Andrew Garfield Breathes in Oscar buzz as film opens London Film Festival

4 October 2017, 07:10

This year's BFI London Film Festival opens with Andrew Garfield's new film, Breathe.

As usual, the opening night will be a star-studded affair, but alongside the premiere this year there's also going to be a picket.

"It's awful," Garfield says, when I ask him for his thoughts on the fact that cinema workers represented by the union BECTU are planning to protest in a row over the London living wage.

"It's indicative of every aspect of our culture now, this massive social divide."

But, he says, he believes some of the answers to what's going on in society at the moment will come from what is being shown on the screen.

"Hopefully we can make socially conscious films and have change on the ground simultaneously, that's the ideal."

His new film is certainly that.

In Andy Serkis' directorial debut, Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, an activist who changed the way we think about disabilities today.

The film explains how in 1958, aged 28, Cavendish contracted polio. Paralysed from the neck down, he could breathe only with the use of a mechanical ventilator and was told his life would be limited to a hospital bed.

It was a fate he and his family refused to accept.

"Nobody was surviving outside of a hospital environment but he and his wife Diana decided to be the first 'responauts,' as they called it," Garfield explains.

"Not only did he survive but he lived for decades, and created this incredibly rich and meaningful life where he invented all these new technologies which enabled people living on respirators to have more enriched lives."

Helped by his friend Teddy Hall, an Oxford University professor, Cavendish became a wheelchair pioneer.

They invented a chair with a built-in respirator which freed Cavendish from the confinement of his bed. Determined that the same freedoms should be available to other polio victims, they went on to raise money to build even more chairs and campaign for greater awareness.

It is an incredible performance by Garfield who says the incredible physical control the role requires "had to be second nature".

Speaking in time with the respirator machine was "incredibly difficult", he says, and "a real technical challenge".

There's already talk that the role could earn Garfield his second best actor Oscar nomination - although he says he is not thinking about that.

"One just has to do one's work and do it to the best of one's ability, and if people like it that's wonderful," he says.

Garfield says being in a film that's been selected to open the London Film Festival is flattering in itself.

"It means a great deal; this is my home city and I walk through Leicester square a lot, often anonymously.

"It's a surreal, absurd situation but it's a great honour, it's a lovely thing."

The BFI London Film Festival runs until 15 October.

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