GQ MAGAZINE – “This is going to sound like complete bullshit, but I swear to you that this is true,” Tom Holland says. “Have you ever heard of cognitive dreaming?”
We’ve been talking for a couple of hours at this point, and conversation—as it tends to, after long enough—has drifted onto the subject of dreams. I’ve been having nightmares lately, I tell him. Anxiety. This is something Tom Holland knows all about. He is a terrible sleeper; a sleepwalker; a sleep undresser, even. (“Four out of 10 sleeps I wake up completely naked.”) As it happens, he has a trick for dealing with nightmares, and because Tom Holland is Tom Holland—the actor who put the friendly back into your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and is just famously, energetically, irresistibly nice—of course he’s happy to help.
“Okay, so I’ll tell you how you do it. Essentially, when you’re asleep, your brain is working way faster than it is when it’s awake. Jon Watts [Holland’s director on three Spider-Man movies] told me this, and it has worked. If you’re in a dream and you read something, say, a stop sign, and you turn around, when you look back at the stop sign it will have changed. So what you do is—and this is where it sounds stupid—you set an alarm for every hour of the day when you’re awake. When the alarm goes off, you read something. So I’m reading—”
At this point Holland looks around his bedroom, which is sparse, an unmade bed and a half-open wardrobe behind him, low fall sun streaming in the window, and alights upon a packet of pistachios. “—Roasted and salted. You turn away, you look back at it: Roasted and salted. Okay, I’m not dreaming. What happens is when you do it for a long time, you start to do that in your sleep. Sometimes, if I’m having a really bad dream, I’ll look at a sign and go, ‘Oh, I’m dreaming.’ And then you have free rein to do whatever you want.”
“Yeah. The last time it happened to me, I was flying around the Golden Gate Bridge. It was awesome.”
Holland is at home in London, waiting out a government-mandated travel quarantine, so for now we’re talking over Zoom. It’s an unusual time for the actor, a rare pause. Since he landed the part six years ago, Holland has played Spider-Man in five movies, of which four have made more than a billion dollars each. In the past year or so he has starred in three films, taking on the offbeat dramatic roles of a priest-murdering orphan in The Devil All the Time and a heroin-addicted bank robber in Cherry, and finished shooting two more. Still somehow only 25, Holland has ascended to a tier of stardom few actors ever reach, and rarely so young. “There are very few actors working now who are versatile in the way that he is,” says Spider-Man producer and former Sony chairperson Amy Pascal. “And he’s the hardest-working person that I know.”
“Since I got cast as Spider-Man, I haven’t really taken a break,” Holland says. So he’s enjoying some state-enforced time to himself. “I find myself ringing my dad [Dominic, a comedian and author] for stuff that I should definitely know how to do,” he says. “ ‘Dad, how do I put the washing machine on?’ ” Last night a skylight broke in bad weather, flooding his kitchen. The outside world has a way of forcing itself back in.
The next few months promise to be hectic even by Holland’s standards. In December he’ll star in Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that Holland himself has called “the most ambitious stand-alone superhero movie ever made.” Then there is February’s Uncharted, a slick, *Indiana Jones–*y adaptation of the best-selling PlayStation franchise. “This is that moment of, like, ‘Can Tom Holland stand up on his own and be a leading man?’ I know that makes me sound like a dick for saying that,” says Holland. “But for me it is, ‘Can I do it without the Lycra?’ ”
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Photoshoots and Portraits > 2021 > Session 04 | British GQ
BRITISH GQ – 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.
Another indication is the emotional and physical pulp Holland found himself in 14 months ago: clucking, sweat-drenched and wide-eyed, with a pair of off-colour Y-fronts around his thighs, on the set of Cherry, an independent film shot in Cleveland, Ohio, and directed by the Russo brothers Anthony and Joe (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War; Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame), with a screenplay by their sister, Angela Russo-Otstot, and Jessica Goldberg.
Cherry is Holland’s moment to try on his big-boy movie star pants. The ride is wild, traumatic and fist-bitingly raw. The subject matter is distinctly adult: it is a toxic junkie love story, set before and after the Iraq War of 2003.
“Have you ever taken heroin before?” Holland asks me, I assume rhetorically. “Because I have not. I couldn’t sit there on set and inject heroin into my chest – that’s not how it is done. I had to get it right. This role took me to some of the darkest places I have ever been, emotionally, physically, anythingly… I would never go back there again, not for anyone. I am pleased I did it, but that door is now closed and locked.”
For myriad reasons, Holland’s performance in Cherry is astonishing. For almost the entirety of the film you can see – almost feel – the chemicals rattling around in his pale, gasping veins. Yet it’s more Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting, however, than Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy; there’s horror, sure, but there’s also a distinct sense the directors want empathy for their character’s story.
