It’s been a busy few years for UK actor Tom Holland, but his star is set to hit the heights thanks to his casting as the new face of Marvel’s Spider-Man franchise. With the latest film in cinemas today, he tells Gemma Dunn of his delight as a childhood dream becomes a reality
If his trophy cabinet is anything to go by, Tom Holland is quickly emerging as one of Hollywood’s brightest young talents.
At just 16, the Londoner – a Brit School alumni – proved his chops as an actor when he landed his first big screen role in Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible, opposite Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, and went on to be named breakthrough actor of the year by the National Board of Review and young British performer of the year at the London Film Critics Circle Awards.
Just four years on and it looks as though the industry bigwigs sat up and took note.
For now, at the grand old age of 21, Holland – the most recent recipient of the Bafta Rising Star Award – barely has a day off, flitting from one blockbuster to the next.
“What’s the time?” he asks when we meet. “I’m on so many different time zones at the moment that my poor watch is like ‘Can you please keep me at one time?'”
But Holland has a good excuse for being run ragged: he’s mid-way through a gruelling world press tour for his biggest opportunity to date – the titular role in Marvel’s hotly anticipated Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Having made his cameo in the epic battle of Captain America: Civil War just last year, the handsome star (whose stand-out performance was enough to have cinemagoers asking ‘Andrew Garfield, who?’) will reprise the part of Peter Parker as he tries to prove his web-slinging guise is worthy of being an Avenger.
To play Marvel’s crown jewel, the most popular character in comic book history, is a dream come true for Holland.
“Five years ago 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,” he says. “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. (I pinch myself) nearly every day,” he confides.
“When I found out I got the part, I was jumping for joy, screaming and shouting – my poor little dog, Tess, was on my bed and was like, ‘What are you doing? Relax.’
“It’s a crazy thing to be able to say. I have been in my room as a kid saying ‘I am Spider-Man’ since I was like five, but now actually being able to say it with some truth behind it is kind of insane.”
The eldest of four sons of comedian, novelist and screenwriter Dominic Holland and his photographer wife Nicola Elizabeth (nee Frost), Holland’s ability to captivate an audience was first seen when he made his West End stage debut back in 2008, having been cast as Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical. But refreshingly, the young talent has never entertained the tag of ‘stage school brat’, and from his friendly and warm demeanour, it doesn’t look like he’s set to become a Tinseltown diva any time soon either.
Tasked with the brief to create a character we haven’t seen before, Holland is under pressure (not that you’d know it, however) to bring Spider-Man’s Peter Parker bang up to date as he features alongside the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes for the first time.
Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Parker – who returns home to where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) – under the watchful eye of new mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr), tries to fall back into his normal daily routine. But when the Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges as a new villain, can he be the hero he’s meant to be?
Zendaya also stars as Michelle Jones, one of Parker’s classmates, referred to as ‘MJ’ by her friends, as a nod to Mary Jane Watson.
The star has had a helping hand in the shape of Downey Jr.
“He is like a safety blanket, Robert,” says Holland, sitting comfortably in blue jeans, a navy short-sleeved shirt and military boots.
“He’s always available to call up and be like, ‘I don’t know how to do this – can you help me?’ He’s always willing to help me out and give me advice and stuff, but the nice thing about Robert is we’re friends,” adds the artist, whose final hurdle for the role was an on-screen chemistry test with the A-lister.
“He’s just a nice guy. We can sit down and have dinner and comfortably just relax with each other for a really long time. And I’m so lucky that he was willing to show up and help me out on this little picture.”
One aspect Holland didn’t require much assistance with was the action sequences.
The trained gymnast and dancer, who admits to hitting the gym daily to get his body in good shape for the part, is no stranger to a back flip or two.
“If I wasn’t an actor I’d be a stunt man, and the fact that I have been given the opportunity to do both is really fantastic,” says Holland, who recently starred in James Gray’s The Lost City of Z and will next appear in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s period drama The Current War.
But there was one move in particular that tested even his capabilities.
“It was the end of the day, they had wrapped me, and I went back to my trailer and ate two chicken burgers,” Holland begins to explain.
“And then they were like ‘Oh no there’s been a mistake, we need you to come back to set’.
“I had to put on what we call a corset harness, which is a sort of Kevlar corset, and then you put the Spider-Man suit on over the top.
“I was basically sitting on my bum, holding on to a web which would then pull me 30ft headfirst down a lift shaft and the more I scrunched over, the more I could feel these chicken burgers coming up … and because you’re in the mask, if you throw up, you drown.
“It’s made the movie, so it was worthwhile,” he concludes, with a laugh. “But every time I see it I get nauseous.”
So stunts, check. Body, check. But how does he fare in the heroic stakes?
“I like to think I’m a hero,” he answers, before quickly adding: “But not on his level.
“The slogan for our movie is ‘Everyday heroes can be superheroes every day’, and I think it’s important to recognise that the real heroes are the teachers, the doctors, the people that look after us and make our world a better place.”
“I really enjoy going to visit children’s hospitals – it’s something I feel very passionate about and it’s probably the highlight of the press tour for me,” says Holland, who will return for the yet untitled Spider-Man sequel, planned for 2019.
“When I was a kid, Spider-Man had such a huge impact on me, so now I would like to be able to continue how I felt as a kid to kids all around the world,So if I can do that I will be very happy.”