Tom Holland's 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' Prep Included Going Undercover In High School [Interview]

When we sat down with Tom Holland on the set of Spider-Man: Homecoming, it had only been three months since the world saw him as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. However, he was clearly already very comfortable in the role of Peter Parker.

Holland talked about the extensive audition process that got him the part, the evolution of Homecoming's script, how he went undercover at a high school in the Bronx to prepare for the movie, and how director Jon Watts put him and his co-stars through a coming of age film festival before shooting. The actor also spoke about Parker's relationships with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and the Vulture (Michael Keaton), the differences between this film and the previous Spider-man movies, his favorite new Spider-Man gadget, if Peter Parker will dance in this movie, and much much more.

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Going Undercover

Question: So you're not a kid from Queens, so I'm curious how did you go about becoming a kid from Queens. Did you go to Queens at all? Walk around? Take in the environment?Tom Holland: Yeah, it's funny. Marvel actually sent me to a school in the Bronx where I had a fake name, and I put on an accent, and I went for like three days. I basically had to go to this science school and blend in with all the kids, and some of the teachers didn't even know. It was a science school, and I am in no way a science student [laughter]. Some of the teachers would call me up in front of the class and try to get me to do science equations and stuff – it was so embarrassing. But it was actually really informative because schools in London are so different. I would go to school every day in a suit and tie, with just boys. To be in a school where you can be free and let loose, and be with girls, it was so different. Like SO different. But yeah, it was a really great experience.And nobody knew?

Nobody knew. I actually have videos on my phone of me interviewing people, and asking them what they thought of the new Spider-Man in Civil War. They were like, Oh he's great, I love him, and then some people were like, Nah, I don't love him, he's not great – and I was standing right in front of them! [laughter] But yeah, no, it was fun. It was really fun.

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The Audition Process

Can you tell us about the audition process?

That was intense, man. I was shooting other movies at the time, so I was lucky because I was sort of preoccupied. I think if I wasn't working, I would've imploded just waiting to hear for this movie. I did two... god, what did I do... two self-takes with Joel Kinnaman cause I was making a movie with him. Then I did two self-takes with Jon Beranthal, and then I did another self-take on my own, and then finally came out here to screen test with Robert and Chris. That for me was a good enough of an experience as itself – I didn't need to get the movie. I was so happy to have just got that far and to have worked with Robert and Chris; I was happy to just sort of go home. But when this job came in, I've never been happier. It was the craziest day of my life; it was insane. And we were waiting around for what felt like months before I found out—

I was going to ask what your audition scene was...

My audition scene, God. The first three weren't from Spider-Man, they were from, um, it might have been from Whiplash, one of the scenes. The scene between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Then there were a few Spider-Man scenes, and it was funny because my agents at one point were like, we don't know who you're auditioning for. I was like, But my lines are for Spider-Man – so who else could I possibly be auditioning for? They were like; we don't know. So I sort of clocked on then that it was for Spider-Man, but they were so sort of made-up scenes. Nothing from the movie. But then my final audition with Robert was a scene that was in Civil War between the two of us.

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Jon Watt's Coming of Age Film Festival

What's your relationship been like working with Jon [Watts]?

Jon's awesome; he's such a great guy. He's very brave, and he makes really bold choices, and doesn't hesitate to let you experiment with things. If you have an idea and he doesn't like it, he'll let you try it anyway in case he sees it and then likes it – which is a really great trait in a director because it means they trust you and they give you freedom to try new things. And we've worked really closely together and sort of collaborated on how we want Peter Parker to be seen, and I think together we've come up with something really cool and new.

This is a coming-of-age movie, and it has nods to John Hughes movies and stuff like that. Did Jon give you any movies to watch, maybe with the cast together?

Yeah, he gave us a lot of movies to watch. Gosh, so many movies, and we basically sat down in my house – all the cast – and we just watched them all in one day. We had like a Domino's day, and it was so amazing, so great. Plug Dominos there, thank you. [laughter] But yeah, it was great, endless. Yeah, uh, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink – there were loads of them.

jon watts behind the scenes of Spider-man: Homecoming

The Evolution of the Screenplay

Can you tell us something about what we're seeing today?

