Andrew Garfield on Tick, Tick… Boom: “I think we've managed to trick people into thinking that I am fluent with piano”

Andrew Garfield’s performance as musical theatre composer Jonathan Larson in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tick, Tick… Boom has been rapturously received. In fact, there’s even talk of a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

However, it turns out that, prior to the role - in which Garfield sings and plays piano pretty convincingly - his musical skills were extremely limited.

In a recent interview with Variety, Garfield was asked whether he could play the piano before Tick, Tick… Boom, and replied: “No, I I learnt as much as I needed to by rote [repetition] - as much as Lin needed to get on camera. By rote, because, you know, as we get older, it's harder to absorb and learn new skills, as we know, and we become less like sponges and more like, well, like a crusty old sponge that needs to be chucked.”

Garfield went on to explain that he was tutored in the piano for a year prior to filming, but that his only concern was looking convincing in the movie.

Commenting on his learning experience at that time, he said: “I've always wanted just to learn piano but I know that that's an indulgence that I can't afford right now. I have to just get as much of Why and 30/90 and Happy Birthday - which I struggled with - down for this.”

Garfield believes that his hard work paid off: “I think we've managed to trick people into thinking that I am fluent with piano,” he says, but confirmed that he did take some shortcuts here and there.

“I was like, OK, so just show me the rhythm of the right hand, show me the rhythm of the left and show me the rhythm of the feet,” says Garfield, adding that, as long as people couldn’t actually see his fingers, his hope was that he’d be able to capture Larson’s passion and spirit.

In a further revelation, Garfield said that, at the start of the project, there was one song in particular that enabled him to shed his inhibitions and start inhabiting Larson’s character.

“I remember in the screen test, you know, it was my first time at the piano and Lin had set this beautiful space up for us just to kind of play and be free, and I was like ‘I am not ready to play and be free’ until he he put on one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite films - Huey Lewis & The News playing Back In Time from the Back To The Future soundtrack. And suddenly, you know, Jon came alive, you know; ‘Andrew Jon’ felt like he was confident enough to let loose, even though he was just making terrible Muppet sounds on the piano.”

Tick, Tick… Boom is available to stream on Netflix now.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.