Former "Amazing Spider-Man" star Andrew Garfield is one introspective fellow, and his latest film — the post-housing crash drama "99 Homes" — has given him plenty to think about. We sat down with Garfield for a rambling, far-reaching discussion on capitalism, greed, human nature, materialism, superhero movies and togetherness. And that's just the first half. See if you can keep up:
How long ago did you shoot "99 Homes"?
Two years ago, I want to say? Two and a half? F—. God, it's so weird, man. It's a long time ago.
This part of the job fascinates me, trying to get your head back in a space to talk about something you made a while ago. Do you have a trick for it?
I need one. I need to figure out how to do it. Luckily with this one, I really believe in the essence of it and what it's about, and I really want people to see it. Because I think it holds some truth about something that's happening in the American culture right now, and it speaks to the separateness of human beings in western civilization. And it speaks to how those without the means are being treated as a sub-class and being treated like cattle — as if they had no souls, really. They feel discarded, they feel kind of treated like trash and forgotten, exiled and outcast. It's something that I think everyone can relate to in some way — internally, within a family, within a culture or a community, on a schoolyard. There's this mass excommunication of the have-nots in our society, and hopefully this film is depicting it in a visceral way. I really hope that it's seen so that maybe a couple of people might go, "Ah, I've got to live differently. I've got to live without my horse-blinders on and I've got to actually know that I'm part of a greater fabric of humanity. Just because I'm getting mine, just because I've got enough food on the table and enough to put a roof over the head of my family doesn't mean that my brother isn't suffering. And if my brother is suffering, I'm suffering." That idea, that way of perceiving the world and proceeding in the world is something that I'm trying to live more and more. So I'm lucky that I got to spend a lot of time considering all these themes.
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I'm fascinated by how this particular part of U.S. history looked to those outside the country. What was your perspective on the crisis in 2009 or so?
Gosh, to be honest my expertise doesn't lie in the ins and outs of the economic crisis and the crash. I know that in the U.K. the Occupy movement was just as strong as it was and is in the U.S. They camped out on the steps of St. Paul's and there was a big debate about where they were coming from and whether they had anything to say or not. I believe they absolutely did and do. As far as I can see, they were fighting for a reformation of a sick system, a sick and corrupt system that breeds selfishness and greed and separateness. So yeah, my outsider's perspective? To be honest, I don't feel able to comment. All I know is that I feel outraged on a personal level and on a visceral level over the treatment of people that is in a way inhumane and unconsidered — as if there's no soul involved, as if there's no spirit involved in all human beings trying their best to make their way in the world. And if a system isn't supporting all human beings, let alone the majority … I don't believe the system as it stands is supporting anyone, the have or the have-nots. I believe the haves are just as miserable in a different way. They're isolated and terrified of losing all they have. That's my very simplistic perspective. And I think we're all secretly or not so secretly longing for togetherness and community, to be honest. To sing "Kumbaya." (laughs)
Yeah, real connectivity. Not Facebook connectivity or virtual connectivity, but visceral connectivity. And remembering that we need each other, actually. We really need each other. I need you to do your job and you need me to do mine. There's a place for superhero films, but they maybe propagate this false idea that one person's going to come and save the planet. But I actually think that gives everyone too much of a break because what it actually takes is everyone and save us and halt the progress of the devolution of our species into the selfishness and greed and false idol worship of money and power and status that is kind of a sickness that I feel is eating us from the inside out.
It's been there for so long, though.
But it's within our power to counter it. That's when we talk about consciousness, mindfulness in all these new age — not new age but old age things that are becoming new age — this big rise in those kinds of practices. I think the purpose of them is to lead to consciously living in a world that is loving and community-minded, moving towards the best of us instead of operating out of this society of scarcity — there's not enough and how do I get mine and how do I make sure I keep mine? As opposed to the truth, which is the abundance. If only the abundance was released by Donald Trump and by Rupert Murdoch. There is abundance out there that they are hoarding. So it's possible for us all to be fed and clothed. I have no idea what the system to implant is.
I think the system is designed to support itself. There will always be someone who has more than someone else, but the system doesn't necessarily care who that is.
Yeah, right. But then you go, what's more? More of what? More yachts, more cars, more gas, more whatever? So it's a system that's supporting itself. But why, then? What's the purpose?
Can an economic system have a survival instinct?
Well, it's fear of change, right? What would happen if it wasn't this system? We would have to start again. And we don't like different, no. "Why would we want to go with different? This works! It does f—ing work, ignore the people who are dying." Ignore the people who are getting hooked on drugs because they can't bear the pain of living a life unsupported by the American dream that claims they can be whatever the f— they want to be, which is bulls—. It's f—ing bulls—. We're not supposed to be whatever we want to be, we're supposed to be ourselves. Each person has a very specific thing to do on this planet. That's my belief. You're not going to be Kanye West, you're not going to be Jay-Z. You're going to be you if you f—ing work at you. Why would you want to be anyone else?
And saying that an exceptional life is the only reasonable goal suggests that the majority of people are worthless.
But that's how we're taught to look at the world, isn't it, on a daily basis? Isn't that what the culture is telling us just by putting up a billboard of a skinny 17-year-old girl in her underwear? Isn't it that saying, "This is success"? If you're not that, then what are you? You're not enough. But you're absolutely right, and it's absolutely terrifying. And I love that you bring it up. Exceptionalism, genius — the word we throw around, this "genius" word. Who's a genius? Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Kanye West is a genius. These people who are the best in their field are the geniuses. Bulls—. F—ing bulls—. Yes they are, but so is everybody. The old idea of the word genius is that it's an archetype that lives in every single person, that everyone has a specific genius to bring to the world. It could be a genius for storytelling, it could be a genius for music, it could be a genius for sewing blankets, it could be a genius for waiting tables. But the idea is that when you're living your genius, all the other s— just falls away. "No, I'm doing this." And the happiest people I know are the people who are themselves, who are living that true genius, be it small by worldly standards or huge by worldly standards. They need be no more because they know that they are all that they are, and they are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing. And the origins of lighting candles on your birthday — it's been kind of taken in a different direction, but originally you would light one candle at the beginning of the birthday celebration to invite your genius to come closer and to reveal itself to you so that you knew how to proceed. So this idea that unless I am Jay-Z, unless I am whoever the f—, then I am worthless is a lie. It's just a flat-out f—ing lie. It's Willy Loman-ism. It's "Death of a Salesman 2.0." We're still there. It's even more insane, perhaps. But you do have people killing themselves and killing everyone else around them — as of now — if they don't reach the thing that they're told they need to reach in order to be a worthy human being. And if they fall short of that, well then f— it, I'm worthless, I'm taking you all out with me because I didn't get what I feel like I f—ing deserve, and I'm going to f—ing take myself out. It's some desperate cry. It's like a child that's in need of attention and in need of care and to be listened to. I'm going off a little bit, but it's scary.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick