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Andrew Garfield talks about playing Tommy

Never Let Me Go
08 February 2011

To say Andrew Garfield is hot right now is something of an understatement. In addition to his emotional turn as a human clone opposite Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go and his role as Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook, in The Social Network garnering him Oscar talk and numerous plaudits, Garfield will soon don Spider-Man’s red and blue spandex in Marc Webb’s 3D reboot of the Marvel webslinger.

Born in Los Angeles in 1983 to Anglo-American parents, Garfield moved to England with his family aged three and later studied at London’s Central School of Speech & Drama. In 2007, he made Variety’s 10 Actors To Watch, having come to Hollywood’s attention in the TV film Boy A, playing a recently-released child murderer, which led to him being cast as a disaffected student in Lions For Lambs, opposite the film’s director-star Robert Redford. He followed it with roles in The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus and as an ambitious newspaper reporter in the award-winning miniseries Red Riding.

Here, speaking both on the set of Never Let Me Go and after filming was completed, Garfield talks about the attraction of playing Tommy, working with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan and how dieting for his character’s completion scenes made him appreciate just how much he loves food…



What was it about the role of Tommy that attracted you?

Gosh man, it’s one of those rare ones, one of those rare stories that comes along where you go, ‘This is utterly unique, this is epic’. I hadn’t read the book but I read the script and thought, ‘This is fascinating and interesting and odd and deeply, deeply human and sad’. And then I read the book and it just filled all the space in my imagination in. You go, ‘This is life and death, this is an epic story of life and death and how short our time is, everything we experience in our own life’. These kids aren’t any different, it’s just a much more extreme situation for them. So I got excited about that and I had met Mark Romanek in Los Angeles when he started casting, just me and him and his camera and I found his energy to be really exciting and playful and open and free and that was one of the funniest auditions I’ve had in a while, and I felt immediately that I wanted to do this. It was one of those rare things where everything gets in unison and why wouldn’t I do it? It’s a no-brainer and I find it difficult to make a decision to do something unless it’s a no-brainer and this one was, Fuck yes, if they’ll have me.


How did you work out how to play Tommy who, after all, is a human clone?

The simple fact is they have no mother, they have no father, they have no birthday, they have no identity, really. The only identity they’ve learnt is of a school environment. They haven’t been nurtured in a way that is relative to me. In my own personal life I’ve had a lovely upbringing. My family are beautiful people and they showered me with love, but I think the most important thing is that underneath all of this behaviour and the learning, is a human soul. That’s how I see it. It’s similar to someone being brought up in foster care, similar to someone who has been in an institution all his life, who has learnt behaviour to protect himself or herself more. So there’s a great physical landscape to play with and the relationships are kind of slightly skewed, but underneath it all there is this very empathetic, human thing. They are humans, they’re human clones. So I’m trying to approach it with an open heart, I guess, trying to make it as personal to myself as possible. As soon as I separate myself from Tommy then it’s like I’m reaching and I’m showing something. If I just accept he’s somewhere inside of me, then I find it within, and hopefully it reads.


You mentioned open heart, but in your character’s case it’s kidney and lungs and whatever else is required as a donor…

Precisely man, precisely. It’s a horrible story because it devalues human life. Whether they’re clones or not, they’re made up of the exact same things as you and I and even though it’s not happened, even though we haven’t started harvesting human clones for their organs, there are certain parts of our society that see certain classes as worthless. I don’t think it’s exclusive to this Never Let Me Go world, I think it’s a reflection on how we treat each other, actually.


How would you describe the world Mark Romanek’s capturing on film?