Yeah, today is the first time Pete faces off [against] Toomes and meets Toomes, and it's pretty badass actually. It's changed a lot over the last few weeks, but the version I think Jon has kind of finalized on is pretty awesome.

How has it changed, and how has Jon's process worked with you guys?

The basic script and the arc for my character especially as remained the same. I think the arc for Toomes and the Vulture has changed quite drastically from the first draft that I read, which I think for the better. No, but Jon's cool and he keeps everything fresh, and if there any changes we are all well notified before hand. I mean there's only been a couple of days where we come in, and I've learned the lines for a scene, and he's like, that's not in the movie anymore, it's a different scene. [laughs] But no, he's fantastic to work with.

Was there anything specifically when they were first writing the script where you said "I want Peter to be able to do this. Or I want Spider-Man to do this?"

Yeah, I mean the whole aspect of keeping him grounded and making sure the audience sees a kid as a superhero. We've seen the sort of Norse God, we've seen the billionaire, we've seen the soldier – now we get to see the kid.  And one of the sort of themes of the movie is what would a 15-year-old boy do with super powers. So the opening act to the movie, you see Peter really trying do discover who he is and what he can do, which is something I feel like we haven't really explored massively in the previous movies is seeing Peter make mistakes and try to rectify them, and learn exactly what he can do. And that was something I was very passionate about, and I know Jon was as well – and from the first draft that was always in the script.

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The Scope of the Action

Can you talk about the action scenes and what we can expect to see out of this one?  The kind of skill level Spider-Man is at now and having an aerial villain...

It's exciting... some of the stuff that George and his team, our coordinators, have come up with is pretty remarkable, actually. And we really pushed Spider-Man to new limits, and there are things we definitely have not seen before. Some of the abilities. And it's really fun. We had a month before shooting where we just prepped stunts, and we trained and trained, and George really trusts me with my abilities and has let me do as many stunts as he feels comfortable with, so it's been really fun. I'm definitely excited for you guys to see stuff that Spider-Man has never done before.

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Big Supervillains

Peter is young, and this is the first supervillain he's fighting. What is the relationship with Vulture and Shocker?

I think one of the nicest things about his sort of conflict with the villains in this is how different it is than his conflict with Cap and his side [in Civil War]. Because that was kind of fun, he didn't really know what was going on, and you don't see the Avengers as people who are dangerous. But here the Vulture is definitely a formidable opponent, and he is terrifying. His suit is absolutely terrifying. So the banter picks up a little bit in the beginning, but as soon as Peter realizes he's a little bit out of his depth, there comes a real battle. And it's less about making quick jokes and being funny, and more about saving the day and making sure he does the right thing.

Spider-Man Homecoming Trailer Breakdown

How This Spider-Man Movie is Different

Obviously going to Germany is an eye-opening experience for Peter. What is his experience coming back to Queens after having gone and beat up Captain America?

It's almost like he went to summer camp and now he's back at school again. Here's this kid who goes on this adventure with Iron Man and all of the Avengers, and then suddenly he's stuck on the subway going back to school. It's a very fun thing to play; that sort of stroppy teenager after having the best time of his life. But there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel for Peter Parker.

Can you talk about how you see your Peter Parker and compare him to the previous versions? 

That's a good question. I mean, it's difficult not to take influence from Tobey and Andrew because they both had such great versions of the character. I think from Tobey I'm taking his sort of less cool side of things, whereas Andrew was very cool and very sort of contained. But then with Andrew, I thought his Spider-Man was fantastic. I thought when he was in that suit; I thought he really came to life, and so there are two things I am taking from both people. For me, it's just making sure I feel like a kid on set, and really be the kid that everyone wants to be, and just have fun with it, and see a superhero really enjoy having his powers.

Historically, very often Peter resents being Spider-Man. He quits all the time in the comics. What is this Peter's relationship to being Spider-Man?

