Whether as Marvel’s Spider-Man or heroin addict Cherry in his game-changing new role with the Russo brothers, Tom Holland has been on one high or another since the age of 19.
Now, as the business of moviemaking rewrites the rules of topline renown, we ask the face of a ten-figure franchise how he learned to swing with the big dogs and where he plans to land when (and if…) his feet finally hit the ground.
The fact that the first few words that tumble out of Tom Holland’s mouth include “dildo”* and “heroin” give me a good indication of how much the 24-year-old ballet dancer from South London has grown out from Spider-Man’s long, elastic shadow since the world last saw his “Peter Tingle” tingle.
The excerpts of the British GQ fashion editorial of actor Tom Holland are really stunning. Photography by AB+DM studio (Ahmad Barber + Donté Maurice.) Styling by Law Roach and grooming by Rachael Speke.
“Marvel fans are wonderfully yet terrifyingly committed. They absorb all of you. They expect to… But Tom could handle it. I could tell.”Robert Downey Jr.
“This character makes bad choices,” Joe Russo, one half of the formidable Russo brothers, directors of Cherry, explains. “We knew the audience would have difficulty with the lead, so we needed someone who was charming and empathetic to carry them through. The mission with Cherry was to make people have an emotional response to the material, not an intellectual response.
So the Russo brothers owe Holland?
Sure. Although Holland, let’s be clear here, had some payback due. Big time. These are the directors, after all, who gave Holland, aged 19, the biggest role of his life; quite possibly the biggest role he’ll ever land, if we’re talking about sheer audience size and volcanic eruptions of cash from bonkers box office takings.
Within the labyrinthine story that is Tom Holland’s Spider-Man casting origin tale there is a crucial part that Marvel stans love to mythologise: the part when Tom Holland screen-tests with Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr, in Atlanta with the Russos.
How then could Cherry affect Holland’s own trajectory
I ask Downey. “Look, Tom won’t be playing Spider-Man when he’s 37. At least I hope not. And when you’re in the MCU, there’s a feeling of all life beginning with it and ending it. But there’s life outside too. I can confirm this. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. It’s funny, I bumped into Keanu [Reeves] the other day, somewhere in Malibu, I think, and he told me he’d just been filming The Matrix again; he’d stepped back into that world that he once occupied. I asked him what it felt like: ‘Like being in Australia.’
“I was bullied, picked on, called names, stuff like that,” he says. Holland also suffered from dyslexia, although he is adamant the diagnosis didn’t hold him back, at least not socially. “I wasn’t going to school and getting the shit kicked out of me every day. But I was definitely separate from a lot of kids, mainly as between eleven and 13 I was working on Billy Elliot.
Rather than allow the ground to swallow him up, however, Holland reached for a costume. Or, more specifically, a shirt. “Four hundred extras, all tough American guys training to be soldiers – I wore my England rugby shirt. Stuck it on and it grounded me as who I am as a man. I went out there like number nine against the All Blacks, ready to go. It was my armour.”
Holland, of course, is already Coca-Cola famous. Does it annoy him when fans, the media, whomever, link him romantically with his costars?
“Holland had all the elements of a bona fide star. Plus, his ability to do a standing backflip helped.”Anthony Russo
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Cherry is out on 12 March on Apple TV+.