TORONTO - Andrew Garfield has been playing Spider-Man since he was tiny. Now, he's putting on his childhood superhero's suit for real.
With two major dramatic roles hitting theaters in the coming weeks, Garfield then follows in the title role for the new incarnation of the "Spider-Man" franchise, which begins shooting in December.
The 27-year-old Garfield can barely remember a time when Spidey and his average, awkward alter-ego Peter Parker were not part of his life.
His degree of devotion to the Marvel Comics hero?
"Massive. Since I was 4 years old," Garfield said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where his drama "Never Let Me Go," featuring Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley, played ahead of its theatrical release.
And the appeal of Peter Parker, the youth Garfield will play in the franchise's fresh start after Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi opted out of a fourth "Spider-Man" flick?
"His youth, his relatability, his struggle. He was just this skinny boy. He was a skinny boy who felt stronger on the inside than he looked on the outside, and I related to it immediately, and it stayed with me as I grew up.
"Every single generation of the comic, the cartoons and the movies, it all means a great deal to me. It was always something that gave me hope as a skinny little kid whose sense of injustice about the world didn't match his sense of strength about his body. I found it so inspiring and uplifting and reassuring. To be a part of that mythology and that legacy is a true honor."
Born in the United States and raised in Britain, Garfield described himself as a confused child growing up, introspective and dissatisfied at school until he did a student play at the encouragement of a teacher.
Garfield went on to drama school, did theater and television roles, then was cast by Robert Redford in his war-on-terror drama "Lions for Lambs." He won a BAFTA - the British Emmy - for his starring role in the 2007 youth drama "Boy A," and co-starred in Heath Ledger's final film, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."
"'Boy A' was like, perfect. I couldn't find any fault with it," said "Never Let Me Go" director Mark Romanek. "I had seen 'Lions for Lambs,' and he's stunning in that. He sits in there in a room and holds his own with Robert Redford, one on one, in half a dozen scenes."
"Never Let Me Go" casts Garfield, Mulligan and Knightley as friends at a British boarding school in an alternate reality where the cruelest of fates awaits them and their classmates.
While the debate has raged among fans over how good a Spider-Man Garfield will turn out to be, Mulligan said her co-star will swing for the stars.
"Those big superhero films or comic films only ever work when the actors are completely truthful. If they go in with a stylized, comic book version of the performance, it's not going to work. But I know that Andrew will play the truth of what it's like to be that man in that situation," Mulligan said.
"I think it'll be like what Heath Ledger did with the Joker," she added. "Andrew, he has no other way of working other than doing things with complete truth."
Hitting theaters in October is David Fincher's "The Social Network," in which Garfield co-stars as the best friend and colleague of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg).
Garfield is about to begin his training regimen for the "Spider-Man" film, directed by Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer").
"We're just talking about where we want to go with it and what kind of body shape it should be. What the skill set should be," Garfield said. "I know I'm going to be doing a lot of flexibility training and a lot of strength training, because I have to swing and stuff. I'm just guessing, but it's all kind of early stages."
The "Spider-Man" casting announcement over the summer made Garfield an instant celebrity, yet he hopes to find ways to avoid giving up his anonymity entirely.
"I'll do everything I can to avoid it, I think, by not associating myself as a brand, just by associating myself as an actor and not trying or pretending to be anything else. I'm just a performer who plays roles. I don't want to be a celebrity. I don't want to be famous. I just want to have a nice, fun life, creating things that I want to create," Garfield said.
"I'm not doing it for any of the peripheral stuff. We could be making a short film, a short Spider-Man film with an unknown director, with no money, and I'd do it just to be able to play as Spider-Man," the actor explained. "That's like a childhood fantasy come to life. It's an adult fantasy, as well. I'm still climbing up the door frames in my house. It's just a bigger space I'm going to be climbing in now, with a bit more money behind it, and the cameras filming it."