Inadvertently, a question asked here put Tom Holland right back in the same tricky predicament that was, broadly, being asked about. Namely, when he was asked recently if the rumors that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were going to appear in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Holland emphatically shot that down, but then social media erupted because a good number of people assume Holland is lying. (I have asked questions like this many times.) It’s kind of a fascinating quandary because there’s no real great way to address such a direct and specific question without either spoiling a movie, which he’s contractually not supposed to do, lying, or declining to answer, which kind of tips people off anyway. But, of course, asking about how to answer such a thing also puts Holland right back in that same boat because an answer to this question could tip off his strategy to how he answered his previous question. But, Holland is so surprisingly deft at interviews already (well, he did go through quite an infamous run of spoiling movies, but he doesn’t do that anymore) he manages to give a good answer without tipping his hand. Well, probably.
Holland is out here promoting Cherry, an ambitious film that sees him re-team with his Marvel directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. Cherry is fairly epic in scale, as it divides the film up into chapters that watches Holland’s character (based on author Nico Walker’s experiences) go from local fuck up, to fighting in the Iraq war, to becoming a heroin addict, to eventually robbing banks in order to buy more heroin. It’s a role we’ve certainly not seen Holland attempt before, and Holland is pretty open about the fact that he’s trying to strategically challenge himself with roles that are as far away from Peter Parker as possible. Not to mention the eclectic assortment of movies he’s been watching lately in order to buff up his film bona fides so that he can direct one day himself.
Though that list still does not include The Empire Strikes Back, a movie he’s still not seen and gets asked about a lot because of a line in Captain America: Civil War. But, it does include Dodgeball, which, strangely, inspired a scene in Cherry.
There’s a part in Cherry where you have a mustache, I’m not sure any other human being’s facial look changes more with the mustache than yours.
It went from, “there’s Tom Holland,” to like Clark Gable walking out of some 1930s classic film.
Brilliant. I’m glad to hear that.
I’m assuming that’s a look we’re not going to see again soon.
Yeah, maybe not. I think I’m going to wait. I sadly cannot grow my own mustache, so it is a stick-on. And they are the most uncomfortable things in the world, so whatever I can do to avoid having a mustache. [Laughs] That idea actually came from a Halloween party while we were shooting Cherry. My team, we went as the Average Joe’s…
From Dodgeball, yeah. And my makeup artist, Rachel, drew a mustache on herself. And Anthony and Joe Russo were like, “We need you to give Tom a mustache in the prison because that looks great.” So that’s where the idea for the mustache came from. And then Rachel, obviously, then has to make one and do all that sort of stuff.
I have to admit, I was not expecting Dodgeball to come up today. An influence on Cherry I wasn’t expecting.
Right. A bit of a curveball for you there.
This is an intense movie. I assume that appealed to you.
Yeah. I mean, it all appealed to me, really: working with the Russos again, challenging myself as an actor, working on a film which I think is an important one for society to sort of shed the light on a problem that’s happening all around us. But the chapters thing for me was a really interesting idea, because it almost felt like we were making an episodic TV show about the same character at six, very different, chapters of his life. And trying to find the connective tissue between each chapter was what was so difficult. But then again, research and planning and storyboarding and all that sort of stuff became very, very helpful in making those connections.
So the way I’ve read the story, the Russos just came to you and offered this. And then you told them you’d do it for free, which is a terrible negotiation tactic. But it was that easy?
Yeah. And I think that joke there kind of boils down from the fact that they changed my life. The Russo brothers cast me as Spider-Man and they put me in a position I could never have dreamed to be in. So, I owe them a lot. And I would do anything for them. But yeah, that’s kind of how it happened. I was honored that they chose me, they could choose anyone. But, yeah, so I owe them a lot.
It seems like you’re in a stage of your career where you want people to see you playing roles that aren’t just Peter Parker. Between this and The Devil All the Time, I don’t want to say it’s calculated, but it does look like you are looking for something “different.”
I mean, it’s always on my mind. And my agents and I have been very strategic in choosing our moments and picking our battles. I think, now, I’m definitely at a stage in my career where I’m able to carry the weight of films that have these heavy tones and strong emotional arcs and stuff. But at the end of the day, if it’s a romantic comedy and it challenges me and it’s not something I’ve done before, I’d be well up for it. It was a comedy, if it was a horror film, I have no agenda or anything like that when it comes to picking my films. I just like to do things I haven’t done before.
Was there anything you watched that you looked at as an influence for playing this type of character?
You’re often associated a lot with Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. I don’t if you’ve seen it, but we rewatched Less Than Zero recently and you reminded me of Downey in that movie.
I mean, I actually haven’t seen that film. But, I mean, films like a Requiem of a Dream, The Basketball Diaries, all that sort of stuff was very helpful. It showed me some things I wanted to try and embrace. And some things I wanted to try and stay away from. Our biggest thing, when we were making this film, was to make and tell a story that didn’t romanticize drug abuse or war in any way, shape, or form. We really wanted to make it as grotesque as it can actually be. So, we learned loads from different films. The Russos are the ones to ask that question. They could go on for hours and hours and hours about films that have influenced them to make this film. My film knowledge is not quite as extensive as there’s, but it’s getting there.
Right, that’s been well-documented. And every interview you’re asked if you’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back yet and it’s always, “No.”
