To play a 17th-century Jesuit priest in Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Andrew Garfield spent an entire year meditating on the idea of religion, materialism and spirituality. “The majority of the process was praying,” he explained, “I had a year to get ready to go and shoot, and I prayed for a year.” Here, the 33-year-old actor talks about what he discovered about himself in the process, what it’s like to audition for Martin Scorsese, and more in a revealing interview.
How did Mr. Scorsese approach you about the movie Silence? I auditioned. I hadn’t had an audition in a bunch of years and I was very relieved when Marty was asking people to audition.
Why? He’s been wanting to make this film for 28 years, and he wanted to make sure he found the right people to tell this story that’s been rumbling around in his head and heart for that long. It heartened me, because I felt whoever he chooses is the right person because he’s doing very detailed research and making sure the story reaches its potential with the people that play these parts. I don’t think it was many of us who auditioned, I think it was five or six of us.
Were you nervous? Very, of course. And driven. Because I was like, “I’m not gonna leave any stone unturned here, I’m gonna act as if we’re shooting the movie and I’m gonna show up. And I was really, really prepared. Probably more prepared than I’d ever been for an audition, because it’s one of those surreal things. It’s a surreal moment when Mr. Scorsese and it’s a passion project and it’s something so deep in his heart, it’s like, okay, I have to come in all guns blazing.
Did you dress in a particular way? Yeah, I wore all black. It was a really awesome – it was like a two hour talk and reading, and he was very light and jokey in between these very intense scenes that we were reading. It was really confusing. And I thought, well, if it’s me, it’s me. If it’s not, it’s not. But I had a feeling that I was the right person for it, and I don’t get that feeling very often. More often than not I’m saying, oh this person is gonna be better or this person is gonna be better. It’s very rare where I go, ‘No, this one could be right for me.”
How did you get into character? It was a really interesting thing because the majority of the process was praying. I had a year to get ready to go and shoot, and I prayed for a year. I never prayed before, really, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself – call it God, call it love, call it what you will. Insert your belief system here. It became very, very natural and I realize that we’re praying all the time, it’s just we’re not conscious of what we’re praying to. We’re worshipping all the time, there’s that human impulse to worship and to exalt and to long for connection to the divine. We are unfortunately, in our culture, being driven and guided more often than not to worship things that are false and empty, like celebrity culture, like consumer goods, a new pair of shoes, popularity, being a success by what modern standards mean: a nice car, a beautiful spouse, two children and a picket fence. These are all lies that we’ve been sold.
Given very easy access to worship, I found myself understanding that on a deeper way and it really scared the shit out of me and devastated me to be more awake to the mass brainwashing that our culture has been dragged into. We have to really seek out how to cut ties to it, we have to really do our own work to do that and help each other through that. And I think with last Tuesday, and the election of Mr. – can’t say his name right now – the bully won. The false idol won. I’m full of grief about it. I’ve been there before with a school bully on the playground that has power even over teachers and I was too small to do anything about it when I was seven, and now I feel that I’m being called to action in a new way, I think a lot of people are – I think the majority of Americans are, which is heartening.
Anyway, I had a year of exploring, I suppose, this idea of worship, this idea of what it is that we are truly longing for and how do we actually go to the places that can feed us with that longing. It’s certainly not McDonald’s, it’s certainly not the consumer culture we’re in, it’s something invisible and mysterious. And we get glimpses of eternity every day, whether we’re looking up from our iPhones to notice.
Was the year imposed by you, or was that the year before you started filming? Bit of both. I had opportunity to go to work on other things, but they didn’t stir my soul. And they would have been the things you should be doing, fuck playing a priest. But I said no kind of easily. Because, I don’t know, life is short and I can only show up for things – we all have a job here. Everybody has a job here.
Well, there’s jobs and then there’s belief systems. I think what I mean by job is calling – I believe we all have a calling here to do something very specific and it’s very hard to shave away the things that aren’t part of that calling. It was self-imposed and I really am grateful for it, because it was a year of self-exploration, it was a year of god-exploration. One of the blessings of it was I spent time each week, sometimes daily, with a Jesuit priest called Father James Martin who is a wonderful Jesuit, and he is in New York City. He was a consultant on the film, but he became my spiritual director, basically.
And it was a long shoot, right? It was about four or five months. But it felt timeless. It was this very strange mysterious thing, a little bit like that film Arrival, which I just saw recently and just adored. There was something about an awareness that all that linear time is manmade and a construct and we need it in order to feel safe in the chaos of living, but in fact we know everything at all times. And I love how Amy [Adams] did that, and kind of communicated different planes of consciousness and their kind of anxiety and chaos and the dismantling of the psyche, that’s an incredible feat to create.
So that’s kind of how it felt from getting the job to even now talking about it. It still feels like living in a poem or something.
What was that like watching the film? It was transcendent. I hate watching myself, I think most actors do. Some don’t, and I admire that so much. There are some people that just love watching themselves and I’m like, damn, that looks really fun. I wish I could be laughing at how funny I am and moved by how, but I can’t, I’m just awful. I felt that watching the film, I forgot I was in it, I was just transported to another place and time, I was transported to another state of being, state of consciousness. [Scorcese’s] made a masterpiece, as far as I can tell. I feel that he’s really transcended himself with this film. He’s made something quite profound.
Did you have a favorite Martin Scorsese movie before this? Taxi Driver is hard to get out of my consciousness, I don’t know why. It’s so full of love. That character is so full of love. On the surface it reads very aggressive and dangerous and scary. But underneath it all you can feel what De Niro is bringing is a guy that just wants to connect, a guy that just wants to belong. And be loved and love in return, like we all are.
Was there a particular movie that made you want to become an actor? Teen Wolf, Michael J. Fox. Tom Hanks in Big was a really important moment, I think.
How old were you? I was born in ’83 – I believe it was late ’80s it came out, so I was the age of Tom Hanks’s character, really. So Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf and in Back to the Future. It was those guys. It was those moments. And then it became De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman and Pacino and John Cazalle – like fucking John Cazale. And Brando of course, oh my god – what the hell was he? How did he do all that. And then Daniel Day Lewis. And then with theater it was Simon McBurney — it was really Simon McBurney’s work that made me want to be an actor. And then Mark Rylance has become the guy that I look to for constant inspiration – what he does on stage and on screen too. Seeing him on stage is like watching a magician, like watching David Blaine, or Houdini.
What movie makes you cry? Oh, all movies make me cry. I’m a crier. It’s a Wonderful Life is the one. That’s the movie. It’s the whole theme of the thing – it’s the meaning of life. We all have a calling here, and we just gotta pay attention. I have you know, the struggle of a human being, who so longs to matter, you know? It’s a man who longs to matter and be someone in the world. I can’t – and can’t see that he does, you know? A man that can’t see that he does matter by being who he is – simply being who he is. And that’s enough. It’s a killer – just to be enough as you are, and staying home is enough, just being yourself is enough, you don’t have to travel the world – just be. I think – that’s why it gets everybody. Being allowed to be who you are and that being enough.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.