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Andrew Garfield pushes the ‘Mainstream’

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The new film “Mainstream,” directed and co-written by Gia Coppola, attempts to capture this current moment of social media influencers and online personalities with both a sense of emotional empathy and satiric bite. Actress Maya Hawke described the film as, “a Grimm’s fairy tale of the social media era.”

In the movie, Hawke plays a young woman named Frankie who is working as a bartender at a Hollywood dive and yearning to be an artist, taking pictures and posting videos online. When her video of a street performer named Link (Andrew Garfield) suddenly goes viral, they seize the moment. Link transforms himself into an online personality known as “No One Special,” hosting a show that includes the game “Your Phone or Your Dignity” and they both lose themselves to a construct not entirely of their own control.

Sometime after making her debut feature, the gentle 2013 teenage drama “Palo Alto,” as Coppola was trying to figure out what to make next, she came across Elia Kazan’s 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd” starring Andy Griffith playing on Turner Classic Movies. After her initial shock — “What is this movie?” she remembers asking herself — Coppola was struck by how relevant the film still felt today for its depiction of the commercialization of identity and how people can get swept away by notoriety.

“I live above Hollywood Boulevard, so I have this kind of weird fascination with celebrity and why we are fascinated by that and the toxicity of fame,” Coppola said. “And now we’re in this sort of time period where instant gratification is part of our everyday lives and how does this affect us emotionally? So I wanted to play with those kind of emotional themes, but be different and creative with that in this new space we’re in.”

Coppola co-wrote the script with Tom Stuart and with Garfield on board as star and producer, along with Hawke, Jason Schwartzman, Nat Wolff and Alexa Demie in the cast, the movie was shot in summer 2019. Having premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2020, the film is now in theaters and available on digital platforms and VOD.

For Garfield, who won a Tony award for “Angels In America” and received an Oscar nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge,” as well as appearing in “Silence,” “99 Homes” and “Under the Silver Lake,” the opportunity to play No One Special felt particularly freeing for the wild behavior he exhibited onscreen, from appearing to run down Hollywood Boulevard naked to seemingly defecating on live television.

“The added bonus was that I did get to work in a way that felt like it didn’t have any consequence somehow,” said Garfield. “I could do things that I’ve never done on a film set before, I can do things I’ve never done in my household before, I can do things I’ve never done in private before. So there was something very liberating and attractive about accessing those parts of what it is to be human that we often get encouraged away from very, very early on when we are just wild primordial animal children. So there’s those parts that are long buried that I got to dig up and kind of prance around in.

“I think everyone has this feeling to a degree, no matter how they were brought up or what job they have now. We all have been socialized, we’ve all been civilized, quote unquote, and I feel like for me, it was a personal exercise in freedom, a personal exercise in getting rid of the need to be liked, getting rid of the need to be attractive, getting rid of the need to be heroic or this need to be good. This kind of prison. And I think specifically for actors in a lot of ways, we all get typecast in some ways and we have to work hard to break out of that.”

One specific challenge in making the film is how fast the internet era moves. An influential platform one day can be completely defunct the next, replaced by something else. So Coppola tried not to focus on the specifics of the technology.

“I just felt like it’s less about the platforms and more just about the sort of emotional journey and the internet as a whole,” said Coppola. “It’s like a glimpse at a moment in time. And how do you find a way to take this stuff that’s rapidly changing and evolving and make it cinematic and different so that you could look back on it.”

Both Coppola and Garfield are now in their 30s, while Hawke is still in her early 20s, which meant the actress was the one perhaps closest in age to the generational phenomenon the movie was trying to represent, the intersection of technology and identity that comes so instinctually to those who have grown up in a very online world.

“But they picked a youth who is probably spiritually like 150 years old,” said Hawke with a laugh. “If they wanted a valuable youth-vote participant, they really looked towards the wrong actor.”

Coppola uses Instagram, as her background in photography makes her comfortable with the platform. Garfield has no official social media accounts. And while Hawke — who appeared in Season 3 of the popular series “Stranger Things” and is shooting its upcoming fourth season — has more than 3 million followers on Instagram, she has no illusions about why they are there.

“The 3 million followers, I have them because of ‘Stranger Things.’ I don’t have them because of anything that I really did,” Hawke said. “That show is such a slam-dunk and the way in which people interact with it is so intensely fan-oriented and heavy that it’s a different kind of Instagram follower. I have never been a person who was interested in being a personality. I’m interested in being an actor and a musician and a creative and a writer, but I’m not interested in being a famous person. Like I don’t want a talk show.”

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