Andrew Garfield on Playing Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick… Boom! and Working with Lin-Manuel Miranda

Andrew Garfield has long proved his mettle with roles in Breathe, Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spider-Man and this year he gave audiences two exceptional films: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, Tick, Tick… Boom!, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Netflix’s Tick, Tick… Boom! is a semi-autobiographical piece on Jonathan Larson’s struggle to find success as a New York composer, before he went on to make Rent. Garfield plays Larson, whose untimely death at 35 of an aortic failure just hours before the off-Broadway debut of Rent haunts the film.

Although this was Garfield’s first-ever musical performance, he surely didn’t miss a beat — or a note — and proved he has quite the singing chops. He also accurately channels Larson’s anxiety and fear of running out the clock before achieving success. SHARP caught up with the actor, who just earned a Critics Choice Award nomination for Best Actor, to talk about some of the film’s themes, portraying Jonathan Larson, and getting to work so closely with the “gift” that is Lin Manuel Miranda.

Andrew Garfield interview in post

Congratulations on such a fantastic performance! I related to the themes of wanting to achieve something before you run out of time and doubling down on your craft in the face of impossible odds. You channel the desperation, the fear, and the anxiety that Jonathan Larson felt. Among the many things that he feared in this, what hit home for you that allowed you to fully immerse yourself in the role?

Oh, wow. Well, I love what you just said. I think it’s such a universal experience that Jonathan was going through. I think that’s why it’s connecting with so many people, whether they write musicals, or, you know, make food like it’s about what living out the thing that we feel calling to us… the destiny, this kind of yearning need to express ourselves in the fullest possible way in a short period of time we have here. And I find that just infinitely relatable and kind of an incredible, ripe theme to tell a story about. I’m so moved by how people are connecting to this film, because I think it’s transcending just being a film and it’s actually affecting people in their lives and reawakening an old dream or reaffirming a current dream. And yeah, I just find that very, very, very moving and beautiful. And it’s absolutely my life as well, you know, I feel a tremendous affinity to John. As soon as I started reading about him and reading this script, I thought, well, this is me. This is all of us. I just thought, well, this is a no brainer, we have to make this film.

You said Jonathan is haunting you in the best possible way — he’s a talisman for you now, in terms of how to live life as an artist. How do you have a new lease on life as an artist because of the gift of Jonathan Larson?

Yeah, no, it’s true. He was so uncompromising, he was so in touch with his own internal artistic compass. I think that in the course of this film, what we see Jonathan go through is his heart gets broken open by the AIDS crisis, by the possibility of losing his best friend, by seeing his friends give up on their primary dreams. So I think that is another kind of point of inspiration that to be vulnerable to life, to allow ourselves to let our armor drop for vital moments in order to really feel what it is to be here during this particular moment in time, whether it’s a personal loss, a kind of a more macro loss, which we’ve all been through, especially in the last two years of the pandemic.

I find that to be quite a moving, inspirational kind of place that he gets to where he has to really integrate, that life is about loss. It’s not just about the successes, it’s about the failures. And it’s about the loss of connection, the loss of love, the loss of our loved ones, that enables him to write, his opus Rent, as soon as he allows his heart to be broken fully by the AIDS crisis. It then flows through him this amazing masterwork of what it is to be a young artist and what it is to have a short amount of time.

You spent three days in a recording studio with Lin-Manuel Miranda and his entire Hamilton crew. You said you got to be a student again with the greatest teachers. What was your biggest takeaway working with Lin who has such a personal connection to Johnathon Larson?

Yeah, I mean, he’s someone that just kind of exudes this confidence and this ability and you kind of feel like you can follow him into battle and know that if you die, it was worth it. To be a bit dramatic, but, you know, he’s this elemental force and he trusts his own artistic drive and image and inspiration so much and it becomes a really contagious thing where suddenly you start to believe in yourself in a different way and you start to go towards your own creative life in a different way because he opens up the ceiling to make everything feel possible. I’m just grateful that his parents raised him right you know. They’ve given us him and all of his natural giftedness and glory and it affects everyone he’s with — he kind of he spins you into your own life in a way that that you haven’t experienced before. So I’m very, very grateful to Lin.

Andrew Garfield and Lin Manuel Miranda in post

Tick, Tick… Boom! is now streaming on Netflix