Andrew Garfield on Avoiding ‘Sickness’ of Celebrity Culture

Andrew Garfield took a break from rehearsals for the Broadway production of “Angels in America” to sit down for a wide-ranging interview with Variety.

You’ve got a tough, all-encompassing role in “Angels in America.” What does the rest of your daily life look like when you’re doing the show?
It’s only acting, after all, but if you’re doing your job properly, you’re convincing your body that it’s going through what the character is going through. There’s a lot of decompression needed. I watch stupid television, Netflix kind of stuff — although not necessarily stupid. I’ve been watching “The Good Place,” which is not stupid at all. It’s very smart that is always incredibly funny.

Even with a busy film schedule, you’ve made a point of coming back to the theater. Why?
I feel more at home in theater than I do on a film set. I think there’s more community, because you’re making it together all the time. And also the connection to the audience is different. It feels much more like a level playing field, whereas when you make a film, people think you’re something more than you are. When you do a play, there’s less separation between an audience and a performer. You see the sweat, you see the tears, you see the f—-ups and the fallibility. Actors aren’t being projected to quadruple the size of the audience, or being idealized the way celebrity culture idealizes film people. There’s sickness there that I do my best to kind of dodge and weave and avoid.

In theater, you don’t really have to do that. Usually if someone sees you in a play, they go, “I really liked the work, and I thought this about the play, and it made me think about this.” Whereas with a movie they go, “Can I get a picture with you?” There’s no real exchange. It’s just kind of transactional and commercial and property-based.

I’d much rather give someone a hug than a picture. It’s amazing how little people want to hug. There’s been times when someone’s asked for a picture and I’ve been out with my friends or my family, and I’ve said, “Oh no, not tonight, but how about we have a hug?” They can’t wait to get away from me.

When you were in “Angels” in London, you made a comment (“I am a gay man right now, just without the physical act”) that caused some blowback with the LGBTQ community. Does that make you more hesitant to speak with the press?
I’d rather not talk about things at all in this context. My voice is in the piece and in the doing of the play. The work is the thing. In the culture we’re in now, with the way the media is now, no matter what you say, it will be skewed and it will be used against you and it will be totally f—ed with.

I struggle because I’m like: If we’re going to sit down, if you’re going to come out and put your recorder on and I’m going to take my time and talk, we should actually talk. We may as well have a proper discussion and be honest and try and get to the center of what this whole being-alive thing is about.

I tend to not worry about the outcome, and then when something does happen, I do a lot of self-reflection and I go, “Did I miss something?” And if I did, then I correct it. And if I didn’t, then I don’t, and I let people feel and think what they feel and think. And that’s really challenging for me.

What’s your take on what’s going on in Hollywood right now with the #MeToo movement?
It’s exciting. It’s such a big conversation that requires so much nuance. It feels to me really important for it to go through all of the phases that it’s going through, and it’s going to go through, because it’s been a long time coming. Like centuries. You keep suppressing and insulting and stripping the dignity away for centuries upon centuries of history, and there’s gonna be some very, very righteous, justified rage. So it’s a reckoning for those that have abused their status and position and power. I’m excited for those abusive systems to die, the systems that have only served a few. I as a white, straight male will support this, and show up in any way I can and am called to.

What’s next for you?
I’m at a really interesting moment where I feel very happy and very content with the experiences I’ve had, and very lucky. And I don’t mean this in a trite way, I feel very f—ing grateful for the creative experience I’ve had, culminating in this being the most profound creative experience I’ve ever had. My priorities are changing a bit. I think I’m changing, in terms of how I work and in terms of how I live. I’ve been very ambitious for a long time, and I’ve been very single-minded, and I think I got so exhausted during the play that I was like, “Oh, I want to have more of a balanced life.”

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