Andrew Garfield Interview, Lions for Lambs

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline recently sat down with Andrew Garfield at the Los Angeles press day for his new movie, “Lions for Lambs,” a powerful and gripping story that digs behind the news, the politics and a nation divided to explore the human consequences of a complicated war.

Directed by Academy Award winner Robert Redford, the story begins after two determined students at a West Coast University, Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Peña), follow the inspiration of their idealistic professor, Dr. Malley (Redford), and attempt to do something important with their lives. But when the two make the bold decision to join the battle in Afghanistan, Malley is both moved and distraught. Now, as Arian and Ernest fight for survival in the field, they become the string that binds together two disparate stories on opposite sides of America. In California, an anguished Dr. Malley attempts to reach a privileged but disaffected student (Garfield) who is the very opposite of Arian and Ernest. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the charismatic Presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise), is about to give a bombshell story to a probing TV journalist (Meryl Streep) that may affect Arian and Ernest's fates. As arguments, memories and bullets fly, the three stories are woven ever more tightly together, revealing how each of these Americans has a profound impact on each other and the world.

Andrew Garfield was born in the USA and moved to the UK as a child. He trained at Central School of Speech and Drama in London and graduated in July 2004. Currently best known for his exceptional appearances on stage, “Lions for Lambs” marks his highly anticipated first international screen role. Also this year Andrew will be seen in “Boy A,” directed by John Crowley and adapted by Mark O’Rowe from the multi-award winning novel by Jonathan Trigell.

Throughout his impressive theatre career, Andrew has received numerous awards including The Milton Shulman Award for Outstanding Newcomer from the UK’s Evening Standard for “The Overwhelming” and “Chatroom/Burn/Citizenship” at the Royal National Theatre; the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer from The Critics Circle for “Beautiful Thing,” “The Overwhelming,” and “Chatroom/Burn/Citizenship”; and Most Promising Newcomer from the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards for “Kes.”

Andrew Garfield is a super nice guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what the talented 24-year-old actor had to tell us about his feature debut:

Q: How did you become involved in this project?

Andrew: I was the last person to be cast I think, yeah. I don’t know why. I think maybe because I was English. Bob is like crazy. I was like “Why are you even considering me?” I had read the script and thought “This is so of our times.” I was really inspired by it. I was really moved by it. I thought this is exactly the kind of project, whether it’s theater, whether it’s TV, whether it’s film, radio, whatever, it’s the kind of project that I want to be involved in in terms of how it quite honestly and directly reflects how a lot of our society is behaving at the moment. I’m still trying to figure out that landscape. I don’t pretend to be anything that I’m not. I’m very young and naïve, idealistic maybe. But reading the script, it got me and I thought it’s going to get a lot of people my age. It made me feel guilty and it made me feel just ashamed of my lack of action, my lack of responsibility for things outside my very immediate circle. I thought if I can be involved in this in any way, I’d love to. I thought it was a wonderful story.

And, after you hear who’s onboard, you’re like “Whew, what the hell!” This is like heaven in a film. So, I auditioned and Avy Kaufman, I owe her a lot because she kind of believed in me and pushed me for the part because she’d seen me in a screen test I did for another film that she was doing and I think she had to talk Bob into seeing me because this is the quintessentially American role. I think when he found out that I was born in Los Angeles, that my father is American, that made a bit of a difference. I had about four or five auditions and he took his time. It was scary. I felt like I was on a precipice. Either I can fly here or just fall onto rocks! It did really feel like this. This can really change things in terms of getting my foot in the door. This was my first movie. People like a safe bet and I wasn’t a safe bet and I think he took a really brave risk. I’m so thankful for it.

Q: Were you a slacker in school?

Andrew: Yeah, academically, I was. I was more interested in more important things, things I considered more important. I questioned everything and I was very neurotic and very navel gazing and I reflected a lot which turned into very negative thinking because I ended up being still. It wasn’t that I wasn’t being productive but I do appreciate that’s it’s given me a kind of questioning nature. But, in terms of academia, I needed to be kicked. But once acting was suggested to me… I had a very inspiring teacher, like Bob’s character in the film is; a drama teacher and that’s the difference between me and Todd. My drama teacher said to me, “Maybe you can do this for a living” and I suddenly felt I had a purpose.

Q: So, you could identify with your character but maybe you weren’t the frat boy?

Andrew: No, not at all. All I knew about fraternity life was what I had seen in movies, clichés I knew about. So I made sure I got my education. I went to SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) at USC and got terrified and kind of got repelled and kind of excited at the same time. The social hierarchy there is disgusting. I don’t know why people would put themselves through that again. It’s like high school only bigger and a bit more aggressive. They’re really nice actually. There were a couple of people crushing beer cans on their heads shouting “frats!” at inopportune moments. It was kind of wonderful and weird.

Q: How did it repel you?

Andrew: Just in terms of social hierarchies generally. I find them a bit repellant. I mean high school is the prime example. So far I don’t know whether my social position has changed but I haven’t felt that kind of inferiority. I think certain people succeed in those situations and certain people have a real confidence, a real self-assuredness, almost arrogance which enables them to be top dog and feel like they deserve it. I never really had that. I never believed in that. I was far too sensitive for my own good. So, that was interesting, trying to get in that space. I know people like that. I’ve got friends like that so that was kind of nice, actually, to access that confidence. I haven’t had a chance to access my confidence since I’ve started acting because, physically, I get cast as sort of the vulnerable, skinny, young-looking man. Again, I was like “Really? They want me to play the president of a fraternity? Definitely. Let’s see if I can do it.”

