Andrew Garfield on ‘99 Homes’ and Why Celebrity Culture Is a ‘Lie’

The Spider-Man actor plays a blue-collar worker struggling through the housing crisis in 99 Homes. He talks American exceptionalism and why there’s no such thing as a celebrity.

Broad Green Pictures

With Ramin Bahrani’s timely new housing drama 99 Homes, Andrew Garfield goes from playing a Spidey-sensed superhero to a Florida everyman facing the biggest dilemma of his life after he loses his home.

“I knew that feeling of 'not enough, never enough.' I knew it, somehow, even though I was far away from it,” Garfield told The Daily Beast of his blue collar 99 Homes alter ego, who endures heart-breaking loss and humiliation when his family is evicted from their home.

To get it all back, Garfield’s Nash makes a deal with the devil who displaced him and his family: linen-suited, vaping villain Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a local real estate maven who carved out a new niche for himself by reclaiming homes for the bank in the desolate days following the 2010 housing market collapse.

Carver offers the desperate Nash work as his lackey, forcing other people out of their homes in return for the only thing that Nash really wants: his house back. Garfield, coming off of a high profile run as Spider-Man for Sony, was unusually drawn to the role.

“I knew that feeling of exile and eviction, that feeling of unworthiness that I believe Dennis has,” said Garfield when we spoke last month in Los Angeles. “I believe that it’s permeating our culture.”

“I’ve never been evicted from my house, but I’ve evicted parts of myself,” he continued. “I’ve felt evicted. I’ve felt exiled by a culture. And I’ve felt unworthy. I’ve felt like I’m not needed in my society, I’ve been told that in a subliminal way—that I’m not enough if I’m not at the top of one of these buildings or not driving a Lamborghini or not wearing the newest whatever.”

If American exceptionalism favors the capitalists and hustlers, the 32-year-old Golden Globes and BAFTA nominee whose relationship with Spider-Man costar Emma Stone has been the subject of tabloid celeb gossip for years wants to encourage a different way of thinking.

As we talk, tucked into a snazzily appointed room in the Four Seasons hotel, the erstwhile Spider-Man grows animated and energetic. “We are given this message that we’re not needed—that all of us aren’t needed, that we only need a select few, which is forgetting the truth that everyone is exceptional,” laments Garfield, self-aware of the juxtaposition of our surroundings with the subject at hand. “That’s a fucking Hallmark card, but it’s also the truth.”

“We all have certain gifts that we have to give, we have to bring, otherwise there’s no hope for real community, there’s no hope for real change,” he said. “And if we keep worshipping the wrong thing, or if we keep worshipping the same human beings we call geniuses, we are forgetting the genius within each and every one of us.”

Worshipping the wrong thing—like celebrity culture, for example.

“It goes back to this false worship thing. Being on the receiving end of that is what really tips me over the edge. That’s what made me really go, ‘We’re fucked.’ Because if you’re looking up to me in a way that’s unnatural, then you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s a spell and it keeps people from who they actually are. It’s just a lie. Celebrity is a lie. There’s no such thing as a celebrity. There is no one out there more important than anyone else and the hierarchy that we’re in is a lie.”

“Fuck, man, this is going to get me pissed off just thinking about it,” he said, flashing a frustrated smile. “I remember when Kelly Rowland from Destiny’s Child was about to have a baby and posted an Instagram picture of the scan, and there was some comment comparing the picture of Kelly Rowland’s baby to Beyonce and Jay-Z’s baby and it said, ‘Kelly Rowland’s baby is gonna be Beyonce’s baby’s assistant.’ It’s like, that’s a fetus. I get it, it’s a joke. But it’s a fucking unborn miracle, and someone goes, ‘It’s gonna be her assistant.’ Where are we? It’s so dehumanizing.”

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Shannon, meanwhile, was living in New York City when the housing crisis hit, devastating a part of the populace far removed from his world. “I would read about it in the paper that this was going on, but Florida was this whole other place,” he told The Daily Beast last month in Los Angeles. At the time, the actor had very little in common with the kinds of people represented in 99 Homes. “I was very reluctant to get a mortgage. I was just fine with renting.”

He pauses to consider his onscreen character, the calculating, tightly coiled, predatory Rick Carver. “I guess in order for it to be a piece of drama, Rick has to be the antagonist and ultimately at the end of the day, he probably is,” said Shannon. “But, you know, I never thought of him as the ultimate problem.”

“Rick says, and I think feels, that by the time he shows up at your door, it’s too late,” said Shannon. “It’s not your house anymore. And the person who made that decision isn’t Rick, it’s somebody else that you don’t see, the invisible hand. Rick’s like, well, you can either let the invisible hand knock you out or you can try and take advantage of it. He tries to take advantage of it.”

Some might compare Carver to Republican candidate/real estate mogul Donald Trump. “America doesn’t bail out the losers,” he spits unsympathetically in one scene, explaining his hustle to Garfield.

"I don’t think Rick would run for office,” Shannon said. "I don’t think Rick has any interest in being President or Governor or Mayor. I don’t think he has any interest in telling other people what to do. Do what you want to do. I’m doing what I want to do. This is what I’ve figured out for myself."