2017 Jul 06

Tom talks growing pains & life lessons from Robert Downey Jr

Tom Holland is contemplating how has changed since becoming the youngest actor ever to pull on a Spider-Man suit. “It’s crazy,” he says, nonplussed. “Crazier than I thought it would be.

Tired after a late night and a gruelling press tour, the 21-year-old is nevertheless upbeat, cheerful and enjoying every moment of the newfound mania that is surrounding his every move. He explains that Spider-Man’s alter-ego Peter Parker has become his role model because

“his life changes too but he stays true to himself. It’s very important to me that I stay the same as I was before this crazy thing happened to me.”

We are talking a few hours before the premiere of Spider-Man: Homecoming, during which thousands of screaming fans shut down Hollywood Boulevard. Holland, from Kingston-Upon-Thames, was accompanied to the premiere by a family entourage which included his mother, two grandmothers, two great-grandparents and his cousin.

“My mum brought them all over, which is so lovely,” he says.

His best friend and 18-year-old younger brother Harry, who have accompanied him on his travels by private jet around the world, were also there. The only close family member absent was his father, the comedian Dominic Holland, who is currently appearing at the Edinburgh Festival.

His son’s success has been a boon to Holland’s father Dominic, a Perrier Award-winning comedian and scriptwriter who wrote a blog and later a book called Eclipsed about how a “somewhat famous comedian is being outshone by his more illustrious son”. The blog described in detail the main events in Tom’s past and present professional life and how he has overtaken his father in the world of celebrity.

His son takes it all in good part.

“My dad is my go-to person for advice because he’s been in the industry for 30 years,” he says “He knows the ups and the downs of what this industry can be like and he’s the only person who will tell me, ‘Dude, you’re being a dick. Get over yourself.’ As much as I love him, he’s not my friend. He always says the best parents aren’t friends with their kids and I’m lucky to have him and he’s funny as hell.

“It’s fun seeing him perform. His book is an absolutely joyous read, and he’s definitely not jealous, but very proud.”

Tom Holland is by no means the brash, cocky youngster you might expect to find headlining a billion-dollar movie franchise. Although hardly lacking in self-confidence, he is immensely likeable and friendly with it.

Sipping chocolate milk through a straw, he is wearing a white tee-shirt, slacks and a casual Yves St. Laurent jacket which he describes as his “Ryan Gosling jacket“.

His confidence stems from the fact he has been performing since the age of 11 when he landed a supporting role in Billy Elliott The Musical before taking over the leading role shortly afterwards for the next two years. It led to his being cast as the son aiding his mother (Naomi Watts) in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami in the 2012 movie The Impossible, followed by his first starring role in How I Live Now and a role in the mini-series Wolf Hall.

His cameo role as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War was a prelude to him being cast in Spider-Man: Homecoming and signed for two more Spider-Man adventures.

Spider-Man: Homecoming takes up where Civil War left off, with Peter Parker back at school and living with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) under the watchful eye of his new mentor the billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Life is boring for him until he is confronted by The Vulture, a dangerous villain played by Michael Keaton.

Holland believes the difference between him and previous Spider-Men (Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield) is that he is much younger.

“I really am just a kid. It’s a movie about a 15- year-old boy and that’s different from anything you’ve seen before because it makes him very relatable. It’s difficult to relate to Tony Stark because he’s a billionaire and there’s only a few of those, but it’s easy to relate to Peter Parker because everyone goes to high school, everyone struggles talking to girls. I know I definitely did.

“The fact that there were two Spider-Men before me helped me massively, because I was able to watch their movies and decide what I would like to keep and things I wouldn’t necessarily like to do again. So I had five movies to just basically cheat from.”

Early reviews have been decidedly positive with Holland being singled out for particular praise. One critic called his performance “thoroughly winning.”

He formed an instant rapport with the director Jon Watts, making his first big-budget blockbuster. “I’m an actor who really likes to improvise,” he says. “I never really learn lines the way they are on the page because I like to bring my own twist to things and Jon is a director who welcomes that. He is open to you bringing ideas to the table and expressing your opinion. He really listens.

“When I first met him it was apparent we were going to have to be a team because we were both very new to this side of the industry. I’d never made a movie this big and it was only his third movie so we were really a sort of collegiate team and it made a big difference on set.”

Holland’s dancing skills, learned first at Nifty Feet Dance School in Wimbledon, came in handy for stunt work.

“I love dancing and I will dance at the drop of a hat,” he says. “Dancing has been invaluable to every movie I’ve been a part of because physicality is a large part of finding a character and if you have control over your physicality, which dancing teaches you to have, it’s pretty valuable.

“I tried to do as many stunts as I could because I have quite a strong gymnastics background. The funny thing is though, that the director would overestimate my skill set and he’d be like, ‘Tom, can you just climb up that wall and then do a double back flip onto that pole?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not that good, Jon. Not at all.'”

There is a lot of the fictional Peter Parker in Tom Holland who, despite the bodyguard and team of publicists that follow him around, as yet has none of the affectations or demands of many movie stars. Nor is there a beautiful model on his arm.

“I’m definitely still awkward; I don’t have time to talk to girls right now,” he says. “I’ve been traveling the world so much that I’ve just been focused on doing my job but I was always the little kid in my class. I was the smallest kid by a long way and when you’re a 16-year-old girl you want to go out with the rugby player not the little ballet dancer,” he laughs. “So I wasn’t the smoothest with girls although I’ve got a little bit better now that I have Spider-Man on my side.”

Surprisingly, considering his slim build and diminutive height – he’s 5ft 6in – he was in fact a rugby player at school. But, he says,

“My rugby career was very short lived because everyone just got really big and I stayed really small. When I was at primary school I was the B Team captain, you know. We had a really strong side and we won competitions and stuffand I loved it. I loved the camaraderie with my team mates but then I found that I could have that same camaraderie in the dance studio and I was more suited for spinning because I was being crushed all the time and eventually it just got too dangerous.”

He estimates it will be a month before he returns to London to move into his new home which he has bought near his parents’ house and hasn’t yet lived in. But then he will only be there for a few days. He recently finished filming The Current War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, and Avengers: Infinity War is in the can too. So he is due to begin work soon for director Doug Liman on Chaos Walking, which he says is “super-cool and a sort of sci-fi movie, but I don’t want to give much away.”

With two more Spider-Man movies on the drawing board and the starring role in the action-adventure video game adaptation Uncharted to come, he insists he has taken the words of his older co-stars to heart.

His fellow Avengers Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) both gave him advice he says he treasures.

Chris told me to keep family and friends close and remain grounded. It’s very easy to get caught up in the high life of this industry. And Robert Downey Jr. is someone at the top of his game. He is 10 minutes early every day, he shakes everyone’s hand before working, he’s polite and he’s kind and he’s hard working and above all else, he’s respectful. For me, it was an eye-opener that it doesn’t matter how successful you get, you should always remain the same and respect others.

I still live the same life I did when I was just a kid. It’s one of those things that you can’t really plan or prepare for, but I have a really great group of friends who keep me grounded.

He says he recently met up with those friends for a game of football – the first in five years.

“I kind of expected them to take it a little easy on me. But they didn’t and they completely destroyed me. So I think I’ll be okay.”

Spider-Man: Homecoming is released on July 7

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