Before landing his buzzed-about role as the crime-fighting webslinger in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tom Holland faced his fair share of adversaries. But instead of supervillains, Holland had to deal with real-life bullies.
“I had my rough patches,” Holland, 21, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
As a talented young dancer (he played the title role in a London run of Billy Elliot the Musical at age 12), Holland fielded harassment from peers throughout his younger years.
“There was times when I was bullied about dancing and stuff,” he says. “But you couldn’t hit me hard enough to stop me from doing it.”
Holland, who has three younger brothers, began dancing in a local hip-hop class, where he was discovered by a Billy Elliot choreographer. “They saw potential in me and they started sending dance teachers to my house,” he explains.
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Holland’s experiences with bullying helped him relate to his superhero alter ego Peter Parker, a charmingly geeky teenager who, when he’s not saving the world, braves another rough arena: high school. “I, like Peter, accepted I wasn’t the cool kid at school and just found my group of friends and got on with it,” he says.
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Now a rising film star — he has shared the screen with Naomi Watts, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr. and Sienna Miller, to name a few — Holland has proven every bully wrong. But he’s just happy his blockbuster-in-waiting will directly relate to young people going through the same troubles.
“Peter Parker’s storyline hits every key point of growing up,” he says. “It’s so fantastic for young kids to see a superhero going through the things they go through.”