Actor Andrew Garfield on His Jewish Heritage: ‘I Value It So Much’
British actor Andrew Garfield said in a recent interview that his Jewish roots are a source of pride for him, have taught him how to be empathetic and prepared him for his latest on-screen character.
The Golden Globe-nominated actor is now starring in the lead role in “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical drama “Tick, Tick . . . Boom!”, which includes some references to the late lyricist and playwright’s Jewish background. The film is about Larson’s efforts to raise funding for his sci-fi musical “Superbia” while his gay friends are struggling at the height of the AIDS pandemic in New York in the late 1980s.
Garfield’s American father is Jewish and his British mother died while he was filming the upcoming biopic “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” The family relocated to the UK when the actor was three and he told The Jewish Chronicle in a new interview that although he was raised secular, he identified with Larson’s Jewish roots “in a more unconscious way.”
“I think it’s just a given,” he noted. “The fact that we both have a Jewish heritage in our blood, it probably enabled me to feel that kindred, bone ancestral feeling. And the fact that we’re both Jewish artists, I think that’s a very specific breed.”
“It’s just like, ‘Oh, we come from the same tribe,’ and how beautiful to find not only a member of my tribe in art but a member of my tribe in Jewish heritage, which I value so much and which I feel so grateful that I have in my system.”
When asked how his Jewishness has impacted his life and acting career, the “Spider-Man” star said, “The first thing I’d go to is empathy.”
He explained, “Because of the ancestral memory of what it is to be persecuted, of what it is to be told that you don’t belong on this earth, that there’s a physical threat of violence and extermination, and how deeply moving it is that we have survived that threat, that can only enhance our empathy for anyone else going through that same kind of injustice and threat of physical annihilation.”
The “Hacksaw Ridge” actor also said he believes that the Jewish value of empathy was one reason why Larson, as a “straight-identifying Jewish man,” was able to advocate passionately for “his tribe of LGBTQA+ people and the community around him” who were suffering during the AIDS epidemic. Garfield said about Larson, “[He] didn’t have firsthand experience of being a homosexual man, but maybe through his Jewishness he had this ability to know exactly what that feeling was through his ancestry, and that awareness of having to fight for one’s life.”
Garfield has played Jewish characters in the past. He starred as Jewish Brazilian Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” and previously described Peter Parker and his Spider-Man alter ego as Jewish, which he partially attributed to the superhero’s Jewish creator, Stan Lee.