Captain America: Civil War directors Anthony and Joe Russo recall it was something of a civil war to cast Tom Holland as Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first of a five-movie deal between Sony Pictures, the studio that owns the Spider-Man screen rights, and Marvel Studios parent company Disney, Civil War introduces a 19-year-old Holland as a 15-year-old Peter Parker entangled between arguing Avengers Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans). Because the Disney production would spin the web-swinging superhero off into Sony's rebooted Spider-Man franchise set in the MCU, both studios had to sign off on their shared star after an exhaustive search.
"It was a unique experience casting Spider-Man then because we were working with Sony," Joe Russo told GQ when interviewed for new movie Cherry, which reunites the Avengers directors with their Spider-Man star. "I can't think of another time in movie history where two studios shared an asset as valuable as Spider-Man. So, of course, this made it a little bit of a complicated process from a casting standpoint. Like, who is going to be responsible for the casting of this role? Anthony and I are extremely opinionated and very bullish in our opinions, especially when it comes to cast because we cherish our opinions with them and have a very particular taste when it comes to our work style."
Before Holland personally auditioned for the Russos, veteran Marvel Studios casting director Sarah Finn knew the MCU had found its Spider-Man when she told the directors: "This is the guy. You are going to love him."
"Sarah should get all the credit for casting Holland as Spider-Man; she's the best in the business and she knows us. We had already done two films with her," Joe said. "So Holland came in. He did his test. We called Sarah straight after and said, 'Oh, my God, he's incredible. He's a movie star: he's got the charisma; he's got the range.' It's very rare someone walks into a room who has all the elements that make up a bona fide star. Holland had that thing."
After consulting with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, who would produce the character's first standalone in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, Joe recalled, "We talked with Feige at Marvel about Holland and he got excited and then we went to Sony... And they were like, 'Let's think about it for a minute.' We could tell we were meeting resistance from Sony. So we brought [Holland] back, brought him back, brought him back, and we were relentless in our pursuit of jamming him down the throat of the studio who owns this IP. It came down to a fight, yet Sony just kept dragging their feet."
"Look, we have a great relationship with Kevin. Winter Soldier was a big hit, doubling the box office from the previous film, then coming into Civil War Sony is looking at us going, 'OK, so you guys have the Midas touch, here’s our [Spider-Man] IP,'" Joe added of Sony's reservations. "But, also, they were reticent, nervous, about handing off something that could ultimately cost them hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars down the line."
Coming off of the box office disappointment that was 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which starred a 30-year-old Andrew Garfield, Anthony added the studio had reservations about an actual teenager carrying its Spider-Man franchise.
"Sony’s reservations were: 'Are we loaning it? Or are we giving it to them to help us reinvent it in a way that adds value for us?'" he said. "It was the first time Spider-Man had ever been cast as an actual teenager, right? Which was very important to us; there was a distinct nervousness of casting a kid."
When it came time for that "kid" to screen test opposite Downey Jr., the veteran actor ad-libbed to test Holland's acting chops.
"Yeah, I may have done that. I did that. nd 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," Downey said. "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. But why Holland? That's your question, right? Gravitas. Gravitas and the confidence to be able to take on the mantle."
Holland reprises the role in Spider-Man: No Way Home, releasing only in theaters on December 17.