Q: What was the process like working with Robert Redford as both actor and director?

Andrew: I was really scared and he made me feel immediately relieved and relaxed and kind of warm and just like I could play. That was the wonderful thing about it. It wasn’t rigid. His energy is so easy, slow and engaging and encouraging as opposed to any kind of didactic “say this line like this and do this line like that.” It was just like “Okay great. Let’s try it again and try something else.” Occasionally, he’d be like “Try this there, maybe. Play with it.” It was very encouraging. Obviously it was scary because he’s a wonderful actor. In order for those scenes to work, I needed to match him and that’s challenging but he was constantly reassuring me to go at it. I felt very safe so I was able to mess around. One of the most important things, I’m finding, on a film set, is having the space to fail, having a space to mess around and to play, make stupid choices and someone will say, “That was awful. Try something else.” For that to feel okay.

Q: Do you feel this film is a call to action for people your age? Has this changed your life at all?

Andrew: Yeah. I think it is… slowly as we speak. When I read this, I felt kind of guilty and selfish. I’m not 18 anymore. I’m 24 now. I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. It does kind of feel futile. That’s an argument my character has. If Aristotle and Socrates couldn’t fix things, what am I going to do? It’s a genuine, honest, good argument. I feel like it’s opened a little door and shed some light on a lot of guilt and I think that’s fine, that’s great because if I can make that into something positive, that’s wonderful. So far, I feel like I have something to offer this industry and that’s all at the moment. I wouldn’t presume to say I have anything else to offer. I don’t even know if I have anything to offer the industry but I’ve been very welcomed in the industry so far so I feel like maybe, if people trust in me, then I should trust in myself in that respect.

But in terms of taking on jobs, the choices you make, feeling like you are doing something positive and important, and I feel like this film is attempting, very boldly and very ambitiously, maybe, to do something positive. First and foremost, I think it’s there to entertain people as all movies should. I find it amazingly entertaining. Not watching my bit. I’m kind of covering my eyes until I’m off the screen. But I think there is room to try and provoke some change in an individual. I think it’s impossible to change a society. Gandhi tried that, attempted it and he got shot. It’s small increments I think. I think I’m able to sleep a little better at night knowing that the choices I make aren’t “American Pie 6” and whatever. I’m making conscious choices where I feel like I can put my heart into something. But my brother is a doctor and as soon as I remind myself of that, I’m like “Well how much more noble can you get than that?” Maybe, if I applied myself more in my academia, I could have been doing something more positive, more hands on. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m an actor. I was like “He’s a doctor. I’m not going to try to compete with that.”

Q: Were there any funny things that happened while making this?

Andrew: Yeah. There was talk, there was this joke when Tom Cruise, showed interest in the movie, Tracy Falco said to Bob Redford, “Tom would really like to play that part and Bob was like ‘Okay, really? Let me think about it.’” A month went by with no response from Bob and Tracy was like “Let me know. Tom still wants to be involved and play that part” and Bob said “Okay, yeah. Isn’t he a bit old for that part? He looks young for his age still but I don’t know” and Tracy was like “Oh, no, no, no.” Because the congressman was African American so Bob was like, “It’s not the professor so it’s got to be the student.” We had this idea for the last day that me and Tracy and Tom would organize him turning up in my costume but we never got around to it. We were also going to have him coming on set as one of the Taliban members, acting crazy, but we never got around to it. That would have been funny. But Bob made me laugh a lot. One of his methods of making me feel comfortable on camera was to make me laugh, just make me crack up during a scene.

Q: Are you living here now?

Andrew: No. I haven’t really got a home at the moment. I’m kind of wandering. I’m kind of nomadic which is really nice apart from the time difference I keep having to deal with which is horrible.

Q: What is next for you?

Andrew: I finished doing a film called “Boy A” which was at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s a British film with an amazing cast, Peter Mullan, a Scottish actor, John Crowley directed it, who directed “Intermission” and played “Pillowman” on Broadway originally. He’s made a really amazing film. I’m just about to start filming Terry Gilliam’s next film. I know, it’s gonna be wild. It has a very strange name, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

Q: Any advice for college acting students?

Andrew: I wouldn’t presume to give advice to anyone. I think figure out if you really want it?

Q: When did you know?

Andrew: At the end of my drama school training when I was twenty, about four years ago. I was about to do a very scary thing at the Globe Theater on the South Bank in London. I was about to do one scene playing Ophelia in Hamlet (note: this must have been an old re-creation of when the guys played all the girl parts?). I was terrified. I was anxious. I thought “This is awful. I don’t know if I’m cut out for it.” I was walking. It was a beautiful day and a street performer was playing “Starry, Starry Night” by Don McLean and that was a song I was listening to a lot. It was one of those amazing moments when everything unifies, all the stars align. I’m like “Okay, that’s art and maybe I can move people like that’s moved me.” Just make sure your intentions are good.

Q: Any surprises with the finished product on this film?

Andrew: No. It played as it read -- very compelling. I hope everyone gets as inspired as I was by it.

“Lions for Lambs” opens in theaters on November 9th.


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