The dude’s skin gets pallid, with all the colourless putridity of raw chicken that’s three days turned. It’s a film in which the demons (and America’s contemporary problems) are stuffed down your throat, via your eyeballs, while Spider-Man’s cherry-red and royal-blue Marvel Cinematic Universe-issued spandex morph suit is entirely absent. Spidey fans will be shocked out of their Butterkist sugar comas.
“I think there might have been some people at Disney confused as to why their Spider-Man had become a heroin addict.” Holland says, chuckling, clearly enjoying the idea that a few of the Disney execs – who bought Marvel in 2009 for a cool $4 billion (£2.4bn) – might be sweating under the lights here a little. Holland, after all, is one of the world’s most valuable stars, if not the most valuable star in the MCU.
The actor is currently talking to me from a rental house in Atlanta, Georgia, where he is shooting Spider-Man: No Way Home. He’s been here since September and “We’re close to finishing, actually”. Today (a Monday) is a good day because it’s Holland’s one day off a week. After talking to me he’ll go to a local golf club with one of his younger brothers – Harry, who has been doubling as his assistant; Holland has two other siblings – and thwack a few irons into the clipped turf in a bid to just forget. To forget who he is and to forget, just for a fleeting moment, the insurmountable pressure that comes with being who he is.
Cherry is an adaptation of author Nico Walker’s literary debut, a (mostly) factual autobiography that tells the story of a smart yet vulnerable man, “Cherry” (Holland), who flees stale suburbia’s all-day bongs, unpaid bills and unemployment boredom by signing up for the US Army and heading promptly into the oil-soaked stench of Iraq. Clue: this turns out to be a massive fucking mistake.
He trains to kill the “Haji” (a derogatory term for an Iraqi, used by US military throughout the 2003 conflict), learns to stuff his comrades’ hot guts back inside their blackened, hollowed chests as an army medic, hauls out to Iraq’s “Triangle Of Death”, waits, masturbates in a Portakabin in the middle of the desert thinking about his beautiful, doe-eyed wife back home in Cleveland (played superbly by Ciara Bravo) and then waits a bit more.
Just as things are getting boring he watches as his marine buddies suffer a direct hit and burn alive in their dust-coloured Humvee, his bunk buddy’s wedding ring shining out from the blackened mass of charred bodies and twisted metal like a crescent moon in a midwinter sky. Experiences like this affect a man.
Returning home, our antihero finds his post-war life utterly shaken by severe PTSD, which, in turn – thanks to US doctors handing out opiates prescriptions like parking tickets at the time – leads to Oxycontin abuse. Cherry’s wife also becomes a slave to the dope. Then they start to inject heroin intravenously and our character makes a decision to fund their spiralling habits with a spree of amateurish, pistol-wielding bank robberies.
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Tom is featured in W Magazine’s annual Best Performances issue. Check out the photos in the gallery and read the interview below!
W MAGAZINE – Tom Holland had played Spider-Man in three different movies by the Russo brothers when the directors decided to change things up. For what would become the collaborators’ fourth film together, Cherry, the Russos proposed that Holland play a bank-robbing heroin addict. It was a break from the Marvel universe if ever there was one, and the 24-year-old seized his chance. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Holland reflects on the evolution of his acting career.
What was the first thing you auditioned for?
When I was 8 or 9, I auditioned for every role in Romeo and Juliet, including Juliet, and I didn’t get a single part. When I was 11, I booked Billy Elliot; that was the first job I ever booked. I couldn’t dance, but trainers would come to my school and teach me at lunch. I was at a rugby school, so doing ballet in tights in the school gym wasn’t the coolest of things to do, but it paid off.
Early on, you played rugby. Do you still play?
No. Everyone grew and got really big, and I stayed really small. So I had to find a sport where I wasn’t getting battered all the time. Golf seemed like the most logical decision. I’ve probably been playing for about 10 years. I have more golf outfits than regular clothes.
What was the first movie that you booked?
The Impossible, which is a Juan Antonio Bayona film, and also the first audition I ever had for a film. It was an amazing experience. I got the chance to work with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. That was the first time I realized that I could be an actor and it was something that I could do for the rest of my life. I immediately fell in love with the idea of making movies, and was so lucky that afterward people really responded to the film.
In Cherry, you play a lovelorn soldier who becomes a drug addict and robs banks to pay for his heroin. What was the hardest part of portraying this character?
Physically and mentally, the dope life portion of the film is the most demanding. It was really hard to bounce between different versions of my character.
How did you first get involved with the film?