I think it’s going to be very beautiful. Mark has a very beautiful eye. In stylistic terms it feels as if we’ve had to cobble together our own kind of existence and that should be kind of obvious and in contrast to us as a society right now. So I think it’s going to be quite epic but a subtle epicness, if you know what I mean. I think it should be very subtle because Kazuo’s books, and this book especially, it sneaks up on you and it’s quiet and it stabs you in the heart and you don’t notice until you look down and then suddenly the pain starts to flood through you. So [it’s] a subtle, epic, human tale. That’s what [Ishiguro] was trying to say, I guess, that you’re here for a short period of time, so love, love as much as you can and create as much as you can, and the rest is nonsense. That’s how I felt from reading it.


Do Tommy and Ruth have a different way of expressing their love?

Yeah. We haven’t learnt about sex from our older brothers, we’ve learnt about sex from very technical terminology and it’s functional. We haven’t been exposed to that many pieces of cinema so we don’t know how to make love, and in terms of relating to each other, we’ve learnt from only what we’ve seen and what feels good, so it’s skewed. It’s slightly off-kilter, but still human.


Carey and Keira have been friends for a number of years. Did you know them before this?

Not at all. I was extremely excited to meet and work with both of them. They’ve obviously been friends since Pride & Prejudice, really, really close, and you can feel a warmth between them and a real sisterly energy. I was like, That’s okay, that’s fine, I felt I’d like to be involved in that but that’s probably how Tommy feels as well. But very quickly the dynamic felt really right and warm between all three of us. I felt very invited into the fold and included and it wasn’t awkward at all, and even if I wasn’t, it would have been because Tommy’s a bit of a fucking loner, anyway. But [they’re] wonderful people, really genuine, brilliant, down to earth girls. They just want to do good work, and they really care, as I do, about using whatever they have to offer to tell a really, amazingly beautiful story.


You’ve had to go on a special diet for the completion scenes.

Yeah. I’m really up for exploring the limits of sacrifice that I can give, just as a kind of experiment, but I’m actually struggling with not eating. I love eating I’ve discovered, like more than anything in the world. But not just eating, like eating chocolate and sauces and burgers and deep fried shit. I’m thinking of fasting before we start the completion thing, and I’m going to shave my head, to look sad and like a shell. But it’s really tough. I need to get more disciplined with not eating.


Like Carey, you spent time on set whilst the younger actors were filming as well as during rehearsals. Why was it important for you to do that?

Alex [Garland] put it beautifully: to draw an inner piece of string between me and my younger self, Charlie [Rowe], who’s a really good actor. Actually he’s brilliant, if there’s anyone in danger of being upstaged by their younger self, it’s me, because he’s extremely good. So just holding on to that contact, and holding on to little mannerisms and little physical tics, so there is a link through. It felt important, and from a very selfish perspective it’s always very sad when you have to leave a story behind and leave playing these people behind and there was a way of extending that. I was also just really excited to watch and be involved in any way I could be involved in young Tommy’s life. I think the actors playing the younger versions of the characters appreciated it as well.

When you make a film, the idea is to create community and for there to be a constant flow of ideas and information and creative collaboration and encouragement and to make it more of a family than not, and that element was important to keep everyone warm and cohesive with each other, to make sure we were telling the same story, it always came back to the story, this is such an incredible story and everyone felt the same way about it. It was a story that we were all very honoured to be a part of making, and to make sure there was that line connecting the young Kathy, Ruth and Tommy and the old Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. I felt very privileged to be able to watch Mark shoot it and watch him work with the kids and to be allowed to offer a little piece of advice if and when that was appropriate.


You mention it was all about the story and there seems to be a real sense of everyone involved in the film doing their best to respect and protect the source material.

It’s this incredible metaphor for all our lives and this massive existential question mark — what do you do with the time you have? — and when a script like that comes along you do everything in your power to be a part of that story and if you are lucky enough to be a part of it, you relish every second. And you cherish every second. It’s difficult to find purpose as an actor because there are very few things that are actually of genuine importance that get made in film, and when one of those stories comes along that connects, it becomes pure joy every day.



Andrew Garfield Photos | Never Let Me Go Film Page

Never Let Me Go opens cinemas nationwide 11th February 2011