Based on the true story, Bleecker Street’s Breathe follows the adventurous and charismatic Robin Cavendish, who has his whole life ahead of him when he is paralyzed by polio at age 28 and given just months to live but ended up living decades. Andrew Garfield, who plays Cavendish, didn’t see it as a story about being paralyzed but a story about living your life.

Deadline

“I never saw it as an acting challenge but as a living challenge because Robin was active until 28,” Garfield said Saturday at he Contenders panel moderated by Pete Hammond. “He connected to the world through his physicality — to have that stripped away is a remarkable thing to reconcile and to experience. He got to know himself internally and know himself inside. He said, ‘If I am going to be here, I’m going to really live.'”

Known mostly for his motion-capture performances, Andy Serkis made the film his directorial debut — because of his connection to Jonathan Cavendish, Robin’s son.

“Breathe is very personal because the story is about my close friend [Jonathan],” said Serkis who joined Garfield on the panel. “I was blown away by the script, and I went to Jonathan and said I have to make it because the story is so extraordinary. He said, ‘Let’s do it.'”

Garfield added that  “it’s Jonathan’s heart on screen” and that besides Robin’s family, Serkis knows his heart more than anyone else.

The film is a family affair and honors Robin’s legacy as his wife Diana (Claire Foy) gave her blessing to make the film while Jonathan Cavendish, who co-founded Imaginarium with Serkis, serves as a producer of the film.

Even though the film, which was written by two-time Oscar nominee William Nicholson, centers on the specific story of Cavendish and polio, Garfield recognizes his story goes beyond that.

“We have a certain paralysis in our lives that inhibits us,” said Garfield.  “It’s a universal story.”