I think because, in this movie, you see him learn so much, it changes very drastically halfway through the movie. You see him really enjoying his powers, really getting to grips with what he can do and just experimenting throughout the movie. But then through a turn of events things happen, and it becomes a real serious matter. Then all of a sudden his powers become a bit of a burden, and it's nice to play those two different feelings towards his powers.

Spider-Man Homecoming Trailer Breakdown

Peter Parker's Relationship with Tony Stark

What can you say about how his relationship with Tony Stark has evolved since Civil War? We learned a little about the story earlier, and we know he pops in a lot through the movie, and Spider-Man sort of trusts him and counts on him, so what can you say about Peter and Tony?

I think we're seeing the beginning of a sort of father-son relationship. Obviously Tony hasn't got any kids, and Peter at this point hasn't got any male figures in his life, so I think there's a really lovely dynamic that Robert and I are forming. And, no, let me take that back. I think Robert is more like a big brother than he is a father figure because he picks on him and he is down on him quite a lot. But then there is that level of him caring about him like his own, and Robert has really brought something lovely to the character. It's a very different side of Stark than you've ever seen before.

Speaking of Stark, we were just at the studio and saw a bunch of stuff with regards to the plot of the movie, so sort of the relationship with Peter and Stark is a little more down on Spider-Man getting involved. He wants rescue cats out of trees and do fewer lasers. How does Peter respond to that?

I couldn't answer that because I'd give something away. But that is what I'm talking about where Stark is caring about Peter 'cause he doesn't feel like he's ready yet to be an Avenger, and I think he might have thought what happened in Germany was too much for Spider-Man at that time. So he is very persuasive, and he's constantly trying to get Peter to stay in Queens and save cats out of trees, and stop the burglar, and blah blah blah, and not think of this scale.

Spider-Man Homecoming Trailer Breakdown

Aunt May and The Supporting Cast

Can you tell us about Peter's relationship with Aunt May? She's obviously much younger now...

I think the relationship between Peter and May is one of my favorites throughout the movie because – oh gosh, I'm going to give so much away, I can't do that – um, she's much younger, and she's full of life. There's a moment where she drops Peter off to a party, and she's also going off to a party herself, and they have this sort of friendship between the two of them. And there's this beautiful scene where something happens, and Peter basically breaks down with May, and then she sort of becomes his mother, and that's a really nice turning point for Marisa in the movie.

A lot is different in this movie from the previous five, but the thing I am most interested in is that the supporting cast seems bigger. And the other students seem to have more of a role in this film. Can you talk about working with some of the actors, and sort of Peter's relationship with Ned and Michelle and the rest of the kids?

Yeah, it's definitely an ensemble piece. The first month of shooting was purely high school stuff, and it was so much fun. And for me, I've never really had the opportunity to work with actors of my own age, and so it was really fun just to be on set with those guys, and sort of start these relationships, and then also predict where they're going to go for the next three movies, er, two movies. And working with Jacob... I mean, Jacob is the man, and he is awesome. Some of the stuff that we've come up with and done on set is so funny, and he's so brilliant. The world is gonna love him – he is fantastic.

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Zendaya as Michelle

Also, we saw the Comic-Con footage, and Michelle, the relationship you two have seems kind of interesting. Can you talk about that? She's sort of busting your balls a lot, and it seems kind of fun. Can you talk about that relationship?

Yeah, Michelle is a very interesting character. She's very quiet, and she's always reading these crazy books, like how to murder someone without no one knowing [laughter] – like Jon has picked the strangest books for her to read. Yeah, we'll be doing a scene with all of the other cast members, and then she'll sort of pitch in, and we'll be like, that was a strange thing to say, and then we'll continue on with our dialogue. It's a very fun character, and Z has really brought a lot of herself to the character, and yeah it's been really fun working with her on set. It's been really cool.

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New Spidey Tech

What's your favorite new gizmo that the Spidey suit has?

My favorite gizmo that the suit has... there's a very funny sequence in the movie because of something he can do with his vision in the suit... he can sort of alter what he sees and how he sees things, and it's really funny to see. It's almost like the first time you play a video game and the controls are all funny, and it's really funny seeing him look like a badass, but inside panic and not know what to do. So without giving anything away, that.