It’s directed by the Russo brothers, whom I’ve obviously worked with many times before in the Marvel universe. They took me aside and told me they were doing this small independent feature. I was really touched that, of all the people they could have worked with, they wanted me to play the lead. They’ve changed my life in so many different ways and continue to look after me, so I owe a lot to the Russos.
What’s the key to doing an American accent? Yours is remarkable in Cherry.
Just hard work, really. I’m very lucky. My dialect coach, Rick Lipton, who goes by Pretty Ricky, is one of my best mates. We’ve been working together for years now—I think we’re coming up on our 10th or 12th movie together. We just put the work in, practice, practice, practice, and get it done.
Tom is featured on the cover of Backstage magazine. Check out the photoshoot and interview below!
Photoshoots and Portraits > 2021 > Session 02 | Backstage
BACKSTAGE – He may be best known for playing one of the most famous teenagers around, but don’t let his boyish charisma fool you—Tom Holland has been performing on stage and screen for over half his life. Consistently employed throughout his adolescence and into adulthood, the 24-year-old has become one of the most bankable movie stars working today thanks to his turn as Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Through it all, he has dodged the dramatics of TMZ-fueled virality (unless you count his gender-bending lip-sync performance of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in 2017). In other words, one could call his career a Hollywood anomaly.
“I think what I’ve done well is I’m really good at being able to dictate when I’m in the spotlight,” he says of balancing his public and private lives. “When I’m at home, I live such a boring life that the paparazzi don’t want to take pictures of me. I’m with my dog, I meet my mates, we go play golf, we go to the pub, we go to sleep, and then we wake up and do the same thing again.” That is, until he’s filming his latest “Spider-Man” installment, which he’s on a brief respite from as he speaks to Backstage from a Los Angeles hotel.
Holland’s calculated give-and-take with fame, fans, and family only comes after years of experience and mentorship. A natural talent, the London-born performer enrolled in hip-hop classes at a local dance school called Nifty Feet after his mother noticed him holding rhythm while strutting around to Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.” At age 9, he was scouted by choreographer Lynne Page; he soon began rigorous training in ballet for the West End’s Olivier Award–winning “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” which marked his professional debut just after his 12th birthday. He took his final bow as Billy two years later and began chipping away at a career in film.
In past interviews, thinking back to his early days in the industry, he described growing up with an author-comedian father, a photographer mother, and three younger brothers as living in “the most un–child-actor household possible.” Throughout our time together, he speaks of his parents with genuine reverence, sprinkling valuable life lessons they’ve taught him on self-respect and handling rejection. And he’s conspicuously close with his brothers, with whom he heads the Brothers Trust charity fund, an effort he’s “most proud of” on his list of many accomplishments. That’s not to mention that he’s also working on a “massively ambitious” feature film script with his brother Harry that they intend to one day direct together. (“I’m sure when we finally take it to a studio, they’re going to laugh at us when we say that we want to direct it,” he admits. “But it’s our script, and if they want us, they’re gonna have to have all of us.”)
Such an unwavering support system certainly was useful through the growing pains of life as a young artist, not the least of which included getting bullied for wearing tights at a ballet barre while other boys his age were playing rugby. Much has already been said about those rough patches and how Holland persevered; he relayed to GQ in 2019 that “it’s just what I had to do if I wanted to get this job,” and to People two years earlier that “you couldn’t hit me hard enough to stop me from doing it.” But what’s most fascinating, speaking with Holland about his dance background today, isn’t the schoolyard incidents it may have incited, but the way his training all those years ago has influenced pretty much everything he does onscreen, no matter the genre or role.
Take the obvious example: Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, a role he landed at 19 in “Captain America: Civil War” and has played in a total of five (going on six) MCU features, including stand-alone films “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” The sheer physicality of web-slinging, high-kicking, and back-flipping (or the demands of any spandexed Marvel gig, for that matter) is informed and enhanced by having a better understanding of one’s body—its movement, and what it looks like when stretched and positioned every which way.
Tom is on the new cover of Esquire for March. The photoshoot is amazing. You can check out the cover and photos from the shoot in the gallery. I will add scans when I get the issue.
ESQUIRE – In the late fall of 2019, Tom Holland was lying sideways on the floor of a jail cell, sweating, convulsing, throwing up blood. His rusty brown hair had been shaved off; his typically smiling eyes were sunken. Wearing a khaki prison uniform that hung loosely on his frame, he rocked back and forth on the floor, smacking his head against the cement a few times in the process. Then the directors called, “Cut!”
