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Whether it’s getting emotional at a recent fan event or driving around London in his Spider-Man suit, playing Peter Parker hasn’t gotten old for Holland, and you’ll never hear him express anything but admiration for the character that put him on the map. In No Way Home, Holland’s character has to deal with the fallout of Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealing his identity to the world, and in an effort to undo the harm it has caused his loved ones, Parker turns to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. Unfortunately, Strange’s spell goes awry and opens up their universe to other Marvel universe villains such as Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Jamie Foxx’s Electro.
At first, the idea of opening up the multiverse seemed like wishful thinking to everybody but Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.
“The initial idea of the multiverse was kind of a joke, really,” Holland tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I mean, it was one of those things where everyone was going, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be fun?’ And I think Kevin Feige was like, ‘Yeah, that would be really fun. Why don’t we do that?’ So I tip my hat off to the incredible creatives at Marvel and Sony who have been able to not only just pull off the creative, but the logistical side of this as well. Bringing people back, scheduling issues, battling with COVID, going along with the safety protocols. So it was a tough shoot, but we all put our heads together and we got it done.”
After the massive stakes of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, dealing with the multiverse in Spider-Man: No Way Home is a logical progression and escalation, but Holland is quite relieved that he doesn’t have to figure out what’s next for his character.
“Thankfully, that is not my job,” Holland says with a laugh. “My job is to just say the lines on set. There are far cleverer people than me that have been given the task of writing future movies and coming up with new ideas. And as always, I’ll be very eager to see what they come up with. But maybe we don’t top this movie. Maybe this movie is the perfect storybook ending for this chapter of Spider-Man. And if it’s time for me to step down and for the new person to step up, I would do so proudly.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Holland also discusses a couple of scenes from No Way Home, including one that resulted in a prop cupboard falling on him. Then he looks back at some key scenes from Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Well, Tom, yesterday was the fastest 38 minutes of my life. [Editor’s note: members of the media saw the first 38 minutes of No Way Home earlier this month.]
Oh yeah, the movie really gets going. There’s no real time to breathe once it gets started.
Yeah, I definitely noticed the brisk pace and how much you achieved during that time. There’s also an impressive oner in the apartment as Peter attempts to distract May (Marisa Tomei) and Happy (Jon Favreau). Can you talk a little bit about pulling that off?
Do you know what? That’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie just because it was like doing our own little play. It truly is one shot. Whether or not they’ve spliced shots together for what’s in the final film, I don’t know, but on the day, it really was one shot. And it was fun! It took a lot of time to rehearse as we were figuring out the camera moves. The camera move changed every time we would do it. At one point, when I was trying to pull one of the curtains down, I fell over and crashed into the cupboard, and then the cupboard fell on top of me and all of the props fell off. So it was chaotic. It was organized chaos. But with Marisa [Tomei], Jon Favreau, Zendaya and myself, that’s a pretty awesome combination of people. So it was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it.
You’ve previously said that Spider-Man: No Way Home is the most ambitious stand-alone superhero movie ever made. Was your third Spider-Man movie always going to be this ambitious, or did it become more and more grand as Marvel and Sony worked out a deal?
Yeah, I think they always want these films to have a natural progression, but I don’t think they could have ever anticipated that this film would be this huge and have this kind of reaction from the fans. The initial idea of the multiverse was kind of a joke, really. I mean, it was one of those things where everyone was going, “Wow, wouldn’t that be fun?” And I think Kevin Feige was like, “Yeah, that would be really fun. Why don’t we do that?” So I tip my hat off to the incredible creatives at Marvel and Sony who have been able to not only just pull off the creative, but the logistical side of this as well. Bringing people back, scheduling issues, battling with COVID, going along with the safety protocols. So it was a tough shoot, but we all put our heads together and we got it done.
As part of the reported deal for this film, you’re also expected to appear in an upcoming Marvel Studios movie that’s independent of Sony. Without specifying, do you already know which MCU film you’re going to pop up in as Spider-Man?
Yeah, that’s not accurate at all. The new deal that was struck up was this understanding between the two studios that should Marvel want me to appear in one of their movies, then it would be an open conversation. I don’t think it’s as black and white as, “I have a three-picture deal with Marvel and a three-picture deal with Sony.” It’s just this open conversation and open dialogue between Mr. [Bob] Iger [Walt Disney Co. executive chairman] and Mr. [Tom] Rothman [chairman of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group].
Being Spider-Man overwhelms Peter Parker, especially at the beginning of No Way Home, and I have to imagine that playing Spider-Man can also be overwhelming for you at times. When you feel that way, how do you level yourself? How do you decompress?
