From Spidey to a real su­per­hero

Af­ter two goes at be­ing Spi­der-Man, An­drew Garfield has found his niche play­ing a gen­uine su­per­hero who bat­tles against in­cred­i­ble odds to do the bravest thing of all: live. By Teddy Jamieson

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

COM­PLETE the fol­low­ing sen­tence, I say to An­drew Garfield. “Home is …” It’s the last ques­tion I ask the ac­tor and the first time in our short con­ver­sa­tion that he hes­i­tates. “Home is … oh, home is … a new con­cept for me.”

Re­ally? You’re 34, An­drew. In what way is it new? “To­day I did my fi­nal ex­change for my first home.” Ah, right. And on which con­ti­nent might that home be? “It’s in the UK,” he laughs.

Fri­day morn­ing, ear­ly­ish and An­drew Garfield, ac­tor, some­time surfer, last­but-one Spi­der-Man, has a film to sell. He’s very good at it. Talk to him about Breathe, fel­low ac­tor Andy Serkis’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, and he is elo­quent and en­gaged. To be fair he’s elo­quent and en­gaged on most sub­jects, but such is the trans­ac­tional na­ture of the celebrity in­ter­view, there are mo­ments when he zeal­ously po­lices the borders of the con­ver­sa­tion and en­sures it doesn’t stray too far into ar­eas he does not want it to; you know the kind of thing – per­sonal stuff, re­la­tion­ships, or the lo­ca­tion of his first mort­gage­able prop­erty (ac­tu­ally, will he even need a mort­gage?).

Yet in many ways it’s hard to imag­ine an in­ter­vie­wee who is so open about what he thinks and be­lieves. Open to the point of naivety some might say. Or maybe open to the point of: “I don’t give a fig what any­one thinks.”

Any­way, the new film. It’s based on the true story of dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cate Robin Cavendish. Garfield plays Cavendish, who is di­ag­nosed with po­lio aged 28 and told he has three months to live. Helped by his fam­ily and friends, most no­tably his wife Diana (played with can-do stiff up­per lip by Claire Foy), he de­fies that pre­dic­tion by around 34 years. And he doesn’t just sur­vive; he lives.

“It’s a tricky thing do­ing press,” says Garfield. “But I’ve loved talk­ing about Robin and Diana, think­ing about them, stay­ing in their en­ergy sphere and con­tin­u­ously squeez­ing wis­dom out of their lives.”

This is what I mean. Garfield’s de­fault set­ting is a wide-eyed en­gage­ment with the world. Asked why he wanted to make the film, he says: “I read the script and found it so mov­ing and life-af­firm­ing and I thought: ‘What bet­ter way to spend my time than make a story about these two re­mark­able peo­ple and their friends that made such mean­ing and such beauty out of dif­fi­culty.’

“It felt uni­ver­sally re­lat­able. We are all be­set with cer­tain chal­lenges. It felt like a guide­book of how to in­cor­po­rate that into our ex­pe­ri­ence. And then make le­mon­ade out of it, make joy, make progress, change the world in­ad­ver­tently be­cause of your long­ing to live.”

Serkis’s film is an old-fash­ioned thing, but the cen­tral story is un­doubt­edly af­fect­ing in the way it goes from a deep, dark place to­wards the light.

The real-life Robin Cavendish, who needed a me­chan­i­cal ven­ti­la­tor to breathe, de­fied med­i­cal ad­vice by leav­ing hos­pi­tal af­ter a year, and freed him­self from be­ing bedrid­den by work­ing with his friend, Ox­ford Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Teddy Hall, to de­velop a wheel­chair with a built-in res­pi­ra­tor. He then worked tire­lessly to help peo­ple like him live fuller lives.

In the film, Garfield – im­mo­bile from the neck down – an­i­mates the screen with his wide grin. “[Robin] goes through all the stages of grief,” says Garfield. “It’s de­nial, anger, sur­ren­der and let­ting go and then de­pres­sion. And at the bot­tom of him­self he finds this hope.

“Un­der­neath that feel­ing of loathing and feel­ing vic­timised; that the uni­verse is un­fair and that if there is a God then God is un­just, he finds out with the help of his wife that he still has this spark of life in him and he says: ‘Get me out of here.’

