If the GIF of a shocked Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at a television in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” had existed in the year 2016, Tom Holland probably would have used it the first time he saw himself on screen as Spider-Man.
Then Spider-Man blinked.
That subtle CGI movement of the eyes on his mask looked like a camera lens zooming in and out. It was inspired by the character’s original look in the comic books — and was designed to show the film was sprinkling the character with a bit of MCU magic. Holland, a lifelong Spider-Man fan who also happened to be Spider-Man, was caught up in the hype.
“I didn’t know the eyes would be expressive when we were making ‘Civil War,' ” Holland told The Washington Post earlier this month. “When the trailer came out and we saw that moment where I said, ‘Hey everyone,’ and then the eyes kind of squinted, I was as excited as the fans.”
After debuting as the wall-crawler in the MCU’s superhero civil war and starring in two “Avengers” movies, Holland is now completing his trilogy of solo Spider-Man films with “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” arriving in theaters this weekend. Now 25 years old, he says his fandom of Spider-Man remains as strong as it was back when he first masked up in front of the camera as a teenager.
“The excitement of being Spider-Man when I was 19 still hasn’t gone away,” Holland said. Still, he added, “I feel much more confident as Spider-Man. When I first walked on to the set in ‘Civil War’ I was very nervous. I didn’t really know if I belonged there or not, and now I feel very much at home.”
Holland was the chosen spider, the one who righted the cinematic wrong of the character not existing within the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the years right after it began with the first “Iron Man” in 2008.
The 2002 Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” and its sequels helped give birth to the last two decades of comic book-inspired dominance at the box office. But Sony still controlled the movie rights to the popular character even after the MCU began and Disney bought Marvel Studios. So the 2012 reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man,” starring Andrew Garfield, had the unfortunate luck of debuting two months after “The Avengers” made over $200 million in its opening weekend. The 2014 sequel suffered equally unfair comparisons to the MCU and despite each film making over $700 million worldwide, a trilogy was not completed.
Fans were frustrated that Spider-Man, the greatest Marvel Comics character of all-time, couldn’t web-swing alongside the Avengers.
One of those fans was Holland, who grew up loving Garfield’s Spider-Man films. When Sony and Disney agreed to share the rights to the character so that he could appear in the MCU, Holland was called in to audition. His spider-fandom gave him an understanding of what was happening when he won the role: He wasn’t merely going to be the third Spider-Man. He was going to be the first Spider-Man at Marvel Studios, a moment many fans, including himself, thought would never come to be.
“It wasn’t just auditioning for my favorite superhero, it was auditioning for my favorite superhero to exist in my favorite franchise,” he said.
The latest Spider-film is a multi-universe tale featuring villains from earlier Spider-Man films (including Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Jamie Foxx’s Electro). And the big rumor is that Maguire and Garfield may show up as their spider-selves. Just don’t ask Holland if those rumors are true.
“We’ve been sitting on these secrets for over two years now,” Holland said. “We’re keeping secrets for the right reason. We want the fans to have the full experience and to enjoy the film as the cinematic spectacle that it is, but it is exhausting having to ignore questions. Not all journalists are [polite and gracious] and [some] just try to get spoilers out of us and make us look a fool. So we do have to be very focused to make sure that we don’t get ourselves into any trouble.”
Holland links his success as Spider-Man to director Jon Watts adapting to a big-budget superhero trilogy, an ascension he says was not easy for either of them during their early days in the MCU.
“I think I was too caught up in the first movie that I had never made a superhero movie before to really focus on the fact that Jon had never made a superhero movie before,” Holland said. “Looking back on it now, some of the things I was frustrated about I can now put down to he was stressed, and he was as worried as I was about making the film.
“On the second film, Jon really felt the pressure to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke, which I really understand,” Holland continued. “What was so lovely about the third one was that Jon really felt confident in his capabilities as a director and as a storyteller. … He was able to enjoy the process of the film a lot more.” (Watts was not made available for comment for this article.)
Watts has also been tapped to direct the Fantastic Four’s debut in the MCU — and Holland is hopeful for a cameo.
“I have nudged him and basically said, mate, if you need any help, let me know, I’d be happy to swing by,” Holland said.
That is, of course, if Holland will still be Spider-Man whenever the new Fantastic Four movie arrives.
He’s set to play singer and dancer Fred Astaire in an upcoming biopic, a role he thinks he convinced producer Amy Pascal he was right for when he would tap-dance on the Spider-Man set to stay warm between takes. Or maybe it was that viral lip-syncing performance of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” that helped.
Pascal has said she would make a new trilogy of Spider-Man films with Holland, but he’s yet to commit just yet.
“We are not at the moment committed to making three more [Spider-Man] movies, but it’s definitely on the table, and it’s a conversation that has been had. I want to make sure I’m doing what’s best for the character. I don’t want to be the person that’s hogging Spider-Man,” Holland said. “If it’s time for me to step down and let the next young person step up, I would do so proudly. I’m not too sure of what the future of Spider-Man looks like or whether I’ll be a part of it. But I would love to be.”