The 2017 franchise reboot Spider-Man: Homecoming earned praise for its humor and for the diversity of its cast, both well-represented by Jacob Batalon, the Filipino-American actor who plays Ned Leeds, Peter Parker’s hilarious best friend. To the relief of many, Ned returned safe and sound in Avengers: Endgame, in time to travel to Europe with his classmates in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Ahead of the sequel's nationwide release on Tuesday, CBR spoke with Batalon about on-set secrecy, acting with nothing but lights and green screens, and the types of villains to which he's drawn.
CBR: With Spider-Man: Far From Home being set after Endgame, you probably had to deal with a lot more secrecy on set.
Jacob Batalon: There was a lot of secrets. People were wondering about how Spider-Man is coming out if Spider-Man’s dead. People were assuming it was before Endgame, and people were assuming he was coming back to life after Endgame. And so there were secrets about Endgame that we didn’t know that we had to keep anyway. It’s always like that with these films.
Far From Home goes into what happened when people came back from “the Snap.” Ned has such a happy spirit, but how would you say he has dealt with the fact that he’s lost five years?
I think all the kids are going through a — not a denial phase — but trying to put that behind them, in the sense of they’re just trying to get on with their lives and trying to just enjoy themselves and realize that they can't do anything about it. So they're just gonna enjoy the trip.
If your character didn't come back, I'm pretty sure fans would have rioted. What does it feel like to be a character that's so beloved by the fans?
It’s genuinely just amazing. I think that most times I don't ever think of the impact of what I do, or what Ned has on other people. When they say things like, “We want him in the film, and we don’t want him to die,” and things like that, it really makes my heart full to know that people genuinely care about representation and me as a person.
Could you elaborate on that representation point a little bit more?
I think that for a while the industry hasn’t done a fair job of casting people who aren’t necessarily the “leading type” beautiful, white kind of person, and that’s been for the longest time. And I think the big thing with Homecoming, the unspoken thing about Homecoming, was that we were diverse, and that's a normal thing, and that's just the classroom in New York. A normal, typical class.
But somehow people found it as a really big inspiring move when in reality, that shouldn't mean anything, because that's how the world is. And that's a big indication of where society is moving, and the industry goes that way as well. ... And now we’re able to represent people who never thought they’d never have a voice.
Ned assures Peter at some point that even though he's in a relationship, he's always going to be his guy in the chair. How would you say their friendship has evolved since Homecoming?
It’s not necessarily evolved; I think Ned and Peter love each other so much that nothing changes the dynamic. No matter what he’s going through, no matter what Ned is doing, their friendship and their bond is always there. And it's always been strong, and it's never been deterred by anything. So I don't think it's evolved in any sort of way. I just think it's the same thing, but just more things that are going on in their lives now.
How would you describe that type of friendship love?
They’re brothers. Brothers do anything for each other, you know, they fight and everything, but they’ll always be there for each other no matter what. And I think ultimately that is what their relationship is through good things and bad things and, like, me almost dying. … So it's really just a brotherly bond.
Speaking of almost dying — with all of the special effects involved with the Elementals, I’m imagining you had to react a lot to something that actually wasn’t there. What was that, especially with the Ferris wheel scene?
Sometimes you kind of just feel like an asshole. You feel like, “What am I doing here right now?” For the Elementals, we have these signs and things to react to, like flashing lights and green screens and everything, so that gives you an indication of what to do. But as far as like an actual performance, you just feel like it's almost ridiculous to be touching nothing, to be screaming at nothing, and trying to be terrified of something that's actually really funny. But doing all those stunts and everything was fun.
The Ferris wheel bit was probably the funnest thing I’d be doing. It was actually fixed in reshoots because the first time we shot, it wasn't shaking or anything. We were just sitting there for, like, hours and hours, just reacting to nothing. And when they put it in post [production], it just looked like nothing was happening.
And so for reshoots, they basically rebuilt that portion of a Ferris wheel and put it on this air-suspension thing that basically would rock back and forth. It was like a carnival ride, and that’s what made it more realistic for when the monsters were trying to attack us.
One of the reasons why I kept laughing was your character’s excuses for Peter. They have almost an improv-like feel. Was there actually any of that happening on set?
Yeah, there is. Jon [Watts, the director] gives us the ability to improv a lot when it feels like the scene isn't really going anywhere. There's a sort of energy that we get to do what our characters would do without a script. Jon is really open to that. And it's a really fun way to explore more in a scene. And it’s a regular process, really, after a while with us, because most of the time, we forget some of our lines.
Did you have a lot of improv training going into this?
I was in drama school, and improv was one of the main things I did. It’s fun. It’s a really fun way to feel creatively expressive. Sometimes you feel like you're trapped in the lines and the words, and you feel like there's nothing more you can do. Improv allows you to explore more.
Was the miniature spoons line you or the script?I’m pretty sure that was the script. There was a bunch of different things that we had to say for that, and they got so out of whack that we just stuck with the spoons bit.
If there’s another Spider-Man movie, what are your hopes for Ned? Whether it's another love interest, more guy-in-the-chair time, what would you want to see?
I feel like fans would really enjoy seeing Ned do more heroic things. Personally, I’ve been saying this in every interview since 2016, I would hope for Ned to be a villain. It would be so fun to be a supervillain, and being evil sounds really fun. I don’t know if it’ll go that way, but it would be really interesting. Or seeing him work for like S.H.I.E.L.D., or interacting with other characters like Shuri.
What types of villains are you more drawn to?
Heath Ledger’s Joker is probably the greatest villain in cinematic history. I’m really drawn to really neurotic, psychotic, really dark people -- not just like comic book characters, but really maniacal. Like, evilly intelligent.
The title of the film is Spider-Man: Far From Home, so I'm curious to know what, in your head, Ned’s home looks like? Specifically Ned’s room, because we haven't really spent that much time there.
His room is filled with like computer games and posters of anime. All the nerdy stuff you could think of. It’s basically Comic-Con, but in his room. That's really what his room is, genuinely.
Opening July 2, director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon and Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.