‘Tarot’ Star Jacob Batalon on Horoscopes, ‘Spider-Man 4’ Rumors and Wanting to Show His Range

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Before he returns to the role of Spider-Man’s best friend, “Guy in the Chair” and emergency sorcerer, Jacob Batalon is deepening his relationship with Sony Pictures. Today, Batalon is back on the big screen in the studio’s supernatural horror film, Tarot. Written and directed by Anna Halberg and Spenser Cohen, Tarot chronicles seven college friends whose individual tarot card readings come to life in deadly fashion. Batalon plays Paxton, the impulsive life of the party within his friend group.

Tarot partially utilizes Batalon as comic relief, a role that he’s perfected since breaking out in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), but the film also allowed him to play afraid, something young actors often cite as being the most difficult emotion to play given the mechanics of a film set.

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“It’s pretty tough. You have to find an organic reason to be scared. You really want to try to lean into things when you’re filming a scary movie, but at the same time, it’s like, ‘Hey, there’s Greg from makeup,’” Batalon tells The Hollywood Reporter with a laugh.

In general, Batalon admits that he’s still trying to find a film role that will allow him to show his full range as a performer. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) had some particularly dramatic moments, especially when Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man bid adieu to Batalon’s Ned Leeds and Zendaya’s MJ Jones, so the Honolulu native hopes to build on those scenes. In the meantime, the second season of his comedy-horror series, Reginald the Vampire, is giving him some new ground to cover as the title character.

“With Reginald the Vampire, I do get to go to places that you typically don’t get to see, especially in the second season,” Batalon says. “So in that sense, I’ve been finding deeper colors in the character, but I don’t necessarily think that I’ve been given a proper chance overall. I would like a great chance to really do different things, and I really am searching for different things to do, but I’m also not going to shy away from doing really fun things.”

The aforementioned goodbye between Peter, Ned and MJ at the end of No Way Home was a result of Peter’s insistence that Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) cast a spell where everyone in the multiverse forgets that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. That was the only way to prevent the arrival of additional threats from other universes, but it also meant that Peter had to make the ultimate sacrifice: his friends. According to Batalon, that day was by far his most emotional day on an MCU set.

“That was actually our last day or second-to-last day, and it was so fucking sad,” Batalon recalls. “It was actually really sad, but also beautiful at the same time. There were just too many tears in my eyes, and I couldn’t think straight that day.”

Batalon’s character also had the honor of portaling Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s versions of Peter Parker/Spider-Man into the MCU. And while the scene at Ned’s grandmother’s house leaves room for each hero to receive applause, Batalon says that they weren’t directed to account for the audience’s eventual reaction.

“The gravity of the moment just really lended itself to that. It actually felt like a real reunion of crazy epic proportions, and that scene wasn’t actually supposed to happen in Ned’s grandma’s place,” Batalon says. “It was supposed to be a real crazy superhero scene and not in Ned’s grandma’s house, so the way it turned out was really great.”

As far as the highly anticipated Spider-Man 4, Batalon admits he’s just biding his time until rumors give way to actual information.

“Well, my friends definitely hear [the Spider-Man 4 rumors]. My friends are always asking me questions, but personally, I don’t really hear anything. I only hear things that possibly could happen, but I don’t really pay attention to rumors,” Batalon says.

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Batalon discusses the tarot card reading he received as part of Tarot’s marketing campaign, before recalling some of his fondest MCU moments.

Well, your relationship with Sony continues. Were you pretty flattered that they wanted to find more to do together in between those other films that you do for them?

(Laughs.) Yeah, for sure. Those other films are really great, and I would hope that they liked me enough to want to keep me on. So I love working with them, and they have taken care of me really well.

Jacob Batalon
Jacob Batalon as “Paxton” in Tarot

You know an actor has made it when they receive top billing, something you have with Reginald the Vampire, but the same goes for the “and” credit, which you’ve now received for a second time on this. I’ve always taken note of who gets the honor of that credit. Did you ever set that specific goal of last billing for yourself?

Honestly, no. My agent definitely wanted that for me more than I realized, but it’s definitely very flattering and it’s really dope to be seen in the sense of that credit. So those are really good milestones to have.

So Tarot begins with all the characters getting tarot card readings during a weekend getaway. Did you eventually receive your own tarot card reading? 

We did do a reading as a little promotion for the movie, and it was my first time ever getting my cards read. And it was actually very uplifting. I thought it was going to be scary like in the movie, but it was actually awesome.

So no ominous words were used.

Thankfully not. It was [the tarot card reader’s] deck. She wasn’t using anyone else’s deck so we were safe. [Writer’s Note: The film posits that it’s bad luck to use someone else’s deck of tarot cards.]

In real life, you’re a Libra, and according to the internet, Libras are very artistic, so you’ve got that one down. But it also says that they have a Thanos-like fixation on balance and symmetry. Does that description track with you at all?

Honestly, yes. If there was a way for everyone to get the things that they wanted — but for the greater good of everything — yeah. So I’ve definitely thought about doing Thanos-level things, for sure. (Laughs.)