Holland, the twenty-four-year-old British actor best known as Marvel’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, the sweet-faced hero of the ever-expanding cinematic universe, was in character for Cherry, a forthcoming film in which he plays an Army medic who returns home from the Iraq war with undiagnosed PTSD, develops a heroin addiction, and starts robbing banks. After filming the scene that takes place in the jail, Holland was a little woozy but still pleased with his performance, so he did what any young person might in a moment of pride: He sent the footage of himself writhing around in the cell to his mother. “Biggest mistake ever,” he says now, grinning. “I was like, ‘This is how my day’s going,’ and she was furious with me.
“I guess I wasn’t thinking right, and I was like, ‘Do you know who would really like to see this? My mum.’ In hindsight, it was a really stupid thing to have done.” He continues: “I think when my mum goes to see my films in particular, the things she likes the most are the moments she goes, ‘Oh, that’s my little boy.’ But in this film there’s nothing like that.”
It’s been more than a year since Cherry wrapped, and now that the color has returned to his cheeks, his mum’s forgiven him. But it took some time for his friends and family to get used to the idea of him headlining this kind of film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Nico Walker, a real-life bank robber–turned–literary darling.
Holland’s parents—Mum is Nicola Frost, a photographer, and Dad is Dominic Holland, a writer and comedian—came around after watching a full cut of the film for a second time. “They were able to enjoy it as a movie and not a biopic of their son doing heroin,” he says. “They are really proud, and they really liked it.”
Satisfying his parents is the most important thing to Holland, and at his age, it’s a desire he hasn’t yet learned to hide. “If I seek anyone’s approval, it would be my parents’,” he says. “That would be the highest level of achievement.” So by this crucial measure, Holland has already succeeded. Now he just has to figure out how to talk about the film with the rest of the world, all while fulfilling his ongoing obligations to Sony and Marvel as the youngest Spider-Man in the history of the role. It’ll be no small feat: His next release takes on the horrors of the opioid crisis, but he’ll have to remain the superhero next door. He wants to please his family, his bosses, and his fans while facing perhaps the biggest challenge of all in the process: being pleased with himself.
Read more at Esquire.com
Vanity Fair has given us the first look at Tom’s new movie Cherry! The movie is set to release in theaters on February 26 and then globally on Apple TV+ on March 12. Check out the stills!
VANITY FAIR – Cherry is a movie that dares you to try and describe it. It’s the first film that Anthony and Joe Russo have directed following their Avengers finales, Infinity War and Endgame, and it reunites them with Spider-Man star Tom Holland. It also compresses their penchant for large-scale action and cataclysm into the core of a single person.
Holland’s title character is both volatile and vulnerable, a hard-knock nobody from Cleveland who’s just scraping by but doesn’t even have any big dreams to guide him. Every solution to his problems only deepens the trouble: College isn’t working out, so Cherry joins the Army to serve in Iraq as a medic. He returns home haunted and damaged, and starts abusing opioids to blunt his PTSD. To pay for the drugs, he resorts to bank robbery. The more desperate he gets, the more banks he has to rob.
Every step is a step down, a progression into the abyss you can see in these images from Vanity Fair’s exclusive first look.
It’s tempting to call this film, which hits theaters first on February 26 and then premieres globally on Apple TV+ on March 12, a smaller, more intimate project from the brothers who made some of Marvel’s most grandiose films. It’s definitely a passion project for them. But Cherry is also a sprawling tale that ventures around the world, albeit locked within the mind of Holland’s sweet-natured, grimly addicted bandit.
“We do think about it as an epic film, and it is very much a person’s life journey,” said Anthony Russo. “But it does have a little bit of a split personality between being this character study and an epic life cycle.”
They described Cherry as six movies in one, spanning from the mid 2000s to the present. “He travels a great distance over a 15-year period,” Joe Russo said. “The movie’s broken up into six chapters that reflect those different periods, and each one has a different tone. It’s shot with different lenses, different production design. One’s got magical realism. Another chapter is absurdism. Another is horror…There’s a bit of gonzo in it. It’s raw in its tone. He’s a character in existential crisis.”
Based on the 2018 novel by Nico Walker, the screenplay was written by the filmmakers’ sister, Angela Russo-Otstot (V, The Shield), and Jessica Goldberg (The Path). “The book was very, very self-aware, self-deprecating, and self-loathing,” Joe said.
They felt a strong connection, even if the story doesn’t necessarily mirror their own. It’s close enough: “We’re from Cleveland and Nico’s from Cleveland. Interestingly enough, we know a lot of people that are implied in the book,” Joe added. “I think he’s fictionalized names and personalities. But I worked at the same restaurant that Nico worked at, 10 years apart. So he had a very similar upbringing to us. He just had a very different journey than we did.”