It has been more than 12 years since Tom Holland made his West End theatre debut as Billy Elliot in the musical adaptation of Stephen Daldry’s modern classic film; a half lifetime for the 24-year-old actor who has spent the time since forging a career as a major star. Of course, his trajectory was helped along by his casting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, but it was his spirit and energy that breathed new life into a superhero who had already weathered two big-screen adaptations. He reunites with directors Anthony and Joe Russo this year for Cherry, which, in Holland’s own words, represents the greatest challenge of his career to date. What better opportunity to dive into his film and television favorites?
My First Acting Lesson
I was in Billy Elliot on stage in London. I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, and at the Victoria Palace Theatre there were three tiers—stalls, dress circle and the Gods. Sometimes at the beginning of the year, after Christmas or on a Monday, the Gods wouldn’t be open because they couldn’t fill the theatre. It used to really affect the show. You wouldn’t get the same reaction from the audience. I remember when it first happened to me, I did a kind of half-assed show. I didn’t try very hard, and I remember the director, Nick Evans, who I didn’t know was watching, came over and told me off. It was a vital lesson to me. I was thinking, Bollocks to this, I’m not going to get massive applause. But what I learnt was that doing something for someone’s reaction isn’t enough; you have to do it for yourself and be the best every time. I thank Nick for that lesson.
The Best Advice I Ever Received
It also came from Nick Evans, and I’ve taken it with me my entire career and passed it on. I’ve even had people say to me, “I used that piece of advice and it changed the way I look at things.” Basically, it’s this: if you think about the physical feeling of being nervous, it’s the same feeling as being excited. Think of how you feel when you’re queuing up for a rollercoaster, where you don’t know if you’re excited or s—ing your pants. So, convince yourself to turn your nerves into excitement. Doing that just makes you enjoy everything a lot more. I use it all the time, particularly with things like chat shows, which are quite scary things to do. Those butterflies in your stomach are the same either way, so it’s just about whether, mentally, you let them take control.
The Part I Always Wanted
Nobody ever believes me when I say this, but it really is Spider-Man. As a young kid, I watched Tobey Maguire’s movies, and then Andrew Garfield’s movies, and then the cartoons and the comics. People are drawn to characters they feel they have something in common with, and Peter Parker was that kid who didn’t quite fit in, so I saw myself in him. For me, my dreams have come true. I always wanted to play Spider-Man, and now I’m shooting my third movie. If I wanted to be really selfish, I would add James Bond to that list, but I think I’ve been lucky enough as it is, so I won’t be too offended if they never call.
My Biggest Challenge
Cherry is easily the hardest role I’ve ever had to take on, for loads of reasons. The amount of life that we cover throughout the film for a start—this is 18 years of someone’s life. Trying to convey that in two-and-a-half hours is quite a daunting task, and then you throw in love, despair, PTSD, substance abuse, bank robbery and prison.
It’s the golden ticket for an actor, because it’s a role that keeps on giving, and there was never a dull moment on set. There was no limit to how far we could push ourselves. Although sometimes I might have pushed too far. The scene in the car where I’m going crazy; I’m pretty sure I gave myself a concussion in that scene because I was just banging my head so hard on the seat. We had the wrap party that night and I was not at all with it. Everyone’s dancing around and I’m like, “Guys, I’ve only had three beers, but I think I have to go lay down…”
The Films That Make Me Cry
I’m so lucky in my life to have my dad. My dad is such an important part of the way I behave, and the decisions I make. And there’s a Richard Curtis film called About Time that’s all about father-son relationships. There’s a scene where he goes back in time to see his dad for the last time, and they walk on the beach. And my dad and I never walk on the beach together, but that scene just kills me because I love my dad so much and I’m proud of him, and I look up to him. Of course, he annoys me all the time and sometimes I can’t be around him, but that’s because he’s my dad, you know? I love that about him. So, without fail, About Time makes me cry every damn time.
My Most Tortured Co-Star
I annoy a lot of people, to be fair. I’m quite annoying. But I remember once being told off by Benjamin Walker. We were doing a film together called In the Heart of the Sea. We’re all in these boats together, and we were all starving hungry, and… I don’t know why I was doing this, but I was a child. I was about 16 at the time. I kept throwing pieces of fruit at him. I was throwing limes and stuff. At one point I hit him square in the face, and he gave me, let’s say, a stern talking to. We’re really great mates, and we had a lovely time together, but I would say I might have crossed a line by chucking a lime at his face. OK, definitely crossed a line. It wasn’t even a very ripe lime, either. It was hard as s–t. Bless him.
The Most Fun I’ve Had On Set
That’s a hard one. I’m so lucky that I love what I do, and I love the people I get to do it with. But whenever I’m with Zendaya and Jacob Batalon on Spider-Man, we always have so much fun. Poor Jon Watts, because trying to direct the three of us together is like pulling teeth. If Jacob’s not joking around, Zendaya is. If she’s not making a joke, I am. We’re shooting the third film now, and being back together with the gang is just amazing.
The Line People Quote At Me
“I don’t want to go,” is the one I get all the time, from that scene in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s amazing when people think it’s some mind-blowing piece of improv, because I just say the same line five times in a row. People make out like it’s this beautifully eloquent sentence. But I look back on that scene so fondly. We had so much fun on those sets, but when we got into the emotion of that moment, we really dived into it. People tell me they imagine that scene must have been horrendous to shoot, but I look back on it with nothing but happiness. It was amazing. I loved it. I got to hug Robert Downey Jr., like, 60 times, and cry on his shoulder. What’s not to love?
My Guilty Pleasure
Well, Modern Family is the go-to, for me. If I’ve got nothing to do and I want to sit down and just have a good old giggle, I’ll watch that. It’s just such a good show. So well-written and clever and nuanced. Plus, Phil Dunphy might be the best TV character of all time. If they published that book, Phil’s-osophy, I would absolutely buy it and live by every teaching that was in the book.
The Actor Who’d Play Me In My Life Story
Probably someone like Brad Pitt, maybe. I reckon he’d be a good one. We’ve got the same body type. He’s a little bit taller than me, but that’s all right [laughs]. I’m not even joking, by the way. Brad Pitt is sort of the apex of what being a movie star is. If you look at his career and the work he’s done… I mean he’s number one for me.