LOS ANGELES — 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 with a nod.
It is nearly impossible to picture the brainy, blue-collar kid from Forest Hills, Queens, enjoying fine California cuisine on an upscale restaurant patio on an April afternoon, 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 mild sunshine.
But Peter’s outsider quality and the transformational aspect of his accidental encounter with a scientifically enhanced arachnid was one thing that so deeply appealed to Garfield long before he ever starred in a blockbuster or had even settled on an acting career. The self-described skinny kid in England who was bullied by his classmates found solace — and hope — in the webslinger.
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“I needed a myth,” Garfield said of his attraction to the crafty 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 across 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.”
“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.
“Emma and Andrew, the spontaneity of their interaction is what I think everybody reacts to, and how connected they are,” Webb said. “They’re not just reading lines. You’re watching people have fun, and that doesn’t always happen. They have extraordinary chemistry.”
Garfield described Stone in glowing terms, calling her “a perfect scene partner,” someone who is “open and present and flowing like a body of water.” But he was reluctant to share details about their off-screen lives.
“There is this assumption now that if you’re an actor you’re asking to be famous and you’re asking to be a celebrity and to have your private life spread in whatever publication or online,” Garfield said. “I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have to please people by talking about something that is no one else’s business.”
With the exception of the “Spider-Man” movies, Garfield seems to prefer projects that title toward the prestigious — he recently shot the indie drama “99 Homes” with award-winning filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, and he’s poised to play a 17th century Jesuit priest for director Martin Scorsese in the film “Silence.” On stage, he won acclaim (including a Tony Award nomination) for his Broadway run playing Biff Loman in “Death of a Salesman” opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman for director Mike Nichols in 2012.
His adventures in comic book cinema aside, it would be difficult to accuse Garfield of courting fame. In person, he’s thoughtful and soft-spoken and refers often to “the energy” of a person or a place, displaying much of the low-decibel charm he brings to his scruffy, sarcastic Peter Parker. He makes his home in the same city as his screen alter ego too, where he said it’s easier to avoid becoming caught up in Hollywood politics.
“New York City, you know that no one (cares) about who you are — that’s healthy. Here, people really care,” said Garfield, between bites of a lobster Cobb salad. “I do just want to create things and be an artist and explore and experiment and be free of fear of judgment. That’s the big joke. The religion of celebrity and fame, the fanaticism of the star, it’s not real in any way. It’s all illusion.
“L.A.’s dangerous for actors. I think there’s a collective unconscious thing happening where there’s value placed on things that have no value, on what a film makes at the box office — that being a mark of success as opposed to the journey of creating the thing.”