No. I haven’t.
When I talked to you for Far from Home, you basically said it’s not going to happen.
Well, I would never say it’s not going to happen. It’s just, they’re not my type of movies. I just … I’m not a big fan of them. And I’m a big Marvel fan, so if I’m going to watch a space movie, I would watch Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor, that’s my type of thing, per se. But I will have to watch it so people stop asking me the question, “Have you seen The Empire Strikes Back?”
Just to finally say, “Yes, I’ve seen it. Are you happy?”
And then people say, “We are happy.”
Maybe I’ll watch it tonight.
Speaking of, what have you caught up on over the pandemic? I do realize you aren’t exactly stuck at home and have filmed two movies, so maybe you haven’t had time.
I mean, my brother Harry and I are, obviously, avid film fans and we want to one day be directors and stuff. So we’re trying to educate ourselves and watching films, and broadening our horizons by watching different types of films. We’ve been watching lots of foreign films at the moment, we watched Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of a Murder the other day, which we really enjoyed. We’ve got a cinema club at the moment. Every week, the Spider-Man cast gets together at the screening room at the studios and we pick a film that none of us have seen before and watch a film. I think next on the list is The Handmaiden, which is Zendaya’s recommendation. Cinema Paradiso is one of them. So, we’re just working our way through films that I would never normally watch, but I’m definitely learning to love them. And once you realize that there were films that aren’t in English, it opens up possibilities to so many more stories.
Based on the movies you just mentioned, and then you throw in Dodgeball, that is an eclectic group…
[Laughs] Oh, yeah, the spectrum of my film knowledge is wide, my friend.
I’ve seen a lot of the set photos from the new Spider-Man. I can’t help but wonder, does the Spider-Man mask actually work as a pandemic mask? Or is it too thin? Because that knocks off two birds with one stone if it does.
I mean, I guess it does? I have to wear a helmet underneath the mask to give my very irregular-shaped head a nice, smooth, round kind of shape. And it has a mesh over the front of the mouth to stop condensation getting onto the mask. So, it is pretty good when it comes to stopping particles coming in and out of a suit. But, on the first day of shooting, I did walk on set in the Spider-Man suit with a mask on, to just set the tone for the crew that we were like, “Guys, we’re going to take this seriously. We’re going to wear our masks.” And everyone’s been amazing. And been very, very professional.
A couple of weeks ago I saw Chaos Walking, which you filmed in 2017 and is finally coming out. This feels like another movie where you were trying to do something that wasn’t the MCU, then it gets delayed. Was that frustrating?
Yeah. It was frustrating, and it’s been a real uphill battle getting that film made. We ran into all sorts of different problems while making it, and then while remaking it and editing it and all sorts of different stuff. The nature of the film and the concept of the film is one that is really, really difficult to overcome. But I haven’t actually seen it… the last edit I saw would have been about a year and a half ago actually.
Oh, so I’m ahead of you on that.
Yeah, so you’ve seen more than I have, but I’m excited to see it. I’m a little apprehensive if I’m honest. But, yeah. I mean, Doug Liman, I love him. He was so kind to me and I had a great time working with him. So, for him, I hope the film does really well. And yeah, excited to see it.
So, I read the interview you did with Esquire, which got around because you were asked if Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are in that movie. There were a lot of people on social media who didn’t believe your answer. And I’ve asked things like that before, but it seems like a no-win situation. Let’s say while you’re filming Far From Home I had asked you, hey, I’ve heard J.K. Simmons is in this movie. How bad of a position does that put you in?
It’s a tricky situation. [Laughs] I feel like you’re equally putting me in a tricky situation now.
I’m not trying to, I promise.
It is what it is. And sometimes the fans figure out what’s going on, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they figure out one thing, and it opens up a whole world of possibilities and they go off on a tangent, which could not be more different or more correct to what we’re making. It’s a shame, sometimes, that things get leaked and things get ruined. But at the moment, with this film, I think we’re doing a very, very good job of keeping the things that need to be a secret a secret. And I’m sure there are things that are going on that I have no idea about. I mean, I’m usually the last person to find out what’s going on, because of this ridiculous rumor that I spoil movies!
Look, you didn’t spoil Endgame. That’s the only one that matters.
I didn’t spoil Endgame!
No, which is great. But, I think, the tricky thing about those questions is: it’s a question that’s going to get a reaction regardless of what the answer is. So it’s one of those things where you just have to figure out, how is the best way to handle this? Shall I lie? Shall I tell the truth? Shall I just say, “I can’t say anything.” Shall I say, “I can neither confirm nor deny”? There’s nothing you can really say that won’t spark a reaction from the fans.
So, it’s a double-edged sword. It can be great. It can be a great thing, but sometimes it can be quite a damaging thing.
Oh, by the way, last time we spoke you mentioned a deleted scene in Far from Home where you sold a Star Wars action figure, but you didn’t know the action figure. I actually emailed Kevin Feige…
The name of the character is Lobot, who’s in The Empire Strikes Back.
Lobot. Yeah, yeah. And I actually think that that was Kevin Feige’s Lobot.
His personal collection Lobot?
I seem to remember that that was one of his own personal collection. Yeah. But I might be completely lying there.
‘Cherry’ begins streaming via Apple TV+ on Feb. 26th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.