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Andrew Garfield and Marc Webb enliven a superhero in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

Andrew Garfield
Andrew GarfieldColumbia Pictures

In “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” Peter Parker/Spider-Man (played by Andrew Garfield) battles three villains: Electro (played by Jamie Foxx, who also plays Electro's alter ego Max Dillon), the Green Goblin (played by Dane DeHaan, who also plays Green Goblin’s alter ego Harry Osborn) and the Rhino (played by Paul Giamatti, who also plays the Rhino's alter ego Aleksei Sytsevich). There is also turmoil for the web-slinging superhero in his personal life: Peter has an on-again/off-again relationship with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone), and he finds out some family secrets that involve his missing parents. Here is what Garfield and director Marc Webb said when I caught up with them at the New York City press junket for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."

Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield at the New York City press junket for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield at the New York City press junket for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"Carla Hay

In "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," Peter Parker thinks about moving to England to be with Gwen Stacy while she's attending Oxford University. What do you think about that possibility?

Webb: I think skyline [in England] is a little difficult for Spider-Man to swing through in a way that New York is very specifically [designed for Spider-Man's activities]. It was built for Spider-Man. Robert Moses built New York up for Spider-Man. He and Stan Lee colluded. But that would be an interesting idea, wouldn't it? I think Gwen Stacy, at one point in the comics, does go to London.

Garfield: Doesn't she get impregnated by Norman Osborn as well?

Webb: Yeah.

Garfield: Way later though.

How did you come up with the Electro action scenes in "The Amazing Spider-Man"?

Webb: With Electro, what he's after, his agenda is about being seen, which comes from, if you think about the character and Electro being a visual villain, it's reverse engineering. So we were trying to think of something that would accommodate that idea and that theme.

And then, we were thinking for Spider-Man, where's the least convenient place on Earth where you can put Electro, a guy who thrives on electricity? And there seemed to be two ideas: a power plant and Times Square, where there's electricity just surging and a lot of people. So that was how that began.

You've got to think of action scenes as scenes where the characters are different in the beginning of the scenes as they are at the end of the scenes. Or you're revealing part of the character that you didn't have access to before.

So in a very real way, Times Square is really Electro's scene, where he transitions from being Spider-Man's biggest fan to Spider-Man's biggest foe, despite the very heroic efforts of Spider-Man. I think what I like about that scene is that it reinforces a very specific part of Spider-Man's persona or Spider-Man's ability, which is that he doesn't come in and just clobber the guy.

He tries to understand him. He tries to empathize with him. He tries to talk to him and see him in a way that nobody else is willing or capable of doing. I think that's a very special and important and very misunderstood part of Spider-Man.

How much filming did you actually do in Times Square?

Webb: We shot two or three nights in Times Square. And on a $200 million movie, we were running out of a van, guerrilla-style, with Jamie Foxx and throwing the camera over and shooting amongst people. It was like the old days of music videos.

But then, we built a massive version of Times Square out on Long Island, and we spent three-and-a-half weeks actually shooting it on the stage that we built. So it was the combination of filmmaking on the grandest scale and super-guerrilla style.

Spider-Man seems like even more of a outsider vigilante than in the first "Amazing Spider-Man" movie. Did you spend a lot of time talking about that and what it would mean for the direction of the Spider-Man character?

Garfield: That's just the reality, isn't it? I can only really talk about it from the inside, as that misunderstood feeling that we all can relate to. I think it's another important obstacle for Peter as Spider-Man. It gives him something else to move through and something else to drag himself out of bed to try and serve something greater, even with people throwing rotten tomatoes at him.

It's the same with all of our lives. We're all trying to do our best. And I think it's evident that Spider-Man is, but there are always going to be people throwing [stones], especially in this Internet generation, the Internet age we're in.

What do you call it? Trolling? People who want to get out all their bile, and it doesn't matter where. It's an important struggle, I think, for Peter.

