There’s a new Spider-Man in town, with 21 year old Brit Tom Holland taking on the role of Peter Parker on this occasion.
The young actor, who you may recognise from turns in The Impossible and In the Heart of the Sea got his first outing as the character in 2016’s entertaining Captain America: Civil War, but now he’s getting his own full on feature in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Technology and film journalist, Daniel Anderson got the chance to visit the set of the film last year to see Holland shooting a scene with Homecoming antagonist Michael Keaton (who plays Vulture) and literally grabbed him straight from the set, garbed in a homemade-looking Spidey soot and layers of dust and dirt.
Tom Holland as Peter Parker. PA Photo/CTMG/Chuck Zlotnick.
Can you tell us more about the scene we just saw you shooting?
I couldn’t possibly tell you! It’s a very important sequence for us and it’s one of the first moments we really see Peter without his mask on. Or Spider-Man without his mask on and it’s where you see the contrast between Spider-Man and Peter and you see him make a very, very important decision in a very drastic environment. And that decision is what shapes him to becoming one of the most powerful superheroes in the MCU.
And you seem to be wearing a different costume?
Next question! [laughter]
So there’s something pivotal about that?
Yes there is!
What was it like working with Michael?
It’s been a real dream come true you know. I had a very strange situation today where Michael asked me to punch him… and I was thinking ‘I’m not going to punch Michael Keaton!’ And he really wanted me to so I punched him in the chest and didn’t want to hurt him but he wanted me to hit him. So I gave him a good cracking and that was just before one of the takes and that is actually very useful as an actor to have physical contact with someone. I don’t normally like being punched! But apparently Michael does!
Picture: Michael Muller ©2017 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.
That’s some kind of method thing?
It was a thing in the moment and it’s such a heated beat between the two of us and as you can tell by my face and makeup it’s been a pretty heavy scene. So it’s just about making sure we’ve come from the same mindset really at the same time.
Did you do any special training for this movie?
I was a dancer when I was really small, I did a show called Billy Elliot which has been a huge help for this movie, especially ballet and gymnastics. But when I first arrived here, where we’re shooting today was our stunt stage and I spent a month just jumping and flipping and going on wires so I could become comfortable with being 30 feet up in the air and dropping to the floor. But I’ve had some really good training from some of the best in the business.
What was your reaction when you found out you got the part?
That was a crazy day. I was actually playing golf with my dad that day and I lost which is never good. I was really upset and I’d been waiting for about a month after my second screen test and was in bed just scrolling through Instagram and Marvel posted that they’d picked the next Spider-Man. So I went to the site and the first page that came up and then I stopped. I was so honoured to have got that far and to have met Chris and Robert and everyone that I would have been happy no matter what happened. But when I read it I was screaming and shouting and running around the house and my little dog was terrified. And my little brother Harry who’s quite savvy with computers said ‘dude, they might have been hacked - I’m sure they would have called you!’ So I rang my agents and then Kevin rang me to say you know you’re Spider-Man and I said I know dude you put it on Instagram! But it was a very euphoric experience.
What is it about Peter Parker - a 16 year old who doesn’t fit in, how does that manifest itself into a story that people identify with so strongly?
I think it’s because Peter is an everyday person. We’ve seen the billionaire superhero and the god and the supersoldier. Now we get to see the kid. And he goes through things that every teenage boy goes through, which is why I related to him so much as a kid and why the world relates so much to him. And to see a 15 year old boy thrust into this crazy universe is so exciting and fun, and it’s every kid’s dream! It still is my dream! That for me, to see a kid enjoy his superpowers, is one of the most special parts of this process.
Picture: Michael Muller ©2017 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.
What was so great about Civil War was the exuberance in this character - a kid in a candy store - how will that play out in this film as well?
I’m a very exuberant person myself and I like to bring that to work with me. One of the most interesting things about this movie is seeing a superhero who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
He doesn’t know the extent of his powers or his abilities so watching a kid learning that and enjoying it is really fun to watch. So there are a lot of funny moments of me making mistakes and missing things and falling over and there’s one sequence in particular that’s going to be really fun.
Did you have a Spider-Man costume growing up?
I had about 30! My mum’s here now and we found the other day my first ever one, a little tiny baby one. And I could never have imagined I’d be here making this movie.
Did you have Spider-Man themed birthday parties?
Yea without a doubt! And if anyone else showed up dressed as Spider-Man I’d be like ‘listen dude, you need to change - that’s my costume!’ My brother Paddy still sleeps in my old Spider-Man duvet covers, and they must be at least 10 years old! It’s probably about time you bought him some new ones [to his parents]!
How special is it to have your family here?
Its awful! [laughter] It’s an absolute delight because making a movie is such a different process to what people imagine. It can be quite tedious but it’s also very exciting and to be able to share that with your family is so fantastic and Marvel has been so great about bringing them out and making sure they have a good time. It’s been lovely having them.
Does it create added pressure?
I think it makes me work a little bit harder because when I come home I don’t want them to be like - ‘we saw you on set, you were just chilling’!
How is your Spider-Man different to the recent versions of the character?
