NEW YORK — As American-born, British-raised actor Andrew Garfield was vying for the much-coveted role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in 2012’s reboot of the franchise “The Amazing Spider-Man,” he played one ace card that might well have won him the part.
A lifelong fan of the red-and-blue-clad web-slinger, the actor had in his possession a worn photograph of himself as a bright 3-year-old, decked out in a Halloween-quality replica of the Spider-Man spandex suit. Somehow, that photo landed in the hands of producers just before Garfield was chosen for the part.
“That might have been what put him over the top,” said one-time Marvel Comics head and film producer Avi Arad with a wry grin during press interviews for the hotly anticipated sequel, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” hosted by Columbia Pictures at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo. “Who could resist a 3-year-old in a Spider-Man suit?”
Later, as the rangy, 30-year-old Garfield entered the room for interviews, he feigned shock at the suggestion that the cute photo helped him land the role that has turned him from a promising young actor in films such as “The Social Network” and on stage in an acclaimed revival of “Death of a Salesman” into a bankable, A-list movie star.
“I would never be so devious,” he said, then paused. “But maybe my agent or my father would. My father really wanted me to get the role, and he knew I was a cute 3-year-old, so ...” He let that sentence trail off like an unspoken punch line.
In need of a hero
But when questions turned to his lifelong fascination with and admiration for Spider-Man and his estimation of the comic-book superhero’s cultural impact, Garfield became serious.
“Between the ages of 6 and 12, I experienced bullying, and it’s a wonderful thing to have a teenage example of a hero,” he said. “That’s what’s defining about Spider-Man. He’s just a kid. But he’s always committed to helping people, to rescuing them, even the villains.”
His own experiences as a bullied youth are what make him perfectly suited to don the Spidey suit, the actor said.
“I know how important it is to be a fan,” he said. “I know what Spider-Man can do for kids. No matter what problems you have in life, Spider-Man is an example that you can get through it. Peter Parker has all those same problems, but he’s getting through them and helping others, too. He has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and heroic impulse and a deeply felt sense of justice.”
Finding his footing
In the first film, Garfield said, he devoted a lot of energy to just settling in, getting comfortable in the flashy spandex suit and learning to feel in tune with the dual characters of Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
“The first movie reflected Peter’s experiences as he tried to find his footing with all these new abilities,” he said. “My experience as an actor was the same. I was struggling to figure out a way to do the character justice and give him his own spin. By the time we started shooting this one, I already felt like I understood him pretty well.”
And that, Garfield said, freed him up to be more playful and relaxed this time around with all the hubbub of intense fan scrutiny and the tabloid pressure of filming the movie on location in Manhattan.
His more playful Spider-Man has emerged as a kind of trickster, the actor said.
“One of the characteristics of the trickster is they turn their enemies’ weaknesses against themselves,” he said. “Rather than throwing punches and kicks, they are making their opponents beat themselves.”
To that end, Garfield worked and trained with a physical comedy consultant named Cal McCrystal, whom producers dubbed the “Clown Deviser.”
“There were certain ideas that came out of our conversations that referred to physical comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton,” Garfield said. “I love those guys and admire their physical skills. That gave us a great opportunity to play around with Spider-Man and explore a certain kind of physical foolishness in him.”