Playing golf is what I do. I’m addicted to golf, and had I not been addicted to golf, I would have had a very different career. It’s a nice way to disconnect from what’s going on around you. I turn my phone off and I just enjoy being outdoors with my friends, my brothers and my dad. And golf is also incredibly humbling. Over the last few years, I’ve been very lucky that my career has taken twists and turns, but all the kind of twists and turns that I could only have dreamed of. And very often, I’ll go out and play golf to celebrate, and it will very, very quickly humble me by destroying me. So that’s why golf is valuable.
There have been examples of actors who’ve become indifferent to their franchise characters the longer they play them, but based on how emotional you were at the trailer event a few weeks ago, is it fair to say that your affinity for this role is as strong as it’s ever been?
Yeah, I think that’s very accurate. I think I have a really good understanding of how much this character has changed my life and how grateful I am for everything that’s come along with it. So I feel great. I feel really honored to still be here. This is my sixth time playing this character, and sometimes, when you see and feel how much it touches the fans, it’s emotional and it’s overwhelming. Even my makeup artist, Rachael [Speke], was crying at the fan event.
During the school rooftop scene, I loved how Peter used the Spider-Man moniker as a verb. I think the line was something like, “I can Spider-Man there,” and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the term used that way. What about you?
I don’t think so, but it just kind of makes sense to us. He’s trying to lighten the mood and he’s trying to convince MJ that moving to Boston would be a good thing. So rather than saying, “I can fight crime as a masked vigilante in Boston,” he’s saying, “I can Spider-Man there.” It’s a lighter way of saying, “In the evening, I’m going to wear a spandex suit and go out into the shadows and beat the shit out of bad guys.”
When you consider Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and now, Spider-Man: No Way Home, the audience clearly has an appetite for seeing Spider-Man in these event films with huge stakes and tons of characters. At this point, with the bar set this high, how do you guys even begin to top this? How do you go back to neighborhood-level stakes after this?
Thankfully, that is not my job. (Laughs.) My job is to just say the lines on set. There are far cleverer people than me that have been given the task of writing future movies and coming up with new ideas. And as always, I’ll be very eager to see what they come up with. But maybe we don’t top this movie. Maybe this movie is the perfect storybook ending for this chapter of Spider-Man. And if it’s time for me to step down and for the new person to step up, I would do so proudly.
As far as No Way Home, what percentage of the time are you wearing a practical suit?
All the time. I reckon it’s practical probably 80 percent of the time. During the last five weeks of shooting Spider-Man: No Way Home, I wore the Spider-Man suit every single day, all day. There were no other costumes.
Zendaya has been talking about this for a few years now, but have you been able to figure out why she has this fear of you throwing up inside your suit? What’s the root of all this?
It’s quite a legitimate fear. When I’m in the suit and I’m in the full thing, if you were to throw up in the suit, you would effectively drown. In [Spider-Man: Homecoming], there’s a scene where Spider-Man gets trapped under the rubble and I have to battle my inner demons to lift up this heavy piece of concrete. And on the day, when I was trapped under this fake rock, I had the mask on and they had this kind of water drop that was dropping onto the back of my head. And the more and more water that dropped onto my head, the more and more water that pooled up in the front of the mask. So I was kind of waterboarding myself, and I guess it’s a similar sort of thing to what Zendaya is worrying about.
I read your recent comments about not necessarily wanting to play Spider-Man after 30, and for some reason, I then thought of your church scene with Robert Pattinson in The Devil All The Time. Once Pattinson wrapped up his first franchise, he then went on this 7-year run of really interesting and bold character work. Are you eager to have a phase like that where you get as weird as you possibly can?
I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily call it weird, but I would love to explore and try out new things with different characters. But then again, I’ve been an actor since I was 11. I haven’t done anything else, and maybe I don’t want to be an actor. Maybe I just want to set up a carpentry shop and be a dad. I don’t know. I want to spend the next five years really thinking about my future rather than thinking about my career. I’m very privileged and lucky to be where I am in my career, and it’s given me a lot of stability and stuff going forward. So I think the next five years is going to be about, “What do I want the future of my life to look like?” rather than, “What do I want the legacy of my career to look like?”
My favorite MCU scene is the Spider-Man: Homecoming scene involving you, Laura Harrier and Michael Keaton in the Jaguar.
Yeah, I loved that.
Even though suspense is largely built in the edit, could you also feel some of that tension or suspense on the day?
Absolutely we could. Michael Keaton was a real joy to work with and a lovely guy, but it was tense. And it was also much longer on the day. There were probably two pages of dialogue that didn’t make the scene, but it was really, really intense. And Laura did a great job because she, in that scene, plays the “ignorance is bliss” kind of role. You have the superhero and supervillain going head to head, and in the middle of it, there’s this young girl who’s excited to go to the homecoming dance. So adding that into the equation made that scene just that much more exciting.
Since you and Jake Gyllenhaal dressed up as the Night at the Roxbury guys for the world premiere of Spider-Man: Far From Home, do you have any cosplay up your sleeve for this press tour?
