Andrew Garfield’s No. 1 Tip for Overcoming Self-Doubt

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When a surprise return to the “Spider-Man” multiverse isn’t even the biggest news of your 2021, it means you’ve had a pretty massive year. That’s the case for Andrew Garfield, who recently bagged his second Academy Award nomination for best actor. His portrayal of late “Rent” mastermind Jonathan Larson in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” has earned him some of the best notices of his career. He also won a Tony in 2018 for his turn in the Broadway revival of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” Still, the actor wants you to know that he is not invincible. Sitting with us for an exclusive Zoom webinar, Garfield got candid about self-doubt, impostor syndrome, and the “sea monster” that comes to work with him.

For Garfield, impostor syndrome is just part of the job.

“Literally every time I go to work, that part of me will slowly emerge from the deep waters of my subconscious like a sea monster. It’s just ready to remind me of how I should give up, how I have nothing to offer, how I’m empty inside. ‘How dare you even try? You’re going to embarrass yourself. They’ll find you out. You’ll never work again!’ It gets extreme. It happens, but [that’s] the most important part: to know I’m going to go through that.”

Acting is about overcoming the negative voice inside you.

“[Tony Kushner] couldn’t look me in the eye after [the first U.K. run-through of ‘Angels in America’], and the sea monster was interpreting it like: He knows. I went for lunch, and the sea monster was saying, ‘Throw yourself in the river. Break a leg rather than go back into rehearsal.’ I had to kind of put my arm around the terrified little sea monster and say, ‘Look, I know you’re feeling vulnerable. I know this is scary, and I know Tony Kushner may hate us. He may not; it may be our projection. But I think, rather than throw myself in the Thames, I think I’ll go back to rehearsal and just feel really embarrassed and try again.’ That’s kind of it: You just have to get back in the room. It is as simple as that.”

There’s one book that helped Garfield push through his dry spells.

“I had a period of a year and a half of not booking any auditions and taking on five different odd jobs. I was a waiter and a barback; I did telemarketing, which was hell; I was a barista at Starbucks; and I was a cricket coach. It was in that period of time that I had my Jonathan Larson [moment]: The world doesn’t want me; the world doesn’t want my gifts. I have to figure out if this is sustainable and if I can keep banging my head against the wall. I kept reading and rereading Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet,’ which I would advise any young artist to go and read. It’s basically a call to arms for us. If, in the middle of the night, we can’t help the thought of: I must write; I must act; I must tell stories; I must direct; I must paint—whatever it is, we have no choice but to do it, or a very, very important part of our souls will die. That voice came, and it kept on knocking, and it kept on saying, ‘Just hang in. Hang in.’ ”

This story originally appeared in the Mar. 17 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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