We’re in a hotel one June weekend in Barcelona and Tom Holland is exhausted. One look at his Instagram lately and it’s easy to see why—Singapore, Rome, Moscow… Being Spider-Man is the easy part. It’s the promotional tour that’ll kill you.
“Is this your first big press tour?” I ask.
Tom looks relieved to let it off his chest: “Yeah dude. I have…everyone was like, ‘yeah a press tour! It will be really fun! You’ll really enjoy it!’”
His face drops from a smile into a deadpan stare. “Dude I am so tired right now. It’s unreal. I have literally not a half a second to myself.”
But please—do not weep for Tom Holland. This is what he dreamed of. Well, maybe not this part, but Spider-Man—that’s a suit he always wish he could wear.
“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. I said, ‘In ten 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.”
We’re all lucky he did, because otherwise we’d never have gotten the Spider-Man-at-his-roots that Spider-Man: Homecoming gives us. Instead of the grown up we’ve seen from Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire over the past decade, Holland’s version puts Spidey back in high school, which, rather than feeling like a step back, moves the character forward, and in directions we haven’t seen on the big screen.
What does he not want his version not be? Holland is clear: “The same as what we’ve seen before. It was important to me to make sure this a new version of a character. I didn’t want audiences to go to the cinema and see what they’ve already seen and kind of feel like a bit of a thief.”
To do so, Holland dug deep into the source material, engrossing himself in both the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko-penned comics of the 1960s, as well as Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s hit reinterpretation of the 2000s.
“I went all the way back. The comics that I connected with most was the Ultimate Spider-Mans. They were the most modern and the one that I related to most. I used those as influence for my version of the character. But I definitely went way back and was stealing lines here and there for adlibs and stuff. My phone was littered with screenshots of the comics that I used for cheat sheets.”
But the early days of Spider-Man weren’t just notable because of the humor, or the age of the character. The Spider-Man of the 1960s that became a global phenomenon was so popular precisely because he was so relatable. In many issues, Spider-Man is more concerned about how he’s going to pay the bills than whether he’ll beat the bad guy. He’s grounded in the same issues we are—something that the most recent big-screen interpretation seemed to forget.
For Holland, it’s essential that his Spider-Man feel like the normal person he was always intended to be.
“That’s why I fell in love with the character because you can relate to him. He’s not a superhero in the sense where you’re like, ‘oh wow he has a Lamborghini I wish I had a Lamborghini.’ He’s a superhero who has nothing—he’s a kid.”
Spider-Man, thus, is hard to separate from his alter ego, Peter Parker. But while Peter is taunted by his classmates, Spider-Man is envied. In approaching the duality of the role, Holland put a wall between how he played Spider-Man and Peter Parker, but, as he puts it, “a wall that could be very easily jumped over.”
“I wanted the physicality of Peter Parker to be seen in Spider-Man. I often find that when you lose the face of an actor, when you put the mask on, you lose the character. All of a sudden it’s a different character. So I wanted to have a physicality that could transcend into Spider-Man so that you could tell it was me when I was in the costume.”
Holland’s Spider-Man may still be taunted at times, but this is not the loser that Tobey Maguire gave us in 2002’s Spider-Man, nor the Romeo that Andrew Garfield gave us in The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012.
“He’s definitely not more confident but he’s not a loser either. He is an awkward kid who struggles at school but enjoys himself, has his friends. He sort of sits in the middle of what Andrew and Toby did. He’s right in the middle.”
Last year, while arguing with my father about the effect that Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee has had on world culture, I asked him: “Dad, if you went anywhere in the world, do you think more people would know the Beatles, or know Spider-Man?’”
I’d wager Spider-Man—and never before have we gotten an actor who brought that character to life better than Tom Holland. The third time’s the charm.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming is out Thursday, 6 July -