Andrew Garfield (‘tick, tick… BOOM!’) on portraying the late Jonathan Larson

“I felt so akin to him even though I’m not a writer myself. I felt like he was already alive in me somehow,” Andrew Garfield shares about stepping into the shoes of Jonathan Larson, the composer whose life story is dramatized in the Netflix film “tick, tick… Boom!,” which is based on his musical of the same name. Garfield had over a year to “immerse” himself in Larson’s music and come to know his family and friends, and he reveals that learning about him felt like “being introduced to an old brother that I didn’t know existed.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

Larson is most famous for writing the book and score for the musical “Rent,” which won the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Before “Rent,” Larson penned “tick, tick… Boom!,” a semi-autobiographical rock monologue about a theatre composer nearing his 30th birthday who is grappling with his anxiety about committing to a life in the theatre. Garfield himself knows about performing on stage, appearing twice on Broadway in Mike Nichols’ revival of “Death of a Salesman” in 2012 and Marianne Elliott’s revival of “Angels in America” in 2018; he earned Tony nominations for both roles and won for “Angels.” “I’m a theatre actor first and foremost,” Garfield says, noting how he has kept his “theatre muscles moving” in between his work on films.

WATCH ‘tick, tick… Boom!’ producer Julie Oh on making ‘a love letter to theater at a time when you couldn’t go see a musical’

Larson tragically died unexpectedly at the age of 35 from an aortic aneurism just before the first preview performance of “Rent” off-Broadway. Garfield reflects on the loss, observing, “It’s a very impactful thing when such a great artist leaves us at the height of their powers.” Garfield and director Lin-Manuel Miranda had access to footage of Larson performing material from “tick, tick… Boom!” when it was called “Boho Days.” “That was really key for me,” Garfield says about his ability to “immerse” himself in the footage. “Of course I would pick up specific physicality things that I thought were hooks and keys,” he adds, stating how what was even more important for his performance in those tapes was an understanding of Larson’s spirit. “What was so clear to me is that he was singing and playing for his life,” Garfield stresses.

“tick, tick… Boom!” unfolds over the course of a short but particularly emotional period in Larson’s life, which required both Garfield and Miranda’s trust in the process and in Larson’s words. “Lin has been preparing for this since he saw ‘tick, tick… Boom!’ and had his own personal revelatory freak-out realizing what he had to do with his life,” referring to how Larson inspired Miranda’s own journey to becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning theatre composer of works like “Hamilton” and “In the Heights.” With that extraordinary amount of preparation, Garfield says, “We were able to wake up every morning and be haunted by Jon, that was always the North Star.”

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: Will Andrew Garfield blow open the Best Actor race with ‘tick, tick… Boom!’?

Garfield discusses one scene in the film in particular, the climactic number “Why,” calling it “definitely one of the more profound experiences I’ve had on any set.” They filmed the solo number at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park in just three close-up takes, and Garfield reveals, “It was the second take and we all felt it.” Larson’s sister Julie Larson executive produced the film and was on set the day Garfield perform “Why,” and he comments that she “was feeling really good about it and really moved by it.” “We have something sacred here and something that Jonathan would feel good about,” Garfield shares about the relief they all felt when they captured the shot.

In addition to “tick, tick… Boom!,” Garfield also stars in Searchlight Pictures’ “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” as Jim Bakker opposite Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker. He also portrays a real figure in the movie, one that required a physical transformation to become the famous televangelist. Garfield plays Bakker over the span of decades, from Jim’s meeting and courtship of Tammy Faye through their downfall and his incarceration.

For the current awards season, he is categorized as Best Actor for the Netflix role and Best Supporting Actor for his Searchlight performance.

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