from under his director's nose.
The 24-year-old actor admits that Redford initially dismissed the idea of a Brit in the role, but the casting director Avy Kaufman shrewdly persuaded him to give Garfield a chance which he promptly took. "He really made me feel at home," he says of the director, "and he has this great relaxing pace with everything." The film tanked big-time ("you can't second-guess these things," he says) but the actor was off and running. He was even better in the recent Channel 4 drama Boy A as a child killer released from prison with a new identity and awkwardly searching for a foothold in the frightening world outside. Garfield's negotiation between the reformed man's shy decency and his daily terror of exposure was almost unbearably touching.
He's been shuttling between home in London and Los Angeles, a dual life he feels quite happy about; his mother is English, his father American, which perhaps helped that perfectly inflected accent in Lions for Lambs. Next up is a part in the new Terry Gilliam movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which he regards as "suitably intimidating", though it will afford him a chance to meet one of his heroes, Tom Waits. Ah, one of my heroes, too, I tell him. "I'll let you know how it goes," says Garfield. Nice kid.
Portrait by Immo Klink