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Andrew Garfield on Learning About Polio for ‘Breathe’: ‘I Love the Research Period’

Andrew Garfield landed his first Academy Award nomination for last year’s war drama “Hacksaw Ridge.” The British actor is once again generating Oscar buzz with the biographical feature “Breathe,” where he plays Robin Cavendish, a man paralyzed by polio at age 28.

Your character in “Breathe” is wheelchair bound and can’t move from the neck down. Did the portrayal take a toll on you physically?

It’s hard to say that it did because I only had to do it for seven weeks. I tried to go as deep as possible. My experience compared to what Robin’s experience was is so minor. He had to have a lot of constant care. We tried to reflect that as much as possible in the film, and I tried to reflect that as much as possible in my acting process.

What was it like having Cavendish’s son Jonathan as the producer?

It was wonderful. This story is his heart, and he’s a constant source of information. I got to sit with him every day, and I got to sit with Diana, Robin’s wife. I got a tremendous amount of insight from people who really love this person. He touched everyone’s life that he met. He became this symbol of what was possible under difficult circumstances.

I heard you were considered the Jesuit expert on the set of “Silence.” Are you as knowledgeable about polio?

I definitely love the research period. I love the opportunity to get to know the subject; that’s part of why I love acting. You get to become a pseudo-expert in lots of different things. I’m nowhere near an expert on anything really, and especially not on being a Jesuit and especially not polio, but I relish the opportunity to understand what the condition was. One of the great highlights of this job was getting to meet remarkable people who have had a similar situation to Robin’s and what it meant in terms of their lives and where they find strength and hope and how they reconcile that as their reality.

You’ve portrayed a number of real people. Is that a conscious decision?

No. I think you treat each role like they are a real person, otherwise you’re not doing your job. With a real person, there’s a lot more external material that you can come in contact with to create the character and help create the circumstances, but each role is just as important.

Things you didn’t know about Andrew Garfield

AGE: 34 BIRTHPLACE: Los Angeles WHERE HE GREW UP: London HIDDEN TALENT: Juggling FAVORITE VACATION SPOT: California coast

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