Andrew Garfield, the understated, all-purpose actor who’s back in the limelight

For many he is still Spider-Man, but at 40 years old the actor has starred in a diverse list of movies, covering genres such as drama, comedy, action and even musicals. One of his next films is directed by Luca Guadagnino and stars Julia Roberts

Andrew Garfield
Actor Andrew Garfield at an event held in May 2024 in London.Lia Toby (Getty Images)
Elena Muñoz

The film debut of Andrew Garfield alongside Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Tom Cruise in Lions for Lambs (2007) already hinted at the brilliant career of an actor unwilling to be pigeonholed. Only five years after his debut, Garfield was a global star, a direct consequence of becoming part of the Hollywood superhero club. In his case, it was thanks to Spider-Man. Despite having built a versatile career and being known for playing all types of roles, for many, he remains the most endearing Spider-Man.

With each new movie, Garfield has tackled new areas and now, at 40 years old, he is considered a sure bet by producers and directors. Supported by critics and loved by the public, he is both the perfect partner for the next generation of Hollywood stars, such as Florence Pugh and Daisy Edgar-Jones, and an actor who can hold their own with veteran icons like Julia Roberts. Indeed, according to The Hollywood Reporter, this summer, Garfield will begin working with Roberts on Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, the thriller After the Hunt. And, judging by the Italian director’s other films (just take a look at the publicity for his latest movie Challengers), the new film is set to cause a stir. Understated, but always present on the red carpet, Garfield is entering a new professional stage. And with a Tony Award, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and two Oscar nominations to his name, he has made it clear that he is not afraid of challenges.

Garfield was born in Los Angeles, but at the age of three, his family moved to the United Kingdom, the birthplace of his mother and his paternal grandparents (his father, Richard Garfield, is from California). He spent his first years there. Nothing in his life suggested that he would become an actor: what sparked his interest as a child and adolescent were sports. It was thanks to his mother that he discovered theater — the typical gateway to acting for young people without connections to the film or television industry — and everything changed. “She had the courage to see that I was having a really hard time. I was an athlete, but all of that fell to the wayside […] I got concussed three times playing rugby. I wasn’t keeping up in terms of my swimming. I just stopped growing,” he said in a long interview with The Irish Times. His mother, who died in 2019, encouraged him to find his place through acting.

Andrew Garfield with Jesse Eisenberg and Armie Hammer, co-stars in the film 'The Social Network', at the film's DVD launch event in 2011.
Andrew Garfield with Jesse Eisenberg and Armie Hammer, co-stars in the film 'The Social Network', at the film's DVD launch event in 2011. Mark Sullivan (WireImage)

While getting by with jobs in supermarkets and Starbucks, he began performing in small local plays. “I realized I needed to be on stage with these freaks and lunatics who were creating worlds out of nothing. That was exactly where I wanted to be,” he said about his beginnings.

He studied at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama at the University of London, and his training soon bore fruit. At the age of 23, he shone with his first leading role in Boy A, a film about second chances in which he plays a young man who has just been released from prison for a crime committed during his childhood. His performance won him the 2008 BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

The 'Spider-Man' boom

That success could have been the rookie’s luck if it weren’t for what happened next: before he was 30, he landed a key role in The Social Network, David Fincher’s film inspired by the origins of Facebook, which became one of the biggest hits of the 2010s. And then the Spider-Man boom began in 2012. “I sensed danger for myself, in terms of fame and exposure,” the actor told GQ, explaining how it felt to accept the role at age 26 after beating out stars such as Joe Jonas and Josh Hutcherson.

The media interest in Garfield was not just about his acting: while filming The Amazing Spider-Man, he began dating Emma Stone, who played Gwen Stacy in the movie. The couple dated for four years, until 2015, making few public appearances, except those required to promote their films.

“There’s so much love between us and so much respect,” he told Vanity Fair’s podcast in 2017, saying they have kept up a good relationship after the breakup. “I’m her biggest fan as an artist.”

