In the Russo Brothers’ new drama “Cherry,” Tom Holland portrays a young man who becomes addicted to opioids following a traumatic overseas tour of duty during the Iraq War. The character’s PTSD is so significant he resorts to heroin, among other drugs, and his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo) follows him down a very destructive path. During an interview earlier this week, the 24-year-old actor reveals that journalists have actually asked him if he’s taken heroin to prepare for the role. It left this journalist, who has covered the business for over 15 years, slack-jawed.
“It’s like when people ask you questions about the ‘Spider-Man’ movies that they know you can’t answer,” Holland says. “And you’re like why would you even? Do you really think I’m going to tell you? But anyway, moving on, sorry.”
Of course, Holland’s most famous role is that of Marvel’s famous webslinger, but don’t expect any tidbits on the third installment, current in production, here. Instead, Holland reflects on his research for author Nico Walker’s pseudo-autobiography, his reunion with the Russo Brothers, and, oh, yes, his thoughts on just who that mystery “WandaVision” guest star might be.
The Playlist: What made you want to play this character, Cherry?
Tom Holland: Oh gosh, loads of things really. I mean, firstly, the Russo brothers. Two people I really look up to, two people that I really admire. They’ve been very kind to me over the years. They changed my life in casting me in Spider-Man, so I felt like there was some debt there that it needed to be repaid. And the story and the character and the opportunity, the challenge. I love pushing myself. I love doing things I’ve never done before. That said, I never, I didn’t ever do heroin, which seems to be everyone’s favorite question at the moment.
Wait, time out. People are asking you if you’ve done heroin, like for this role?
Yeah. I’ve had a few people say, “Did you try it?” I’m like, “No, I didn’t.” The most damaging drug to plague the earth.
I just want to know what journalist thinks you’re going to admit you did heroin for like a role. I just find that hilarious. Sorry, go ahead. My bad.
Yeah. It’s like when people ask you questions about the “Spider-Man” movies that they know you can’t answer. And you’re like why would you even? Do you really think I’m going to tell you? But anyway, moving on, sorry.
All good. So you were talking about how this was one of the toughest roles you’ve done in your career so far. What was the specific toughest aspect about the performance? What worried you the most after you read the script?
I mean, physically it was really tough. I lost a lot of weight for the opening portion of the film where I was, the dope life, and that was really tough. But then again, I’m no stranger to physically demanding roles. Playing Spider-Man has really, really beat my ass over the years. I think the emotional aspect of telling this story and maintaining that kind of level of anguish and betrayal and sorrow over the course of the 53-day-shoot was really, really taxing and tiring. But it lends itself to helping the film. I mean, me being tired is really, really helpful as the character, as someone who’s going through so much. So I was able to kind of use that as a bit of a secret weapon, if you like.
Was Nico a resource at all? Did you feel like you had to live up to what he had written?
Yeah, to a certain degree. I mean the book is quite a large or quite a big departure from what actually happened in his life. And our film is quite a big departure from the book. So I had some creative freedom to kind of bring my own spin to the character. But I think the biggest thing that I took away from his book is the way in which he spoke. He kind of had this slam poetry kind of way of articulating himself. And I wanted to make sure that throughout the voice-over portion of the film, that that was very, very prominent. So that’s something that the Russo’s and I worked on for quite a long time. I mean, we only really finished the voice-over in December of last year. I remember Apple being like, “Guys, we need the film now. Like why do you keep recording these different lines?” So, we’ve been working on the voice-over for a very long time.
Speaking of the Russos, I saw an interview you did with them and they were talking about how the fact that unlike a lot of actors they know, or actually, I think they were comparing you to Robert Downey Jr., in that you sort of have a team around you that helps you prepare for this role. Were they exaggerating, or do you have specific people that you always go to assist you in all sorts of different things?
Yeah, absolutely. I travel with a team. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s an entourage, because they’re all professionals that we’ve met along the way on the job. And we’ve kind of come together to be this team of people.
I’ve got Rachel Speke, who is my hair and makeup artist. She is easily one of the most talented hair and makeup artists I’ve ever worked with. She was so instrumental in bringing this character to life. There’s six very different chapters and very different versions of this character. So, for her to be able to make or design six different looks while maintaining the same sort of boyish charm and character was really difficult, but she absolutely smashed out of the park. I travel with my Drew, he’s my costumer, my dialect coach Rick Lipton, who I’ve worked with for eight or nine years, and then my younger brother comes with me to help me sort of just get through the hardship of making a film like this.
Obviously, you’ve played Americans before, was there something specific you were trying to achieve with this dialect? Were you going for an Ohio sort of accent, or were you just trying to make sure that you didn’t slip out of American as much as possible?
I mean, we wanted this film to be as authentic as possible, and that’s why we shot it in Cleveland. We’re very lucky that my two directors are from Cleveland. And by complete coincidence, my dialect coach, Rick, who I’ve worked with, I think, I don’t know, on 20 films, is also from Cleveland. So, he was able to kind of really help me find the really slight nuances that would only ever be found in Ohio. And it was really helpful, it was really helpful.
Going back to the script and making the film, were there any scenes in particular that you were most worried about? Or do you not think that way when you have a project in front of you? It’s just every day is every day.
