NEW YORK — Andrew Garfield knows he has some serious spandex tights to fill in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the summer's hotly anticipated cinematic rebooting of the iconic Marvel Comics superhero series, which swings into the nation's multiplexes Tuesday.
As the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man, the California-born, British-raised Garfield takes over the high-profile role inhabited by Tobey Maguire in three popular Sam Raimi-directed summer blockbusters (2002, 2004 and 2007).
Now, with a new director, the aptly named Marc Webb, at the helm, a somewhat darker and edgier “untold story” to relate and some dazzling, in-your-face 3-D photography for added eye candy, the stakes for this lucrative adventure franchise are higher than ever.
And much of the pressure rests on the slight shoulders of the slender, boyish Garfield, who earned his acting bona fides with celebrated performances in “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network” and on stage in a just-closed Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman” (garnering a Tony nomination for his role as Biff Loman).
The 28-year-old actor — soft-spoken, politely modest and a self-described lifelong comic book fan (he has a snapshot of himself at age 3 dressed as the Spidey for Halloween) — sat down for questions during a press conference presented by Columbia Pictures in Soho's stylish Crosby Street Hotel.
Immediately he was asked if he had any feedback on the role from Maguire.
“To my knowledge he hasn't seen the movie, but I got feedback from the casting,” Garfield said. “When I got cast, Tobey sent an email to (producer) Matt Tolmach immediately and it was very, very generous, and it made me feel like I could take the torch in confidence and I had his support. He didn't need to do that, and it's a testament to him as a person. We're all just part of that family — the Spider-Man family.”
Truly a dream role
Still, Garfield said he's acutely aware of the high stakes involved in rejuvenating the franchise and anchoring a summer movie that will be worthy of the expected sequels to come. And given his childhood devotion to Spider-Man, he said the stakes are doubly high.
“I'm terrified to take on this role because it means so much to me and I know how much it means to other people as well,” he said. “Because I'm a fan first and foremost.”
So, how did he handle the pressures, emotionally and physically?
“I kind of didn't sleep very much,” Garfield said. “I dedicated myself to it really, I did. It's a weird thing. We all have that one fictional character, at least, that we care about so, so much, and if ever the opportunity came along for any of us to play it, to serve it, to do it justice, like when that moment comes you're like, ‘Oh God, I'm not allowed to sleep, I'm not allowed to think about anything else. I need to dedicate everything to this character who's given me so much in my life that I want to give all of myself to it.' So I didn't shake that feeling off at the end of the day.”
Garfield allowed that while this is his dream role — flinging webs, fighting crime and swinging gracefully between the skyscrapers of Manhattan — there was an awful lot of rigorous physical training required. The actor worked for weeks with stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong and his team, doing trampoline work, power core moves, basketball skills, martial arts, gymnastics and parkour work and honing his skateboarding skills.
“Any mention of Andy Armstrong and my heart swells,” Garfield said. “He turned into a father figure for me on this film and remains that way. I will write a book about him one day. His team, they are the safest group of hands you could ever hope to meet. And passionate, supportive, loving.
“It's a tribe that he has, and he was generous enough to allow me to be a part of that tribe,” he said. “I got no special treatment, and it was amazing for that very reason. We had an amazing time, and he pushed me. There were things that I was scared about, and like any good father he told me, ‘Go beyond what you think you can do because you might surprise yourself.'
“So for that reason it was kind of a spiritually overwhelming experience to work with him,” Garfield said. “And, of course, combined with the physical sensation of doing amazing stunts that I've wanted to do since I was 3, I got to live that adventure for a second, and I'm eternally grateful.”
But being a superhero also means being in tiptop shape, and some parts of the grueling training regimen were not so much fun, the actor said.
“The physical workouts were horrible,” Garfield said with a rueful laugh. “Like the physical training to change my body, because I'm a lazy guy. And I'm vain but I'm not vain enough to care about the gym. Armando Alarcon, he's my physical trainer, and he's a fantastic trainer and a terrible person. I have very confused feelings about Armando, but we had a terrific time, and he kept me on an even keel all the way through.”
As for his portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Garfield said he drew on his own experience as a skinny, geeky kid who dreamed of adventures and great deeds.
“It was important to me that (Peter) started with an heroic impulse but without the physical powers to do anything with it,” Garfield said. “That's how I always felt growing up. I felt like an underdog, and I was a skinny kid. Now I'm not, obviously, I'm a huge bruiser, so I got over that problem.
“No, now I realize that being skinny is OK,” he said. “I always thought I should be bigger because society tells you that. I played rugby and I was pretty good at it. But I got concussed all the time because I was a weakling. So that was something I identified with that Peter felt stronger on the inside than he did on the outside. There's nothing better than seeing a skinny guy beat the crap out of big guys.”
And with Spider-Man's distinctive, form-fitting, scarlet-and-blue, cobwebbed tights and goggle-eyed Spidey mask, he got to look very cool doing it. But hopping in and out of one of the 17 Spider-Man suits he used wasn't always an easy task. It usually took Garfield 20 minutes, with the aid of costumer Robert Moore, to suit up for a scene.
“I have many issues with my costume,” Garfield said. “It's so weird because every actor who plays a superhero says, ‘Oh, my costume sucked.' We should all get together and talk about it privately because it's so inappropriate to talk about it in public. It's like how dare we complain, you know what I mean? Because we're the ones that get to wear that cool-looking suit and it's the dream. Let me just put it this way, the fantasy of wearing those costumes is pretty awesome, and we'll just leave it at that.”