Why a teen Peter Parker is some­thing to mar­vel at in the new Spi­der-Man

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - ERIN JENSEN

When dol­ing out se­nior su­perla­tives, “Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing” star Tom Hol­land is most likely to suc­ceed at play­ing a teenage Peter Parker.

Hol­land was just 19 when Mar­vel an­nounced he would don the red-and-blue sec­ond-skin suit as Spi­der-Man, the high-school su­per­hero who owes his web-shoot­ing and wall-climb­ing abil­i­ties to a bite from a ra­dioac­tive spi­der. His rel­a­tively young age is some­thing to mar­vel at.

Weeks af­ter the first Spi­der­Man movie opened in 2002, star Tobey Maguire turned 27. An­drew Garfield neared 29 as “The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man” pre­mièred in 2012.

Hol­land, whose 15-year-old Parker bal­ances sav­ing the world and pass­ing his Span­ish class, cel­e­brated his 21st birth­day in June. Wear­ing hood­ies and sneak­ers and as­sum­ing a higher-pitched Amer­i­can ac­cent, the ag­ile Bri­tish ac­tor be­liev­ably pulls off the role of a pubescent teen.

“Be­ing able to see that the cul­ture is ac­knowl­edg­ing your ex­is­tence” mat­ters to younger au­di­ences, says so­cial psy­chol­o­gist Eileen Zur­briggen, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Cruz. “See­ing a hero or hero­ine who is a young per­son is val­i­dat­ing, but less so if you can tell that they’re ac­tu­ally 28 or 29.”

The ear­lier Spi­der-Man movies are far from the only projects guilty of cast­ing ac­tors sev­eral years older than their char­ac­ters. But Hol­ly­wood is in­creas­ingly aware of the need for au­then­tic­ity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The new Spi­der-Man film boasts a di­verse cast, which pro­ducer Amy Pas­cal says was in­spired by “re­al­ity.”

Pro­duc­ing a story that re­flected a le­git­i­mate teenage ex­pe­ri­ence was im­por­tant to Home­com­ing di­rec­tor Jon Watts.

“That was a con­stant thing, re­mind­ing Tom — and Tom re­mind­ing me, too, some­times — that if you were 15, would you re­ally do that?” Watts says. “What is your thought process, be­cause you think dif­fer­ently. And al­ways try­ing to put your­self back in the shoes of when you were that age and let that drive the char­ac­ter.”

It can pay off if a teenage story res­onates with a young au­di­ence. The ado­les­cent love story “Ev­ery­thing, Ev­ery­thing,” star­ring Amandla Sten­berg, 18, and Nick Robin­son, 22, has been the most pop­u­lar movie at the box of­fice this year among teens ages 13 to 17, ac­cord­ing to comS­core/Screen En­gine’s PostTrak au­di­ence sur­vey. That age group ac­counts for 13 per cent of film­go­ers thus far in 2017.

Cast­ing di­rec­tor Marci Liroff, a board mem­ber for the Cast­ing So­ci­ety of Amer­ica, says hir­ing an ac­tor for a teen role boils down to bud­get and be­liev­abil­ity.

“If you hire a mi­nor who’s un­der 18, we’re re­stricted in the amount of hours that we can use them on set,” says Liroff, who cast both a teenage Lind­say Lo­han and a 20some­thing Rachel McA­dams for 2004’s “Mean Girls.”

Fan­dango.com man­ag­ing ed­i­tor Erik Davis sees the shift to cast­ing ac­tors who are closer to the age of their roles as a trend, cit­ing Michael Bay’s de­ci­sion to hire 15year-old Is­abela Moner for a prom­i­nent role in “Trans­form­ers: The Last Knight.”

“You’re get­ting film­mak­ers now where this is a very im­por­tant thing for them that they find peo­ple who are age-ap­pro­pri­ate,” Davis says. “That’s why we’re see­ing a lot of fresher tal­ent in some of th­ese big­ger movies, be­cause they’re try­ing to find new ac­tors and new faces — young faces that they can hold on to for more than one movie, es­pe­cially with fran­chises. They want ac­tors that they can kind of grow with.”

TV is also see­ing its share of more re­al­is­tic cast­ing. The stars of Net­flix’s con­tro­ver­sial teen-sui­cide drama “13 Rea­sons Why,” Kather­ine Lang­ford and Dy­lan Min­nette, are in their early 20s. The lead of the CW’s Archie comics up­date “Riverdale,” New Zealand ac­tor K.J. Apa, just turned 20.

“We needed to cast some­one who was a teenager on the cusp of be­ing a young man,” says Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sa­casa, who searched six or seven months for his star. “It wouldn’t have worked if we’d cast some­one who was 25 or 26, be­cause they’re on the other side of that. KJ’s a lit­tle bit older, but he’s cer­tainly not eight or nine years older.”

For younger Spi­der-Man fans, at­ten­tion to au­then­tic­ity can trans­late to an­tic­i­pa­tion. Hol­land’s Parker had an in­tro­duc­tory role in last year’s “Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War,” which ex­cited Daniel Az­bel, 15, who lives near Toronto. The con­trib­u­tor for Get Reel Movies looks for­ward to see­ing the movie.

“In scenes in Civil War where he’s just at home with Aunt May, it just re­ally felt like it was some­body that would maybe go to my school,” Az­bel says. “It makes it feel more re­al­is­tic . ... That he looks like a 15-year-old just adds to the re­lata­bil­ity and to why I like the char­ac­ter.”

Spi­der-Man devo­tee Nour Har­rak, 21, of Mis­sis­sauga, who for­merly co-hosted the Ul­ti­mate Spin, a Spidey fan pod­cast, goes so far as to en­dorse Hol­land as “the per­fect high-school Peter Parker.”

“I thought the (pre­vi­ous) movies did the best job that they could to make the ac­tors feel as young as pos­si­ble,” he says. “But lin­ing them up side by side (and) now hav­ing Tom Hol­land, there was a point where even­tu­ally I thought they out­grew the role.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tions that are di­verse and more re­al­is­tic are the op­ti­mal way for teens to be de­picted in movies and TV, Zur­briggen says.

CHUCK ZLOTNICK, COLUMBIA PIC­TURES

Tom Hol­land, who was 19 when he got the role, stars as Peter Parker in "Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing."

WARNER BROS. PIC­TURES

Nick Robin­son and Amandla Sten­berg in "Ev­ery­thing, Ev­ery­thing" are 22 and 18, re­spec­tively, part of what makes the movie so pop­u­lar with 13 to 17 year olds.

DEAN BUSCHER/NET­FLIX

K.J. Apa, 20, plays Archie An­drews in "Riverdale."

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