He admits that it’s a cliché, but Tom Holland looks at the opportunity to play the dual role of Peter Parker and Spider-Man as a long-held dream come true. It started to happen when he played the character in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, and he’s still living that particular dream in Spider-Man Homecoming.
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“Five years ago,” Tom reflects, “I was at the Empire Awards in London, and one of the interviewers asked me if I could be a superhero, who would I be? I said, ‘In 10 years, I’d like to be the Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield.’ I would never have guessed that it would have come true so quickly.”
The Spider-Man in both films is more or less a superhero in training, still getting used to his powers and having a hard time balancing his personal and high school life with the idea of going up against supervillains to keep the world safe.
Producer Kevin Feige, creative guiding force of all of the Marvel films, points out, “That’s the character as he was in the comics originally. That was the miracle when we found Tom Holland, because we found someone who could clearly look and play fifteen years old. We wanted to keep that as the contrast to some of our other superheroes who look good, but are not fifteen.”
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British native Thomas Stanley Howard, born June 1, 1996, started his career as a dancer, dancing at the hip hop classic at Wimbledon’s Nifty Feet Dance School. While there, his talent was recognized by choreographer Lynne Page. This ultimately led to eight auditions and him getting the major part of Michael in a British West End production of Billy Elliot The Musical. Eventually he rotated the lead role of Billy with three other actors. Making the transition to film, he appeared alongside Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts in The Impossible (2012), How I Live Now (2013) and Ron Howard’s In The Heart Of The Sea (2015). And then, of course, there was his debut as Spider-Man in Civil War.
Spidey’s appearance in that Captain America film was more significant than many people may have realized in that the character had been licensed to Sony a long time ago and therefore couldn’t be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which began with 2008’s Iron Man and is owned by Disney. However, a deal was struck allowing Marvel to produce a Spider-Man film for Sony. What this means is that the character was allowed to appear in Civil War (and next year's Avengers: Infinity War) and, in exchange, Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man could appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
“Over the past 15 years,” Kevin Feige explains, “we have built the Marvel Cinematic Universe with so many characters and movies, and now we have the opportunity to introduce Peter Parker and the Spider-Man franchise into that universe for the first time. It’s exciting, because that’s how he truly was in the comics, from the very beginning—he didn’t enter the comics as the only hero; he entered a world in which Tony Stark, Captain America and the Avengers all were there. It was the contrast of this young kid that had to do homework and be responsible for his Aunt May while being a superhero that was so fun. And now, for the first time, we get to do that in an entire film, which makes it fresh and new.”
Director Jon Watts adds, “Putting Spider-Man in the MCU is the best thing in the world for me as a storyteller. Not only did they take care of the origin story and heavy lifting in Captain America: Civil War—which they did so economically and beautifully—we also didn’t have to spend any time explaining why this kid would come up with the idea of becoming a superhero. He’s grown up in the MCU; when Peter Parker was eight years old, he saw Tony Stark say, ‘I am Iron Man’ on TV. So the idea of this being a world where superheroes exist means that we don’t have to spend any time addressing any of these issues. We just get right into the fun of it.”
For Tom, getting cast in the role consisted of him sending in numerous tapes of himself and then auditioning, which obviously paid off. His final test was meeting Downey and acting in a test scene with him—eventually.
“I actually met Robert’s stand-in first,” he notes. “He looks a lot like Robert. I thought, ‘Wow, you look really different in real life’—and got the immediate nerves of meeting him out of the way. When Robert came in, we improvised and riffed off each other, which was great.”
Downey was equally as enthusiastic regarding the young actor: “Tom Holland is just the perfect man for the job. He’s enthusiastic, bright and gifted, a very physically talented guy by virtue of his dance and acrobatic background. He has just the right combination of elements required to bring a new take on the character.”
Adds producer Amy Pascal, “Tom was astonishing during the casting process. He brought a whole other quality to Peter Parker that was so true in the comics—he captured a 15-year-old’s effervescence. We screen-tested a lot of kids, but from the second we saw him on the monitor with Robert Downey, Jr., we knew he was the one.”
“The energy of Tom Holland meeting Robert Downey, Jr. for the first time was exactly what we wanted out of Peter Parker meeting Tony Stark,” Feige notes. “The audition scene was the bedroom scene in Captain America: Civil War, and so we wanted to continue that relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark that we set up in the film.”
And that relationship has served as a major component of Homecoming’s storyline. Says Watts, “Peter Parker loves being Spider-Man, but he doesn’t necessarily love being Peter Parker. Peter Parker sort of represents everything that he was—an awkward, weird science nerd—but now he has a whole new life ahead of him being a superhero who hangs with Tony Stark and Captain America and all the Avengers. But even though he has all these new powers and connections, he hasn’t come to terms with who he is as Peter Parker. One of the journeys for him is realizing that you can’t move ahead to be Spider-Man until you’ve really figured out who you are as Peter Parker.”
Part of that particular lesson comes from Peter, having had the experience of Civil War and fighting alongside some of the Avengers, now is back to riding the New York subways to high school and feeling that he just doesn’t have much to do, which is killing him. And this with Stark continuing to serve as his mentor.
“Tony Stark has assigned him to be the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” Tom reveals, “which means helping get cats out of trees, helping old ladies across the street and stopping petty thieves—nothing too hairy. But then Spider-Man stumbles across [something], which leads him down a path of learning and mastering his new abilities and powers.”
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Downey comments, “Tony Stark has taken a continued interest in Peter Parker. He’s helping him up his game with a new suit and tech. But he’s kind of keeping a real close eye on him and making sure that he’s worthy of being a potential recruit for the Avengers.”
“Peter really believes he has a mentor in Tony Stark,” Feige points out, “and Tony really like Peter, but he can’t be babysitting this kid. Tony gives Peter a little bit of rope to see what he can do on his own.”
Tom enthuses, “We go back in time to relive the Civil War splash panel fight from Peter’s perspective. We see him having the time of his life. He’s on a private jet and he’s staying in this crazy beautiful hotel room, but suddenly he's being crammed on a subway late for school. No one’s called him to give him another mission. That’s the contrast: the kid at summer camp is suddenly back at school. Tony becomes a kind of father figure to Peter. Peter’s trying to prove himself to Tony that he is old and wise enough to take on bigger tasks, but Tony keeps putting him down and telling him he isn’t ready yet. I think that’s what really drives Peter to possibly go down the wrong path, before he figures it out and we see why Peter Parker is the most beloved and powerful superhero of the MCU.”
That wrong path leads him into conflict with Michael Keaton’s Adrian Tooms, who has been using remnants of Avengers and alien tech to transform himself into the Vulture to improve his lot in life. Eventually their conflict threatens everything that Peter cares about.
“I wanted Spider-Man: Homecoming to be a ground-level superhero movie,” says Watts. “I really liked the idea of having villains with problems that people can relate to. It’s not about world domination; it’s not about some crazy revenge plot; it’s about not having enough money to get by and really wanting to have a place in the world.”
For Tom, there were a wide variety of highlights, but one of the biggest was undoubtedly standing there in the Spider-Man costume—even though he’d previously worn it in Civil War.
“Putting on the Spider-Man suit is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me in my entire life,” he laughs. “I still to this day can’t really believe that it’s happened. There’s always a real special moment when I put the suit on, especially in front of little kids and they see the suit and their eyes light up. It reminds you of what a real privilege it is to bring that sort of happiness to people.”
Spider-Man: Homecoming opens July 7th.