To prepare for Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of the Catholic novel Silence, actors Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) did some extra homework and checked themselves into a seven-day silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat house in North Wales.
The two actors portray Jesuit missionaries in the movie and in order to bring an authenticity to their roles, Garfield and Driver steeped themselves in Jesuit spirituality. While on retreat at St. Beuno’s (a place where Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins lived for three years), the actors spent the time entering into complete silence and were led through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The actors took the retreat seriously and would only wave to each other in the refectory to maintain the silence. [Author’s note: Since going to print, I have been advised that the seven-day retreat for Andrew Garfield was the third stage of the “Exercises in Daily Life” retreat based on St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises that is typical conducted over 30 days. Garfield was led through the 30 day retreat over six months, starting in New York, continuing in North Wales and then completed in New York.]
Read more: “Silence” explores the mystery of faith
Garfield said about the experience in The New York Times, “On retreat, you enter into your imagination to accompany Jesus through his life from his conception to his crucifixion and resurrection. You are walking, talking, praying with Jesus, suffering with him. And it’s devastating to see someone who has been your friend, whom you love, be so brutalized.”
Looking back at the whole experience Garfield admitted that God was working in his heart, “I had the feeling that I was being called to something: called to work with one of the great directors, and called to this role as something I had to pursue for my spiritual development.”
In addition to the retreat Garfield spent an entire year preparing spiritually for the role and even took on a spiritual director, Father James Martin, SJ. They would meet via Skype and by the end of it all Garfield said, “I got totally swept up in all things Jesuit and very taken with Jesuit spirituality.” Garfield was so immersed that when he was on set Garfield would stop and say, “A Jesuit wouldn’t say that,” and then offer suggestions for the script.
The experience had a deep impact on Garfield, who was raised in a secular Jewish household. He explained to Time, “My experience was very personal. Hopefully we’re dying on the cross every day and being resurrected in a truer way every day. That’s the idea, for me—the old self being shed in order for the truer self to emerge.”
According to Vogue, Scorsese was impressed with Garfield’s dedication. “I’ve spoken to people who’ve attempted these exercises and only lasted for three days… This young man actually did them!”
Driver, raised in a Baptist family, sees the movie as a crisis of faith. He explained to The New York Times, “It could be faith in your work, in the project or in a marriage; it could be doubts about the work or the project or the marriage. When you think about it that way, it’s very relatable.”
To help preserve the spiritual aspect of the film Scorsese made sure the set was enveloped in a spirit of silence and extended that silence in the final product. He explained to Vatican Radio that his previous films “were full of noise and often very ‘frenetic’ but pointed out that in this latest movie there is no music on the soundtrack and instead there are the background sounds of the landscape and the birds. He described it as a way of ‘finding out what silence sounds like.’”
Silence will hit a select number of theaters on December 23 and will have a wide release in January. The movie is expected to be a contender at the Academy Awards and media outlets are already talking about a best picture nomination.