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When Marvel and Sony got together to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they knew they wanted him to first appear in Captain America: Civil War. “We never thought of it as a third casting,” says Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “That was our whole idea about introducing him in Civil War. It’s like — surprise! There’s been a Peter Parker in this universe the whole time! You just hadn’t met him yet.”

An exhaustive search for just the right Peter Parker ensued, with casting agents looking at up to 7,000 aspiring Spideys. A handful were selected to read with Robert Downey Jr. “Having the charisma to have the camera care that you’re even a speck when you’re on screen with Robert Downey Jr. is a tall order,” co-producer Amy Pascal says. “It was magical from that very first test.” The young Brit — 19 at the time, now 21 — had been dancing and acting since childhood, starring in Billy Elliot on the London stage and in films like The Impossible. In him, the filmmakers found a kid who possessed the same infectious enthusiasm as his character. “He’s as excited to be playing Peter Parker as Peter Parker is about getting to be Spider-Man,” director Jon Watts says.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the former gymnast and dancer could actually do all the incredible things that most actors need stunt doubles for. (He casually did a back flip in another audition with Chris Evans.) “If we searched and said: we want somebody who can be Peter Parker and be Spider-Man in the costume it would have been impossible,” says Feige. “We never would have even thought to ask! The notion that Tom could do it and not only be such an amazing Peter Parker but also the best Spider-Man stunt person ever….he’d be giving tips to the stuntmen on how to pose and land!”

Holland learned that he’d been cast in a most unusual way. “I had been auditioning for five months,” Holland says. “I’d worked so hard and it’d been a month since I’d heard anything so I thought, ‘Well, I haven’t gotten it.’ Then one day I’m scrolling through Instagram and Marvel posted this thing about finding out who the next Spider-Man is by going to their website. I thought, what? So I went on the site and it said my name. I freaked out. Everyone in my house was screaming. My poor dog was terrified.” (Says Feige: “I was on my way to the office to make a really exciting to a young actor and looked at my phone and saw it had leaked. That was not great but I guess it makes a good story on the press tour.”)

Now, playing Peter Parker, Holland says the only thing that’s surprised him is how the experience has exceeded his expectations: “It’s a dream come true.”

Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters on July 7.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
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