At first glance, then, this is a young man come of age. He says he even keeps his cool when the paparazzi badger him with new girlfriend Emma Stone (his co-star in The Amazing Spider-Man). After we meet, he will smilingly reveal to a hooting crowd on American TV that beneath his skintight Spidey suit there was “just me”.
Given such self-assurance, you wonder if his biggest challenge wasn’t playing Spider-Man, but Parker – a 17-year-old high-school geek.
“It’s a horrible time of your life. But I still feel like I’m in that chapter. I’m unsure, insecure, awkward in my body. So it wasn’t actually much of a stretch,” he assures me.
It’s true there’s a gangle to his physique, his frame not quite filled-out. More telling still is his manner – sweetly earnest, given to long, pensive stares into the middle distance.
“I definitely haven’t shed that skin,” he says. “I still feel like I am my past.” What was he like as a teenager? “Erratic. Certain days would be great, I’d have everything figured out. Other days, I wouldn’t.” In the past he’s discussed having depression when younger; now he pauses for so long I ask if he’s OK: “No, it’s good to talk about it. That time can define you. And it’s so vivid you can’t help remembering it, even when you wish you couldn’t.”
At primary school, he was bullied: “Another kid took out his own unhappiness on me. Of course, I know that now. At the time I thought it was my fault.” Yet in other ways his childhood was cartoonishly comfortable. Raised in Epsom, he had the benefit of private schools and acting classes. But a note of the exotic spiced up the Englishness: while his mother comes from Essex, his father is American, a one-time seller of designer lampshades; their son was born in Los Angeles before the family moved to Britain when he was three.
When he speaks now, “tomato” rhymes with “Nato” – but he puts out the “rubbish” not the “trash”. "Americans wear their optimism on their sleeve," he says. “There’s a huge compulsion to accent the positive, be well liked, keep the ball in the air. Here, it’s more cynical.”
And the city of his birth? “I’m very open to the collective unconscious, and in LA all you see are billboards for movies, everyone you meet is talking about movies, at the coffee shop someone’s writing a movie, in the car on the radio they’re talking about movies… it’s weird. Too much.”
So he bases himself in New York, enjoying the company of other expat young actors like Robert Pattinson and Jamie Bell who he pipped to the role of Spider-Man. “My friends aren’t so stupid that a job would come between us,” he insists. “You admit your jealousy to each other, giggle about it, then get pissed together.”
His career has been so buoyant, you imagine he does most of the buying. For all the modesty, there must be a core of steel. “My ambition is changing. I used to be very competitive. Now I’m not sure there’s any such thing as winning. There’s personal pride, but that has nothing to do with treading on people, being top dog, a child of Thatcher, a capitalist kid, 2.4 children, middle class…” He grows ever-more animated, but when I ask if he’s describing his own background, he flusters, says “No”. A gentle prod as to what someone who repeatedly mentions capitalism and Mrs Thatcher thinks of the current government has him sidestepping. “Oh… well… I haven’t been here the last couple of years.”
He’s more at home with vaguer sentiments. “I don’t want to be a cog in the wheel of something that’s going to make a lot of money but won’t say anything to anyone,” he says, fiercely – a superhero with a blanket over his knees, a Hollywood leading man desperate to struggle.
Andrew Garfield stars in The Amazing Spider-Man - released in the UK today in cinemas nationwide.