Latest web-slinger Andrew Garfield is set for super-stardom after winning critical success in Death of a Salesman
Given that actor Andrew Garfield is three weeks away from starring as Spider-Man in a massive Hollywood blockbuster, one might expect all the media excitement to focus on his ability as a web-slinging superhero.
But instead Garfield’s star is rising, thanks to a critically acclaimed performance in a recent Broadway revival of classic American play Death of a Salesman, where he portrays Biff, the son of the doomed central character, Willy Loman.
The role could easily land Garfield a highly prized Tony award on Sunday night as the play, directed by veteran Mike Nichols, is up for a staggering seven awards at Broadway’s version of the Oscars.
Nominations for the latest production of Death of a Salesman include best revival and best actor for Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Loman, as well as Garfield who is up for best actor in a featured role.
Though Biff is not the key character, Garfield, who also featured in a supporting role in 2010′s Facebook movie The Social Network, has really shone onstage. The New York Times chief theatre critic Ben Brantley wrote that Garfield had brought “searing heat” to the role.
The Los Angeles Times critic Charles McNulty said: “Garfield plunges to the sea-floor bottom of this fractured father-son relationship and reveals unspeakable heartbreak throughout his perilous descent. Attention must be paid to such a performance.”
The glowing notices seem set to assure Garfield, who grew up in Surrey and has an English mother and an American father, as one of the hottest acting properties in both theatre and Hollywood.
“He is already big and yet the really big thing to happen to him, with the Spider-Man movie, has not even happened yet,” said Dan Bacalzo, managing editor of TheatreMania, a New York theatre website.
Bacalzo said that Garfield inhabited the role of Biff so well that it was easy to overlook his slight frame, even when playing a muscular former football player. “He just did an extraordinary job as an actor,” Bacalzo said.
It helps to be part of such an acclaimed production. While many revivals might try to bring new dramatic tricks or a modernist twist to a play that has become so central to the American canon, Nichols stayed true to Arthur Miller’s original vision.
The powerful tale of Loman’s vision of the American Dream running up against a grim reality of disappointment has been a cultural milestone ever since it debuted on Broadway in 1949. Its first production won a Pulitzer as a reflection of its biting social commentary and its first run lasted an incredible 742 performances, playing to packed houses for more than a year. Though its subject matter is dark it immediately took up a place as a masterpiece of American drama.
Nichols, who knew Miller well, has won plaudits for reflecting the true spirit of the work. “The dream of success remains the American Dream, but the idea that success is more likely to end in disappointment is a reality of our times. The notion that people are disposable is terribly difficult to swallow, but it’s true,” wrote Daily Beast critic Rebecca Miller in one analysis of Nichols’s production.
Tickets for the sold-out run were often fetching as much as $750 each online. Bacalzo said there was little doubt that the play had struck a powerful contemporary chord.
“It is an everyman’s tragedy. With Loman we watch him fall and he does not even have that far to fall to begin with. But that fall is still as moving as that of a Prince Hamlet or a King Lear,” he said.
Death of a Salesman has a great record of cementing the careers of aspiring actors. Few productions of any play have had the impact of the 1984 Broadway version, which starred Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman and John Malkovich as Biff. That production also won a heap of Tonys, including awards for both Hoffman and Malkovich. It was then made into a film version a year later, with the same cast, and won Emmys for both of the main actors.
It seems doubtful, however, that Garfield will also make this transition from stage to film role. With the eagerly anticipated The Amazing Spider-Man set to hit US screens on 3 July, his Hollywood superstardom already seems guaranteed. Ironically, a play all about the denial of success has catapulted the young actor powerfully into the limelight.