Andrew Garfield, the star of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," takes one glance around the upscale Bel Air eatery and says: "Peter Parker wouldn't be allowed in here."

And, yes, it's nearly impossible to picture the brainy, blue-collar kid from Forest Hills, Queens, enjoying fine cuisine on this restaurant patio. Even Garfield, the 30-year-old actor who has lived inside Peter Parker's skin intermittently for the past few years, seems a bit out of place here.

In fact, it was Parker's outsider quality and the repercussions of his encounter with a scientifically enhanced arachnid that deeply appealed to Garfield long before he'd settled on an acting career. A self-described skinny kid in England who was bullied by classmates, Garfield found solace and hope in the web-slinger.

"I needed a myth," Garfield says of his attraction to the hero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko at Marvel Comics in 1962. "I needed a story to put myself into to understand where I was at, to remind me that it's OK to be imperfect. ... You can be imperfect and still be a hero. That's incredibly empowering for young people."

Electro threat

In the new film, directed by Marc Webb, Garfield's wall-crawling hero is beset by numerous threats, chief among them Jamie Foxx's Electro, an incandescent-blue bad guy who possesses the ability to control the power grid.

As he tries to contain the damage Electro inflicts across Manhattan, Parker struggles to learn more about his own past, including his father's demise. He's wrestling, too, over his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), attempting to balance his feelings for her with his desire to keep her out of harm's way. Then there's the matter of his friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), whose reappearance spells trouble.

Parker is the sort of complex, conflicted character that appeals to the actor. "This is the Spider-Man movie that I want to make," says Garfield. "This is the Spider-Man that I want to portray."

Emerging talent

Born in Los Angeles but raised in London, he attended the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and found work onstage before getting smaller roles on TV in England (including the cult series "Doctor Who"). He began to build a reputation as a serious, emerging talent with his performance as crime reporter Eddie Dunford in the "Red Riding" miniseries, with its three overlapping violent tales.

That success led to lauded roles in Mark Romanek's somber literary adaptation "Never Let Me Go" and David Fincher's Oscar-winning 2010 drama "The Social Network," in which Garfield played Eduardo Saverin, beleaguered friend of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Soon afterward, he was approached to audition for Sony/Columbia's Spider-Man reboot. To book the audition, Garfield says he was required to sign a contract stating that he would accept the part if offered to him, without first being allowed to read the script.

"I was like, 'This is ridiculous,' " he recalls. "I don't even know that I'm going to get on with the people. They were like, 'This is the way it is with these movies. The studio has the power. So either you sign up now, or they don't audition you.' The 3-year-old inside me is going, 'You're hesitating?' " The actor says the rapport he developed with Webb, who had directed the indie "(500) Days of Summer," made him less nervous.

The first film in this duo, "The Amazing Spider-Man," turned into a blockbuster that took in more than $262 million domestically and also earned critical praise, thanks in part to the chemistry between Garfield and Stone, who met and began dating during the production.

Garfield describes Stone in glowing terms, calling her "a perfect scene partner," someone who is "open and present and flowing like a body of water." But he is reluctant to share details about their lives off-screen.

"There is this assumption now that, if you're an actor, you're asking to be famous and you're asking to be a celebrity and to have your private life spread in whatever publication or online," Garfield says. "I have to keep reminding myself that I don't have to please people by talking about something that is no one else's business."

With the exception of the "Spider-Man" movies, Garfield seems to prefer prestige films. He recently shot the indie drama "99 Homes" with award-winning filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, and he's poised to play a 17th-century Jesuit priest for director Martin Scorsese in the film "Silence." Onstage, he won a Tony Award nomination for his Broadway run playing Biff Loman in "Death of a Salesman" opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman for director Mike Nichols in 2012.

In person, Garfield comes across as thoughtful and soft-spoken. He lives in the Big Apple. He says that in "New York City, you know that no one (cares) about who you are. That's healthy. Here (in L.A.), people really care.

"I do just want to create things and be an artist and explore and experiment and be free of fear of judgment," he continues. That's the big joke -- the religion of celebrity and fame, the fanaticism of the star (is) not real in any way. It's all illusion.

"L.A.'s dangerous for actors," he continues. I think there's a collective unconscious thing happening where there's value placed on things that have no value, on what a film makes at the box office -- that being a mark of success, as opposed to the journey of creating the thing."