So, is there already a three-movie storyline mapped out for this new Spider-Man? The actor chuckles: Even this first chapter wasn’t completely plotted when he started work, he says.
“Um, it was, it evolved every day. Yeah, it evolved, we’ll just say that.” Having a fluid script might have made for a scary work environment, but it also seems to have afforded the young star more input than he expected.
Having first encountered Spidey in the old animated TV series, with its bright colors and infectious theme song, the actor appreciated Maguire’s wide-eyed, all-American take on the character. But once he got the role, he was eager to bring a less candy-coated sensibility to it.
“Obviously, I didn’t decide the tone of the movie,” he acknowledges.
But in preparing for the role, he pondered what being orphaned meant to the youth — he agrees that this Peter comes across as somewhat troubled, psychologically — and worked to bring the character into the present day. Being a nerd has changed, after all, since Peter Parker was created in 1962.
Before he acquires superhuman powers, Garfield’s Parker is skittish and reticent. He hesitates before speaking, as if reluctant to commit thoughts to speech. He’s less an outcast than a loner; he travels by skateboard.
“It was my idea that he skateboarded,” the actor says, proud to have introduced a story element that not only brings new sociological associations to the character but offers a new angle on his physicality. If Maguire’s Peter Parker resembled the scrawny kid in a Charles Atlas ad, awestruck when a radioactive spider’s bite makes him muscular overnight, Garfield’s has a more hard-wired sense of movement and speed.
When it came time for the filmmakers and CGI animators to envision how this Spider-Man would move through the air, Garfield insisted on being involved, using acting-school techniques of animal imitation to imagine how a human kid would adapt to his new powers.
“I was panicked throughout the process,” he recalls, stuttering and gesticulating as he describes his concern about meshing his own performance in the red-and-blue suit with shots of a computer-generated web slinger swinging past skyscrapers. “ ‘Are we going to be in two different movies? We have to be in the same movie,’ ” he remembers worrying, knowing that whatever the CGI Spidey did was “all representative of Peter and therefore representative of me.”
In the end, the illusion is convincing. Thanks both to improved effects work and a distinctive movement style, it’s harder to watch Spidey in this film without imagining the human kid underneath the mask. Even very young viewers may find the connection hard to resist.
Maybe, just maybe, when the time comes to do a promo tour for the sequel, kids will be as excited to see Garfield as they are to watch the costume-clad stuntman next door.
DeFore is a freelance writer.