Andrew Garfield’s brief but impressive filmography thus far is no accident; the young actor is nothing if not selective. “I know I’d be really miserable if I was working on something that I didn’t believe in,” says Garfield, 24, whose first four feature film roles are each enviable in their own way.

As a laidback but covertly passionate California college student in the politically energized Lions for Lambs, the young actor shared almost all of his scenes exclusively with silver screen stalwart— and the film’s director—Robert Redford. As Jack in Boy A, Garfield earned a BAFTA Television Award for Best Actor. In 2008 the actor landed a modest part in The Other Boleyn Girl, opposite two of the world’s most sought-after young actresses, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Next year Garfield will round out his burgeoning career in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a new Terry Gilliam fantasy starring the late Heath Ledger.

With an already distinguished filmography, the budding actor has surely parlayed his early success into several more high-profile jobs, right? “Not at the moment,” Garfield says calmly. When asked what’s next, the Brit simply responds, “I don’t know, really.”

This lack of work is not a result of lack of ambition, but rather of a young man who knows both who he is and what he wants. “I’m in a weird position because I’m not a big movie star and I’m not in a rush to be. But at the same time I’m not saying ‘Yes’ to things that I don’t care about,” notes Garfield. “There needs to be something definite. I need to read something and have my gut tell me ‘Yes,’ otherwise I just don’t do it. And that’s weird because I’m kind of getting ahead of myself in that respect, because I’m not Emile Hirsch, I’m not Shia LaBeouf—I’m not those people.”

It’s this selectivity that may well be what soon propels Garfield into the same airspace as those two other young, in-demand actors. His hauntingly honest portrayal of a twentysomething fresh out of jail for murder in Boy A will no doubt garner the actor some much-deserved attention.

Being asked to carry a film so early in his career was intimidating for Garfield, who concedes, “It was mostly scary because I wanted to do it justice, because I knew how powerful and potent it could have been. It was my first lead in a movie; I’d been the lead in plays before, but camera acting was something which I was learning about. I put a huge amount of pressure on myself.” Garfield modestly defers his success in the film to those with whom he worked. “It’s simple: You’re totally defined by the people around you,” he says of his collaborators. “Working with Peter Mullan and Katie Lyons and Shaun Evans and John Crowley, the director, I felt safe. I felt like I could play and I felt like I was kind of being guided.”

While Garfield may not know specifically what his acting future will look like, he does plan to focus on film for the foreseeable future. One reason is that he recognizes there’s room for improvement, something he learned by watching Ledger. “I know there are challenges in film that I’ve yet to achieve,” he admits. “Just coming off of Terry’s movie, I started to learn that I would usually approach camera work like I’d approach any kind of work—like stage work. But watching what Heath Ledger was doing, you realize that it’s a totally different craft. He had it absolutely nailed.”

Like any true cinema artist, Garfield is most interested in just telling a great story, no matter what his role is in the process. “I’m very interested in the other side of it, the behind-the-camera stuff. I want to learn as much about that as possible because who knows? I want to keep an open mind toward what the future holds. I haven’t got my own story to tell yet, but at some point I hope I will—and I want to be as well-equipped for that as possible. But then again,” he quickly clarifies, “if a great play comes along, I’ll do that, no question. It’s all based on the kind of story I want to tell, you know?”