Tom Holland might just be the most chipper superhero of all time
The Spider-Man star talks thongs, urinating in his costume and what it's like to suddenly be famous
Tom Holland’s anecdote about having to wee in his Spider-Man costume is a tale of highs and lows. First, it’s the sort of glamorous first-world problem only a Hollywood actor can experience – the wetsuit-style costume is so expensive it has its own security team dedicated to protecting the garment at all times – but second, the lack of dignity involved in peeling it off just to urinate would make anyone blush, least of all a well-mannered, 21-year-old Brit.
“The first thing you need to know,” he tells me, “all I have on under that costume is a thong. They brought them in on my first day, like, ‘Here are your thongs.’ I had serious misgivings – would my arsehole ever be the same again? But I had to get used to it. Even though I was thinking no way, no way!” He’s still horrified it happened, as made clear by his blow-by-blow account of the incident. “You have to completely disrobe and then put a dressing gown on, but they’re very comfy ones, you can’t walk around in just a thong, can you imagine? And then you race across the lot to the toilet, then come back, get back into
it – it’s such a mission.”
Then there’s the fact there was no real way for him to drink water while in the costume.
Holland lowers his voice to impersonate the sardonic American crew member he shared his concerns with. “He goes, ‘Why would you need to drink water?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m human! I need water to survive!’”
A plan was put together to drill a hole in Spider-Man’s head, and feed a plastic tube through his eye socket and into his mouth. Holland’s assistant, Harrison, would frequently pop over and squeeze water into his mouth via this new contraption, but (but!) the more he drank, the more he needed to go for a wee. Which meant more costume changes, more walks to the toilet in a fancy robe and a thong. “It was a very grave situation,” he says solemnly. “I used to take in so much water, like a big thirsty plant, I was practically drowning in that suit.”
And people say Hollywood is glamorous. “The suit really is a work of art, but wearing it is so unbelievably uncomfortable,” he says. But he’s quick to assure me he isn’t complaining. “Any discomfort is immediately outweighed by the privilege of wearing it.”
Holland has built a formidable career for someone his age, but he’s the first to admit he’s played the rosy-cheeked rookie quite often. His characters haven’t been that dissimilar to himself. You notice this, too, just by talking to him. He’s so excited! About everything! Whether it’s his recent trip to Singapore (“A first for me! Really great cuisine!”), an infinity pool he posted on Instagram (“What a view! Have you been in one?”), working with Michael Keaton, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s primary antagonist, (“He brings so much gravitas! We were so lucky!”). Even the three zips (“No, wait, four! There are four!”) on his costume, CGI-ed out in post-production, are a thing of wonder, apparently. “The way Robin, the seamstress, actually stitched them in? Incredible!” The life of a 21-year-old action-blockbuster megastar is, on first inspection, an uninterrupted boulevard of eye-opening experiences.
Holland first appeared as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, as part of a campaign to introduce the third iteration of the web-slinger before his first solo outing (it also marks the first time Sony and Marvel are working together on the character, which explains his crossover into the wider Marvel cinematic universe). He’s only in Civil War for about 10 minutes, tops, but he steals the show. His Peter Parker is energetic and goofy, gambolling around the film’s climactic airfield set-piece like a Spandex-clad labrador. While other characters are solemn, and the ideologically-driven story occasionally drags, Spider-Man is endearingly unserious.
“He’s sort of comic relief, but ultimately he’s a pure, relatable kid,” he explains. “Most superheroes are miserable billionaires, but this guy can’t even afford a bus ticket.”
That said, he’s excited about moving past that and playing characters less like himself. “I want to really get out my comfort zone and play, like, a serial killer, or a drug dealer. I want to shoot a gun – have you seen Keanu Reeves shoot a gun? He does it so well! I did use a gun during The Lost City Of Z, but I only shot a rabbit. A fake one, obviously.”
So the guy has a plan. In fact, he has a five, 10, even 20-year plan in mind for his career; he’ll do some more franchises (The young-adult adaption Chaos Walking will see him going into space, another first; “I have so much to learn!”), some meatier indie roles and eventually he’ll transition to the other side of the camera and branch into directing.
