Nowadays, Tom Holland is a household name due to his popular portrayal as Peter Parker, the teenager with a penchant for science who becomes a superhero after being bitten by a radioactive spider. The much-beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe trilogy of superhero films will culminate in the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home this week.
But just where did Holland even come from, and how did he become famous? It’s a question that nags many a Spider-Man fan since his turn as the webslinger was arguably what brought him into mainstream pop-culture consciousness for the vast majority of people.
Indeed, Holland has been absolutely crushing it in the role of Peter ever since being inducted into the MCU with 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Tobey Maguire’s turn as the web-head is praised by many — in particular for nailing the geeky tone of Peter Parker — and Andrew Garfield’s interpretation won raves for getting the attitude right when the character is actually donning the red-and-blue mask — giving signature quips and snarky comebacks to wrong-doers in a fashion that was true to the comics. However, Many consider Holland’s Peter a great balance of both of these aspects of the superhero. Plus, as Zendaya has pointed out, Holland is also quite skilled at the character’s physicality, convincingly landing flips and doing acrobatics and what not.
It turns out Holland’s skill at physicality is actually what set him off in his show business career. The Brit, who was born in 1996, started out doing hip-hop dance classes in Wimbledon as a child. But, unfortunately, his classmates bullied him at school for his dancing, which is the type of hardship Peter Parker himself endured.
However, Holland’s talent soon proved to be something that would take him far, as he was discovered in 2006 by choreographer Lynne Paige during one of his school group shows at the Richmond Dance Festival. He landed his first big break at the tender age of 12 on the West End in 2008 in Billy Elliot the Musical, in which he starred in a supporting role as Billy’s best friend Michael Caffrey, according to Richmond & Twickenham Times.
Eventually, Holland began rotating in as the lead role of Billy with three other performers before concluding his run of the musical in 2010. However, before leaving the role behind him, he was selected to star in a special fifth-anniversary show. The performance reportedly impressed the musical’s composer, rock legend Elton John, who was in attendance at the show, calling it “astonishing,” notes the IMDB biography of Holland.
Only two months after leaving the musical, Holland won an audition for the starring role in the disaster drama The Impossible, his cinematic debut. In 2011, Holland scored a role in the UK dub voice acting role for the Studio Ghibli animated film Arrietty, according to AnimeNewsNetwork.
Holland’s role in The Impossible, co-starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, was universally acclaimed upon the film’s release in 2012. Indeed, when you watch the film, it’s basically impossible (pun intended) not to get misty-eyed at his character’s journey, based on a true story of the struggle for one family to survive and reunite in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami while they were vacationing in Thailand. The film garnered the actor several awards, including the National Board of Review Award for Breakthrough Performance here in the US.
Holland took on a number of other critically acclaimed roles in the years leading up to being recruited by Marvel, including appearing in two episodes of BBC Two’s historical miniseries drama Wolf Hall and co-starring in the Ron Howard-helmed film In the Heart of the Sea, both in 2015 — the same year Marvel announced Holland would be the newest Peter Parker. That was the moment Holland’s life “flipped upside down,” as he noted in a tweet, and the rest is history.
Catch Holland swing into action when Spider-Man: No Way Home hits theaters Dec. 17.