Not for this tour, but I have been donning the Spider-Man suit a few times. My brother and I drove around London very early in the morning yesterday, and we went to some of the most famous landmarks in the city. So I did a bit of a dance party and got some commuters to join in, which was very fun.
That effect never gets old, does it?
Yeah, it doesn’t.
When you joined the MCU, you probably got advice from all sorts of people, but looking back now after six years, is there anything that they failed to mention or warn you of in advance?
I don’t really remember getting much advice from people. There were people that I had worked with, who I definitely learned stuff from, but just via watching them work. Zendaya definitely gave me a lot of advice. We were young and we were going through the same things at the same time, so we were able to lean on each other. So there wasn’t really a poignant piece of advice, but there are definitely things that I wish I had known. And I know that there are people that knew that and should have told me. But here we are today and I’m still going, so nothing really to worry about.
When you were cast, I remember seeing videos of you doing all sorts of flips and whatnot. Do you still throw your body around like that when you’re not working?
When I was a little bit younger, someone could say the word backflip and I would do one. Now, you have to really, really convince me that it’s worth my time. I don’t know what it is, but the last year, my knees have just disappeared. So I’ll throw myself around when I’m on set and I’m doing it for work, but if I’m not working, I’m playing golf and there’s no need for throwing yourself around on a golf course.
You developed a reputation for spoiling movies in the past, however, the media probably blew it a bit out of proportion.
But you’ve really been a vault the last year. So I just want to give you credit for that.
Thank you. I appreciate that. It’s nice that someone has actually recognized that because I’ve spent the entire day doing press and all anyone wants to know is what I’m going to spoil next.
What does a good day on a Spider-Man set typically mean to you? What constitutes a good day in your book?
I mean, there’s so many things that it could be. It could be a scene that has gone really well, it could be a joke that has made everyone laugh, or it could be a line that has made everyone cry. There are so many different things that come into play when you’re working on set, and each day is as rewarding as the last. Some days are tougher than others. Sometimes, I struggle when we’re doing a scene that’s really easy, a scene that doesn’t require that much hard work. Sometimes, it kind of spins me out because I feel like I haven’t worked hard enough on that day, but that’s something I’m getting over. For example, with the film I did with the Russo brothers, Cherry, the first six or seven weeks of that film was the really hard-core drug stuff. And because I was working so hard and pushing myself to the limits every day, I felt like I was doing a really good job. But then we got into the more normal stuff of him just being a teenager at school, and while I wasn’t having a crisis, I was very worried that I wasn’t working hard enough and I wasn’t therefore doing a good job. But the Russos, the great leaders that they are, convinced me otherwise.
I’m glad you mentioned Cherry because I’ve rewatched the last five minutes of that film many, many times. The passage of time sequence is really moving and effective visual storytelling, and Henry Jackman’s swelling score just brings it home, especially as your character reunites with Ciara Bravo’s character. What do you remember about filming that sequence?
That was a crazy film. A large portion of that was a lot of prep work that I did with my hair and makeup artist, Rachael [Speke]. We spent months on it. Rachael had a little book with a timeline of different wigs, different prosthetics and all that sort of stuff that was really quite detailed and set out. A lot of it was an aesthetic thing, but then the mental thing is what I do normally for any film. I prep all that stuff myself and my acting coach, Ben Perkins, is someone that I work very closely with and he helps me with that sort of stuff. So it was a balance of lots of people’s hard work.
How did your voice end up in Locke, which I consider a masterpiece?
Thank you. Steven Knight made that film. I remember getting the train home from school one day, and I was with my mate, Tuwaine [Barrett]. I was at Clapham Junction and then I got a phone call from my agent at the time. She had said that Steven Knight wanted me to be in a film with Tom Hardy, and obviously, as a 16-year-old kid, you’re like, “Brilliant, all I want to do is work with Tom Hardy, so that would be great.” I was even more excited to find out that it was this really interesting artistic piece that was unlike anything I’d ever seen or even heard of before. So it was really cool, and I’m delighted to see that that film has gone on to inspire lots of other films that are a similar genre.
Do you have a particular routine that you perform before you head off to set?
For these bigger films, I go to the gym in the morning. That’s something I do to get my mind straight and get my energy levels up for the day. But when you’ve been doing it as long as I have, it does just feel like another day in the office. A good breakfast, a cup of coffee and I’m ready to go.
Do you keep in touch with any of your former Marvel collaborators?
Yeah, the Russos and I are in touch quite a lot. RDJ [Robert Downey Jr.] is someone I speak to very regularly. Jon Favreau is someone who I’ve kept in touch with. So there’s lots and lots of people. And lots of Marvel producers: Mitch Bell, Victoria Alonso, Louis D’Esposito. All of these people are people that I’m very happy to call friends.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Spider-Man: No Way Home opens in movie theaters on Dec. 17.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival