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The untold truth of Tom Holland

Tom Holland didn't hit the Hollywood scene so much as he smashed into it like a particularly charismatic meteor. From his jaw-dropping performance of Rihanna's "Umbrella" as part of The Tonight Show's Lip Sync Battle to his wholesome and wholehearted performance as Peter Parker, he's taken the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the world at large by storm. But for all the speed and sparkle of his ride to the top, there's still a lot we don't know about the actor we're all gearing up to watch quip, kick, and thwip his way through Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home

It turns out that Holland, at only 22 years old, is already quite a lot more than the chipper kid he portrays, and that his ambitions are likely to take him far beyond the realm of spandex and spider-senses. Accordingly, we went ahead and rounded up some of the unlikeliest, most resonant, and least-discussed aspects of the man behind the web-shooters.

He was the target of bullies

Holland's been dancing since he was in diapers. "I used to dance to this Janet Jackson song [his mother] would play when I was a baby," he recounted to The Hollywood Reporter, which prompted her to enroll him in a weekly dance class for children. He took to it immediately, throwing himself into everything from ballet to hip-hop with feverish intensity. Though this was the first step on the road to becoming Spider-Man, it was also something schoolyard bullies were quick to leap on. These were some "rough patches," he told People Magazine, but "you couldn't hit me hard enough to stop me from doing it." 

It is this relentless pursuit of his passion that pushed him to audition for the titular role in the West End production of Billy Elliot, that got him doing backflips in his audition tapes for Marvel, and ultimately gave him experience in being an underdog dedicated to overcoming his limitations — something he now credits as a key inspiration in his performance as Peter Parker. "I, like Peter, accepted I wasn't the cool kid at school," he mused, "and just found my group of friends and got on with it."

He grew up surrounded by the arts, but his success was a fluke

You wouldn't guess it from his online presence — a cursory glance at his Instagram reveals an excitable reverence for absolutely every novel experience fame has brought him — but Tom isn't the first famous Holland, nor the only one who's worked as a creative professional. His father Dominic is a comedian, broadcaster, and author, and his mother Nicola Elizabeth is a photographer. Despite early exposure to performance and his enrollment in a weekly dance class, Tom's ascent has been described by his father as a fluke. 

Before Tom's role in Billy Elliot, Dominic said in a radio interview, "there's been no stage school, there's been no drama lessons... He had no training." When Tom's agent proposed putting together an audition tape for Marvel, the family was roundly skeptical. Now that the impossible has happened, however, the Holland family credits this unlikely trajectory as the source of Tom's down-to-earth nature. Given how much his brothers reportedly tease him, combined with Dominic's publication of a book entitled How Tom Holland Eclipsed his Dad, it's likely that his easy-going demeanor isn't going anywhere.

He can't drink on his own in the costume

There are few superhero costumes as iconic as Spider-Man. That's one of the reasons it hasn't changed much since its introduction in 1962 — from the bold color scheme to the dramatically flared eyes, it was a classic from the moment it debuted. After decades of history, the suit is daunting indeed for any newcomer. But it's not just a figurative burden — it's an entirely literal one. In an interview with Short List, Holland revealed that it did not occur to the crew that he'd need a way to drink in the suit, resulting in a complex solution: a hole was drilled in the eye of the mask, a tube is fed through, and an assistant squeezes water through into Holland's mouth.

But the endpoint of all that guzzling is problematic as well. "The first thing you need to know," he said, "all I have on under that costume is a thong." To answer nature's call, Holland must strip down to his regulation underwear, slap on a bathrobe, and book it to the nearest bathroom and back as fast as he can. The hardship, he is quick to point out, is outweighed by the privilege of being able to bring the web-slinger to life. But when you trot off to see him do his thing in Avengers: Endgame this spring, remember: Spider-Man probably just took a sip through the world's most professional Crazy Straw.

He's extremely organized

We've established that Holland is a goofy kind of guy. There doesn't seem to be an exclamation point he isn't down to double, he's ready to slap on some vinyl shorts and perform Rihanna's "Umbrella" with the best of them, and he can find the humor in having to drink through a straw that someone else must operate for him. But it's not all fun and games — he's got serious ambitions, and he's structured them into attainable goals. 

"The 20-year goal is to be a film director," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "The 15-year goal is to win an Oscar. The five-year goal is to just keep enjoying myself." He goes on to detail his role models — Leonardo di Caprio, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep — and to detail the kind of career-defining challenges he'd like to take on. One thing is emphasized, over and over again: he wants to be big, he's ready to work for it, and he has a plan as to how he's going to accomplish it. For a kid from Kingston as eager to make silly videos for his Instagram account as he is to expound upon the craft of acting, this seriousness isn't necessarily expected, but it is welcome. Holland knows what it takes to have staying power in show business, and he's eager to show he can handle it.

He's skeptical of fame's extreme highs

Hollywood can, as even the most dreamy observer could tell you, be a place of extreme lows. Shattered dreams and low-level gigs aren't just a threat to every would-be actor crowding its avenues, but a likelihood. The highs are, in contrast, desperately sought-after, yet often just as dangerous. Holland, experiencing the kind of success most aspirants only dream of, is intensely aware of this and eager to head it off at the pass. "The terrible thing about being famous," he told Short List, "is you start to believe it. People tell you you're fantastically wonderful all the time and you start to think you are incredible. I'm just a kid from Kingston."

