For an actor who says he’s “achieved everything I could possibly want to achieve,” Tom Holland is still finding ways to engage, challenge, and test his physical limits like never before. Best known for his turn as the Spider-Man himself, Peter Parker, Holland is moving beyond the Marvel universe into roles that see him digging deep and maturing on screen in new and exciting ways, including “Cherry,” from “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Avengers: Endgame” directors Joe and Anthony Russo. We had him answer our Backstage 5 questionnaire for a walk down memory lane and a reflection on those who have influenced his career most.
How did you first get your SAG-AFTRA card?
I haven’t a clue. I don’t even know if I have a SAG-AFTRA card. I must, right? If I did, it’s definitely in the mail somewhere.
But it would have been “Billy Elliot” that got you Equity, is that right?
I assume so. I have no idea. You can ask anyone who helps me with my career, I am the most poorly organized person in the world. There is someone who’s taken care of it, I’m sure!
Fair enough! What’s your No. 1 piece of audition advice?
I have this little cheat that I used to do where I would get something really wrong in the first take in the room, so that the casting director would be like, “You should try and do it a little bit more like this.” And then I would do it how I’d actually planned on doing it, and it would show them that I was really good at taking direction. That’s a little trick that I used to do, just to kind of show people that I was malleable and able to work with others.
That’s great. At what point did you learn that that works?
I don’t know where I got that from! I just started doing it one day. But it’s been really helpful. Sometimes it gets a bit tricky, though, when they ask you, “So, why did you make that choice with that line? Why did you say it like that?” And you’re like, “Oh, fuck. Ummm, because…of the research I did yesterday!” It can backfire, but it has been quite helpful for me and my short little career.
Do you have an audition horror story you could share with us?
I’ve had quite a few. I’ve read the wrong lines at the wrong audition before. I remember my audition for “Star Wars,” I was like four or five auditions in, and I think I was auditioning for John Boyega’s role. I remember doing this scene with this lady, bless her, and she was just a drone. So I was doing all of this, like, “We gotta get back to the ship!” And she was going, “Bleep, bloop bloop, bleep bloop.” I just couldn’t stop laughing. I found it so funny. And I felt really bad, because she was trying really hard to be a convincing android or drone or whatever they’re called. Yeah, I obviously didn't get the part. That wasn’t my best moment.
What advice do you have for pushing through rejection as an actor?
I remember having a really, really informative conversation with my dad. There was a film called “November Criminals.” Ansel Elgort played the lead role in that film. I was auditioning for it and I got really close, and I thought that that film for me was going to be, like, my steppingstone into a young-adult career. And I didn’t get the role, and it really beat me up. I remember being really angry about it. My dad sat me down, and we spoke about dealing with rejection. He’s had to deal with rejection his entire life in his career, and he was really kind and said, “Son, that’s part of success. If you won every single time, winning would become losing.” It’s like, if I can shoot 4-under in golf every single day, that would become really boring. You need to lose so that the win feels like a win.
Do you have an acting mentor?
Two people come to mind. My life changed so quickly and so drastically from when I got cast as Spider-Man. One person was—the way that they behaved on set—was Robert Downey Jr. He is the godfather of the MCU, and he is arguably one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He is so professional, he’s so kind, he treats everyone on set with respect. He’s never late, he knows everyone’s name. So, for me, that was the perfect kind of role model, where I was like, “Well, if he's like that and he’s the biggest movie star in the world, then I have to be like that. Because I’m not the biggest movie star in the world, and there’s no room for me to not be as respectful as he is.” And then the second person would probably be Zendaya. When we started shooting the first [“Spider-man”] film, she, Jacob [Batalon], and I all became best mates. She was so helpful in the process of my life changing, because not only are you making big films and you’re traveling the world, but everyone starts to know who you are. And you have to behave differently. You have a responsibility to kind of uphold this idea of being a role model to young kids. And, arguably, she’s the best at that. You can’t really find anything against Zendaya, she’s kind of like the perfect person. It was so wonderful to have someone like her in my corner, to help me grow through that process. And, yes, I’ve made mistakes—I went through a phase where I hated taking pictures with people, and I was like, “No, no, no, leave me alone!” She really taught me, she was like, “That would probably stress you out more than saying yes and being nice about it.” She was so right. It’s made that whole process so much nicer. Having her as a friend has been so valuable to the success and happiness of my career and life.
And, finally, what’s one screen performance that every actor should see and why?
“Primal Fear.” Edward Norton. Richard Gere. He is so good in that film, and I’ve always sort of aspired to play a role like that. That performance in that film is flawless.
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