Andrew Garfield has been a classic Hollywood heartthrob ever since he swung into theaters as Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Though the success of his superhero duology is up for debate, the talent of his performances rarely is. Since then, his popularity has only grown, taking him from niche audiences and skyrocketing him to bigger and bigger titles. In 2021, he starred in three blockbusters, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Tick, Tick… Boom!” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” all of which were stunning Oscars contenders. Lately, his career seems to be in perpetual motion, taking him to higher levels of stardom year after year.
That’s why it was a surprise to many when he announced he was taking a break from acting. Garfield plays the lead in FX’s new limited series, “Under the Banner of Heaven,” which was released a few weeks ago. After its first episode aired, Garfield told Variety that he was stepping back from Hollywood because he needs to “just be ordinary for a while.” Not only has the non-stop work been overwhelming for him, but he recently lost his mother while filming a few of his 2021 hits, and the loss has been taking both a physical and mental toll. With all this in mind, it’s understandable that Garfield announced, “I need to recalibrate and reconsider what I want to do next and who I want to be.”
Garfield’s break from acting is not a new phenomenon. After taking on demanding roles, it’s common for actors to take a step back from their work and reflect on their career goals, especially if they’ve been working for long periods of time. Emma Watson took a break after completing her work in the “Harry Potter” franchise to study literature at Brown University, following her constant involvement with the series since age 11. This doesn’t apply only to Hollywood, either. In more recent news, Doja Cat announced on Twitter that she will be taking a step back from music due to constant confrontations with her fans. Celebrities aren’t immune to fatigue, and overwhelming amounts of exposure can often lead to the need for a vacation.
Sometimes it’s hard to hold sympathy for celebrities that take breaks from their careers. To many, the life of a celebrity is a privilege, and the money that comes along with it is certainly nothing to complain about. As a result, some fans interpret these breaks as the artist being ungrateful for the fame they’ve earned. They fail to consider, however, that the relationship between a celebrity and their fans is not transactional. Actors and musicians do not “owe” their audience content, and just like any other job, days off are necessary for maintaining their mental health.
Much of this comes down to the increasingly narrow gap between celebrities and their audiences. The general public has always been intrusive in the lives of popular figures, with entertainment media and paparazzi making their lives an overexposed nightmare. However, since the advent of social media, this constant microscope on the lives of celebrities has only gotten more intrusive. With celebrities being more down-to-earth on social media, like Doja Cat herself and other unabashedly “real” figures like Robert Pattinson, it’s easy for their followers to feel like they’re just additional members of their real-life social circles.
This is obviously not the case, and these so-called parasocial relationships are blatantly unhealthy for both parties involved. Treating celebrities like friends that create content you are entitled to is a sure way to not only feel disappointed by the reality of the dynamic but to overwhelm artists and push them away from their passions. Celebrities have been commenting on the discomfort they feel with these interactions for decades. It’s perhaps at its worst around the Met Gala, when people on social media spend a whole evening treating celebrities like pets or imaginary friends contained in the screens of their cell phones.
Because of this, taking breaks can feel like a double-edged sword for many celebrities. These moments of privacy are necessary after an entire career of constant trespassing into their personal lives, but announcing these breaks only attracts more attention. Fans can become rather insidious about these breaks, as well. Upon learning that Andrew Garfield was stepping away from acting, Marvel fans immediately started speculating that he was actually working on more “Spider-Man” projects in secret. Rather than being sensitive to his emotional needs, his audience did what they’ve always done: speculate about his career and overwhelm him with constant pressure on social media.
The question here isn’t, “How do we make it so that celebrities don’t need to take breaks anymore?” This is always going to be a necessity for anyone that puts considerable time and effort into their craft. The question we should be asking ourselves is, “How do we create an environment that’s more receptive to breaks from celebrities?” The first step is perhaps deconstructing these parasocial relationships that we’ve formed with celebrities, and understanding that they aren’t our friends or coworkers that create their content for our constant consumption. They are employees within the entertainment industry, and more importantly, they aren’t gods among men. They’re just people doing their jobs, and they should be offered the same amount of respect and privacy as the rest of us.
Hopefully Andrew Garfield and other actors taking a break from their work find a relaxing refuge at home. These breaks not only offer them much-needed recuperation but also ensure that they return to the big screen with the energy they need to continue with their award-winning performances — on their own terms.