It’s very difficult to not take influence from what those two guys [Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield] did because it was so great. I think the main difference for us is that I’m much younger, we’re taking him back to high school and he’s now integrated into this universe where he’s not the only superhero. Vigilantism is a real thing and he’s fallen right into the deep end of that. So it’s interesting to see him look up to these superstars and superheroes but not quite be old enough and skilful enough to be there.
Did you talk to Andrew or Tobey about it?
I haven’t spoken to them. They both said some lovely things about me when I was cast and when the movie came out they were both very kind and encouraging. So I’m very happy.
You were talking about the chemistry between you and Michael, how does it work with you and Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.?
It’s so much fun. My first screen test with Robert as you can probably imagine was terrifying! But as soon as you meet him you realise he’s just an ordinary guy who’s really hardworking and always well prepared. And you realise you’re just there to do the same job and you get on with it. And it’s the same with Marisa, it’s been such a pleasure working with her so far and we’ve had a lot of fun improvising and messing with each other. And we’ve really built some lovely relationships on set.
Has it been difficult doing the American accent? Did you watch American TV shows to help?
No the American accent for me isn’t too difficult. The two hardest things for me are not making Spider-Man southern because we’re in Georgia and that accent comes through! And also I find ‘Spider-Man’ so difficult to say in American for some reason. It’s one of the things I can’t say, and it’s the most important part of the movie! So I’m sure we’ll be re-recording that when we come to it. But American TV, when I was growing up Friends was huge, Breaking Bad… I love all TV really.
To take you back to the set - you’re dealing with two elements, sand and fire, that are around you. How much does that add to the performance? Obviously it was warm for us and we were far back!
Yea it was pretty warm in there. The nice thing about today was that it was very dark and a film set is a very busy place and when I have to do a scene of this sort of scale I like to listen to music with headphones in to try to shut everything out. And when you’re in an environment that’s very realistic it obviously helps massively and contributes to your performance. But working with someone like Michael who you can go up to and ask for help or something to do in the next take, he’s just open and giving. So I’m very lucky.
What’s the coolest moment so far?
There’s so much, I mean look around you! I think one of the most surreal experiences and it’s actually on the internet was when I was stopping a bike thief and I was dangling in the middle of the street in a Spider-Man suit and watching people just walk past and double take, and wonder what is going on! That for me was one of the most surreal experiences.
But the single most surreal experience for me was the children’s hospital the other day. We went in the suit with the Marvel team and for the kids to see the suit was the most magical moment.
What’s on your music playlist?
It depends. If I’m about to fight someone it will probably be some old school hip hop from the 90s. Today I was listening to Ennio Morricone, Win One from the Reaper from Lost. [actually Michael Giachinno) or To Build a Home from the Cinematic Orchestra - which are both songs that I was introduced to by Juan Antonio Bayona while making The Impossible.
Which of the Avengers actors do get on well with in real life?
Everyone was really nice… when I was coming into that movie I was the new kid and I was also a kid so I had those two things to battle and everyone was so cool and very welcoming.
But I hit it off pretty well with Anthony Mackie. We had a pretty good rivalry going on set and I took the mick out of him one day and the whole crew started clapping and it was so funny. I actually have a video, it was a great day!
Did you study drama in school?
My school drama experience wasn’t very successful. I auditioned for every part in the school play and didn’t get a single one! But it was only after that when my mum started taking me to dance classes every Saturday that I was spotted to audition for Billy Elliot. And I’ve just kept going from there really and have been very lucky that all of these fantastic opportunities have been given to me and I’m just delighted to be there.
Is it strange going back into the classroom. Because you’ve graduated now?
I never really went to the classroom anyway, I was always working so it’s a bit of a new experience for me. [coughs] So much smoke! From the scene by the way! One of the strangest experiences for me about making this movie was Marvel sent me to a high school in New York to go to undercover. I had a fake name, it was Ben Perkins who is my old acting coach from The Impossible. And it was great fun, it was really interesting to see how different American high schools are to English schools. Because at my school I went in a suit and tie everyday. Now I had to think about what I was wearing every day. IT was a science school so i didn’t fit in at all! I actually have a video of me interviewing a kid asking him about the new Civil War movie and he’s like ‘yea I really like it’ and asked him what he thought about Spider-Man and he said ‘eh, nothing special’! And I’m standing in front of him, thanks man!
How long did you go to the school?
It seems at the start Robert Downey Jr. is your mentor and he tells you not to do things … but you do anyway …
It’s not that he’s rebelling he just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s probably the most unlucky superhero in the whole world, and he stumbles across these things. And he just has to find out what’s going on. He wants to do what’s right and he feels like he sees something that no one else is seeing, so it’s his responsibility to make sure he does right by everyone.
How does it play out with Stark?
You’ll have to wait and see… I don’t see it as a mentorship I see it as a big brother relationship because we played with the idea of him becoming sort of a father figure by the end of the movie. But at the beginning it’s definitely a sort of big brother push you around sort of relationship. And that also gives Peter the drive to push himself.
Would that be how you describe your relationship with Robert?
Yea I think so.
Will you go to university?
No! I think I’m doing just fine!
Spider-Man Homecoming is in cinemas across Ireland from the 5th of July, 2017.
Picture: Michael Muller ©2017 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.