While The Amazing Spider-Man was well-received, the second installment, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, underperformed at the box office, which put an end to Garfield’s time as Spider-Man (in 2021, he made a small appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home, starring his successor, Tom Holland). Of course, his love affair with blockbusters did not end there.

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in New York in 2014. The actors met during the filming of 'Spider-Man' and dated for four years.
Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in New York in 2014. The actors met during the filming of 'Spider-Man' and dated for four years. Alo Ceballos (GC Images)

In 2016, Garfield starred in another war movie, To The Last Man. Under the direction of Mel Gibson, the actor gave life to Desmond Doss, a military doctor who refused to kill and was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor. To prepare for the role, he lost nearly 20 kilos. His efforts were rewarded with his first Oscar nomination. That same year, he also starred in Silence, by Martin Scorsese. In that movie, he played a 16th century Portuguese Jesuit, a character linked to the world of religion — a recurring theme in his latest works. In The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), he stars as a televangelist alongside Jessica Chastain, while in the TV show Under the Banner of Heaven (2021) he plays a devoted detective with crisis of faith And it’s been confirmed that he will also be a part of Scorsese’s new movie in A Life of Jesus, which is inspired by the life of Jesus Christ but set in the present day.

Go for the big prizes

In 2017, having become one of the hottest stars in Hollywood, Garfield made a decision that is rarely taken by actors at the height of their success. He left Los Angeles and temporarily moved to London to star in Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s cult play about the AIDS pandemic. In 2018, he debuted on Broadway with the same play and received a Tony Award, the first of his career.

As the actor himself explained, the project marked a before and after in his life. “My mum gets sick. And it’s like, Oh, right. I was preparing for something. The person that brought me into existence not being in existence anymore. I felt like it was all connected. She dies young. She dies at 69,” he told GQ magazine.

In the audience watching Angels in America was the versatile Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was quick to propose Andrew Garfield for the lead role in his first film as a director, the musical Tick, Tick… Boom! Garfield mourned the death of his mother while filming the movie, which he said, “became this kind of place where I got to continue singing her unfinished song, to keep her song alive, somehow.”

Tick, Tick… Boom! — inspired by the life of playwright Jonathan Larson — was quite a challenge, since Garfield had never sung professionally. Once again, his performance won over the critics, leading to his first Golden Globe Award and his second Oscar nomination.

Andrew Garfield at the 2023 Golden Globes ceremony, held in Beverly Hills, California.
Andrew Garfield at the 2023 Golden Globes ceremony, held in Beverly Hills, California. Gilbert Flores (Variety / Getty Images)

An early millennial, Garfield is not on social media and has always rejected fame. In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, he said believes that in the film industry, “people are rewarded with money and fame, and ultimately the correct amount of emptiness for an egocentric life. There’s part of me that will always want to shed all that.”

He prefers to be known for work, not for his personal relationships, but that hasn’t stopped the attention over his new girlfriend, Kate Thomas, who works as a “spiritual mentor” and defines herself as a “professional witch.” Of course, the actor has known how to take advantage of the interest in him and has been one of the few performers based in Hollywood who has openly taken a position against Israel’s attacks in Gaza. In October, Garfield, whose father’s family is Jewish, signed a petition backed by 55 actors calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to support an immediate ceasefire.

Over the last two years, he slightly slowed down his pace of work, a time of rest that precedes a horizon full of projects. In addition to the film about the life of Jesus Christ and the thriller with Julia Roberts, he will once again share the screen with Daisy Edgar-Jones, his costar in Under the Banner of Heaven. The two are set to star in Voyagers, which is about the love story between astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan and writer Ann Druyan. He will also star with Florence Pugh in the romantic comedy We Live in Time and, as further proof of the actor’s diversity, one of his other upcoming releases is The Faraway Tree, based on the Enid Blyton children’s book, which stars Claire Foy.

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