Andrew Garfield is a young actor who came to celebrity in America as Peter Parker in the second round of Spiderman reboots. He’s gone on to have a varied and distinguished acting career since then. His most recent role might be one of the most challenging he’s faced and critics are already lauding his performance alongside cast mates like Liam Neeson.
Silence is a film famed director Martin Scorsese has labored to bring to the big screen for almost 28 years. It follows the journey of Portuguese Jesuit priests who attempted to bring the Gospel to Japan during a time when Christianity was outlawed. Imprisoned and tortured for their faith, the story follows the agonizing decisions the Jesuits had to consider in order to preserve their lives.
In this day and age it is an oddity to see Hollywood portray the Christian faith with any type of dignity or nobility. What is even more odd is to see one of their own publicly express their own journey toward that faith.
In an interview with American Magazine, Andrew Garfield details his experience in researching and playing the role of a young Jesuit priest in seventeenth century Japan. He explains that while researching the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola (a traditional Jesuit retreat for spiritual growth) he expectedly found much depth and beauty in the process. What he didn’t think he’d find alongside that was the depth and beauty of Jesus.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola involve a sort of meditation process where one imagines oneself in different biblical scenarios and settings as a way of directly connecting with God’s purpose and presence. Garfield explains that the process affected him in a way he didn’t see coming.
He fell silent…clearly moved to emotion. He clutched his chest, just below the sternum, somewhere between his gut and his heart, and what he said next came out through bursts of laughter: “God! That was the most remarkable thing—falling in love, and how easy it was to fall in love with Jesus.”
I suddenly came to appreciate the authenticity with which he experiences the joy of love and the sorrow of its frustration, the pain of its absence. “I felt so bad for [Jesus] and angry on his behalf when I finally did meet him, because everyone has given him such a bad name. So many people have given him such a s— f–ing name. And he has been used for so many dark things.”
The Hacksaw Ridge actor goes on to say that such a jarring and moving experience made the return to Hollywood even more difficult.
The depth of the experience of the Exercises was enough. And then making the film felt very, very deep, deeper than any other artistic experience I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t as deep as the experience of the Exercises, but it was still by all intents and purposes very damn deep. And now the film is coming out and I’m back in Shallow-ville. And I’m trying to reconcile that.”
The interview is quite extensive and artfully unfolded by its author Brendan Busse. There are many moving moments in his conversation with Garfield, but what is most interesting is how Garfield has discovered what is arguably one of the most striking aspects of Jesus – that is, He is not wizard or a magician. He does not remove hardship or difficulty. The miracle of Jesus isn’t that He removes all pain and suffering, it is that He provides the love and the grace to endure such things, and endure them with joy.
“It brings me so much consolation. It’s such a humbling thing because it shows me that you can devote a year of your life to spiritual transformation, sincerely longing and putting that longing into action, to creating relationship with Christ and with God, you can then lose 40 pounds of weight, sacrifice for your art, pray every day, live celibate for six months, make all these sacrifices in service of God, in service of what you believe God is calling you into, and even after all of that heart and soul, that humble offering…that humility…even after all of that someone is going to throw a stone and dismiss it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful grace to be given, to be shown. And it’s a huge consolation to know that no matter how hard I work someone is not going to like me. There is going to be at least one person that says that I’m worthless. It’s wonderful!”
Perhaps this is a sincere transformation for this young man. Perhaps he’ll seek out Jesus further after all the interviews and publicity events are finished. Or maybe he’ll simply revert to the Hollywood default setting on faith and Christ. My fervent hope for him is that he does not let this experience blend into the background of his career. Not because the faith needs another “champion” in the entertainment industry, but because – like so many others – I know the message of the Gospel is truly and wonderfully transformative if we are open to the lifelong journey.