Being Spider-Man is never easy, but it was especially hectic in the days before Tuesday’s opening of “The Amazing Spider-Man.” In a weeklong New York publicity blitz, the film’s cast and crew visited schoolkids, planted community gardens and sounded the New York Stock Exchange’s closing bell. One warm Wednesday, a stunt man dressed as Spidey rappelled down the side of the American Museum of Natural History, hand-delivering a Chilean Rose tarantula for an upcoming spider exhibition. Andrew Garfield, the movie’s star, joined the ceremony at ground level.
“It’s the mask that means everything,” Garfield says. “That’s what kids are excited to see. You know, I walk into a room and there’s a bunch of kids, and they’re like” — he shrugs — “ ‘whatever.’ Their parents will be, ‘That’s Spider-Man!,’ and they’re, ‘No it’s not. It’s some white dude with big hair.’
“And I’m, like, ‘You’re not wrong.’ ”
Tucked into a private room in the museum after the tarantula delivery, the 28-year-old seems to be feeling the long, global promotional campaign. Garfield has been in well- publicized films before (his last two were “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network”), but things are different with a cinematic series whose long-term earning potential equals that of a small industry.
“I question this whole process of selling a movie so intensely,” he says, with little prompting. “It does something to you, to your brain. It’s felt like a lifetime of repeating yourself.” In this context, even an admission of lifelong love for the Spider-Man character — a love shared my millions — risks sounding scripted. Speaking of the hazards of taking over a role strongly associated with another actor — Tobey Maguire’s hugely successful three-film tenure began only 10 years ago — Garfield says he worked to focus on the thrill of the job, “just like Peter Parker has to attempt to hold onto the joy of being Spider-Man as he goes through trials and tribulations.”
When word got out that Columbia intended to start from scratch after 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” — what’s known in the fanboy world as a “reboot,” reimagining the hero’s origins and persona — many observers felt it was much too soon. Why remake something that, at least in its first two installments, had so successfully delivered superhero thrills?
“I get it,” Garfield acknowledges. “I understand that perspective. But it’s not my perspective.” He claims that “before I even dreamed that I might be a part of it, I was really excited” at the prospect of seeing someone else offer a new take on a character who, in the comics, has gone through many more incarnations than he has on screen.
It’s plausible that Garfield wouldn’t have assumed he had a shot at the part. Although born in America, he was raised in England and speaks with an English accent. He has convincingly played an American before (in Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs”) and was praised for his performance in “The Social Network,” but he was already 26 (albeit a very young-looking 26) when he auditioned to play 17-year-old Peter Parker. If Sony, Columbia’s parent company, had waited much longer to relaunch the series, Garfield surely wouldn’t have been in the running.