The film “Silence” opens soon in cinemas in the UK – Andrew Garfield has a great personal story to share about being scared at messing up and getting through that: it’s before his first public performance after drama school – and it’s in the Globe Theatre.
“It’s about two hours before and suddenly, I feel like I’m going to die,” he remembered. “I genuinely feel that if I step on the stage I’m going to burn up from the inside out. I’ve never felt so much terror, like mortal dread, not-enough-ness, self doubt. Terror at being seen. Terror at revealing and offering my heart. Exposing myself, saying, ‘look at me.’”
To calm his nerves he walked up and down the South Bank of the Thames. It was an overcast day and his thoughts turned to escape: “I begin thinking of throwing myself into the river. I have nothing to give, I have nothing to offer, I’m a fraud.” He understands it now as a moment of prayer: “I’m asking for something. I’m asking for help.”
And then he heard a street performer singing, rather imperfectly, a familiar song, “Vincent,” by Don MacLean. It was the imperfection of the performance that he remembers most. “If that guy had stayed in bed saying ‘I have nothing to offer, my voice isn’t that good, I’m not ready to perform in public, I’m not enough.’ If he had listened to those voices, I wouldn’t have been given what I needed,” he said. “His willingness to be vulnerable really changed my life. I think I understood for the first time how art makes meaning, how art changes people’s lives. It changed my life.”
This shared moment of artistic imperfection saved him: “And literally the clouds parted and the sun came out and shone on me and this guy and I was just weeping uncontrollably. And it was like God was grabbing my by the scruff of the neck and saying, ‘You’ve been thinking that if you go on stage you’re going to die. But actually, if you don’t you’re going to die.’”
He has lived ever since with this same creative tension—with a deep fear of being seen and an even deeper need of it. If it is being seen in our imperfection that terrifies us, it is being held in our vulnerability that will redeem us.