People make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola for a variety of reasons. Preparing to play a featured role in a Martin Scorsese film is not one you hear often, but it’s probably not the worst reason. Men and women often make retreats to find some clarity about who they are or who they’re called to be. I suppose it was so for Andrew Garfield when he asked America’s James Martin, S.J., to guide him through the Exercises as he prepared to play the lead role in Mr. Scorsese’s new film, “Silence.”
Father Martin was hesitant at first. But Garfield was looking for something. Or someone. And that’s not a bad reason at all. In the end, it was enough for Jim. And more than enough for God.
It was a rainy day in Los Angeles when I had lunch with Garfield to talk about his experience of the Exercises. We met in a small bustling restaurant in Los Feliz, an old L.A. neighborhood that sits below the iconic Griffith Observatory just east of Hollywood. I was early. He was on time. We were both hungry.
Garfield seemed weary. It was just past noon when we met, and he was tired.
He had been working for weeks, promoting two movies, filming a third and preparing to return to London for an upcoming stage production. He carried a small collection of notebooks and a phone. Add a laptop and cup of coffee and you might have confused him for a grad student. It was New Year’s Eve, and he was having lunch with a spiritually curious Jesuit whom he had never met before. Not exactly the glamorous Hollywood life one would expect. More like an awkward religious blind date. I could appreciate the weariness.
Yet even in his fatigue he was exceedingly kind, generous with his time and thoughtful in his conversation. He made sure we were going to eat. He ordered the polenta, and I the blueberry pancakes. He was tired but grateful—grateful for the chance to recall his year-long experience of making the Exercises with Father Martin, grateful to get back into a place of greater depth and consolation than he was in at the moment—a place of Hollywood self-promotion. “This is like the marketplace of ‘riches, honor and pride,’” he said, referencing, unprompted, a key meditation from the Spiritual Exercises. It was a keen insight and a nice touch. He was speaking my language. He made me feel at home.
After getting to know one another briefly, we began to talk about how he came to acting as a vocation and what kind of spiritual experience he brought to the Exercises. “Films were really my church,” he said. “As a young kid it was movies and books; it was nothing remarkable really, just that is where I felt soothed, that is where I felt most myself…safest.”
Perhaps, as he noted, a childhood love of story is not that remarkable, but then he added something that seemed to me a very Ignatian insight: “In books and movies, I was transported into myself, into the vast inner landscape of myself.”
St. Ignatius Loyola was similarly transported when he began writing the Spiritual Exercises. After a grave failure, wounded while foolishly trying to play the hero during a hopeless battle, with nothing like an endless newsfeed to occupy his time during a long and painful recovery, Ignatius began to read. He soon came to realize that the consolation he was looking for, the healing he needed, was not to be found in the fantasies of chivalrous fiction but rather in the lives of the saints. Moreover, he came to realize that a deeper and more satisfying life was being revealed not only in their saintly example but in the intricacies of his own passions. The wounded reality of his inner life became a place of graced imagination. Ignatius’ conversion began when he became sensitive to the complexity of his own interiority.
In my conversation with Garfield, it became abundantly clear that he shares this Ignatian sensitivity. It was also clear that his “vast inner landscape” is, like many of ours, full of wounds and vulnerability. He knows well the longing for love, and at times, it is a torturous longing.
When I asked what stood out in the Exercises, he fixed his eyes vaguely on a point in the near distance, wandering off into a place of memory. Then, as if the question had brought him back into the experience itself, he smiled widely and said: “What was really easy was falling in love with this person, was falling in love with Jesus Christ. That was the most surprising thing….”
The above comes from a Jan. 10 article in America magazine.