Tom Holland Forced Himself To Suffer For The Darkest Role Of His Career

Tom Holland plays a mentally ill criminal in The Crowded Room on AppleTV+ and the role almost made him lose his mind.

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

Tom Holland in The Crowded Room

Tom Holland is best known for his lighthearted portrayal of Spider-Man, but the actor is stretching his acting chops in the AppleTV+ crime thriller The Crowded Room. As reported by Variety, the series shot for a staggering nine months. Holland opened up about the experience, saying that the character was so in his head that he had a “meltdown.”

“I was seeing myself in him, but in my personal life,” Holland said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I remember having a bit of a meltdown at home and thinking, like, ‘I’m going to shave my head. I need to shave my head because I need to get rid of this character.’ And, obviously, we were mid-shooting, so I decided not to… It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

The character Tom Holland couldn’t shake was Danny Sullivan, a young man with serious mental health issues. Set in the 1970s, The Crowded Room was created by Akiva Goldsman, whose fingerprints are on major projects from A Beautiful Mind to Star Trek: Picard

Goldsman was inspired by the book The Minds of Billy Milligan, which chronicled the true crimes of Milligan, a young man who was apprehended in 1979 for multiple rapes. That is who Danny Sullivan is loosely based on, and that is the mind Tom Holland had to inhabit.

Holland plays the psychologically tortured alleged criminal opposite Amanda Seyfried, the investigator trying to illuminate Sullivan’s connection to multiple missing person cases. Sullivan’s loose grip on reality complicates the investigation and makes for 10 episodes of winding, twisting television.

Tom Holland praised the series for being a thrill ride, but he admitted that he was not prepared for the mental difficulty of the part. “I’m no stranger to the physical aspects of the job doing the whole action-movie thing,” he said. “But the mental aspect, it really beat me up and it took a long time for me to recover afterwards, to sort of get back to reality.”

For support, Tom Holland turned to his co-star, Sasha Lane. Lane plays Ariana, a friend of Danny’s. Holland said that when he struggled to grasp Danny’s intentions or mindset in moments on set, Lane offered vulnerable insight that helped him get where he needed to go.

Tom Holland spider-man

The experience of making The Crowded Room changed Holland’s outlook on mental health. He consulted with psychiatrists to gain insight into Billy Milligan, and he was able to translate some of what he learned about triggers and stressors into his own life. For him, social media is a notable psychological pitfall.

Tom Holland said he hopes The Crowded Room will create “more respect and more sympathy” among viewers for people going through mental health struggles. “I hope that people will feel educated about the powers of mental health, the struggles, [and] our incredible abilities to survive.”

The Crowded Room charts new acting territory for Tom Holland. With the exception of the Russo Brothers’ film Cherry, Holland’s acting career as an adult has been characterized by action, fantasy, and fun. In his role as Danny Sullivan, he will get to flex very different muscles.

Still, his time flexing his physical muscles is not over yet. Tom Holland is expected to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in another standalone Spider-Man film. It is slated for a 2024 release, but Marvel’s release calendar was unreliable even before the WGA writers’ strike, so that may be subject to change.

There is more not known about the next Tom Holland Spider-Man film than it is known. The actor is rumored to appear in the upcoming animated film Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, but that cameo has not been confirmed. He is also attached to play Fred Astaire in a biopic about the performer. 

Tom Holland can be seen next in the June 9 premiere of The Crowded Room on AppleTV+. The series will then air one episode weekly.