Arts·Q with Tom Power

Tom Holland on reaching new levels of fame and the challenges of The Crowded Room

In an interview with Q’s Tom Power, the Spider-Man star talks about his relaxed relationship to fame, and his emotionally taxing new role as a mass shooter.

The Spider-Man star takes on a very different role in new Apple+ series

Head shot of Tom Holland.
Tom Holland poses for a portrait to promote the television miniseries The Crowded Room on June 1, 2023, in New York. (Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

In his latest work, The Crowded Room, British actor Tom Holland takes on a character miles away from Peter Parker, the role that made him a mega-star in Marvel's Spider-Man movies. In the series — which he also co-executive produced — Holland plays mass shooter Danny Sullivan, a character loosely based on real-life criminal Billy Milligan, who was the first person in United States history to be acquitted of a major crime due to dissociative identity disorder.

In an interview with Q's Tom Power, Holland says it was a role that was challenging in a way that was different from anything he'd done before.

"It's just putting yourself in the shoes of someone who is suffering from the results of childhood trauma and feeling those feelings on a daily basis," he says. "I'd be naive to say that I understand what it is he's been through, but I feel his pain. Waking up every day going to work and having to cry for six hours every day is a really taxing thing to do."

He adds that the role sometimes took a toll on his own mental health in ways he didn't expect.

"I lost a lot of weight," says Holland. "I had this crazy haircut. I was gone. I was tired. I was emotionally drained. And I'd look in the mirror and I wouldn't see the person that I would see today, you know? So it was tough."

While many actors who start working as children struggle with the pressure of adult expectations, being a family's breadwinner before you hit puberty, or being isolated from peers, Holland says that wasn't his experience. He first started performing professionally in 2008, taking on the titular role in the West End production of Billy Elliot, but says it was just something that he kind of fell into.

"I was just a young kid who loved dancing and Billy Elliot kind of happened," he says. "And then after Billy Elliot, I got an agent. Again, I didn't look for an agent, she found me. She sent me to an audition. I didn't ask her to. She just found one. I went to it. I got the job. It was shooting in Thailand for five months.... My brothers came, my mum and dad came. We had this unbelievable time, and I just never stopped doing it."

Holland claims it was never about fame — he just kept acting and the fame followed. It hints at a more balanced relationship to the work than some other actors have, and that includes not worrying about making producers and studios upset.

"The secret is, you might be under contract and you're not allowed to go snowboarding. Guess what? I go snowboarding all the time," he says. They just don't know about it. I don't care. I like my life. I'm going to enjoy myself. I'm confident I'm not going to break my leg."

I didn't realize there was another gear…. Now I get followed everywhere I go. There's apaparazzi that sit outside my house.- Source

That said, he acknowledges that there are levels to fame: Billy Elliot-famous is very different from Spider-Man fame, and that first Spider-Man movie fame is different from third Spider-Man movie fame.

"After the first film came out, I remember thinking to myself — I was, I don't know, 20 — 'Wow, I'm famous now. This is it. This is what being famous is,'" he says. "And then the second film came out and I was like, 'Oh, wow. I'm, like, even more famous now.' I didn't realize there was another gear. And that was it for me. I was like, 'Wow, this is. This is it. Now I get followed everywhere I go. There's paparazzi that sit outside my house. I can't have a relationship with someone without it being front page news.' And the third film came out and it kicked up to another level, that has now been life changing."

The key to dealing with it, according to Holland, is to keep a tight circle of people who really "know me for me."

"There have been times in the last five years where friends have been like 'Bro, you need to chill for a second. You're getting a little bit lost,'" he says. "Those are the moments that are really informative. If a newspaper writes that about me, I'm like, 'Well, you don't know who I am, so I don't really worry about your opinion.' I keep my friends really close, and I'm delighted to say that none of them are afraid of being honest. If they don't like my work, they'll tell me. If they love my work, they'll tell me."

The full interview with Tom Holland is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview with Tom Holland produced by Vanessa Nigro.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.