Andrew Garfield and Rachel Zegler on Musicals, ‘Spider-Man’ Return and Surviving Young Hollywood

Andrew Garfield (“Tick, Tick … Boom!,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home”) and Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors, presented by Amazon Studios. For more, click here.

What do Andrew Garfield and Rachel Zegler have in common? To start, they both love the theater, musicals — and each other. “You are in my favorite movie of the year,” Garfield tells 20-year-old Zegler on a recent video conversation about her first film role, as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

“You are in my favorite movie of the year,” Zegler gushes back to Garfield about his turn as the composer Jonathan Larson in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Tick, Tick … Boom!” And she’s also a super fan of Garfield’s surprise return to playing Peter Parker in the box office phenomenon “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” a movie that made her sob. Needless to say, these former theater kids have a lot to talk about.

ANDREW GARFIELD: What you’ve done is just so stunning and soulful and authentic and genuine and real! Totally reinvigorating this classic thing in your own way. I am absolutely, weirdly proud of someone that I’ve never met.

RACHEL ZEGLER: I cannot even believe those words just came out of your face towards my face. What’s going on?! That’s coming from someone who’s been watching you for so long. I watched you break onto the stage in “Angels in America” so brilliantly and beautifully. Then to watch you in a musical portraying someone that I hold so near and dear my entire life. I never thought I would get to see Jonathan Larson live again. I want to thank you for bringing Jonathan into this day and to the forefront of conversation. Thank you.

GARFIELD: I love that you are so connected to Jonathan. One of the amazing things about being a part of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” is that it is just continuing those ripples. Just like you are continuing the ripples of Stephen Sondheim with “West Side Story.” That’s what’s so profound about Jonathan. He woke up every morning and decided that he had to sit at the piano and create in the face of abject failure and poverty. With no one ever giving him his flowers, giving him the harvest that he so deserved.

The fact that he didn’t live to see any of it, I find so deeply moving. It’s testament to those of us that feel called and compelled to create and be artists, come what may. It makes me think about this moment for you, and how you must feel like you’ve gone in a certain way from zero to a hundred. You are meant to be doing musical theater. You are meant to be acting, you are meant to be singing; it’s a vocation for you. I can see that.

ZEGLER: I was 12 or 13 the first time I ever performed onstage with a cast of people. It was “Fiddler on the Roof.” I think I said three words the whole show. I was so in love with getting onstage and people reacting in real time. There’s an instant gratification to performance art. The vocation, film-wise, came from watching Steven Spielberg work. I realized how important it was to so many people. Now I want to do film more than anything. Do you feel particularly called toward one or the other?
sGARFIELD: It’s funny. When Lin-Manuel Miranda first showed me the rough cut of “Tick, Tick,” I became that 17-year-old drama student again. Suddenly I wasn’t a 38-year-old man that’s been doing this for almost two decades. I was suddenly having a conversation with myself as a younger artist, wondering where I was going to end up and then ending up where I am.

What’s this moment like for you? In terms of how you’re managing between ordinary Rachel, who’s just living her life. It’s a tricky moment because it’s like — congratulations on winning the Golden Globe!

ZEGLER: Congratulations too.

GARFIELD: It’s a hard thing to talk about now, because obviously the HFPA are in process with making adjustments and change that is long overdue.

ZEGLER: It’s this mirror of the evolution that we’re all going through. The evolution of “West Side Story” has been a long one. In 1957, it was onstage for the first time with an incredible creative team, and yet it missed that cultural mark. And then the Bob Wise film in 1961 — it missed that cultural mark, besides Chita Rivera [the play] and Rita Moreno [the movie]. This time around, we evolved to a place where we’re properly representing the people that the story is about. I think of the Globes. This is a step to get to a place where we’re representing our audiences and representing the people who are behind the camera and in front.

I’m sure it might be complicated for you because Jonathan never got to receive his flowers. To be portraying him and get to be in this conversation in general: Does that bring an element, a complexity or imposter syndrome?

GARFIELD: It only feels positive to me in those ways. I would much rather make it about him. It’s kind of a beautiful thing where I get to receive his love for him. I get to be that channel and that vessel and that bridge, to sing a few more phrases of his song for him that he didn’t get to complete. That’s the beautiful responsibility that I’ve felt. I know that you have felt a similar responsibility for the Latin community.

ZEGLER: I credit a lot of that conversation to Tony Kushner. He was able to make such a wonderful Latin character that I got to bring to life, but also talk about her in this very real, sculpting way. To showcase a three-dimensional woman, a Renaissance woman. I’m the first Latina to play her on screen, and that was not lost on me while I was working on it.

GARFIELD: Does it feel like “heavy lies the crown of Rachel Zegler” right now?

ZEGLER: At one point you just have to shut it all off and think, “If I’m not going to read the bad, I’m just not going to read the good either.” And you, you’re not on social media in any way?


ZEGLER: There are so many moments where I’m like, “I’m going to make like Andrew Garfield and get the hell out of here.”

GARFIELD: I remember starting to get a little bit of attention when I was a bit older than you. I wasn’t quite ready to fully regulate myself. I needed to learn boundaries. At the same time, I wanted just to fall into the moment and enjoy it, take it while it’s here.

ZEGLER: I have to say, as someone who’s just such a fan of your Peter Parker — directed by Marc Webb so beautifully — I love those movies and I love the dynamic between Peter and Gwen so much. The theatrical experience of seeing “Spider- Man: [No Way Home]” was one of the greatest I’ve ever had. And I just had gotten my booster, so I had chills already. I cried like a baby.

GARFIELD: Oh, wow.

ZEGLER: It started when Alfred Molina shows up, with Willem Dafoe as well. But when you come on screen, we were literally hitting each other — complete strangers in the theater. It was so freaking exciting.

GARFIELD: There was a brotherhood that got created between Tobey [Maguire], Tom [Holland] and myself. And that’s healing. We were like, “Oh, my God, you find it hard to pee in the suit? I find it hard to pee in the suit!”

ZEGLER: I love it.

GARFIELD: The first scene that I was pitched, there’s a very emotional moment, a rescue that my character is a part of. That felt like the most kind of healing thing for my Peter Parker. Across universes being able to rescue the love of my younger brother in this other multidimensional universe. That felt quite profound. I was like, “Oh, well, that’s spooky destiny, ‘Sliding Doors’ stuff.”

The director, Jon Watts, is incredibly brilliant and smart and funny, but also has a really big heart. That’s what I find so moving about Tom’s films — they’re just full of goodness. And what he creates with Zendaya and with Jacob Batalon is pure love.

You’re about to go work with Marc Webb on “Snow White.”

ZEGLER: Never in a million years did I imagine that this would be a possibility for me. You don’t normally see Snow Whites that are of Latin descent. Even though Snow White is really a big deal in Spanish-speaking countries. Blanca Nieves is a huge icon whether you’re talking about the Disney cartoon or just different iterations and the Grimm fairy tale and all the stories that come with it. But you don’t particularly see people who look like me or are me playing roles like that. When it was announced, it was a huge thing that was trending on Twitter for days, because all of the people were angry.

GARFIELD: Ah, those people. The people that we need to educate. The people that we need to love into awareness.

ZEGLER: We need to love them in the right direction. At the end of the day, I have a job to do that I’m really excited to do. I get to be a Latina princess.