Andrew Garfield: our No 1 hottest young British movie talent

With roles in The Social Network and Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield's sense of ambition is finally being rewarded
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Age: 27

Credits: Won the 2007 Best TV Actor Bafta for Boy A. Film work includes a major role in The Social Network, Never Let Me Go and the forthcoming Spider-Man reboot.

"Until I was about 17, I didn't quite realise what a major part of my psyche and my soul the American films I was raised on were," says Andrew Garfield. "Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, The Princess Bride – those are the films that led me to want to be an actor." Now he has his chance to stake his own claim on the psyches and souls of a new generation of teenage moviegoers, taking the title role in next year's Spider-Man reboot.

Taking on one of cinema's most high-profile roles might be a daunting prospect, but his has not quite been a rise from nowhere: 2010 has already been a stellar year for Garfield, whose star has gone supernova with a series of roles that must leave well-established British TV peers like John Simm, David Tennant and Ben Whishaw cursing the scrawny twentysomething.

First up for Garfield fans is David Fincher's The Social Network, the story of the early life of Facebook and the relationships that were built and destroyed by its success. It's already been hailed the film of the year in the States and currently stands at the top of the American box office, having just enjoyed an opening weekend of $23m. At almost exactly the same time, his next turn, alongside Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley in Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, will open the London film festival – and that's before he turns in his version of the webbed wonderkid.

Tobey Maguire fans – and there are many vocal and vehement ones – will insist that no one can replace the king of geek chic in the Spider suit, but they may come to accept that if anyone can, it's Garfield. He has all of Maguire's innate intelligence and endearing gawky awkwardness, as well as one crucial advantage over his predecessor – as a former gymnast, Garfield can do his own backflips. Newly appointed Spider-Man director, Mark Webb, is certainly sold.

"Those who know this young actor's work understand his extraordinary talents," he has said. "He has a rare combination of intelligence, wit and humanity. Mark my words, you will love Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker."

Garfield himself says, yes, it's a big deal, but you suspect there may be few young actors who understand the role like he does. "The reluctant hero, full of self-doubt, who isn't supremely confident, who hunches, literally hunches his body, but learns how to access his own personal strength – Spider-Man has been a constant source of reassurance for me in my own personal life," he says. "I've been inspired by the character since reading the comic books and seeing the cartoons, and then watching Tobey Maguire in the Sam Raimi films. It's a story that propels you into your own fantasies about finding that strength yourself. I'm incredibly excited by it."

Garfield's ability to make such a compelling analysis of Spider-Man won't surprise anyone who has followed his swiftly ascending career so far. It's not just his nervous energy – he has said that he arrives on most sets feeling "scared and insecure" and often "sabotages" himself. Garfield has a history of making interesting choices and a knack for using his edgy watchfulness to steal scenes from some of the best actors in the business.

Born into a middle-class Jewish family and brought up in Surrey (he attributes his "guilt" at being "privileged" as an early motivation for wanting to do "some kind of good" through inspiring roles), Garfield's resolution to make a career of acting was in evidence from the age of 15, when he began taking local classes. Focusing initially on theatre, he won the prestigious Evening Standard best newcomer award in 2007, then sent ripples across the British film industry with a show-stopping performance as a rehabilitated child murderer emerging back into society in Channel's 4's Boy A. This, his first film lead, secured him a best TV actor Bafta at the tender age of 25. He still regards Boy A as a landmark role that gave him a set of goals for all his future work.

"To work with Peter Mullan on that was extremely special and a great education in camera acting – and how to get truth on camera," he says. "I always go back to that in my head, how real and visceral that father-son relationship felt to me – the fact that I could look at him and not have to work on how I felt with him, the fact that I automatically associated his face and his presence with comfort. That gave me a cue into where I wanted to go and how I wanted to work. I wanted to make everything after that as personal as Boy A felt."

He quickly caught the eye of Hollywood royalty and was subsequently cast in Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs, and Terry Gilliam's fantastical, indulgent The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Gilliam predicted great things for him, stating: "He's a really fine actor. It's inside of him there, the real stuff." Though Garfield admits the call of Tinseltown was enticing, he was determined that his choices be dictated by the qualityof the work, and stayed with Channel 4 in 2009 to play a wilful young reporter in the adaptation of David Peace's dark police corruption series, Red Riding.

"Since I went to drama school my attitude towards each project has been the same," he says. "I've approached them all with the same vigour and excitement and enthusiasm. My first TV job was C4 teen drama Sugar Rush, which I was extremely excited to be a part of and still see as a massive learning experience. I'm constantly looking for a different kind of challenge – not bigger or better, I don't see things in those terms. I really don't consider The Social Network to be any bigger than Red Riding."

He has always been very ambitious, however – when asked whose career he would most like to emulate he says he'd like to be "an amalgamation of every great artist who's inspired me, from Daniel Day-Lewis to Tom Hanks" – and it was inevitable the lure of LA would prove irresistible. "I was born in America, my dad's American – I had a romantic vision of what American movies were," he says. Then he reveals the British part of himself: "But a part of me didn't want to spoil that vision by actually making them."

One imagines he'll be rather pleased he managed to overcome that little dilemma.


Jane Graham

The GuardianTramp

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