Andrew Garfield can’t remember who he was before “Tick, Tick… Boom!”
Jon (Andrew Garfield) throws a party, though there’s little reason to celebrate. He’s torn with anxiety, his cramped apartment is overcrowded, and he’s just spent money he doesn’t have, a down payment on success that won’t come in his lifetime. But still, with a big smile, Jon toasts his friends, jumps on his couch and sings: “C’est la vie!”
Jon is Jonathan Larson, the composer and playwright who died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35 in 1996 just before his new musical, “Rent”, became a worldwide hit. The new movie “Tick, Tickâ¦ ââBoom!” portrays Larson struggling to be successful in his late twenties, as he questions whether he should get down to it and choose a more conventional path than the musical theater script.
Larson originally created “Tick, Tickâ¦ ââBoom!” as a solo exhibition, “Boho Days”, with himself in 1990; after his death, it was reworked by playwright David Auburn into a three-person production that “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda saw in 2001, while still in his final year of college.
âHere’s that posthumous musical from the guy who made me want to write musicals in the first place,â said Miranda, who has now made her directorial debut with the film.
Miranda saw Garfield in the 2018 Broadway production of “Angels in America” ââand thought he was “transcendent” in that show. “I walked away thinking, ‘Oh, this guy can do anything,'” the director recalls. âI didn’t know if he could sing, but I felt like he could do anything. So I projected it in my head probably a year before I told him about it.
Miranda put Garfield to the test, sending him to a vocal coach and making sure the actor would be able to play the piano enough for the camera to move from his fingers to his face throughout the film. But these are just the technical aspects of an impressive performance: Garfield plays the passionate and frustrated Larson with enough zealous verve to power all the lights on Broadway.
The 38-year-old actor, who recently appeared in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” as disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker and, if the buzz in the Hollywood press is correct, will fit alongside Tom Holland and Tobey Maguire in âSpider-Man: No Way Home,â released in December. (On this super-secret superhero team, Garfield can’t divulge anything.) Still, it’s clear that âTick, Tickâ¦ ââBoom!â Meant a lot. more for him than he initially expected.
“It’s a weird thing when there’s someone like Jon that you had no relationship with before, and then suddenly there’s this mysterious forever bond that I’m never, ever going to let go,” me. Garfield said on a recent video call. from Calgary, Canada, where he filmed âUnder the Banner of Heavenâ, a limited series. “I feel so lucky that Jon was revealed to me, because now I can’t remember who I was until I knew who Jon was.”
Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.
How “Tic, Tic … Boom!” Â»Come to you originally?
One of my best friends in New York is Gregg Miele, and he’s the great New York City bodybuilder and masseur – he works on every dancer, actor, and singer on Broadway and beyond. Lin was at his table one morning and asked, âCan Andrew Garfield sing? And Gregg, being the friend that he is, just started lying, basically, and said, “Yeah, he’s the greatest singer I’ve ever heard.” Then he called me and said, âHey, go take singing lessons because Lin is going to ask you to do something.
Lin and I had lunch and he briefly told me about “Tick, Tick” and Jon. I’m not a musical theater guy in my history – it’s not something that was introduced to me until the last few years, really. So Lin left me a copy of the music and the lyrics, and he wrote at the beginning, âIt won’t make sense now, but it will. SiemprÃ©, Lin.
You played in plays like “Angels in America” and “Death of a salesmanâOn Broadway, but in this movie, Lin has surrounded you with a lot of musical theater ringers, and even some of the smaller roles and cameos are filled by major actors of this world. It must have been an intimidating space to enter.
I remember a very precise moment when we were in musical rehearsal. Alex Lacamoire was at the piano to guide us through the songs – he is the musical arranger and producer of Lin – and I was with [âTick, Tickâ co-stars] Robin de Jesus and Vanessa Hudgens and Josh Henry and Alex Shipp. You can imagine how I feel! They’re just pros, they know exactly what they’re doing, they take notes. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m going to die.”