“There’s still part of him that wants to be in the world and if he’s go­ing to be in the world he wants to be at home with the peo­ple he loves. He doesn’t want to be im­pris­oned as it were.” In this re­spect, Breathe fits per­fectly into the An­drew Garfield fil­mog­ra­phy. Look back over the movies he’s made since his break­through year of 2010 when he ap­peared in both David Fincher’s Face­book biopic The So­cial Net­work and Mark Ro­manek’s dystopian SF thriller Never Let Me Go and, with the ex­cep­tion of the two Spi­der-Man films, you can see a clear de­sire to tell deep sto­ries; sto­ries about how we ex­ist in this world, what we be­lieve in (his last two films – Mel Gib­son’s Hack­saw Ridge about the paci­fist com­bat medic Des­mond Doss and Martin Scors­ese’s Si­lence – both dealt with the way re­li­gious be­lief can con­flict with lived ex­pe­ri­ence). Breathe asks what it is to live a life when your body be­trays you, when you have no con­trol over your ex­ter­nal limbs. In short, is that a life worth liv­ing? The an­swer is a re­sound­ing yes, the film sug­gests. “I think Robin was forced into sur­ren­der­ing his pre­con­ceived no­tions of mas­culin­ity and power and strength and be­ing of value and what a strong man was,” Garfield con­tin­ues. “I think he came to un­der­stand that what it is to be a strong man is al­low­ing your­self to be helped, al­low­ing your­self to be at the mercy of other peo­ple, al­low­ing your­self to need a com­mu­nity of peo­ple, al­low­ing your­self to need a strong woman in fact.” How would the ac­tor have coped in Robin’s sit­u­a­tion? “You never know un­til you are faced with things. But I’ll tell you this, when I read it I thought I wanted to know how he did it. I wanted to be able to vis­cer­ally un­der­stand as close as pos­si­ble how they cre­ated this life and how they were able to be so vividly alive with such a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.”

Is he telling me that on set he ba­si­cally let Claire Foy do ev­ery­thing for him? “Hah. As much as pos­si­ble. She would get very ir­ri­tated. But she loved it as well. We re­ally wanted to be this sym­bi­otic crea­ture.”

Garfield isn’t in­ter­ested in talk­ing about the tech­ni­cal chal­lenge of only be­ing able to move his head. “Be­cause it is ob­vi­ously an emo­tional art, act­ing, and even though my body wasn’t of use I had to be able to ac­cess my heart, I sup­pose.” There’s that wide-eyed open can­dour again.

THE first time I no­ticed Garfield was in Chan­nel 4’s 2009 adap­ta­tion of David Peace’s Red Rid­ing tril­ogy, a bone-hard vi­sion of 1970s York­shire noir in which he played a young news­pa­per re­porter. Back then, the pre­fame Garfield was in his early 20s still find­ing his feet. Does he re­mem­ber that ver­sion of him­self?

“Oh yes. He was search­ing. On that job I had to find a lot of back­bone for rea­sons I won’t go into. That was a good ex­am­ple of a tricky ex­pe­ri­ence that taught me a lot about my own bound­aries. I did some grow­ing up on that TV film.”

There is a state­ment that is both frus­trat­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing. But Garfield is al­ready back to con­sid­er­ing how he might have changed.

“I do recog­nise him. I’ve changed quite a lot, I hope, but also I see some­one who was re­ally de­voted and wanted to make the char­ac­ter as truth­ful as pos­si­ble and fight for what I be­lieve was right.

“And I was maybe a bit more reck­less and out of con­trol and a lot more in­se­cure in my­self and what I was do­ing. But it was kind of raw, I sup­pose.”

Born in Los An­ge­les, Garfield moved to Ep­som in Sur­rey with his fam­ily when he was three. He had a com­fort­able mid­dle-class up­bring­ing and went to a pri­vate school.

But that school was dif­fi­cult. He was small and has spo­ken be­fore about be­ing bul­lied. When he was cast as Spi­der-Man he told a comic con­ven­tion: “I needed Spidey in my life when I was a kid and he gave me hope!”

These days he is a lit­tle more com­fort­able in his skin. A lit­tle. “I don’t think I’ll ever fully get there,” he says. “I hope not any­way be­cause I think you

The story of Robin Cavendish and his wife Diana in­spired Breathe.

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