Visiting the American Folk Art Museum, one of Andrew Garfield’s favorite New York haunts (“I haven’t been in a gallery or in a museum for two years”), you get a sense of how thoughtful he is about everything … even weathervanes.
“The craftsmanship and the detail and turning something so simple and practical into a piece of art, that’s one of the great things that human beings do,” he said.
Garfield has done plenty of great things himself: starring as the Amazing Spider-Man; scoring an Oscar nomination for playing a pacifist combat medic during World War II in “Hacksaw Ridge”; and earning a Tony Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a gay man dying of AIDS in the 2018 revival of “Angels in America.”
But now, at 38, Garfield is trying something entirely new: his first ever musical role, in a new film called “Tick, Tick, BOOM!”
Correspondent Rita Braver asked, “What gave you the guts to try?”
“It’s a really good question!” he laughed. “What’s the best way to answer that? For whatever reason, I feel compelled to go to places that I haven’t been to before, as a person, as an actor.”
Garfield plays Jonathan Larson, best known for writing the award-winning Broadway-megahit “Rent.” Larson died tragically at age 35 of an aortic aneurysm the morning that “Rent” premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop. Visiting the theatre, Garfield described it as a “sacred, hallowed kind of hall where Jonathan’s opus was given to the world for the first time.”
It’s also where much of “Tick, Tick … BOOM!” was shot. The film is an expanded version of an autobiographical work that Larson wrote and performed about his struggle to keep writing despite constant rejection.
“It was just him bangin’ out at a piano, just singing these songs and trying to figure out how to be him in a world that doesn’t want him to be him,” Garfield said.
“Tick, Tick … BOOM!” is the first feature film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, famed writer and star of “Hamilton.”
Miranda told Braver, “From the moment I got the gig to direct it, my brain was like, ‘Well, who could play Jonathan?’”
And then Miranda saw Garfield in that Tony-winning role in “Angels in America.”
Braver asked, “What impressed you about what he brought to that role?”
“What impressed me was that he brought everything to the role. He brought his joy, and he brought his rage, and I didn’t know if he could sing, but I just felt like he could do anything.”
And here’s where our story takes its own dramatic turn: The only person that Miranda thought might know if Garfield sang was Greg Miele, Garfield’s good buddy and one of New York’s most in-demand massage therapists, who works with both Garfield and Miranda.
Braver said, “And you just thought you’d ask him if Andrew Garfield could sing?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Miranda replied. “I think as he had his elbow halfway up my neck, I thought, ‘Can Andrew Garfield sing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Andrew can do anything, buddy!’”
Miele recalled to Braver: “I said, ‘Of course he can sing, he has the voice of an angel!’ And I’ve never heard Andrew sing!” he laughed. “As soon as Lin left, I called Andrew and I said, ‘Can you sing? ‘Cause I just told Lin, I just lied to Lin-Manuel!”
Garfield said, “I freak out, you know? That’s like, that’s a good friend that will lie on your behalf! Like, that’s like a properly good friend!”
Garfield spent a year studying voice, even learning to play the piano a bit, and spending much of a break in filming (due to the pandemic) in New York City, which has special meaning for him. Though raised in England, he is the son of a British mom and an American dad.
“I was conceived here,” he told Braver.
“It was a hot summer night, in downtown Manhattan.”
“You know way too many details of that,” Braver said.
“Me and my parents are close; what could I say?”
It was his mom who suggested he try acting: “She kind of put me on this path. She was the one.”
But Lynda Garfield passed away in late 2019, and the pain is still real for her son.
“She got really sick,” he sighed. “She really fought pancreatic cancer really hard for about a year-and-a-half, and then there was no defeating it. It just, it was time.”
“You have said that you dedicated your performance in ‘Tick, Tick … BOOM!’ to your mom, and also infused the role with your memory of her,” said Braver.
“Yeah, I mean, I think everything I do is in dedication to her.”
Garfield has plenty to do. He just played disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker in the film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”; and there are rumors (he won’t confirm or deny) that he will have a cameo in the new Spider-Man film.
He is equally coy about his personal life.
Braver said, “I cannot tell you how many young women have asked me to find out if you’re dating anyone now?”
“Oh, my God. Oh, my gosh. Well, I’m flattered that that’s interesting to anyone, and that’s all I have to say on the matter,” he laughed.
“Do you ever see yourself settling down, having a family?”
“Yeah, definitely. It’s something I really would like to do. Yeah. I definitely do.”
As to the future of his career, Andrew Garfield says he hopes it can be as meaningful as that of the man he plays in “Tick, Tick … BOOM!”: “I just want to tell great stories, ’cause that’s what gets me out of bed every morning, is feeling like you can offer something healing, something soulful, like Jonathan Larson did.”
To watch a trailer for “Tick, Tick … BOOM!” click on the video player below:
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Story produced by Michelle Kessel. Editor: Joseph Frandino.