They said that you made the actual liquid for the webbing on set. Did you get to play with it afterward?

No, because as soon as they gave it to me, I dropped it and it smashed everywhere. [laughter]. Literally, it was day one, and this white – it was sort of like this clear liquid, and I pour this yellow liquid into it and mix it, and it would go fluorescent and white and sort of gloopy. And with me, I was like, this is the coolest thing, and then I just smashed it everywhere. So they immediately took it off me, and I wasn't allowed to play with it anymore.

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After the Civil War

Speaking of gadgets, in Civil War we saw Peter interacting with some pretty old tech. Did you have to have to have any of that explained to you?

I remember doing that scene with Robert, and I asked one of the prop guys, "Can you walk me through what we're doing here?" Because I was unscrewing a DVD player, and Robert was like, "Dude, I don't know what Tony Stark does." [laughter] He's like, just act dude, you got this. It was great.

Coming from Civil War, was there anything you wanted to change or do differently? Obviously, it's the same character, but ya know...

Not really. From Civil War, I felt like I was in such good hands and guided in the perfect direction for where they wanted the character to go. And then, after the fantastic reception we had after the movie came out, I just wanted to make sure I did the same thing, but for a whole movie rather than just three scenes. So I've just been focusing on making sure every scene is full of life and is really useful, and I think that's what we've been doing.

Where did you watch Civil War for the first time, and what was your reaction to seeing yourself as Spider-Man for the first time?

I was terrified watching Civil War for the first time. I watched it with my dad, my mom, my three brothers and my best friend, and we sat in the cinema in the Disney studios in London, and my little brother actually sat right in the front of the cinema, and he's small I couldn't even see him. And as soon as I came on screen, all I could see were his little hands pop up like this... [laughter]... but it was surreal. To be in a movie of that scale with actors of that caliber was really a dream come true, and also an eye opener to the responsibility I've been given, and how lucky I am to be a part of this. But it was an amazing day seeing it for the first time. As soon as it finished, I was like let's watch it again! But they wouldn't let me....

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The Future of Spider-Man

It's our understanding that these movies are each going to take place during another year of high school. Was that your understanding when you signed on?

That's the first time I'm hearing that... [laughter]... No, I'm sure that is the formula they're going to take. Peter is 15 in this movie, and that would make him in grade ten, and yeah I see him graduating towards the last movie.

Is there a villain you'd love to take a crack at after this one?

Oh, well I love Doc Ock. I think Spider-Man 2 is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. But I think Venom is someone I'd love to kick the crap out of one day.

Spider-Man Homecoming Trailer Breakdown

Spider-Man 3 Haters Rejoice: Peter Parker Won't Be Dancing At The Homecoming

We've seen you playing around on Instagram and dancing and stuff. Are you breaking out any dance moves in this movie?

No no no... no, I'm not in this movie.

You took a really long time to say no...

There's a dance in the movie, but I'm not dancing. Peter Parker can't dance. He can flip and climb up walls and do backflips, but he definitely can't dance.

Spider-Man Homecoming Trailer Breakdown

With Great Responsibility

You mentioned that you essentially went undercover and didn't get recognized, but you get recognized a lot more frequently now that you're Spider-Man?

Yeah, sometimes. I mean I don't get recognized all that much. We had an amazing day the other day where went to a children's hospital in the suit, and that for me was perfect. To make these kids happy was just incredible. And also just meeting kids on the street. The best is when they actually believe I'm Spider-Man, and they ask me how the webs work, and I have to say, oh I don't have the suit on and blah blah blah. That for me is one of the best things about being Spider-Man is convincing little kids that I can actually do all that stuff.

Do you put on the accent, too?

Yeah, I say [doing an American accent], Hi I'm Peter, nice to meet you... [laughter]

And so with great responsibility comes what?

That's Tobey's line, not my line.


Please note: This interview has been edited down from a longer transcript and the questions have been rearranged for clarity.