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How Andrew Garfield learned to sing for tick, tick...Boom!

The performer delivered a cracking performance in the film

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Garfield
© Monica Schipper

There's nothing better than going out on a limb and giving an all-out rave, only for the musical theatre community to follow swiftly in your wake with similar out-and-out adulation.

But that's very much what happened with Lin-Manuel Miranda's big-screen adaptation of tick, tick...Boom!, which was released on Netflix last Friday to a chorus of praise from thespy folk across social media.

Extra praise was given to Andrew Garfield (taking on the leading role of Rent creator Jonathan Larson in the pseudo-bio-meta-musical movie), who, despite not a single singing credit to his quite hefty acting career, delivers a note-perfect performance.

Sitting down for a chat with Garfield and Miranda last week, it turns out that getting the Spider-Man actor in ship shape vocally was not some miraculous, overnight process – it took graft, effort and a lot of training – though building on what must have been a healthy dose of innate talent.

But Garfield admits it was something of a leap of faith, as his singing ability wasn't a cert: "Forget publicly known – it wasn't privately known, it was a journey of discovery! I owe it to Lin for having the foolishness or the foresight that I could reach where I needed to reach in order to honour Jon.

"I felt so lucky and happy to just see where I could go – I was given the time and the resources with vocal coach Liz Caplan, Lin and his whole musical direction team – Kurt Crowley (executive music producer), Alex Lacamoire and all these incredible onion peelers – peeling away the onion to find whatever voice lived inside of me. I got given the best in the business and all the time that I needed to get to that place."

"I knew that I'd always wanted to learn how to sing, I'd always wanted to see where I could get to. It was blissful to do that with Jon's songs. So much of it is about belief – believing that you're able to – that's what starts to open the voice."

Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson
© Netflix, photo by Macall Polay

The "journey" Garfield describes started in a Sushi restaurant after a performance of Angels in America, which the performer tackled both at the National Theatre and on Broadway. Miranda picks up the story: "I saw him in Angels in America and said to myself 'that man can sing'. I finagled my way into lunch with him by agreeing to do an Angels in America moderated panel. Afterwards, I took him to the "not-good" Sushi place (as he reminds me) in Mid-Town. There, I asked him if he could sing and he said 'when are you making the movie?'. I said, not for at least a year, so he replied 'okay I can sing.' He expressed wanting to explore that thing that was untapped within him. I knew what I'd seen on that stage and knew that this was a man that could go wherever he needed to go."

But getting to the destination took time, and Miranda was ready to be flexible when it came to making tick, tick...Boom!: "We workshopped this like a musical – so we read through the screenplay and spent a week learning the songs. I remember that first week we got the warning light – 'Andrew isn't going to sing this week', and I said, 'I don't want Andrew to sing this week. You don't have to sing. You haven't done the work yet.'"

"So I sang on his behalf on that first workshop but could feel Andrew straining to be involved. At lunch on that workshop day I said – 'you're dying to sing. Let's circle three moments, that we'll just do. It could even just be Happy Birthday at the end.' Every workshop after that Andrew sang a little more and a little more, and eventually, he succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The proof is in the movie."

Garfield's performance is not mimicry, it's more: imbuing Larson as a character with a frantic, sometimes flawed, creativity. A brilliant video has placed Larson's original performance next to Garfield's – it really is quite startling:

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