Tom Holland this weekend stars in the latest film from Marvel Studios, Spider-Man: Homecoming. The 21-year-old actor was cast as Peter Parker when he was just 19, and he has now signed a six-picture deal and finds himself leading a major summer blockbuster with a budget of $175 million. Holland isn’t exactly a household name, so how exactly did he find himself cast as one of the most popular comic book characters of all time?
In February 2015, it was announced that Marvel Studios had reached a deal with Sony that would allow them to use Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For years, Sony Pictures had owned the exclusive rights to the character, which is why the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man films existed in a universe separate from The Avengers. Soon after the deal was announced, it became clear that Marvel was looking to recast the role and would not be bringing Andrew Garfield back.
When the news came out that Spider-Man was going to be recast, Tom Holland, who had always dreamed of playing the character, immediately got on the phone with his agent.
“When I found out that they were recasting the role, I rang up my agent,” Holland said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I said, ‘Listen, just get me a self tape. Just please let me send off something so that they can see me. I know it’ll never happen.'”
At this point, Tom Holland was known in Hollywood largely for his performance in The Impossible, the 2013 disaster drama in which he plays the son of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. When Holland called his agent, he was surprised to find out that Marvel was already interested in him.
The first tape Holland sent in was recorded on the set of the movie Edge of Winter. Holland wanted to make sure he stood out, and so he showed off his gymnastics skills on the tape.
“They gave me two scenes…and I basically did like a somersault into frame, and then a somersault out of frame, because I was like, ‘They may never see this, but if they do, I need them to know that I’ve got some gymnastic abilities and stuff,'” Holland told The Associated Press.
During this casting process, about 7,000 actors tried out for the part, and the best of the best got to have a screen test with Robert Downey Jr. Producer Amy Pascal has since said that Holland nailed this screen test.
“Having the charisma to have the camera care that you’re even a speck when you’re on screen with Robert Downey Jr. is a tall order,” Pascal told Entertainment Weekly. “It was magical from that very first test.”
Pascal also told Screen Rant that everyone kind of knew Holland was perfect from the beginning.
“I think when we saw Tom and it was unanimous from everybody that he had it, and everything fell into place,” Pascal told Screen Rant. “There was a – believe me, what we put the poor boy through – Hell. And a lot of other boys, too, who were also good. But once you saw that thing on film, just… everybody knew it. And you know, that’s the magic.”
Showing off his gymnastics skills in his audition tapes turned out to be a wise move on Holland’s part, as Captain America: Civil War director Joe Russo later said that this, in addition to Holland’s age, was a big reason he was cast.
“He’s also a dancer and a gymnast,” Russo told Entertainment Weekly. “He fits the part like you can’t believe. Another thing that we were really pushing for was to go young with the part. It’s the only way to differentiate it from what’s been done in the past. Get him as close as you can to the age that [the actor] is.”
Marvel President Kevin Feige agrees, saying that Tom Holland’s physical abilities really impressed them.
“The notion that Tom could do it and not only be such an amazing Peter Parker but also the best Spider-Man stunt person ever….he’d be giving tips to the stuntmen on how to pose and land!” Feige told Entertainment Weekly.
In total, Tom Holland went through eight auditions with Marvel over the course of five months. In June 2015, he finally found out that he had landed the role, but weirdly, he did not find out through a phone call from his agent. He just saw the news on the Internet like everyone else did.
“After my final audition, they said, ‘You’ll find out tomorrow,'” Holland said during an appearance on Ellen. “Fast forward six weeks, I was still waiting, still waiting, and one day, Marvel just posted on their Instagram, ‘Go to our website to find out who the new Spider-Man is.’ And that’s it. I just found out online. They didn’t call me up or anything.”
Holland went on to say that he soon did receive a call from Kevin Feige letting him know he got the part, but by then it was already old news.
Tom Holland made his debut as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War in May 2016. Although he only had about 10 minutes of screen time, he was praised for his performance in that film, and now that Spider-Man: Homecoming has been screened for critics, he is already being hailed by many as the best Spider-Man actor ever.