Andrew Garfield and Rachel Zegler in ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘West Side Story’
Andrew Garfield (“Tick, Tick…Boom!,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home”) and Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”) sat down for a virtual chat to Variety‘s Actors on Actors, presented by Amazon Studios. To learn more, click here.
What do Andrew Garfield and Rachel Zegler have in common? For starters, they both love theater, musicals — and each other. “You’re in my favorite movie of the year,” Garfield told Zegler, 20, during a recent video chat about her first film role as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”
“You’re in my favorite movie of the year,” Zegler tells Garfield of his role as composer Jonathan Larson in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” by Lin-Manuel Miranda. And she’s also a huge fan of Garfield’s surprise return as Peter Parker in the box office phenomenon “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” a film that brought her to tears. Needless to say, these former theater kids have a lot to say.
ANDREW GARFIELD: What you have done is so beautiful and moving and authentic and authentic and real! Totally reinvigorate this classic thing your way. I’m absolutely, oddly proud of someone I’ve never met.
RACHEL ZEGLER: I can’t even believe those words just came out of your face into my face. What is going on?! It comes from someone who has been watching you for so long. I saw you take the stage in “Angels in America” so brilliantly and beautifully. Then to see you in a musical portraying someone I’ve held so close and dear all my life. I never thought I’d see Jonathan Larson live again. I want to thank you for bringing Jonathan into this day and at the forefront of the conversation. Thank you.
GARFIELD: I love that you are so connected to Jonathan. One of the amazing things about being a part of “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is that it just chases those ripples. Just as you chase Stephen Sondheim’s ripples with “West Side Story.” That’s what’s so deep about Jonathan. He woke up every morning and decided he had to sit down at the piano and create in the face of dismal failure and poverty. Without anyone ever giving him his flowers, giving him the harvest he so deserved.
The fact that he didn’t live to see anything, I find deeply moving. It speaks to those of us who feel called and compelled to create and be artists no matter what. It makes me think of that moment for you, and how you must have felt like you had somehow gone from zero to a hundred. You are supposed to do musical theatre. You’re supposed to play, you’re supposed to sing; it is a vocation for you. I can see that.
ZEGLER: I was 12 or 13 the first time I performed on stage with a cast. It was “Fiddler on the Roof”. I think I said three words the whole show. I loved going on stage and people reacted in real time. There is instant gratification in performance art. The vocation, on the cinema side, came from seeing Steven Spielberg work. I realized how important it was to so many people. Now I want to make movies more than anything. Do you feel particularly called to one or the other?
sGARFIELD: It’s funny. When Lin-Manuel Miranda first showed me the rough cut of “Tick, Tick,” I was that 17-year-old drama student again. Suddenly, I was no longer a 38-year-old man who had been doing this for nearly two decades. I was suddenly having a conversation with myself as a young artist, wondering where I was going to end up and then end up where I am.
How is this moment for you? As for how you get on between regular Rachel, who’s just living her life. It’s an awkward moment because it’s like — congratulations on winning the Golden Globe!
ZEGLER: Congratulations too.
GARFIELD: This is a difficult thing to address now, as it is evident that the HFPA is making adjustments and changes that are long overdue.
ZEGLER: It is this mirror of evolution that we all go through. The evolution of “West Side Story” has been long. In 1957, he took the stage for the first time with an incredible creative team, and yet he lacked that cultural mark. And then the Bob Wise film in 1961 – he missed that cultural mark, apart from Chita Rivera [the play] and Rita Moreno [the movie]. This time around, we’ve evolved to a place where we properly represent the people the story is about. I am thinking of the Globes. It’s a step to get to a place where we represent our audiences and represent the people who are behind the camera and in front.
I’m sure it might be difficult for you because Jonathan never got to receive his flowers. Representing it and getting to be in that conversation in general: Does it bring an element, complexity, or impostor syndrome?
GARFIELD: It only feels positive to me that way. I would much rather talk about him. It’s kind of a beautiful thing where I get his love for him. I can be that canal and that ship and that bridge, to sing him a few more lines of his song that he couldn’t finish. It is the beautiful responsibility that I felt. I know you felt a similar responsibility to the Latin community.
ZEGLER: I attribute much of this conversation to Tony Kushner. He was able to create such a wonderful Latin character that I was able to bring to life, but also speak to her in this very real, sculptural way. Highlight a three-dimensional woman, a Renaissance woman. I’m the first Latina to play it on screen, and it didn’t escape me while I was working on it.
GARFIELD: Do you feel like “Rachel Zegler’s crown is heavy” right now?
ZEGLER: At some point, you just have to shut everything down and think, “If I’m not going to read the bad one, I’m just not going to read the good one either.” And you, aren’t you on social media at all?
ZEGLER: There are so many moments where I’m like, ‘I’m going to do like Andrew Garfield and get the hell out of here.’
GARFIELD: I remember starting to get a little attention when I was a little older than you. I wasn’t quite ready to fully regulate myself. I needed to learn the limits. At the same time, I just wanted to fall into the moment and enjoy it, take it while it’s there.
ZEGLER: I have to say, as a fan of your Peter Parker – directed by Marc Webb so beautifully – I love those movies and I love the dynamic between Peter and Gwen so much. The theatrical experience of seeing “Spider-Man: [No Way Home]” was one of the greatest I’ve ever had. And I had just had my encore, so I was already having chills. I cried like a baby.
GARFIELD: Oh wow.
ZEGLER: It started when Alfred Molina shows up, along with Willem Dafoe as well. But when you come on screen, we were literally bumping into each other – complete strangers in theatre. It was so exciting.
GARFIELD: There was a brotherhood that was created between Tobey [Maguire]To M [Holland] and myself. And that is healing. We were like, “Oh my God, are you having trouble peeing in the costume? I have trouble peeing in the costume!
ZEGLER: I love it.
GARFIELD: The first scene that was pitched to me, there is a very moving moment, a rescue of which my character is a part. It sounded like the most curious thing to my Peter Parker. Across universes, being able to rescue my younger brother’s love in this other multidimensional universe. It was quite deep. I was like, “Oh, well, that’s some creepy fate, ‘sliding door’ stuff.”
The director, Jon Watts, is incredibly bright, smart and funny, but he also has a very big heart. That’s what I find so moving about Tom’s films – they’re just full of goodness. And what he creates with Zendaya and with Jacob Batalon is pure love.
You’re about to go work with Marc Webb on “Snow White.”
ZEGLER: Never in a million years would I have imagined this would be a possibility for me. Normally you don’t see a Snow White of Latin descent. Even though Snow White is really a big deal in Spanish speaking countries. Blanca Nieves is a huge icon, whether you’re talking about the Disney cartoon or just different iterations and the Grimm fairy tale and all the stories that come with it. But you don’t particularly see people who look like me or have me play roles like that. When this was announced, it was a huge thing that was trending on Twitter for days because everyone was angry.
GARFIELD: Oh, these people. The people we need to educate. The people we need to love become conscious.
ZEGLER: We have to love them in the right direction. Ultimately, I have a job to do that I’m really looking forward to. I’m becoming a Latina princess.