Andrew Garfield’s arm is not necessarily around Claire “Queen Elizabeth” Foy. But it’s definitely inside her personal space, stretched casually across the back of the sofa that they’re sharing at the InterContinental Toronto Centre hotel. Foy, the star of The Crown, has her heels up on the couch, tucked underneath her with her knees pointed towards Garfield.
The actors play husband and wife in the romantic drama Breathe, opening everywhere October 20, and still seem in character today in that actor-ly way (see: Nicole Kidman kissing her Big Little Lies husband Alexander Skarsgard on the lips at the Emmys in front of her IRL husband Keith Urban). At Roy Thomson Hall the night before, Foy and Garfield took the stage hand-in-hand for the Toronto International Film Festival premiere.
After the screening, Foy wiped away tears wrung by the super-weeper, the true story of a mid-century marriage that not only survived but thrived when Garfield’s Robin Cavendish contracted polio and was left paralyzed from the neck down, breathing through a respirator. He defied the expectations of the medical community to far outlive the months he was given to live, finding creative, DIY ways to live an adventurous life.
“I suspected I would probably lose it,” says Foy, reflecting on her teary moment when we chat at the film’s press junket the day after the TIFF premiere. “I cried all the time when we made it too.”
Though Garfield joked with the audience during the premiere that the hardest part about the shoot was “working with Claire Foy,” the degree of difficulty required to play a character who can’t move below the neck is equivalent to a chef making beef bolognese with one hand tied behind their back.
“All of the energy from the body just started to come out in the face and in the eyes in an attempt to communicate,” he says, his unconscious hand gestures proving that’s no normal day. Holding that posture for much of the seven-week shoot, he admits, strained his neck, which he says, maybe jokingly, was alleviated by massages from Foy.
Garfield is trying his best today to keep his wit switched off. “We mustn’t make any jokes that could be misinterpreted,” he says at the top of the interview to this small group of journalists. “That is the rule.” The directive could have something to do with Garfield’s recent reign as the Twitter Controversy of the Day, when he dubbed himself a “gay man right now, just without the physical act,” his justification being that he was watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race and playing a gay character in the London production of Angels In America.
He certainly maintains a healthy skepticism towards social media. “We are in an age of anxiety because of these devices,” he says, gesturing towards the coffee table piled with journalists’ smartphones. “And because of our super connectivity, I think. It creates a two-dimensional shallowness in terms of how we connect to each other. I think this [movie] is harkening back to a time where that kind of intimacy, that kind of devotion, was a much easier option perhaps.” He turns towards Foy. “Disagree,” he says. “Go on, please.”
In fact, Foy couldn’t agree more, but she believes empathy and authentic connection will come back into fashion. It’s something she’s especially concerned about as a mother—with her husband, British actor Stephen Campbell Moore, she has a two-year-old daughter, whose name she has miraculously kept out of the media.
“They are being raised differently,” she says of kids today. “I intend to raise my child to be open and understanding and realize that everybody is the same.”
First-time director Andy Serkis, best-known for his motion-capture performances in Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Planet of the Apes, cast Foy based on her similarity to the real Diana Cavendish. “There is something very straight up about Claire’s approach to her work, something very direct, in the same way that Diana is someone who doesn’t suffer fools,” he says of Foy, who won a Golden Globe for playing that other unflinching boss, Queen Elizabeth. “When you’ve only got a limit of two minutes before [your husband] could die, that dictates a certain response to a way of living.”
Capturing how those challenges strengthened the Cavendishes’ relationship was even more important to Garfield than reproducing Robin’s physicality. “These two share a heart,” he says. “They became the same person in a way, an extension of each other.”
Not that it was hard to reproduce that bond. “Luckily I am really fond of Claire,” he says. “Fond,” Foy emphasises, underwhelmed. “He’s terribly fond of me.”
“I am underplaying how I feel for the sake of press,” he says, charmingly. “If you’d like I could go further.” He doesn’t have to—their chemistry is clear, onscreen and off. “We were able to play a lot with each other, and for each other, to create a more textured, nuanced dynamic,” Garfield says. “That was the simplest thing, was the love.”