And especially as a young person, because Peter is a young person, that struggle will be misunderstood and feeling not seen. It's the exact same thing that Max Dillon struggles with. There's a kinship there, I think.

A lot happens to Spider-Man/Peter Parker in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," but he doesn't become vengeful, like a lot of superheroes would. Can you talk about why he reacts in the way that he does?

Garfield: We were talking about that in an interview before this. In the first movie, he has a period of revenge taking after Uncle Ben dies, because he feels a responsibility. And it's a very human response. It's obviously not the most evolved response, but when are we ever that evolved as humans?

Especially as young people, you find out what feels better to you and how to sublimate your energy into something that's more positive and healthy. But in that first movie, I think it was really important that Peter went through that first phase of revenge, because he didn't know what to do with his powers. He didn't know what to do with his feelings. He didn't want to look his aunt in the eye after Uncle Ben dies.

But then, of course, that shifts. And underneath it all, Peter is born with this innate compassion and humanity for people. And we set that up in the first movie as well, in terms of how he sticks up for the kid being bullied, right off the bat, even without the power that he gets. So that seed is already in Peter: that humanity, that compassion and his empathy for other people's struggles. And his sensitivity, his inner feminine, if you will.

What makes your interpretation of Peter Parker unique?

Garfield: You can't compare. That's not our job. That's your job. I'm not able to. That's wasted energy for me. All I can do is show up and bring my heart and soul to it, my own interpretation and work with Marc and create it together.

The way I see it is that we are part of a larger legacy. I celebrate what Tobey [Maguire] did [in the first three "Spider-Man" movies]. I celebrate what [producer] Avi [Arad] did with the ["Spider-Man"] television series.

I celebrate what Stan Lee and [Steve] Ditko and all these great artists and writers that have given different incarnations of this character. All I hope to do is be another part of that longer, much greater legacy, be a part of a team, as opposed to comparing or competing.

The 2007 movie "Spider-Man 3" got a lot of criticism because some people thought three villains were too many for that film. What did you do to avoid some of the pitfalls of that movie?

Webb: There is certainly an awareness of what had come before us and people's response to that. We had a really wonderful writer named Alex Kurtzman, who came in. We tried to navigate all of those characters and give them the appropriate amount of story and really tell the stories of those characters and how they really all are reflections in one way or another for Peter Parker. What they extract from Peter Parker is really the important thing.

Electro allows you to see that empathy and the empathic side of Spider-Man and his physical abilities that are conjured in the books in a very specific way in their cleverness and how he stops the guys with water instead of violence. But then there's Harry Osborn, which brings up a different side to that character, which shines a light on the very relatable domestic relationship.

We all have best friends. We all have arguments with best friends. It's just that in a "Spider-Man" movie, that's just taken to its absolute surreal extreme. And it was a way for us to conjoin folks on the Gwen story. It was very carefully placed and plotted out. In a very real way, there's one big villain in the movie, and that's Oscorp, with different tentacles.

In "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," Peter finds out that certain things that he thought were true turn out to be not true at all. Finding out the truth makes him questions his loyalties and priorities. And we see that the government isn't always doing good in this story. Moving forward in the "Spider-Man" series, how do you think this changed perspective will affect how Spider-Man fights crime?

Garfield: Big question. The amazing thing about Peter is that he's a working-class hero and a genius, not just in terms of the physical ability he gets. He'd be a computer hacker or he'd be part of the hacker table in the start-up of Google or Twitter.

So what would Peter Parker think of Edward Snowden?

Webb: That's a good question.

Garfield: Heroic, for sure. I think that's what he would think, but not me. We can talk about that in private. I think it would be interesting to think about that his relationship would be to Tony Stark, or what his relationship would be to these guys who are the very visible "with great power comes great responsibility" thing. I think he [Peter Parker/Spider-Man] is a subversive, underground revolutionary.

