GQ’s annual Men of the Year issue is here, and Tom Holland is on one of the covers as the “Superhero of the Year”. It’s a genial interview, because Holland is a genial guy, though there is a recurring thread about Holland’s disturbed sleep and how his nerves and anxiety manifest when his public persona is so invested in being The Nice One. That can be a hard image to maintain, even for genuinely kind people, and it does seem to have taken a toll on Holland, in the form of that disturbed sleep, if nothing else. But he also just sounds kind of tired, in general, after years of working virtually non-stop, including on some of the biggest movies in the world. Holland has had a lot of pressure put on him since he became Spider-Man, and you can feel it in this interview. He is equal parts a young man who has figured out how to work with that burden, and who seems like he desperately needs a break from it.
Not that he’s a complainer, he is not. Even as Holland talks about learning to say no and grow out of the “say yes to it all, never let any down” mindset of his younger years, it’s important to note that Tom Holland does not complain. Even when they touch on the topic of his relationship with Zendaya, he isn’t complaining about the invasion of privacy, he’s matter of fact about it as part and parcel with the fame deal, and he mostly just sounds exhausted to have yet another facet of his life exposed and exploited. If there is a theme to this interview, it could be that Tom Holland Is Very Tired. Not that he says so, in so many words, but the subtext is there. Working non-stop, on huge movies, tons of physical training, a crash diet or two for roles that didn’t require him to be muscley—all the ingredients of burn out.
It’s a good reminder, though, how likeable Tom Holland is. Even when his tone has changed, when he is markedly more reserved than his first glut of interviews in the 2010s, when he became Spider-Man at 19. He’s always had a cheery presence, and I don’t think that’s been lost, but this is the first time I’ve really clocked that Tom Holland has grown up. He’s still fresh-faced, no matter how much muscle he puts on, he’s going to look young for a while yet, but he sounds…grown. A little bit tired, a little bit jaded, confident enough to look back and say, I wish I did that differently. He’s only 25, but that’s just about the age when we are old enough to look back and start seeing the connections, the paths taken and not taken, that bring us to where we are. He says, “Let me tell you, when you’re a 19-year-old kid, they really do take advantage of you. You don’t know any better. Now I look back and go, ‘Wow, I wish someone had told me that I could say no.’”
There’s a whole chunk of the industry built on young people feeling pressured to do what the older folks in the room want, but at least it seems Holland had emerged from that more or less unscathed. And his ambitions remain intact, despite the edges of burnout showing in this interview, as his Spider-Man co-star Jacob Batalon says Holland talks about being James Bond “a lot a lot”. That might be a long-term goal, though, as no one knows what the Bond producers want out of their next guy, but a much younger Bond would be one way to set apart from Daniel Craig’s now-iconic iteration of the character. (The people who freaked out about 37-year-old Craig being “too young” to be Bond, though, would probably expire on the spot should mid-20s, baby-faced Tom Holland become the next Bond.) That’s the one thing that tells me that Holland’s fantasy of more or less retiring young is just that: a fantasy. The guy is still plenty hungry, he’s just coming off a crazy six year run in some gigantic f-cking movies that took a lot out of him. Get a little rest in him and something tells me Tom Holland, nice as ever, will be back raring to go.