Robert Downey Jr. Explains Why Tom Holland Won His Spider-Man Audition

By Pierre Chanliau Updated:
Spider-Man, Peter Parker, Tony Stark, Iron Man

Over the last several weeks, fans have learned a lot about Tom Holland as a person and an actor. Holland has said that he's constantly growing as an actor , and that it would be “naive to say that my training is finished.” For instance, after returning from his role as Nathan Drake, Holland had some difficulty readjusting to the character of Peter Parker again in Spider-Man: No Way Home .

In another interview, Holland retold the story of how he met Robert Downey Jr. while auditioning for the role of Spider-Man. More interesting though is Downey's assessment of Holland as an actor and how he reacted to him when he first auditioned for the role.


In an extensive interview with GQ magazine , Tom Holland was asked about his audition for the role of Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War alongside Robert Downey Jr. in front of the Russo Brothers.

Holland remembers it “very well,” and that he was “obviously nervous” as he proceeded to introduce himself to the high-caliber actor:

“I mean, it would be strange if I hadn’t been nervous. Thankfully, weirdly, something happened that loosened the pressure valve on my anxiety that day. I saw Ant and Joe and then I saw Downey standing there in the casting room. I went over. I introduced myself. But I remember thinking, ‘That’s a bit odd. He doesn’t look like I’d imagined him or remembered.’"

Unfortunately, Holland realized his mistake when the actual Robert Downey Jr. walked into the room, and that he was actually speaking to Downey's stunt double:

"Still, I shook his hand, telling him, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ saying how excited I was at the opportunity, how much it means to me...” And then? “Well, then a door opens and in walks the actual Robert Downey Jr. I’d been chatting up his stunt double the entire time. So, actually, I got my jittery, loser vibe out of the way. And then, when I actually met Downey, I was a little more cool and collected.”

When asked about what sort of advice Downey gave him that fateful day, Holland explained that “He took me to one side and said, ‘I remember the feeling. I’ve been through this before and it is incredibly stressful. Enjoy the process and let your body take over.’”

Holland still holds onto this advice to this very day, recalling a scene he had filmed for Spider-Man: No Way Home when eating a bowl of cereal:

“Which is advice that I still use. I was doing a new Spider-Man scene just the other day and I had to eat a bowl of cereal. And I just couldn’t eat a bowl of cereal like a normal person — I was too in my head. And the director, Jon [Watts], goes, ‘What are you doing ?’ And I was like, ‘Sorry, I’m leading with my head and I need to lead with my body.’ So it was good advice. And I think that’s the piece of advice that got me the Spider-Man job ultimately.”

Robert Downey Jr. himself was also available to answer questions about Holland's audition, saying that the first thing he noticed about him was his hair:

“He had a lot of hair... I remember thinking, ‘What’s with the hair, dude?’”

The scene that the audition revolved around was Peter Parker's introduction in Civil War , in which Tony Stark surprises the teenager with an offer to help him fight Captain America. There isn't much improvisation in Marvel Studios films, let alone auditions, but Downey revealed that he changed the first line of dialogue to test Holland's acting:

“Yeah, I may have done that. I did that...And the kid handled it. He was seasoned, good presence. I could tell he had good kung fu; he could roll with the punches and keep it more than interesting. Remember, I’d been testing with a bunch of kids that day. They shall remain unnamed, but they all did well and any one of them would have brought something else to the part of Spider-Man.”

When asked the big question about why Tom Holland got the part, Downey said it was due to one thing: “Gravitas. Gravitas and the confidence to be able to take on the mantle:”

“Look, becoming Spider-Man is a lot ...So why does Tom Holland get to be Spider-Man? That character is the gold standard in the MCU. Iron Man? Whatever. When I became Iron Man few had even heard of the character, ergo less pressure. But Spider-Man? Everyone knows Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield did a good job. Tobey Maguire did a good job. So I ask you again: why does Tom Holland get to be number three?”

Downey further elaborated on his reasoning and that “What happened at the casting isn’t irrelevant but it isn’t everything . Like I said, it comes down to being able to carry the mantle,” but more concisely that Holland was able to endure the “trial by fire” when it came to such a role:

“To be able to weather the trial by fire that rains down on someone when taking on such a thing. Marvel fans are wonderfully yet terrifyingly committed. They absorb all of you. They expect to. Becoming Spider-Man is a bit like going down a K-hole: it’s easy to get lost in there. Add in the fact that you are worked relentlessly. It’s crazy. But Tom can handle it. I could tell. He’s a beekeeper.”

Downey was then asked what he meant by that odd term of “beekeeper,” and he explained it as a metaphor for himself, Holland, and everyone else working at Marvel Studios:

“Me, Tom, the Marvel guys, we’re beekeepers. It’s not sexy. It’s hot under those damn suits. You can’t see us. We’re sweating to make the sweet, sweet syrupy nectar to be consumed for our leaders. We’re all beekeepers. Overpaid beekeepers."

Putting the focus on Holland again, Downey said that he has “moxie,” and that Holland went full circle with his role in the Russos' Cherry :

"The great thing about Tom is he has that Chaplin-esque thing . He’s an honourable cockney. Do you know where the terms ‘cockney’ comes from? Middle English ‘coken-ey’, or a ‘cock’s egg’ — a small, unshapen egg. Tom’s different. He’s got moxie. He’s needed it. I can relate to that. And I’m so glad he got this radically different note in with Cherry with the Russos in the interim. He’s full circle.”


This interview may have been focused on Holland, but the responses from Downey were especially candid about the industry and huge franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it's still cool to see Downey compliment Holland so heavily and what made him stand out compared to others who auditioned for the role of Peter Parker.

Although, that comment from Downey about Tom Holland's hair is quite funny in hindsight, considering the actor's recent complaints of wearing a wig for the Spider-Man threequel with Peter Parker now sporting shorter hair.

Whether Tom Holland's remains in MCU or not , it will be interesting to see how his career as an actor develops outside this enormous franchise and the character of Spider-Man.

- In This Article: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Release Date
December 17, 2021
- About The Author: Pierre Chanliau
Pierre Chanliau began as a news & feature writer for The Direct at the site's launch in 2020. As a longtime reader of superhero comic books, Pierre's knowledge of Marvel and DC is extensive, informing his reporting and editorial pieces regarding the MCU and DCU.