Tom Holland went undercover at a real high school for Spider-Man prep
Later this afternoon, he’ll have to save the ancient city of Venice from a marauding water monster and tangle with the new superhero in town, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). But on a sun-showered mid-morning at a film studio outside London last August, 23-year-old Tom Holland is sitting in his trailer in jeans and a T-shirt, politely offering up a cold bottle of water with a very ordinary, un-webby hand.
As he settles in, he’s ready to talk about things to come for his character Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Far From Home (or as much, at least, as the famously spoiler-happy Marvel star is allowed to say with a watchful publicist in tow).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you feel like a pro going in this time? Does it get easier?
TOM HOLLAND: Yeah, it’s actually much easier for me. It’s the second Spider-Man movie I’ve made, and the fifth time I’ve played Spider-Man. So I really feel like if I didn’t know the character by now, I’d be doing something wrong. [Laughs]
But no, it’s a much easier turn-around because I’m doing my second film together with [Spider-Man: Homecoming director] Jon Watts, George Cottle the stunt coordinator, all the people who pretty much were on the first film — so it more feels like we’re making a massive TV show than it is a film, because this just feels like the second episode, sort of a university reunion.
Wait, did you go to university?
[Laughs] I didn’t, so maybe that’s why it feels that way.
Tell me where this one picks up. Are we right at the end of the last film?
It’s summer break, so we pick up on the last day of school. Peter and his friends are going on a summer vacation to Europe and it is time for Peter Parker to sort of hang up the Spider-Man suit and take a break. He’s very tired from recent events that have been going on in the MCU, as I’m sure you’re aware, and he basically just wants to go on vacation and that vacation is hijacked by [Samuel L. Jackson’s S.H.E.I.L.D agent] Nick Fury and it basically all goes terribly wrong.
And he also ends up making a new friend, which is actually very exciting. Mysterio in the comics is a huge villain and one of his most notorious foes, but he is actually in this film a teammate, he’s sort of a new member of this superhero world, and they team up together to fight these superheroes and teaming up with Jake Gyllenhaal has been pretty amazing.
What kind of Gyllenhaal fan would you say you are?
I like all of his really dark stuff, which is really weird when you hang out with him, because he’s such a nice guy. I had lunch with him the other day in London, and I just sort of picked his brains about all his roles because he is really like a chameleon every single one. There’s no real similarity between any of them other than the fact that he’s playing them, and he has so many interesting tips about how to immediately change your appearance, how to change your character.
What are your a few of favorite performances of his? I’m putting you on the spot.
For me, Nightcrawler, Prisoners… I love Prince of Persia, though! I told him how much I love that movie. Me and my mum both, actually.
In a way, you and John Watts have sort of come up together, since you both entered this sort of huge Marvel franchise world at the same time.
It’s interesting how it’s changed for the two of us the second time around. It felt so new and sort of scary and we didn’t really know what we were doing, and we’re so lucky that we have each other, because we know what the industry’s like, we know where not to let people take the mick out of us and we can stick together and not make the same mistakes as the first time around.
We really are a real team. And things that I used to do that annoyed him and things that he used to do that annoyed me we sat down and basically just hashed everything out, so it’s just been a dream job so far.
Most superheroes are at least a little jaded, and they get to have this protective shell of adulthood. You’re really the only one who’s still sort of a kid.
We live in a climate where there are so many superhero movies made every year — I mean, I think there’s nine or 10 due to come out next year — so it’s nice to have one that’s about a kid.
For us it was really important to make sure that we keep him grounded in his high school life, so the film is about him and his friends. It’s not about Spider-Man and this villain. It’s [about these] responsibilities that mostly only grownups have, and seeing how a 16-year-old kid deals with it.
Let’s talk about the romance.
Well, I didn’t get super lucky in the last one because [Parker’s] girlfriend’s dad [Michael Keaton’s Vulture] was a super-villain — he was Birdman and Batman all in one. [Laughs] Obviously Zendaya plays MJ, the famous love interest throughout the comics, and there’s a flutter there.
