When the role of Spider-Man was going to be re-cast again — following Tobey Maguire in Sam Raimi's widely praised trilogy and Andrew Garfield's angsty turn in the dark and underappreciated "The Amazing Spider-Man" series — Sony Pictures and the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed an actor who could step into the suit in new and exciting ways.
Robert Downey Jr. refers to Spider-Man as "the gold standard in the MCU," unlike his own comic book character. "Iron Man? Whatever. When I became Iron Man few had even heard of the character, ergo less pressure. But Spider-Man? Everyone knows Spider-Man," he told GQ.
Not only would the new Spider-Man have to be strong enough to carry Peter Parker's fabled story, but also stand alongside the Avengers in the expansive Marvel universe. Since Iron Man would have a close relationship with him, Downey Jr. helped cast Tom Holland, he told Jimmy Kimmel.
It came down to just three words. While they were filming "Captain America: Civil War," the finalists for the new Spider-Man were brought in. Downey Jr. was asked whether Holland was "great," to which he simply replied: "Yeah, he is."
'We're Sweating To Make The Sweet Syrupy Nectar'
With great power comes great responsibility, especially when playing the role of Spider-Man. Robert Downey Jr. admits that one of the biggest reasons he chose Tom Holland was because he had the stamina to take on such a demanding role — physically, mentally, and emotionally:
"Becoming Spider-Man is a bit like going down a K-hole: it's easy to get lost in there. Add in the fact that you are worked relentlessly. It's crazy. But Tom can handle it. I could tell. He's a beekeeper ... It's not sexy. It's hot under those damn suits. You can't see us. We're sweating to make the sweet, sweet syrupy nectar to be consumed for our leaders."
These "leaders" are devoted Marvel fans with high expectations and an unbridled passion for comic book lore. There was one key moment during the audition process where Downey Jr. knew that Holland was the next web-slinger.
While testing for Spider-Man's first scene in "Captian America: Civil War," where Tony Stark surprises him at his tiny New York apartment, Downey Jr. changed the first line to see Holland's response. "[T]he kid handled it. He was a seasoned, good presence. I could tell he had good kung fu; he could roll with the punches and keep it more than interesting," Downey Jr. reflected in GQ. Holland's quick reflexes helped him stand out from thousands of other young men who auditioned for the role.
Tom Holland Has This 'Chaplin-Esque Thing'
Another quality that drew Robert Downey Jr. to the young actor was his "Chaplin-esque thing. ... Tom's different. He's got moxie." The comparison to Charlie Chaplin makes sense because Tom Holland has a background in dance, as well as acrobatics and gymnastics. At 10 years old, he starred in the West End musical "Billy Elliot."
Theatre is an environment where unexpected changes can happen at any moment, giving Holland the skills he needed to deal with Downey Jr.'s dialogue switch. This experience also developed the lithe athleticism he would bring to the role, making Spider-Man's nimble fighting style feel authentic by performing his own stunts. He surprised Sony with these abilities during his movement test.
Holland captures both Peter Parker's youthful exuberance and Spider-Man's quick-witted confidence. He creates a warm, good-natured character that genuinely cares about others and is always there for his friends, family, and fellow Avengers.
As someone with a nostalgic attachment to Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man and zero interest in the MCU, even I can't resist Holland's charm. He is the true embodiment of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and it's easy to see why Downey Jr. picked him.
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