‘Amazing’ star trying to preserve shred of secret identity

Los Angeles TimesMay 2, 2014 

Andrew Garfield, the star of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” took one glance around the Bel-Air eatery and made a quick assessment:

“Peter Parker wouldn’t be allowed in here,” the 30-year-old said.

It is nearly impossible to picture the brainy, blue-collar character from Forest Hills, Queens, enjoying fine California cuisine on an upscale restaurant patio, and even Garfield, the 30-year-old actor who has lived inside Peter Parker’s skin for the last few years, seems a little too low-key and comfortably unkempt to belong to the class of diners soaking up the sunshine.

But Peter’s outsider quality and the transformational aspect of his accidental encounter with a scientifically enhanced arachnid was one thing that deeply appealed to Garfield long before he starred in a blockbuster or had even settled on an acting career. The self-described skinny English kid who was bullied by his classmates found solace – and hope – in the webslinger.

“I needed a myth,” Garfield said of his attraction to the costumed hero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko at Marvel Comics in 1962. “I needed a story to put myself into to understand where I was at, to remind me that it’s OK to be imperfect. ... You can be imperfect and still be a hero. That’s incredibly empowering for young people.”

In the new $200-million production — directed, like its predecessor, by Marc Webb — Garfield’s wall-crawling hero is beset by numerous threats, chief among them Jamie Foxx’s Electro, an incandescent blue bad guy who wields the ability to control the power grid.

Yet even as he must try to contain the damage Electro inflicts on Manhattan, Peter Parker struggles to learn more about his own past, including his father’s demise. He’s also wrestling with his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), attempting to balance his feelings for her with his desire to keep her out of harm’s way. Plus there’s the matter of an old friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), whose reappearance spells trouble.

It’s the kind of conflicted, complicated character that appeals to the actor.

“This is the Spider-Man movie that I want to make,” said Garfield. “This is the Spider-Man that I want to portray, and this is the Spider-Man that I want to have the opportunity to be.”

Born in Los Angeles but raised in London, Garfield attended the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and found work on stage before winning smaller turns on English TV. (He even showed up on the cult series “Doctor Who”). He began to build a reputation as a serious, emerging talent with his performance as crime reporter Eddie Dunford in the “Red Riding” miniseries, a moody saga comprising three overlapping violent tales.

That success led to lauded roles in Mark Romanek’s somber literary adaptation “Never Let Me Go” and David Fincher’s Oscar-winning 2010 drama “The Social Network,” in which he played Eduardo Saverin, beleaguered friend to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg).

Soon after, he was approached with an opportunity to audition for the studio’s Spider-Man reboot – a project that initially generated controversy following so closely after 2007’s “Spider-Man 3,” the film that brought director Sam Raimi’s earlier blockbuster trilogy about the character to a close. To book the audition, Garfield said he was required to sign a contract stating that he would accept the part if it were offered to him without first being allowed to read the script.

“I was like, ‘This is ridiculous,’” he recalls. “I don’t even know that I’m going to get on with the people. They were like, ‘This is the way it is with these movies. The studio has the power. So either you sign up now or they don’t audition you.’ The 3-year-old inside me is going, ‘You’re hesitating?’”

The actor said he developed a rapport with Webb, who came to the movie as the director of the indie breakout “(500) Days of Summer,” but the creative team struggled to bring something surprising to a retelling of Spider-Man’s well-known origins, which were recounted once more in the script for the 2012 film credited to James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves.

“The fresh stuff in that film was invented on the day,” Garfield said. “We were given a structure, but there had to be a lot of invention going on to give it life. I felt like there were lots of missed opportunities. It was heartbreaking in a lot of ways. I didn’t sleep.”

“The Amazing Spider-Man” turned out to be a blockbuster hit that took in upward of $262 million at the domestic box office and also earned critical praise, thanks in part to the winning chemistry between Garfield and Stone, who met and began dating during the production.

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