John is very good at pacing the audience and not rushing, so I think it’s sort of undecided yet where those two characters go, but we’re shooting multiple different versions of different scenes which is fun, really really fun, and Z is amazing — we’ve had a really good time figuring out what’s going on between these two characters.
And she sort of a pro with the high-wire action now, after The Greatest Showman.
I was so impressed by that movie! There is so much wire work. Jacob [Batalan, who plays Peter Parker’s best friend Ned] and I were in New York and we actually went to visit her on that set when she was doing that sequence, and some of the stuff she did in that movie, especially the trapeze stuff, the flipping is crazy.
I’ve never done anything like that ever, I was well impressed. [Laughs] And there might be a thing or two in this film for her to be on wires, doing cool stuff.
Though Spider-Man is a very American character, the feel of this new movie is much more international. And the casting also feels very true to New York, too.
I had dinner with the whole cast last night, and I sat down going, “This is so fantastic that such a big movie is represented by such a diverse cast, and that’s down to Jon Watts. He really tried hard and pushed the studios to say, “No, I don’t want to just cast six white kids who are lucky enough to be in these crazy movies, I want to cast some minorities.”
I actually went to a New York City school sort of undercover as a research experiment for the film, and when I came out he said “What was it like?” and I said “Firstly, I’m thick as s— and I had no idea what they were talking about [laughs] and, secondly, it is so unbelievably diverse, especially in Queens and Brooklyn and the Bronx and stuff, and I think he did a really good job of making the environment authentic throughout the first film and this one.
Let’s talk about the American accent. Was it hard for you to master?
I have a dialect coach called Rick Lipton who’s brilliant that I’ve worked with now I think for five years so basically my accent is solid, I know how to say things.
But I improvise all the time, I very rarely say what’s on the page. And when I’m improvising I lose my accent, because I’m thinking about what I’m saying rather than it just coming out naturally. For me, if you can’t convince the public that you’re American then there’s no point in watching my film, because he’s a kid from Queens. So it was super super important that I nailed that part of it, and then we could relax and focus on the character.
If you watch the first film, the scene with Mr. Delmar and I, I don’t know what happened that day but it’s just full English, the whole scene! [Laughs] And I think the reason for it is because it was the first time we ever improvised.
Also, I’m a bit of a parrot, so I find myself working with Jake, I start to sound a little bit like Jake. When I’m working with Sam [Jackson], I start to sound a little bit like Sam. When I work with Jacob I sound a little bit like Jacob, so I have to really focus.
How do kids react when they see you out in the real world?
I love when it’s really little kids. They don’t understand that you’re not Spider-Man — they haven’t put two and two together that it’s a film not real life so that’s really fun because they’re always asking you to do things, and I’m like “Aw, I don’t have my suit,” but I always put on an American accent and try to convince them as best as I can that it’s real.
How many Spider-Mans are you up for, theoretically? Three is sort of the limit, historically.
I’ll do 26 of these if they ask me. I love doing it, I really love it. I get to travel the world, I get to play a character that I’ve grown up loving my whole life. I get to work with people in the industry who I consider to be the best.
And you know, it’s a film that’s fun — it’s light-hearted, it’s full of action, which I love doing, it’s funny, it’s dramatic, it sort of ticks every box for me.
So, if they want me to be doing these until I’m Hugh Jackman’s age, then I will be. But a lot of actors who are older than me when I was a kid would say “Don’t do franchises, because they take up all your time and then you can’t do movies you want to do.”
I’m fortunate enough that Spider-Man is a movie that I love doing, but it only takes up four months of my year, and I have loads of time to do little indie movies. Next year I have three movies lined up that have nothing to do with the Spider-Man world — they’re just tiny roles in these really cool indies, so I really do have this great freedom.