From playing a superhero in spandex to the first man in U.S. history to be awarded the Medal of Honor without firing a shot, Andrew Garfield has transitioned into one of the finest actors of his generation.
Garfield is receiving the best notices in his career with two films that were released almost back to back. He is superb in Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s World War II drama, which dramatizes the real life saga of Desmond T. Doss, an Army Medic whose heroic actions to save lives in the Battle of Okinawa were quite remarkable, to say the least.
For his riveting portrayal of Doss, who refused to carry or use a firearm or weapons – being a conscientious objector – Garfield earned a Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama nomination.
Garfield immediately followed up Hacksaw Ridge with another stunning performance in Silence, which took Martin Scorsese over two decades to develop. In the fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in 17th Century Japan, based on the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, Garfield plays an anguished priest.
He and Adam Driver portray Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe, respectively – Portuguese Jesuit priests who face persecution when they go to Japan to find their mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson).
Garfield displays his growth and range as an actor in both films. In Gibson’s war epic, the actor who was born in Los Angeles but raised in England, begins as a young man – a devout Seventh-day Adventist growing up in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. He and a nurse (Teresa Palmer) fall in love but their almost idyllic existence is broken by the reality of war.
Doss, as delineated by Garfield, enlists in the Army to serve his country even though he has committed to never using a weapon. Garfield effectively mirrors the pressure and challenges that Doss face, starting in the boot camp where he is scorned and ridiculed for his vow to never use a rifle.
The thespian further draws us in as his medic character witnesses, and reacts, to the horror of war in the battle scenes. Yet even amid the hellfire and chaos, Garfield credibly shows us how Doss valiantly saved the lives of more than 75 wounded infantrymen. Risking his life, the medic, oftentimes single handedly, carried his injured comrades to the edge of a cliff, known as the Hacksaw Ridge, and lowered them down using ropes.
Under a lesser actor, Doss’ incredible efforts to keep rescuing the wounded and his refusal to seek cover from Japanese machine gun fire and flamethrowers would have been cartoonish. But Garfield invests his Doss with humanity and convincing determination to just keep going. “One more,” Doss keeps muttering in the film, as he wills the energy to look for more injured soldiers that he can rescue.
Gibson himself said they had to tone down Doss’ heroic acts because if the film showed every brave gesture that the medic actually did, it would have been Monty Python-esque.
Garfield shared an example: “After Desmond steps on a grenade to protect his brothers, his leg gets all blown up. He is put on a stretcher. As he is getting dragged back to the edge of the ridge, Desmond sees another wounded guy crying out, assesses his wounds from afar, rolls off the stretcher, starts crawling over to that guy, starts tending to, and wrapping up, his wounds and giving him morphine. Desmond says to the stretcher guys, ‘Take him back and I will wait here.’ ”
For his selfless heroism, Doss received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in 1945. He died in 2006 at the age of 86.
Garfield plays yet another man whose inner strength is crucial in Breathe, actor Andy Serkis’ directing debut. Andrew plays a man who becomes paralyzed from polio. Did the theater-trained actor choose these recent difficult roles as a way of testing himself in his own journey?
“That is what I am trying to figure out,” he answered with a laugh. “I think you just hit very close to something inside me that I am trying to figure out, which is – how do you survive life and all of its extremes, suffering, chaos, anarchy and contradiction? How do you find your own center within such challenging circumstances such as life? That is the question for all of us.”