Andrew Garfield's 'beautiful experience' at St Beuno's

Andrew Garfield (centre) on BBC One's Graham Norton Show
Andrew Garfield (centre) on BBC One's Graham Norton Show

Andrew Garfield, currently starring as a 17th century Jesuit missionary in the Martin Scorsese film Silence, has been talking about his experience of undertaking a silent retreat at St Beuno’s Spirituality Centre in North Wales. The actor was guest on the Graham Norton Show on BBC One on Friday, alongside Annette Bening, Harriet Harman and Asa Butterfield .

Part of the preparation for playing Jesuit priests in the film, Garfield explained, was for fellow actor Adam Driver and himself to immerse themselves in Ignatian Spirituality. Describing Silence as "an amazing film”, he said that Martin Scorsese had made something quite profound. "But, one of things that we did was: we went on a silent retreat in Wales, at a place called St Beuno’s, which is a beautiful Christian retreat house … So, we had about eight days together; we had met each other once in New York ... and then we met each other again in Wales in total silence for seven days!”

Andrew Garfield said on the programme that both he and Driver accepted fully the week’s silence and the only way the two actors communicated with each other was through mime; and he seemed surprised that none of the audience-members had ever gone on a silent retreat. “I found it to be a beautiful experience - gorgeous,” he went on, “and I very quickly got used to my own company and … creating a real intimacy with yourself.”Actor and retreatant, Andrew Garfield

Shining a light on weaknesses and failings

Part of the experience that Garfield found most disturbing was after he and Driver had completed the seven-day retreat. “We lost our minds!” he said, “this was the weird thing. We got into a car together and we had a three-hour car ride to the airport together. And it was just this torrent - this outpouring of the most vile language and imagery. It was if the devil was going: ‘where have you been for the last seven days?’ It was really scary - it was genuinely frightening! And giggling and crying with laughter.”

Fr Roger Dawson SJ, the Director of St Beuno’s, said he was not surprised to hear what Andrew Garfield said. “Jesuit spirituality is about ‘finding God in all things’ and when someone comes on retreat, God takes us as we are, warts and all,” he explained. “Usually when people hear about going on a retreat they think it is about peace and tranquillity, which it can be.  But in fact ‘finding God in all things’ means looking at the dark side as well - our weaknesses and failings, as much as (if not more than) our attractive, impressive or even ‘holy’ side … God can shine a light on some of our unattractive areas and say, ‘Look at this!’”

Fr Dawson also believed that retreats can be emotionally intense times for a retreatant. “Not everyone might swear, giggle and cry after one, as Garfield said he did, but this may have been his way of releasing the tensions after what he described as a very intense spiritual experience for him.”

You can read Frances Murphy's review of Silence on Thinking Faith, the online journal of the Jesuits in Britian. And the Graham Norton Show is available on BBC iPlayer. The section of the interview with Andrew Garfield in which he recalls his time at St Beuno's starts approximately 36 minutes into the programme.