How 'Across the Spider-Verse' pulled off that surprise live-action cameo (spoilers)

Co-director Kemp Powers reveals that filmmakers considered an Andrew Garfield cameo instead of Donald Glover's Prowler.

(Everett Collection / Getty Images)
'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' included a crowd-pleading cameo from a key 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' star and Spidey superfan. (Photo: Everett Collection/Getty Images)

Warning: Major Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse spoilers ahead!

The animated and live-action Spider-Verses have officially crossed streams.

There are not one but two in-the-flesh appearances by actors from live-action Spidey movies in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the new animated hit sequel following the multiverse-hopping adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and their Spider-friends.

The first cameo comes early on, as Miles’s tenacious new adversary, The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), traverses into a live-action dimension that finds him face-to-face with Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu), the shopkeeper who trades barbs with Tom Hardy’s titular antihero in 2018’s Venom and its 2021 sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

The second surprise, however, has fans in a frenzy in the wake of Across the Spider-Verse’s heroic $120 million opening weekend — particularly as to what it could potentially mean for future live-action Spider-Verse entries.

As Miles and Gwen are introduced to hundreds of Spider-people (and even a few Spider-animals) in the alternate dimension of Earth-928, home to the Miguel O’Hara-run Spider-Society, they pass a few imprisoned characters awaiting transport to their respective universes.

One of them is The Prowler, aka Aaron Davis, aka Miles Morales’s uncle — but not the animated version we were introduced to in 2019’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, voiced by Mahershala Ali. It’s the live-action incarnation, played in full costume by Donald Glover, who appeared as Davis — in street clothes and never seen as his alter ego — in 2017’s Tom Holland-starring Spider-Man: Homecoming.

“It’s rude to stare,” Davis tells a gob-smacked Miles as Gwen and Hobie, aka Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), bicker over which one of them captured him.

Glover’s initial appearance in Homecoming was itself a very layered Easter egg. The actor’s love of Spider-Man led to a fan campaign for him to replace Tobey Maguire on the big screen — a role that eventually went to Andrew Garfield. At the time, Glover was starring on TV's Community, which paid tribute to the fan love by having Glover appear in Spidey pajamas. One of the viewers of that episode was a Marvel Comics writer who was inspired to create the character of Miles Morales... whom Glover eventually voiced in the animated series Ultimate Spider-Man. Got all that?

In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Across the Spider-Verse co-director Kemp Powers explained how filmmakers pulled off the Glover scene — and which live-action Spider-Man they also strongly considered for the cameo. (Watch our full interview with Powers above.)

“There was a lot of excitement early on about the idea of someone from the live-action movies making a cameo,” says Powers (One Night in Miami, Soul), who directed the film with Joaquim Dos Santos and Justin K. Thompson from a script written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. “And animation’s iterative. It’s an iterative process, so you’re working out storyboards and it’s just what entertains us. So we boarded versions where Andrew Garfield’s there and he is talking. And it was like, ‘OK, that’s kind of cute.’”

(Garfield and fellow former Peter Parker Tobey Maguire, who both turned up in 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, do appear in archival footage in Across the Spider-Verse; we also hear the voice of one of Peter’s most feared villains, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. As to why we don’t see Holland? Remember, Doctor Strange’s sorcery made everyone forget his Peter Parker was Spider-Man at the end of No Way Home.)

Continues Powers: “But then we bordered a version where they see The Prowler and it was Donald Glover. Something about that just kind of clicked in a very, very funny way. And of course one of the first things we wanted to do was reach out and see if Donald was down with it. And thankfully he was.”

Powers says the filmed Glover’s cameo over one day in New York City.

“Chris Miller flew out there, me and Phil Lord were on the other side, on the camera. And then we just worked it out over the course of a day where we gave him some lines and kind of explored a few different gags with Miles passing by. And I think it’s great. We love people to guess guests and then just be wrong, and the surprise be equally as entertaining as what you think you’re going to run into.”

So what does Glover’s cameo as The Prowler mean for the actor and character’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Speculation has unsurprisingly run amok, especially in light of producer Amy Pascal’s recent comments that a live-action Miles Morales movie is on the way.

But as Powers, Lord and Miller all told Yahoo, they have had no conversations with Marvel boss Kevin Feige about any residual effects or MCU tie-ins spawned by Across the Spider-Verse.

“It just came from this fact of like, ‘All right, if we’re going to do a live-action character showing up in this world, who should it be?’” Powers adds. “And we tried a few different ones and that was just the one that kind of made us all smile.”

Update: On June 20, 2023, Chris Miller shared some behind-the-scenes images of Glover in costume on the set:

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now playing.

Watch stars Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Issa Rae and Daniel Kaluuya discuss the film: