Garfield plays disability rights advocate Robin Cavendish in the upcoming film

By David Canfield
October 12, 2017 at 12:22 PM EDT

Andrew Garfield is already earning praise for his performance in Breathe, but the Oscar-nominated actor says that playing a real person came with some unique challenges.

In the Andy Serkis-directed film, Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, the disability rights advocate who was paralyzed due to polio at the age of 28 and spent the rest of his life working to transform the lives of others like him. Claire Foy plays his wife and advocacy partner, Diana Blacker, who is still alive and has actually seen the film.

“When you’re panicked your breath changes — your breath is shallower and shorter,” Garfield explained to EW. “But Robin didn’t have that ability; he was being breathed by some external machine. So I couldn’t have that natural impulse of that panic breath, and of course, I couldn’t shout for help.”

Garfield also said that a “different kind of responsibility [and] pressure” came with shooting Breathe while people like producer Jonathan Cavendish, Robin and Diana’s son, were involved and watched the making of the movie. But the actor then added that he found a kind of comfort in their presence as well: “Whenever I was tired, whenever I felt a little pathetic or kind of resentful of being at work, all I had to do was touch Jonathan and just look at him and go like ‘This is for you. This is your family, this is your heart.’ There’s something kind of powerful about that.”

Watch the full interview above, and look out for the film in select theaters this Friday.