When the Tony-winning revival of “Angels in America” ends its Broadway run, it will be Andrew Garfield, as Prior Walter, who will say the last lines: “You are fabulous. Each and every one of you. And I bless you. More life. The Great Work begins.”
For the 35-year-old actor, the final speech, addressed to the audience, will be a fitting valedictory for what he has called “the most formative experience” of his life and career. That journey began at London’s National Theatre last year, where Garfield was nominated for an Olivier Award, and culminated in the Broadway transfer, for which the actor won the Tony Award as best actor.
Marianne Elliott’s production of Tony Kushner’s two-part epic won unanimous critical acclaim from both London and New York critics with Garfield coming in for a large share of the praise, along with fellow Tony winner, Nathan Lane, as Roy Cohn. Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote, “With his razor-edge cheekbones and eyes of fire… Mr. Garfield has the florid mannerisms of a vintage drag queen down pat. But he wields them as part of an intricate defense system born of both fear and defiance. This Prior is palpably as scared as hell, and as mad as hell, too.”
In the press room after receiving the Tony Award, Garfield was neither scared nor mad, just grateful. Wistful, too, about leaving a production that had meant a great deal to him. Nonetheless, he is ready for the next phase of his career which will include a starring role as a curiosity-bitten slacker in the movie, “Under the Silver Lake,” a sexually-charged and noir vision of Los Angeles from director David Robert Mitchell (“It Follows”). The movie will be released later in the year.
While the protean actor broke through in 2010 in the movie, “The Social Connection,” and followed that up in the title role of “Spider-Man,” he promised himself regular forays into theater. He made good on that promise with his Tony-nominated Broadway debut in 2012 as Biff in the Mike Nichols revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Blouin ArtInfo caught up with him again in the flush of his “Angels in America” triumph.
Pacheco: What was your familiarity with “Angels in America” prior to this, so to speak?
I had worn out a DVD of the Mike Nichols [HBO] film, along with some college friends. It was such a master class in writing, directing, acting, everything. So when I was asked to do this, I said yes because I remembered all the feelings I’d experienced with the film. Then I read it and thought, “This is so important and more timely than ever. But how is anybody supposed to this?
It was that intimidating?
Yeah, yeah, of course, but that’s not saying much. I have trepidation of doing anything, acting wise. I have a healthy dose of anxiety. But in the same breath, when the writing is as brilliant as this, the work is sort of done for you. You just have to not get in the way. And it’s a rare thing to be part of a story which is undeniably important, and of this depth and necessity. So it was impossible to say “no” to it and I’d have been crazy to do so. So you throw yourself into it and hope the hard work pays off.
In your Tony acceptance speech, why did you dedicate the award to the LGBTQ community?
We happen to be in a political time in which they have to fight for their rights more intensely than before….The play is really for anyone who has felt they don’t belong, all those who have felt ostracized, indoctrinated by a religion or a society that says they were created wrong. They were created perfectly.
You’ve mentioned that the plays are as relevant now, if not more so, than when it was first performed in the early ‘90s. How so?
We are lost right now culturally. The play speaks to this moment. It’s absolutely about the epidemic in our culture, this epidemic of a lack of connection of ourselves and each other. We have these amazing gifts of human invention but there’s a cost. We’re discovering the cost as we move on. The person in the White House is the antithesis of the values of the play, of the arts generally. And that’s why this play is so very important now.
How has this experience changed you?
I know I’ve changed a lot because of this play. I live a very privileged life. I’ve had no big health scares. I haven’t had to deal with my own mortality to the degree that Prior and all the brave courageous people dying during to the AIDS crisis. The play has awakened me, further and further, to the fragility of life and the fleetingness of this existence. This play says we can change and that’s wonderful because we’re all a process and we need to get back to that original spark of who we are and who we are meant to be.
How’s the process going for you?
I’m still struggling with it but I feel much closer to who I am because of doing this play and the journey that Prior goes on. And being surrounded by all these great people who are the best influences and who are most inspiring to witness. I feel like I’m seeing people in a much more detailed and rich way. Maybe that’s just growing up but this feels like the most meaningful thing I could do in my life right now.
Founder Louise Blouin