"The Amazing Spider-Man" will be swinging back into movie theaters this summer with a new director at the helm — the appropriately named Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer") — and a new leading man behind the mask. But how did Andrew Garfield, a 28-year-old acclaimed dramatic actor from England best known for "The Social Network," score the role of a teenager from Queens who does whatever a spider can?
I had the opportunity to speak to Marc Webb at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA where he presented fans with a look at unfinished footage from his Marvel Comics' reboot. He revealed the odd, attention-grabbing behavior from Garfield's audition that helped secure him the title role. Plus, Webb discussed the immediate chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone, who plays his love interest Gwen Stacy, and he explained why this new movie takes the character of Peter Parker back to high school.
Matt McDaniel: For you, what was the moment when you just knew that Andrew was the right guy to play Peter Parker?
Marc Webb: We tested a lot of really talented, wonderful young actors. And there was a moment when -- I mean this sounds ridiculous, but it's true. We were doing a scene that's not in the movie, where he was eating a cheeseburger and telling Gwen to like calm down or to -- trying to put her at ease, while he is eating food. And the way he ate this food -- it was such a dumb task -- such a dumb independent activity that you give to an actor to do, and he did it. [Laughs] I just felt like we were in a diner. We were in the back of the soundstage and I felt like there's something in the way he embodied and committed to that really tiny minutia -- I just hadn't seen before. I can't explain exactly what I felt like it worked, but that was it.
And then beyond that, I just felt he was a new face. That people didn't have a lot of baggage [with him]. He sort of checked all the boxes. And there was this humor that he had and that he can do, and there was this emotional weight that he can do, but there's also a physical capability that he can do. I think the moment was just watching that over and over again. There was something just compelling about his behavior, his physical behaviors that I thought people would really react to. I think that there's the language of the script, which is words, often in dialogues. And then there's the behavior that those words have to emerge from. And he's a master of understanding of what's going on underneath the surface.
MM: Was that chemistry between Andrew and Emma there from the very beginning?
MW: Yeah, we screen tested them together, and she's very funny and really quick and snappy. I remember the first time we screen tested them -- I don't think they'd met before, really -- and he took a minute for him to get back up to speed with her because she was so funny. And then they really brought out really great parts of the other's performance. Of course, it was there, and that's why we cast that dynamic. It was really great to watch it on screen.
MM: The film takes Peter Parker back to high school. Why was that important, what is about the high school setting that's important for the character?
MW: There's an adolescent quality to a lot of the "Spider-Man" [comics] that I liked, that is really important in terms of the DNA of the character. He's like an imperfect guy. You know what I'm mean? He is a kid, and he's always kind of making mistakes, and he is not so sure about himself all the time. I felt like the authentic place to start that was in high school. And I think there's something about the way you feel about the world at that age that makes things much more raw, and I thought that was really fun to explore more cinematically.
MM: What reactions have you gotten from the fans to the trailers and other footage you've released that have surprised you?
MW: I think initially there was a little bit of hesitation amongst the community because they didn't know what we were doing. And when the materials -- when we have gone out and showed people the materials, people have really started to warm up to us, and I think that there's been -- recently, especially since the last trailer -- there's been this real groundswell of support. And when they see Andrew and Emma, there's something that feels new and really special about it that's fun.
I can't say it's totally surprising because when we were shooting it, you could feel that we're doing something that felt real and different and new and it had its own identity and I think people are coming around to that.
MM: What's the trickiest element of Spider-Man's world from the comics to capture on screen?
MW: To create something that's funny and whimsical, but also has real emotional stakes. That's the real tricky part is to make it all feel grounded even though he is doing something, even though he's swinging through the streets and he can do things that no other human can do. But still give him a hard time when he's relating to his aunt or his girlfriend, and all those dumb little things that we all have to deal with when you don't have that mask on. I think reconciling those two universes was tricky, but I think that people really react to it.
MM: Was there a specific ground from the earlier movies that you did not want to cover again? Things that you felt had already been established, so you could go our own way?
MW: I felt it was important to start to define the parts of Peter Parker that were new and different. I mean, I think Peter Parker emerges from this orphan environment. He's abandoned by his parents at a very young age and that has an emotional consequence that tracks for the rest of his life. I felt like that was an important thing to hit on, and that emerges -- it manifests itself, I think, in a surly, sometimes punk-rock attitude, and that quippy, really trickster-y behavior the Spider-Man takes on. Once he puts on that mask, he can act out that wish, that fantasy, and that's something that was important to do. I just wanted the movie to function on its own, in its own right. You don't have to have seen those other movies. It's very different. We just wanted to create a universe that functions on its own. It doesn't have too much to do with the other one.
MM: And as a part of creating your own identity for your Spider-Man, was there a certain look or attitude you were hoping to latch onto?
MW: Well, Andrew went to Queens to sort of study how kids behave, act, dress, and he was very specific about the choices he made in terms of costumes and stuff. It was about trying to find how a kid acts these days given the background that he has. Meaning, he was abandoned as a child -- and irrespective of the parents' motives, or the conditions that surrounded that -- you can't help but feel a little bummed out by that. And cheated, and a little distrustful of the world.
There is an attitude, but again that manifests itself [by Peter being] an outsider by choice. He has a skateboard. He can be a little bit surly, but there's a goodness to him that is sometimes misguided and sometimes not, but there's an attitude. But I think it's really specific to this Peter Parker that you haven't seen before.
MM: I would imagine on the personal level, the theme of "With great power comes with great responsibility" really drives home when you're running this gigantic studio film with so many expectations.
MW: Sure, people quote that to you a lot. And you do feel as sense of responsibility, but I also wanted to have fun. And create a world that was fun and lively, but still honored some of the more tragic elements of the movie, but still had whimsy and romance. That was all really, really important to me, but, yeah, you can't help but to feel a little bit of pressure. But if you start going down that road, it's sort of a slippery slope.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" opens July 3. Watch the recently released Japanese trailer below.