Holland has gone so far as to ask for advice from former child stars, seeking out Drew Barrymore when he made his film debut in the tsunami epic The Impossible. Though this might seem premature and perhaps out of character for an actor most characterized by his high spirits, he is far from wrong. Early success can end in flaming failure, and the best protection is knowledge. Luckily, he's got his family on the case as well. "My parents have chained me to the floor! It's so important and I'm so grateful that they've done that," he told the Evening Standard, "because otherwise you can get lost in this beautiful world that is Hollywood."

He hasn't lived a normal life in years

Holland never expected to reach the peaks of fame he's already conqured, let alone before he even hit his mid-twenties. But it really can't be emphasized enough that up until Captain America: Civil War, in which Holland made his debut as Spider-Man (and, frankly, stole the show with his dynamism and humor), he really thought he'd go on living the life he'd always led. Interviews done to promote The Impossible reveal a 16-year-old Holland still certain he's going to go back home to Kingston and finish up high school while continuing to pursue his dreams on the side. 

Ultimately, one looks back and realizes that after he was cast in Billy Elliot, Holland was on a speeding train to blockbuster success that made shockingly few stops. After every new production and role, he took the opportunity to note how things were probably going to go back to normal... but, of course, they didn't. It's only recently that Holland's interviews exhibit someone who truly understands that his life as he knew it is gone, and that fame is his new normal. Happily, he seems to be taking to it with a good support system and a can-do attitude.

He has an enormous work ethic

In many ways, Peter Parker and Tom Holland are similar people. Both the web-slinger and the eager young actor are hard workers with an earnest and obvious passion for what they do. Holland has, as established, deeply-held ambitions of growing as an actor and hopefully stepping behind the camera someday as well. But, as he told co-star Zendaya in Interview Magazine, "on Spider-Man, I would just try to outwork everyone." He prefaces this by naming his work ethic as his "greatest strength," and his resume already backs him up — he's game to get to set early, stay there late, and go the distance for marketing efforts. 

As his infamous Lip Sync Battle performance reveals, he does nothing by halves. Like Marvel's wall-crawler, he's out to give his all, every time. There is one crucial difference between him and Peter, however: Holland isn't terribly bookish. His follows up his greatest strength by naming his greatest weakness as his attention span, and claims that if you sat him down with a book, he wouldn't be able to focus on it.

He only recently realized he wanted to be an actor

Despite his early experiences with the performing arts through his parents, his enrollment in dance classes, his career on the West End, and his seemingly swift rise to the top of the Hollywood food chain, Holland didn't actually know he wanted to be an actor until a handful of years ago. "When I was in Billy, I always knew that I wanted to do something in performing," Holland said in 2012, after filming The Impossible. "I always knew that I wanted to have a future in the performing arts, I had no idea that it was going to be acting in movies." 

He's gone on to cite The Impossible's critical success and his role in it as a key moment in his journey — the one that solidified acting and film as his place in the showbiz firmament. Though this might seem to put him at a disadvantage compared to actors who have been training from childhood (and occasionally even infancy), in many ways it's a strength. He brings a fresh perspective, a lack of entitlement, and a connection to the world beyond the spotlight that he is passionate about maintaining.

He's close to his brothers

The kind of life change Holland has experienced never just changes one life. Indeed, entire families are often swept up in the rush towards success and sudden, extreme visibility, and the Hollands are no exception. One particular amusing manifestation of this came towards the end of 2018 when, according to Dominic Holland, the balance of power within the home revealed itself as very different indeed. 

His sons Sam and Harry, enjoying a trip abroad, found themselves without cash, and, rather than expose their predicament to their father, called up their brother Tom for some financial assistance. They ended up so flush, Dominic notes, they hired jet skis. But it's not all fun and games in the Holland household — the brothers have taken advantage of their new circumstances to set up the Brothers Trust, which aims to support worthy charities through monetary donations and visibility efforts. So far, the Trust has supported organizations including the Lunchbowl Network for children in Nairobi's Kiberia slum; Debra, which supports sufferers of Epidermolysis Bullosa; and Momentum, a charity based out of Kingston Hospital where the brothers were born.

The hardest thing about fame is being apart from his dog

For all its riches and amusements, fame does come with one especially difficult sacrifice for Holland: time with his beloved dog, Tessa. Pictures of the blue Staffordshire Bull Terrier flood his Instagram, from photos of her dressed as a fairy to her welcoming him home. He was with her, in fact, when he learned he'd snagged the role of Spider-Man (from Marvel's official Instagram, followed by a more proper call from Kevin Feige) and she's accompanied him on the red carpet. 

Sadly, the life of an actor just isn't suited to a dog accustomed to the easier rhythms of family life, and so he must resort to FaceTime to see her when he's on the road, or gazing at a painting of her sweet grey mug his parents commissioned for him. When he does manage to make his way home, he spends as much time as possible with her, to the point of waking up beside her. Hopefully, wherever Holland's journey takes him next, it leaves room for the dog he calls his "angel."