Andrew Garfield discusses whether straight actors can play gay characters

Andrew Garfield has been enjoying his first Oscar nomination this year. I felt like he was actually a sleeper choice for just the nomination, but Oscar prognosticators have suggested that he might be a lot of Academy voters’ second choice after Will Smith. Anyway, he’s still hustling for Tick Tick Boom, and he’s still hustling for his Oscar campaign. To be fair, he’s equally proud of both, the film and the nomination. Garfield chatted with the Telegraph recently about where he is in his career and it’s sort of a review of everything he’s done already, in his 17 years in the industry. Some highlights:

His mother, who passed in 2019: “She was the embodiment of unconditional love. Of course she was proud of the career achievements I was proud of. But if I’d grown up to be a murderer, she would have shown up at the prison with chocolate chip cookies every week.”

Did he feel snubbed when he didn’t get a BAFTA nom? He starts laughing, then shifts into diplomacy mode. “Honestly, how people vote is none of my business,” he says. Then, after a pause, “I think they acknowledged some great people.” Another pause, and a twinkle. “But do I think Olivia Colman gave one of the best performances of the year? Yes I do.”

His British friends in LA: He came up with Robert Pattinson, Eddie Redmayne, Jamie Dornan and Tom Sturridge. Their collective social life, he says, “was proper Brits-abroad stuff. We’d wake up every morning and it would be ‘Where are we having breakfast?’ ‘When are we going to go to the beach?’ ‘When do you want to play ping-pong?’ We’d go to the Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and order a single cocktail between us so that we could just sit there and swim in the pool.”

On Philip Seymour Hoffman & working with PSH on Death of a Salesman on Broadway: “It’s still really hard to talk about Phil, because on that play we were living out the archetypal father-son relationship together every night.” His fondest memories are of Hoffman approaching him “at the end of the nights when I felt like I hadn’t done enough, or it had just been a complete s— show. And every time I thought that, he would come over and say, ‘You had a great show tonight.’ And I’d say I didn’t feel like I’d been on top of my game, and he’d reply, ‘Yeah, you weren’t. You weren’t doing it. It was doing you.’”

Playing Spider-Man: “I love that character. And taking the role honestly wasn’t just a money gig. But I came to accept that playing it meant having one foot planted in the more mercenary side of the business, no matter how much I personally bumped against the values of it.”

Whether Spider-Man: No Way Home should have been Oscar-nominated: “I don’t know… I mean, it’s the sixth biggest movie in the history of movies. Making a film that a gajillion people want to see together is a miracle. Making a film that an awarding body loves is also a miracle. Sometimes those miracles overlap, and sometimes they don’t. But I personally feel pretty satisfied with the audience response. I think that’s plenty.”

Whether straight actors can or should play gay roles: “I think it’s two different conversations getting conflated. One is about equality of opportunity, and I’m completely in on that. Because we should want a world in which no matter your sexual orientation, your colour or your heritage, everyone gets a fair whack. But the other is about empathic imagination, and if we only allow people to be cast as exactly who they are, it’ll be the death of it. So the two separate conversations have to happen simultaneously. Because I’m not willing to support the death of empathic imagination. It’s what we need most as a culture, and it’s beautiful. It’s the only thing that’s going to save us right now.”

[From The Telegraph]

He managed that “should straight actors play gay characters” conversation with so much more nuance than Scarlett “I can play a Japanese tree” Johansson. Garfield is right though – there are two separate conversations, one about equality of opportunity (which is a great way to phrase it) and another one about whether actors can pretend to be someone else or something else. I have to say… if Will Smith wasn’t a favorite across the board for Best Actor, I might actually believe that Garfield had a real shot at it.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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26 Responses to “Andrew Garfield discusses whether straight actors can play gay characters”

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  1. Millie says:

    He was nominated before, for Hacksaw Ridge in 2017

  2. equality says:

    Modern Family was successful with a straight man playing a gay character and How I Met Your Mother had a gay man successfully playing straight. Like anything it would depend on the actor. To imply someone couldn’t also sort of implies that there are stereotypical gay behaviors and that gay people aren’t varied just like straight people.

  3. Ms single malt says:

    I have had a soft spot for him since I watched Never Let Me Go in 2010.

  4. mia girl says:

    Watched Tik Tik Boom for the second time last night, and Garfield truly gave a fantastic performance. So talented.

    • Krista says:

      I just rewatched it for the second time last weekend and was again thoroughly impressed with his performance (and then went down a rabbit hole of his performances and watched Social Network again… SO good! and Boy A, which was another fantastic movie of his.) He’s really done some great work over the course of his career. And I think he eloquently and openly discusses a lot of things Hollywood could do better to be more inclusive and supportive of all creative artists.

