In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” when Peter Parker (Tom Holland) wasn’t breaking away to avert catastrophes as his web-spinning alter ego, he and his schoolmates traveled through Europe in various planes, trains and automobiles in the company of teacher-chaperones Mr. Dell and Mr. Harrington, played by actors JB Smoove and Martin Starr. The grownups’ not-always-calm, cool demeanors while attempting to shield their students from harm provided many of the film’s biggest laughs.
And recently, Smoove and Starr reconvened on another mass transit trek, joining members of the press on a Los Angeles bus tour of some of the companies whose visual wizardry fuel the superheroics of the movie, to promote the home video release (the film’s available for digital download and bows on Blu Ray, Ultra HD and DVD on Oct. 1). And the laughter was just as free-flowing.
Take Smoove’s take on Holland as the perfect actor to embody the superhero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko after their first encounter on an Audi ad to promote the car company’s role in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
“Working with him on that commercial, I felt like ‘This kid might be the best Spider-Man ever!’ Because I just felt his energy, I saw what he was putting into the character,” Smoove told CNN. “And when you see someone putting that much energy into it, willing to do their own stunts and all these little things, the little nuances that makes Spider-Man Spider-Man…I was sitting there hoping a real radioactive spider bites this guy!”
And there’s Starr’s take on traveling through Prague, Venice and London during the shoot with the production, including a cast of young actors largely in their early 20s.
“Honestly, it was great that I had somebody close to my own age there,” said Starr. “Especially going away on a European tour like that, having a buddy like JB, who had similar interests than me. Because those kids were having a blast. It was not the kind of things that I needed to be doing in Europe. I feel like my experience was more food-centric, and the kids’ experience was more nightlife centric.”
“Those kids are a lot older than they seem, I’m telling you,” agreed Smoove. “I think one of those kids is 37.”
At the time of the actors’ conversation with CNN, Sony Pictures – which has long held the film rights to the wall-crawler – had not mended its temporarily broken fences with Marvel Studios, a division of Disney, to oversee the production of a third Spider-Man film, as it has on all of the Holland-starring appearances. With the situation now resolved and a third Marvel/Sony collaboration pending, it gives greater weight to Starr’s that filmmaker Jon Watts would continue to stay aboard the franchise, and more high-quality “Spider-Man” films would result.
“Honestly, the beauty of how it happened the first two times, there was presence from both [studios], but ultimately, Jon Watts did such a great job that all I really felt was his voice,” said Starr. “I don’t know what will happen, but I hope that whatever happens, that the movie turns out great. Because I’d love to see this series wrap up real sweet – assuming that they do three, and not 17. Maybe we’ll do 17 and we’ll keep getting asked back. That’d be lovely, see Mr. Harrington and Mr. Dell in their 70s.”
Starr said he found “Far From Home” ending tag sequence – spoiler alert! – featuring J.K. Simmons reprising his role from the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire trilogy as both Spidey and Peter Parker’s brash public and private tormentor, media titan J. Jonah Jameson, especially provocative.
“I’m excited to see where it goes,” he said.
“I am excited about J. Jonah Jameson coming back. I love [Simmons] as a human being and as an actor, and to have him pop back up into this series, as he was in the original, is so cool. And he’s so funny! I love the way they’ve contemporized his voice and that character to make him that online, loud, outspoken, political thing. It’s just a funny opportunity to play with and tap into.”
“I’m curious to see which of the villains makes an appearance in the next one,” he adds, “just because I love so much of the storytelling and we’ve gotten through two pretty big ones, to see if they go back and tap into villains that we had in some of the other iterations of Spider-Man, or whether someone totally new kind of pops out of the woodwork.”
A standup comic and former writer on “Saturday Night Live,” Smoove is best known for his role as Leon, Larry David’s live-in pal on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” while Starr’s career began with Judd Apatow-produced projects like “Freaks and Geeks” and “Knocked Up,” and he currently appears as the sardonic computer engineer Gilfoyle on “Silicon Valley.” Both have well-honed improv chops, and were allowed to sprinkle bits of their own inspiration into their scenes in “Far From Home.”
“There was a lot of freedom,” said Starr. “The script was great to begin with, but there were little pockets that you can find. You don’t always get the freedom to play in there, but Jon Watts was great at finding the time to allow a few takes of messing around. And especially this time around, a lot of it ended up in the movie.”
“A lot of times you don’t get a chance to know what you’re going to get until you get it’s on it’s feet,” added Smoove. “You get on set, you look around and you see what’s going on and you feel the energy of what it is. We got to do a lot of not just improvising with each other – you’ve got to improvise with everything going on around you. You’ve got to put things there that are not there…One thing Jon was very smart about was keeping us consistent in our humor in our attitudes as teachers. We got to be teachers first, and it came across well.”
Another big lure for both actors were the love they’ve had for comic books throughout their lives.
“The first thing I asked when they called me was, ‘What are my powers? Can I fly?’ Man, I just wanted some cool powers!” laughed Smoove. “I grew up on comic books. I was big into Spider-Man and the Avengers, of course. Also, I was heavily into the ‘What If…?’ Marvel franchise books. I still have tons of comic books packed away in a box, in plastic.
“When you’re reading [comics], you’re opening your mind up a little,” he added. It’s a little different than just going online looking at things, or going to the movies. Movies are great, but growing up on reading the books, I think it gave us a different kind of base than the kids have now. You got to create this in your mind, the movement. You’ve got to create that in your head while you’re reading it, ‘Wow, Spider-Man just punched Mr. Fantastic!’”
While “The X-Men’s” Wolverine would ultimately become his personal favorite, Starr said he felt a special connection Spider-Man in his youth.
“Because he was adolescent, because he was still in school. I could relate to him when I was a kid, unlike a lot of other superheroes that I was aware of,” he said. “This felt like, in the fantasy of being a child, something that could happen to me, getting bit by a spider and becoming super human…I felt like, ‘Any day now, this could be the day I get bit by a spider and become Spider-Man.’”