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Andrew Garfield Yet Again Nails Talking About Grief

Andrew Garfield sings in a diner as Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick ... BOOM! the movie

Exploring grief on a public platform can be cathartic, and Andrew Garfield has been sharing his as he’s promoted tick, tick…BOOM! Now, the the Screen Actors Guild has nominated him for his work in bringing Jonathan Larson to life in the Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed musical, fresh from his Golden Globes win for the role. But his response to his nomination shows a profound understanding of everything that Jonathan Larson stood for, as well as the exploration of one’s own grief through art.

Talking with E! News after his SAG nomination, Garfield took the nomination as not just something about his and Miranda’s work, but as an honor to Larson. “This is the SAG Awards honoring him and his life and what he stood for, how he lived his devotion to the art of theater and storytelling,” Garfield said.

“What he sang about was his artist community, who were all at that time going through this terrible AIDS epidemic and the terrible injustice of the Reagan administration and the tragedy that was befalling this community of artists in New York City and around the world,” Garfield continued. “He was a generous advocate [and] revolutionary artist, so I feel like this nomination is really just another way of giving Jon more life. And I find more and more breath to sing more of his song while he can’t and I find that deeply moving.”

tick, tick…BOOM! is a fictionalized telling of Larson’s foray into musicals with his failed presentation of his show Superbia. While gaining him acclaim with producers, many saw it as a show that wasn’t fit for a ’90s Broadway audience, and it led to him working on tick, tick…BOOM! about the entire process, as well as himself. We know that Larson went on to create Rent and that he unfortunately passed away the day his musical was set to begin previews, so even Rent was an unfinished look into the genius.

“One of the big experiences that Jonathan goes through in this film is an awareness and a kind of acceptance of loss,” Garfield went on to say. “And, you know, awareness that life is finite, that life is short. And it’s so painful to accept that — it’s so much easier to try to live under the illusion that we’re all gonna live forever. But I think only when you accept that and when you’re met with that in a visceral way, does life starts to really become meaningful in a deeper way.”

Larson lost friends to AIDS. It was his influence for Rent, it drives home his relationship with Michael (who is based on Larson’s real-life best friend Matt O’Grady, who is still alive), and it is at the center of the work that we did get to see from Larson before his unfortunate death. All of it makes his genius with tick, tick…BOOM! that much more surreal. But Garfield clearly understands Larson and that grief shared through his work.

“We don’t often talk as openly or honestly about our grief and our losses,” he said. “It’s been labeled as not as attractive as talking about our successes and joy, you know? But there’s so much joy in talking about my mother. There’s so much joy in sharing a community of consolation.”

This quote is something that truly hit me, personally, in the gut. Prior to 2021, I’d had understood what Garfield is saying and probably had a similar reaction to how I currently feel, but my emotions are at an increase since losing my father, and Garfield is completely right. There is a joy in sharing these moments that I had with my dad or listening to music we shared that is sad when you break down the exploration of grief I am going through, but is necessary to keep his memory alive and unpack my own feelings. That’s what makes Larson’s work so important; he explores those themes and lets you live in the grief these characters are sharing and that’s so clear in Garfield’s performance as well.

Garfield went on to talk about the importance of tick, tick…BOOM! for audiences.”For anyone who’s ever had a dream; for anyone who’s ever felt called to a certain way of living; or who’s asking, ‘How do I live? How am I supposed to spend my time?’ I think this film is for you. It should wake up some part of your soul that maybe has been dormant for a while and it’ll have something maybe you already knew or something that you forgot long ago about how you’re how you’re meant to live,” he continued. “And I’m excited for you to meet Jonathan Larson.”

Grief and musicals

We’ve come around to exploring grief more openly in our art. I think that WandaVision helped to open that door in our superhero properties in a new way, and with movies like tick, tick…BOOM!, more mainstream audiences are experiencing the music that has excited within the world of Broadway for quite some time.

What I love about these quotes from Garfield is that he’s willing to share his own grief to make a point about his work. He’s putting his feelings about his mother out into the world so that when someone takes his quotes and uses them for their own exploration of emotion, they’re aware of where he’s coming from. It’s a great way to understand Garfield’s creative process while also understanding him as a human.

If you haven’t, please watch tick, tick…BOOM!, but just make sure you bring your box of tissues with you.

(image: Netflix)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.