Tom Holland Q&A: Here comes the new Spider-Man

Tom Holland plays the web-slinging hero in this summer’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as a kid just trying to do the right thing.
Michael Muller

Tom Holland is afraid of spiders. Like really, really afraid of them.

"I hate them, they're terrifying," Holland says, laughing and shuddering. "Like 100 percent, I hate spiders. I thought I really liked them and I learned that was just false. I really can't be around spiders. It scares me so much."

That's kind of funny, considering the English actor and dancer is the new Spider-Man, a high school honor student who becomes a superhero when he's bitten by a radioactive spider. After playing the friendly neighborhood web slinger in last year's "Captain America: Civil War," Holland returns to tell the origin story of Peter Parker in "Spider-Man: Homecoming." The movie opens in July.

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But his arachnophobia is even more surprising when you consider that Holland, 21, has collected over 20 Spider-Man costumes in honor of his favorite superhero.

The reason he's such a big fan of Spider-Man is also why he thinks his spin on the role will set him apart from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, who played Spider-Man in five films over 12 years: To Holland, Peter Parker is just a kid trying to do the right thing but who doesn't always get it right.

"My big thing about this movie is making sure the audience gets to see what would happen if a 15-year-old was given superpowers," Holland says. "Whenever I do something super badass, something stupid always follows. I'm never quite cool. I'm basically the worst, best superhero."

Holland, himself, is "just a kid … who really loves doing what he does." That includes dancing, gymnastics and acting.  He played ballet prodigy "Billy Elliot" on the London stage, starting in 2008 when he was 12 years old. He later won awards for his film debut in the 2012 movie "The Impossible," about a tourist family stranded in Thailand after the devastating 2004 tsunami. He loves to post photos of his dog, Tessa, on Instagram and doesn't like horror films because they scare him.

Holland spoke with CNET News Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo about why he loves the Spider-Man character, the best thing about the new suit and how backflips got him the part. Here's an edited excerpt of their conversation.

Were you a big Spider-Man fan growing up?

When I was a kid, I had probably 20 different Spider-Man costumes throughout the years. But about two years ago, I went to a fancy dress party dressed up as Spider-Man and found out once I got there that it wasn't a fancy dress party. And I was the only one dressed up as Spider-Man. Everyone thought I looked like a complete dick, but who's laughing now?   

What is it about Spider-Man that made him such a hero to you?

It's because Peter Parker is so relatable. He goes through something that every kid goes through, whether it's having trouble with homework or talking to girls or having responsibilities that are hard to deal with. And also, not being the cool kid. I often find that super­heroes are the bachelors or the billionaires — and everyone loves them. Peter Parker is basically the complete opposite. I just think that's what a lot of kids feel like as they're growing up. It's just really nice to know that a superhero can feel like that, too.

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Mark Mann

And so you play him like a kid?

Spider-Man is loved by a huge range of people. I think the real target audience is people younger than 16. It's because he's going through what they're going through. So my big thing about this movie is making sure the audience gets to see what would happen if a 15-year-old was given superpowers. Whenever I do something super badass, something stupid always follows. I'm never quite cool, if you know what I mean. I'm basically the worst, best superhero. That was kind of our motto throughout making the movie.

My big thing is that people see a very youthful version of what a superhero should be like.

You often think that the superhero lifestyle is incredible and lavish and wonderful, but Peter Parker is the most grounded version of what a superhero should be. It's really nice for kids to relate to someone who can do such remarkable things.

Is it true that you don't deliberately hit people in the movie? 

Our reasoning behind that is, if someone can lift a truck and then punch someone in the face, you'd probably kill them. So whenever I hit someone, it's always by accident. I'm always sort of like, "Sorry. My God. My bad."

We just try to bring this sort of youthful vibe into the fight scenes. It does get really dark and really bad at one point when the stakes are really high. But you do see him have fun with his powers and really enjoy being Spider-Man.