Then comes the time for me to get into the song and just try to get through it. I remember Alex Lacamoire saying, âWoo, Andrew! And then everyone behind him, like Josh and Vanessa and Alex and Robin, was like, “Yeah baby, that’s it baby!” You got it, baby! I turn beetroot red and five minutes go by, and I’m just like, âHey guys, sorry. I start to cry and say, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy in my whole life to be surrounded by the most supportive liars I’ve ever known.”
Jonathan spends the film worrying about that ticking that only he can hear. How did you interpret this?
There was a line in the original one-man show “Boho Days”: “Sometimes I feel like my heart is going to explode.” It was too much on the nose for people after his death, and they had to cut it, but he spends the story trying to figure out what this ticking is: “Are we 30? ? Did I not succeed? Is it an unconscious idea of ââmy girlfriend’s body clock combined with the pressure of my career? Or are all my friends losing their lives at a very young age to the AIDS epidemic?
It could even be a musical metronome. The way you play Jonathan, as a theatrical person who feels so deep and urgent, it’s almost like he needs to sing because normal life isn’t enough.
Everything is at 11 a.m. Even when he makes love, it’s at 11am! Somehow he knows this is all going to end, that it is all so fleeting, and I think he was deeply, painfully aware that he wasn’t going to blackmail his whole song. And I think he was also awfully aware that he wouldn’t get the thoughtfulness and recognition he knew he was meant to have while he was still breathing.
On the last day of filming, what I understood was that Jon understood it. He knew it was a short and sacred ride, and he had a lot of keys and secrets on how to live with ourselves and with each other and make sense of being here. Once he accepted that, he could be a full part of the world, and then he could write âRentâ. I don’t think there is an accident in there. This very visceral knowledge of loss and death is what makes everything so meaningful. And without this awareness, we will succumb to absurdity.
So what meaning did this story give you?
Every frame, every moment, every breath in this film is an attempt to honor Jon. And, on a more personal level, it’s an honor for my mom. He was someone who showed me where I needed to go in my life. She put me on a path. We lost her just before Covid, just before we started filming, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. So for me I was able to continue his song about the ocean and the wave of Jonathan’s songs. It was an attempt to honor her in her unfinished song, and her in her unfinished song, and bring them together.
I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t want this movie to end, because I had to put my grief into the art, into this creative act. The privilege of my life has been to be there for my mother, being the person who gave her permission when she was ready. We had a very amazing connection, and now an audience will subconsciously know his mind through Jon, whom I find so magical and beautiful.
Still, that’s a lot to deal with while you’re shooting this movie. It couldn’t have been easy.
I was reluctant to share this, but I feel like it’s a universal experience. At best, we lose our parents and not the other way around, so I feel very lucky that I was able to be with her during her passing, and was able to read her favorite poems and take care of her. and my father and my brother. I have already lost people, but mother is something else. It is the person who gives you life no longer there. Nothing can prepare you for this kind of disaster. For me, everything has changed: where there used to be a stream, there is now a mountain; where there was once a volcano, there is now a field. It’s a strange head trip.
You put parts of yourself into others, almost as if they are stewards of who you are. And when you lose these people, you suddenly become their steward.
As you say, it’s like my mother is now living in me in a way that is maybe even stronger than ever when she was embodied. I feel its essence. For me, it only comes when we can accept the loss, and it’s so hard for us to do that in our culture because we don’t have the framework or the tools to do it. We are told to be in the delusion and denial of this universally compelling thing that we are all going to go through at some point, and it is fascinating to me that this great adventure of death is not honored.
In fact, the only thing that makes that sense is if we are walking with death in the far corner of our left eye. This is the only way we are aware that we are alive right now. I think that was the legacy Jon leaves and the legacy my mom leaves me personally, it’s just being here. Because you’re not going to be here for long.
It reminds me of what was written on your script before all of this happened: “You don’t understand now, but you will understand.”
“You don’t understand now, but you will understand.” I’m still in shock from downloading to figure out what Jon’s life was like, what my mom’s life was, what it was all about. Oh my God, what a chance to explore this in his work!