Webb: I think you're absolutely right. I think there's a rebel spirit, there's an irreverent quality. He's very distrustful of institutions and corporations. He's a kid and he's a loner. And he's super-smart and an incredibly gifted critical thinker. So he likes to ride his own horse. That's so much the identity of the character.

Garfield: Robin Hood, in a way.

Webb: Exactly. I think he cares more and more about people than he does ideas.

In the first "Spider-Man" movie in 2002, Peter Parker was very shy and timid about romancing Mary Jane Watson. After everything Peter Parker has been through in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," it's hard to imagine that he would be that naïve again. What can you say about the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson relationship in "The Amazing Spider-Man 3," since some of it was originally supposed to be in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"?

Garfield: We have to ask the question "Can he love again?" And obviously, we're talking about a big spoiler in ["The Amazing Spider-Man 2"]. I think the main question is we want to deal with the reality of what just happened.

And the reality of what just happened to me [as] Peter Parker is post-traumatic stress. It's now something that's very real in Peter's psyche and Peter's soul. So is able let love in again? Is one able to love again after such a huge loss and having your love for someone tied in with the loss of someone so dear to you — literally a manifestation of your heart.

So whether or not Mary Jane or any other person could penetrate this very damaged heart or very protected heart. My heart is now my kryptonite, which is something that Marc says. My heart is what gets people hurt, so I have to keep my heart under lock and key and put it in the basement and pretend like I don't have one. But what's the fallout of that?

Webb: Peter Parker is a caustic character. He knows that people who associate with Peter Parker are in danger now. And that's going to have a massive impact on how he deals with the future.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" has a major spoiler which I won't reveal, but it's safe to say that what happens has a big impact on the "Spider-Man" storyline and it changes Peter Parker's life. Did you plan to have that life-changing plot point in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" from as far back as the first "Amazing Spider-Man" movie? And how did you keep it a secret?

Webb: Yes ... We did a lot of shooting in closed sets. We did a lot of non-disclosure agreements. We did a lot of talking to the crew. You try to prevent [leaking of spoilers] as much as you can. And then it goes out into the world. It's a non-scientific way.

Can you talk about the relationship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn? They both feel like abandoned orphans, and yet there's a tragedy to how these two longtime friends turn into enemies.

Garfield: I think there's a very deep that they both share or having lost or having perceived to be abandoned in different ways by their parents but predominately that lack of father. Peter has had his aunt and uncle, so he's had that great influence in his life, but it still leaves a void when your direct bloodline feels it's OK to let you go.

It does something to the psyche at its core, like, "What's wrong with me? Why didn't they take me? Why didn't they stay around?" And Harry shares that. There's a very unsaid thing where as soon as they see each other, it's like, "Oh my God. I know you, and you know me."

Peter's at a moment when he's so alone in his life. He's without Gwen. He can't communicate what's going on with his Aunt May. He's a real lone wolf. It's like water in the desert, like, "Oh, my buddy's back!"

And for Harry, it's harder for him to let himself feel that because he's been so wounded by people all of his life, because of the position he's come from, because of his class, because of the money, being the son of this great man [Norman Osborn, the founder of Oscorp]. He has trust issues with people.

But then, Peter sees that "This is my childhood friend, and he does know and love me." So it's brothers. And with brothers, there's jealousy. With brothers, there's envy. With brothers, there's competition. We all know about Cain and Abel, to a certain degree.

And I think it's tragic, because all Harry wants is a friend. And all Peter wants is a friend. But in the shuffle and the differing needs and the damaged psyche of Harry, there's a misunderstanding that happens between him and Spider-Man where [Harry] can't see the woods for the trees. He's so lost in his own long and his own needs and his own fear of his own demise.

So it's completely fair that all of his aggression and anger turns on the one closest to him — the one who actually really loves him, which is an old, old story that we all know and struggle with in our own lives. Yeah, it is tragic, because it could have gone a different way. It could have gone a different way through different events.

For more info: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" website