Let's talk about the suit. Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., designs it for you.

I think one of the exciting things about the movie is Peter doesn't even know the bells and whistles of the suit. There's a lot of surprises and there's a lot of things that happen without him asking it to, which is funny. And there's a really, really funny bit in the movie when that happens.

The suit is almost like the most advanced iPhone ever, you know? It can do so much. It helps him track people and it helps him listen into conversations and it helps him pick out threats and stuff. It's just a really, really cool, fun way of integrating modern technology into a superhero from back in the day.

What superpower would you like to have for real?

Probably the ability to either fly or jump through [time]. But controlling time is a big responsibility. You can mess up everything, and I would definitely be the person to do that. I wouldn't be responsible with it at all.

You had an interesting audition where you put your gymnastic skills to use. You introduced yourself to the camera and then what?

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Mark Mann

You say, "Hi, I'm Tom Holland. I'm 5-foot-7. I'm this, I'm that." Blah, blah, blah.

And I just did a backflip. I was like, "Hi, I'm Tom Holland." Backflip. "I'm 5-foot-7." Backflip. "I'm 20 years old." Backflip. "I'm from London." Backflip.

Just to prove to them that I could.  Every opportunity I got, I was flipping all over the place.

I did that with [Captain America] Chris Evans for my second screen test and my final screen test. We came in in the morning, and we had a fight rehearsal with the coordinator, who taught me this fight scene. Because of my dancing background, I asked if he could sort of spice it up a little bit and give me something more so I could really stretch myself. And then I said, "Dude, I used to be a gymnast and I can do backflips."

And he said, "I legally can't ask you to do a backflip because you're not insured. But I'm not going to tell you to not do it, so have at it." So I basically just flipped all over the place. I didn't even do the routine. I was just somersaulting everywhere. Chris Evans had the first line of the scene and I was flipping. I think he was a little bit taken aback, so completely forgot his line. It was fun. And it worked out, obviously.

You started out as a dancer. Why did you want to dance?

I started dancing because of Janet Jackson. I don't actually know which song it was. But when I was a baby one of her songs used to send me into a dancing frenzy. My mom thought I had natural rhythm, so she was like, "You should go to a dance class."

I used to go every Saturday in the YMCA in Wimbledon, which was sort of just a kids' dance class. It escalated from there.

If you could dance with anyone, who would you want as your partner?

Michael Jackson. One hundred percent.

He invented his own style. And dancing is one of those things where you can take different styles and amalgamate them and create new things. He just invented a new style and, for me, that is so cool and badass. I love it.

You've directed a short film and said you want to do a feature film in the next five years. What's the appeal of directing?

I love the process of making a movie so much as an actor that I can only imagine I would love the process of being the director. And I think I've always had a lot of good ideas and could really bring a lot to the table. I'd just like to be involved in a film from an earlier standpoint — whether that starts in producing and moves into directing, or directing into producing. I just would really love to learn more about the industry that I work in, and I think the best way to do that is to make the movies rather than just be in them.

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Mark Mann

Any genre in particular?  

I have a few ideas for little films that I'd like to do. Couple of thrillers and stuff, but I'm open to anything, really. Horror would be what I couldn't do because I'm just such a wuss. I would probably scare myself [laughs]. But anything, really. I'm up for anything.

Did you grow up with a lot of tech? Are you a tech fan?

Yeah, I like to consider myself a tech fan. That doesn't mean I'm a tech whiz, by any means. My brother, Harry, is the one who I go to when I have trouble. But I like to consider myself pretty techy.

Do you buy a lot of new tech?  

Smart TVs are a great thing; VR, also. I'm a real sucker for a gadget, so as soon as Apple will bring out some gimmick I'm like, "My God, I need to get one."

What piece of tech do you wish someone would invent for you?

The teleport machine. Teleportation would be the best because I live on airplanes. It would be super handy to be able to teleport around.