Spider-Man has become the Hamlet for comic book movie stars. Every actor under the age of 30 wants to put their stamp on the role.
Now it’s Tom Holland’s turn to pull on Spider-Man’s tight-fitting trunks, following in the footsteps of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. After a showy supporting turn in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” Holland swings onto center stage with this summer’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
This time Spider-Man is going back to class. “Homecoming” will focus on the complexity of balancing completing algebra assignments in between saving the world. Holland, a 20-year-old English actor, brought a wide-eyed energy to the part in his earlier appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” and in a backstage interview shortly before footage of “Homecoming” screened at CinemaCon, a theater owner trade show unfolding this week in Las Vegas, Holland had the same youthful enthusiasm that radiates on screen. He spoke at a dizzying pace, recounting his childhood love for the comics and the character. He told Variety about the unusual steps he took to play the teen hero, the future of the wall-crawling character, and the need to plan ahead for bathroom breaks when wearing Spidey’s signature spandex.
Were you a fan of Spider-Man before you got the role?
Fan is an understatement. I had the Spider-Man costume, I had bed sheets, toys, you name it. I’ve always had an argument with my best friend that Spider-Man was way better than Batman. I was a massive fan growing up.
What did you like about the character?
Peter Parker is probably the most relatable superhero maybe ever, because he goes through something that basically everyone has to go through. Whether it’s puberty or talking to girls or doing homework, he does it in such a human way. That’s why he’s such a beloved character, because so many people can relate to him. If you ask any kid under the age of 10 what their favorite colors are, it’s probably red and blue, so he’s got both of those checked off.
Did you reach out to Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire when you got the part to pick their brain about playing Spider-Man?
No. I wasn’t in touch with them. They both said some really lovely things about me online. I met Andrew at the BAFTAs the other day. It was cool. He’s such a nice guy and we had a great chat and went our separate ways.
What did you talk about?
We just talked about how fantastic he’s been doing and all the brilliant movies he’s been in lately. He talked to me about how excited I must be and how happy he was for me. It was all great.
What was it like to put on the suit for the first time?
The first time I put on the suit was, I’m not going to lie, a little bit of a disappointment. I was cast as Spider-Man very late into the process of shooting “Civil War.” They’d already been shooting on my stunt double before I had the chance to come to set, so they didn’t have time to make me a suit because these suits take weeks and weeks to make, so they just decided to tailor my stunt double’s suit to me. Now my stunt double was a good two or three inches taller than me and stockier than me, so the first time I ever tried it on it was kind of like a saggy, sad Spider-Man.
But the time I tried it on for real and it fit perfectly was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. It’s been my dream since I was a kid, and the fact that it was coming true before my own eyes was such a crazy feeling. I was just so proud of myself and delighted with how my career had gone and where I was standing.
How long does it take to get into the Spider-Man costume?
It depends. There’s different versions of the suit that we have for different means. Sometimes I have to wear a harness underneath the suit, which takes probably close to 45 minutes to put on all together. If I’m wearing no harness, it probably takes 25 minutes to put on. The tricky part is going to the bathroom. You have to sort of plan in advance. You have to be like, “Look, I think I might need the toilet in 45 minutes, so we have to take this off.” Obviously it’s a very expensive suit, so you don’t want it just swinging down around your ankles.
With “Civil War,” “Homecoming,” and now “Infinity War,” you’ve been playing Spider-Man for years. Do the films blur into one another?
They all feel like very different movies to me. “Civil War” was such a whirlwind, and I didn’t really know what was going on. I was thrown into the deep end. “Spider-Man” was the best time of my life. I was there with my best friend. We shot in Atlanta. We shot every day and just had an absolute blast. “Avengers” was crazy, because you’re on set every day with actors I never dreamed I would work with. I’m as much a fan as anyone else.
Sony has plans to expand the Spider-Man universe with several spinoff films. Will you appear in “Venom” or “Black Cat”?
I have no idea. I haven’t read a script. I haven’t seen any sort of concept art, so that would be something I would decide on when I see material.
Did you do your own stunts?
I did as much as I was allowed.
You attended Bronx High School of Science in New York City to prepare for the part. Was that your idea?
It was a joke I made to Marvel that I wanted to go to a high school undercover to experience what New York high school is really like. They took it very seriously. I went to school for three days and went undercover. I put on an American accent. My name was Ben Perkins. The problem is that Bronx School of Science is for geniuses. You can’t just join halfway through. You have to go through an extensive exam process. A lot of the students were very confused about why I was there, and I think a lot of the teachers were too. So the teachers kept testing me and asking me questions, and believe me, I am by no means a scientist. It was fun and I learned a lot about schools. One of the key characters in the movie, Flash Thompson, was largely informed by my trip. Bullies now aren’t just jocks. They’re rich kids in the nice cars with the fancy clothes. We have a snobby bully rather than a jock bully.
Why did you pick the name Ben Perkins?
That’s my acting coach. He was with me at the time in New York while we were there. I went in with another name, but somebody asked me my name, and I panicked and said Ben Perkins. So I went with it.
Did you ever tell people at the school that you were Spider-Man?
I told one person on the last day and it spread like wildfire. This girl was like, “what’s your deal?” And I said, “I’m Spider-Man.” She didn’t believe me. She just thought I was a nutter.
There’s so much secrecy surrounding the Marvel movies. Were you able to share anything with your family or friends?
You are supposed to be incredibly secretive. I’m maybe not as secretive as they would like. I recently came home from “Avengers” and you’re supposed to hand your script in once you’re finished. They only really give you the pages for that day, and I accidentally took them home and apparently there’s a big old panic at the studio, because no one could find my script and was worried that it would get out. So I put a video on Instagram burning them in my dad’s wood burner just to prove that they weren’t going anywhere.
How is this Spider-Man movie different from previous Spider-Man movies?
We definitely focus on a younger superhero. From the vast amount of superhero movies that we’ve seen, we’ve seen the soldier, the scientist, the billionaire, and now it’s time to see the kid. There’s something interesting in giving a 15-year-old incredible powers and seeing what he would do with it.
I strongly believe a 15-year-old would have the time of his life. It was important that we see Peter Parker enjoying his powers, but also using them to do good.