Looking forward to dry land

Tom Holland (above), who plays seaman Thomas Nickerson, was seasick for two days during the filming of In The Heart Of The Sea.
Tom Holland (above), who plays seaman Thomas Nickerson, was seasick for two days during the filming of In The Heart Of The Sea.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

It may be about a 19th-century seafaring disaster, but In The Heart Of The Sea also has something for Marvel movie-obsessed fans: Thor and Spider-Man are in the cast.

Chris Hemsworth, the Australian star of the Thor films (2011-2013), plays first mate Owen Chase, while Tom Holland, the British actor recently announced as the new Spider-Man, is seaman Thomas Nickerson.

Chase and Nickerson wrote first- person accounts of their voyage on the Essex, the New England whaling ship whose disastrous encounter with a whale in 1820 inspired Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Holland, 19, who got his start on the London stage as the lead in Billy Elliot: The Musical in 2008, says he learnt a lot being on set with Hemsworth, 32. Throughout the shoot, which featured demanding action sequences filmed on or in the water, he says he never once saw his co-star complain.

"The main lesson I learnt from Chris is he never moans," says Holland, who, like the others, was put on a calorie-restriction diet so they would look like the starving crew. "At that point, I was a 16-year-old kid and I thought if you're a Hollywood superstar, you can moan and get whatever you want.

"But Chris was not, even when the going got tough," he adds. "When I felt like moaning, I would look across and see Chris and be like, 'If he doesn't, I have no right to.' That's something I will try and continue to emulate throughout my career."

And it is set to be quite the career. Holland was little known before being chosen to replace Andrew Garfield in the Spider-Man franchise based on the Marvel comics.

His first appearance as Peter Parker will be in next year's Captain America: Civil War, an ensemble outing starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson.

Before In The Heart Of The Sea, Holland's biggest film was The Impossible (2012), a harrowing drama about a family that survives the 2004 tsunami. On that shoot, he learnt from the example set by another Australian actor, Naomi Watts, who played his mother.

"Naomi carried me through that process. I'd just left Billy Elliot, so I was in shape physically, but the emotional side of the role was where the challenge was and she was there every step of the way," he says. "The lesson I learnt from her is you can never work hard enough. That lady - she's got two kids and she's a mum, but she worked so unbelievably hard on that film."

Having done The Impossible and In The Heart Of The Sea, though, Holland has had his fill of water scenes. For the latter film, he - like most of the cast and crew - got seasick. "I was seasick for two days at the beginning," says Holland, who impishly suggests that Hemsworth was green around the gills too, but is downplaying that to journalists.

Sequences on a boat are technically more demanding, he explains. "It's fun being in the water, it's not so fun being on the water in a boat because trying to control the boat when there's a current and making sure you hit the mark for the character is an absolute nightmare."

Holland also had a close call because of a mis-timed breath during an underwater shot. "There's a moment in the film when I get dragged off the boat by a sail and the shot that follows is me underwater beneath the sail.

"By accident, I pushed the air out of my mouth before they pulled away the regulator, so I had no air and was trapped in the sail.

"It goes to show how amazing the safety guys are, that as soon as you signal that you need air, a diver swims in, puts a regulator in your mouth and saves your life."

He will stay much drier for Spider- Man, but even though he is looking forward to it, he knows he has big shoes to fill, following Garfield and Tobey Maguire's performances as the web-slinging hero. "I'm honoured to be given this opportunity, but it's kind of daunting too. Andrew and Tobey were awesome. So I've got a lot to live up to."

Until he makes his debut as a superhero, however, he is enjoying the quiet life while it lasts.

"It hasn't changed my life yet. I can see it changing my life on the horizon, but I've been away all this year doing some cool indie movies," says Holland, who will appear in two indie thrillers, Pilgrimage and Backcountry, next year. "So I'm just taking it one day at a time and enjoying being a kid, really."

Alison de Souza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline 'Looking forward to dry land'. Subscribe