  5. Songs (Or It Didn't Happen) says:

    It can’t be denied that an actor, for the most part (as I’m sure there are exceptions I can’t think of), once they announce that they are gay, are not considered for certain parts anymore. It limits them. A straight actor playing a gay character in a romance is “brave”, but an out and proud actor is out of the running as a straight romantic lead. Not in comedies, not in sitcoms, but in more serious films. That’s why we still have actors in the closet.

    I think this is changing with the younger generation that sees sexuality as more varied and fluid, but we aren’t there yet.

    • Kate says:

      I believe the actor who plays Viscount Bridgerton is gay and he is playing a very traditional straight man romantic lead in that and he is wonderful in that role. So hopefully things are opening up more, but I do agree with your general point.

  6. Swordspoint says:

    He’s just so great.

    • Bo Peep says:

      @Songs Completely agree. It’s the same case for discussions about whitewashing when it’s a POC role at stake. Minorities already aren’t considered for a lot of mainstream roles because they aren’t seen as marketable. They have to fight each other over the limited number of roles they’re considered for. What happens when actors in the majority take those roles too?

      I understand the industry is changing, but this will be an issue until we fully get there. Until gay actors have the same shot at being cast for straight leading roles, straight actors should consider that they’re taking a role from gay actors who already have a more limited number of roles to choose from.

  7. M says:

    By limiting gay actors to playing gay characters, you are potentially forcing an actor out of the closet in order to make the person who believes that gay roles should go to gay actors, feel better about their casting. Actors are actors, their personal life should have zero impact on the roles they play. Gay actors unfortunately are already limited with the roles they are considered for hence why many chose to stay closeted publicly, people need to quit making things harder for them in the name of “equality”.

  8. Kiera says:

    I think he might actually have a shot at best actor as an upset. I mean I think Will is pretty guaranteed but I also thought Chadwick was as well. I think it will actually come down to people who believe in voting for the one performance versus those who look at it as representative of the scores whole body of work and that it’s “their time”.

    • Kate says:

      Yeah, I didn’t think King RIchard or Will’s performance were anything extraordinary, but Will is undeniably talented and has a great body of work. So I would be thrilled if Will won, but also don’t think he was the best of the year’s performances based on that one role alone.

    • BeeCee says:

      I love both Andrew and Will, but I’m hoping for Andrew.
      The Oscars are still so political and Will had a messy few years in the tabloids, that alone might hinder his win.

      • P says:

        Hm. If the tabloid thing is the metric, then Kristen Stewart has no chance. But honestly, all of the nominees have had their personal business splashed across magazine covers at one point or another.

        I agree that it’s political, though, and I’m feeling the political winds favoring Will this year! Just a hunch! It’s always exciting when it’s a close race.

  9. Emma says:

    I think this is a conversation that should have a lot more voices in it, specifically, the voices of actual gay people. I do appreciate he is speaking up for equality of opportunity, which has a long way to go, a LONG way.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      Well. It’s not a “this is my lived experience” discussion. He’s just identifying the boundaries of two distinct issues. That’s an important point that so many people miss.

    • Emma says:

      When I was younger in the ’90s, there were very few lesbian films being made in the US (or elsewhere as far as I could tell), and it was always exciting when one came out, didn’t matter to me if actors were straight because any representation was awesome. Then slightly later, The L Word TV show cast mostly lesbian and queer women (not all) to play lesbian roles and was run by a lesbian woman. It was hugely meaningful to me as a young queer woman.

      I don’t say this to take away from anyone’s work, I just truly hope this can be a broader conversation where queer and gay voices are heard as well.

  10. Cat says:

    This is his second nomination. Should be his 3rd (he should have been nominated for The Social Network).
    He is so brilliant in Tick Tick Boom. His singing voice is really great as well.
    Agree with what he said. There’s two conversations at play here. There needs to be way more diversity in front and behind the camera. But also, an actor job is to act. Not play a version of themselves

    • Kath says:

      Agree about The Social Network! He was great in it, and I think it was one of his first big roles right? That computer smashing scene… *chef’s kiss*

  11. GrnieWnie says:

    That’s what I’ve said too: there’s one discussion to be had about equal opportunity and there’s an entirely separate discussion about craft and creativity, etc. People constantly conflate the two. It happens all the time with racism too…people talk past each other, never realizing that they aren’t talking about the same issue at all.

  12. The Recluse says:

    Garfield seems like such a sweetheart. His performance in Spider Man: No Way Home was really touching and funny too.
    Watched Tick, Tick…Boom the other night. He was amazing. I hope he has a lovely long career.

    • Ana170 says:

      I could tell when he was playing Spider-Man before that he absolutely loved the character and was trying so hard but the studio kept getting in the way of them being able to make a good movie. Plus he was the first to push for Spider-Man in the MCU. I didn’t love No Way Home but I’m glad he got to play Parker again and to be in the MCU.

      I love most of his answers here. He’s always a good interviewee.

  13. Rea says:

    Straight actors should be able to play gay characters and vise sersa. There is nothing wrong with trying to broaden one’s acting rage. That’s like trying to limit what a person can read.