But how does this perennially pleasant guy from Kingston avoid being typecast? Holland has a solution. “I need to get a beard,” he says firmly. “Getting an actual beard, that’s part of the plan for the distant future.” The process of ‘acting up’ can involve all sorts of things: posture, clothing, “smoking cigarettes, too”, he notes. “But until then, you know they just stick facial hair on you in movies, right? I’ve played 26-year-olds before, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”
AROUND THE WORLD
By the time you read this, Holland will be halfway through the gruelling promotion schedule for Spider-Man. And he’s exhausted, barely able to sleep thanks to constant galloping across different time zones. He cancels our first interview due to exhaustion, and reschedules for the following day, when he’s on his way to Barcelona via – of course – a private jet.
“The thing I find hardest is the time changes,” he says. “I don’t think we were designed to move around the world this quickly. I never want to sleep when I need to sleep.”
The process of being an action hero, though long, is entertaining him to no end. “I sign-off on lunchboxes, action figures… it’s so weird,” he says. One company sent him a Spider-Man action figure for him to approve, but he sent it back because it looked nothing like him. “Not even vaguely,” he chuckles. “So I just said – really nicely! – ‘Guys I can’t approve it. Are you sure it’s based on my face?’ I saw Chris Hemsworth’s one, and it looked so good, it looked more handsome than he does, it really was remarkable.”
They worked on a new face, and sent it back over for his approval. Did it pass the test? “Noo! It looked even worse!” he howls. “And now they’ve just released it, so… I guess they just thought, ‘You know what, we don’t need his approval.’ It looks nothing like me, it’s bizarre.”
We start to swap conspiracy theories surrounding how they got it so wrong. Did they just re-use Tobey Maguire’s face from an old design? Did they just do a bit of a nip and tuck on an old Andrew Garfield one? He isn’t so sure, because before you wade into something like a multi-picture superhero blockbuster franchise, they do this thing where they scan your body, and take all these digital images of you. It’s how his expensive Spider-Man costume fits him so perfectly. But it also means if they need him to do stunts that he can’t physically (or legally) pull-off, they just CGI it.
“Do you know what scares me?” he says, and he does sound a bit timid all of a sudden. “They have so many scans of me. They could just make the movie without me, if I wasn’t any good or anything. They don’t need me! I was watching some footage back recently and asked which rehearsal it was from, and they said, ‘Oh no, this isn’t you, we made this with CGI.’ I couldn’t even tell!”
Holland’s going to Edinburgh later this summer to see his dad, Dominic, perform stand-up at the Fringe. Twenty-four years ago, he won the best newcomer award there, and Holland Jr hasn’t had many chances to watch his dad perform. “When I was a kid it wasn’t, you know, appropriate,” he says.
Witnessing his dad’s hustle, from writing, producing and performing everything himself to driving to gigs up and down the country, has, he says, helped Holland cope as his own career has skyrocketed.
“Best of all, he’s not afraid to tell me when I’m being a dick,” he says. “When I’m travelling the world as Tom Holland, The Actor, people just blow smoke up my arse 24/7. I’ve worked really hard, but I’m not the super-talented person everyone thinks I am.”
He’s approaching the airport and, even though the jet that’s taking him to Barcelona literally can’t leave without him, he doesn’t want to be late and hold anyone up. Where’s he off to after that? “I, er, can’t remember actually,” he admits, but in “seven stops time” he gets a little break, making it sound like he’s just on one excruciating bus journey home.
“The terrible thing about being famous,” he says, as if he’s having a sort of actor comedown, “is you start to believe it. People tell you you’re fantastically wonderful all the time and you start to think you are incredible. I’m just a kid from Kingston.”
But a kid from Kingston about to hop on a private jet. That he can be so convinced he isn’t special while getting ready to zip into the sky is a nice image. And besides, if Tom Holland ever gets too big for his boots, there’s always the unrecognisable action figure ready to bring him back down to earth.
Photographer: Michael Muller
Spider-Man: Homecoming is at cinemas nationwide from 5 July