Every day is every day. I know I’m capable of achieving what I’m going for. But that said, some days were harder than others. I was really lucky. I worked with my acting coach that I used to work with when I was a child, called Ben Perkins. And before we went out to Cleveland, we sat down and we went through the script. And we just tore it apart and wrote notes on everything and basically came up with every single contingency that can happen on the day, so I felt very prepared. But that said, there were days where I was really nervous about the scene, but then lucky to have the Russos there to support me and make sure that I did the best job possible.
Again, I want to ask about the Russo’s. Obviously, you’ve worked with them on a number of MCU movies, but how would you describe them on “Cherry”? Did you feel like they were any different making this film, they had a different perspective?
I think that this is what is so special about the two of them is no, there was no real difference. The only difference is, is that probably one day of shooting on an “Avengers” film cost as much as the entire shoot of “Cherry.”
They’re very kind people, they are without ego. It doesn’t matter who has the best idea, the best idea always wins. If it came from the caterer or myself or the key grip, it could be anyone. So they’re an absolute delight to work with and work for. So, no, there wasn’t really a big difference between the two of them.
I spoke to your co-star, Ciara Bravo, a couple of weeks ago and her audition process was sort of startling because for her she never met with Russos in person and she never auditioned with you. And she was quite nervous showing up, hoping that you guys had chemistry. Were you nervous about that?
For me the whole idea of chemistry is we’re actors, you hire us to have chemistry. So, I’ve never really bought that two people can not have chemistry on screen. I think that probably boils down to one person isn’t a very good actor. So for me, I wasn’t necessarily nervous about that. I was just nervous that I was going on this incredibly scary journey and I was worried that I, maybe this person and I don’t become really good friends. And I just was really lucky that within the first week we became great friends and we were there to support each other. So, I had no doubt in my mind that she wasn’t capable of doing this. And she was absolutely incredible. But the biggest thing for me was that we just became great friends and it was a lovely, lovely thing to have on a set that is so difficult to maintain.
No doubt. Listen, I know actors get this question all the time, especially actors who are starring in such massive movies like you, about the idea of sort of doing “one for them, one for you,” a big studio blockbuster and maybe then doing a smaller indie. And I always hear actors say, “Oh no, I’m just taking the best role that’s coming my way.” But I’m looking at your resume and your schedule, and you have to commit so much of your time to the MCU movies. When you have free time, are you looking for films like “Cherry” and “Devil All the Time”? Films that might be a little different that might stretch you in a different way than your other commitments?
Yeah. I mean the whole one for me, one for you, thing I do, but it’s one for me and one for my granddad. My granddad Bob is like my biggest fan, so films like “Cherry,” “Devil All the Time,” films like James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z,” those are the types of films that he enjoys. So, the way I look at it is, I do one for me, superhero film, “Uncharted,” “Chaos Walking.” And I do one for granddad Bob, “Cherry,” “Devil All the Time,” “The Impossible,” and all of those sorts of things. So yeah, you just take it as it comes, you see what comes in. If nothing comes in,[I’ll] take a break, which is what looks like the rest of my year looks like, which is really exciting. But yeah, I like to pretend that I have this 10-year strategic plan, but really I’m absolutely chatting out my ass and I have no idea what I’m doing.
You’re pretending the Oscar’s happening within 10 years. It’s going to happen at the end of that road.
Yeah. It’s an interesting one. People keep asking me like, “How do you feel that people are talking about you for the Oscars and all that sort of stuff?” I’m honored, it’s an amazing thing. One of those things that I do have to kind of pinch myself and laugh at, I’m only 24 and I’ve been in this business for no longer than 10 years. So, I hope that I have a long career ahead of me. So I am looking to the future. You don’t want to achieve everything before you’re ready.
I will not ask you anything about “Spider-Man” because I know you can’t say anything. But, I’m assuming you’re watching “WandaVision?”
I’m obsessed with it. It’s my favorite Marvel thing I’ve ever seen.
So, my question for you is, Paul Bettany, I’m sure you know, has done a lot of interviews where he said there is a super special guest star. I know you’re not the guest star, it’s not a question about that. But…
How do you know that though?
Because it’s someone he hasn’t worked with, that’s what he said.
But I’ve never worked with Paul.
But you’ve been in films together.
But we’ve never been on set together, so it could be me.
It could be you. [Laughs.] But if it wasn’t you, do you have a personal guess, just a guess, we will qualify it as that, who you think be the super special guest star?
Ooh, do you know what, don’t have a Scooby to who it might be, I really don’t. And I don’t want to say it in case I’m right, and people think I spoiled it. Because people think I have inside information. So I’m going to have to keep my mouth shut there. I honestly haven’t a clue who it might be.
But you’re enjoying the show.
I’m absolutely loving the show. I love the camaraderie that we have on set every Saturday. We work through the weekends. So, every Saturday everyone’s on set, talking about it and everyone’s spitting their theories out of what’s going on. I love the apprehension of waiting for Friday. I think Elizabeth Olsen is unbelievable in it. The way she can bounce between the different styles of acting and sitcoms is amazing. And I think it’s really funny. I really think it’s really funny. And Paul, In that last episode, when he was doing the interview, I was howling. It’s so funny. I think he’s brilliant. Both of them are fantastic. I love it.
“Cherry” is available on Apple TV+ worldwide on Friday.