Your character, Paxton, uses a plastic grocery bag as a suitcase. Did that tell you everything you needed to know about this guy?

(Laughs.) Yes, he definitely does not care what people think of him.

Are you a podcast obsessive like he is? Is that how you pass the time on set?

I am the last person to talk to about podcasts. They’re not my thing. I have tried to get into a few, but I just can’t. I have too much ADHD to just listen to people talk. I need pictures.

So, during your downtime in your trailer, do you rely on mostly video games?  

Video games, for sure. I’m also watching a lot of anime right now, which has taken up most of my time. I’ve become stuck in this rut of watching every anime possible. I stopped for a few years, but now I’m literally watching it all. So this is me pleading for help. (Laughs.)

What’s your top shelf of anime?

You’ve got the standard My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaizen and Black Clover and Kaiju No. 8. All of these are really great mangas that are just becoming anime. And then you’ve also got OG stuff like One Piece and Naruto and obviously Dragon Ball. There’s just so much.

The speed at which you listed those titles shows you know your stuff. 

Thanks, but most anime people would say that my knowledge of anime is very novice.

Quite a few actors have told me that portraying fear is the hardest emotion to play on screen. Based on Tarot, would you agree or disagree with that?

It’s pretty tough. You have to find an organic reason to be scared. You really want to try to lean into things when you’re filming a scary movie, but at the same time, it’s like, “Hey, there’s Greg from makeup.” You know what I mean? So I don’t get scared easily, and it takes a lot of focus to think about being scared.

Every character gets their own unique set piece featuring a figure from their tarot card reading. In Paxton’s case, it was The Fool. What was the highlight of putting that together? 

There were so many highlights. The Fool was able to scare me to the elevator, and my scene felt almost like a one-person play. I was just constantly on the alert with him around, and his mask was just terrifying.

Tarot’s ending has a bit of a surprise. Was that planned from the start?

I will say that we definitely filmed a different ending. (Laughs.) That was that. But that’s really the only context I can give, but it definitely was cool.

Just out of curiosity, who voiced Paxton’s unseen roommate, Todd? 

(Laughs.) It might’ve just been one of our sound people, but it also could have possibly been [co-director Spenser Cohen] or even a producer.

Jacob Batalon
(l to r) Andrew Garfield, Jacob Batalon and Tobey Maguire star in Spide-Man: No Way Home

You’re often asked to provide levity and comedy to a story, and it makes sense because you’re really good at it. That Spider-Man: No Way Home scene where you ask Tobey Maquire’s Peter Parker if he has a best friend still makes me laugh. But I have to imagine that you also want to show the full range of your abilities as a performer. Are you still waiting for that opportunity to show even more sides of yourself? 

With Reginald the Vampire, I do get to go to places that you typically don’t get to see, especially in the second season. You really see Reginald as more than just the happy-go-lucky hero. He really becomes more stoic and does his own level of growing. So in that sense, I’ve been finding deeper colors in the character, but I don’t necessarily think that I’ve been given a proper chance overall. I would like a great chance to really do different things, and I really am searching for different things to do, but I’m also not going to shy away from doing really fun things.

Jacob Batalon Reginald The Vampire
Jacob Batalon as Reginald in Reginald The Vampire

Was that the original appeal of Reginald the Vampire?

Yeah, it’s definitely given me the space to really explore human emotion and different ways to go about life. And comparing him from season two to season one, you’ll for sure see a very dramatic difference.

So there’s been all sorts of rumors regarding the next Spider-Man movie. You hear things like this studio wants this, and that studio wants that. Has that gossip made its way to you as well? Do you hear what we hear?

Well, my friends definitely hear it. (Laughs.) My friends are always asking me questions, but personally, I don’t really hear anything. I only hear things that possibly could happen, but I don’t really pay attention to rumors. I don’t spend enough time on social media anymore to really deep dive into theories and stuff, but I love the creative enthusiasm of fans. It gets me hyped up, and hopefully one of their theories is right.

You had a lot of secrets to keep on Spider-Man: No Way Home. How close did you get to spilling some by accident? 

Oh man, the first few things that were leaked, I’m honestly so thankful that I did not leak them. (Laughs.) So that was definitely something, and while I might’ve leaked something about Jamie Foxx, that was probably the only thing.

It’s a champagne problem, but does that level of secrecy ever stress you out? 

Honestly, no. You don’t want to come off as a dick if people ask you questions and you’re just like, “Oh, I don’t know.” So I don’t want to do that, but at the same time, I feel like I get paid to lie and act. But it’s honestly hard for me to do that in real life if it’s not part of a job.

There’s concept art of Ned paying homage to Hobgoblin, but he instead served as a sorcerer of sorts. How did Ned’s role evolve in that movie from your perspective? 

Gosh, with Ned, it was really just him doing everything he can in his power to be there for his best friend, and the whole thing with being a sorcerer was part of helping him be Spider-Man. I don’t think we were actively searching for him to be a hero wielding powers, but again, it’d be nice to try to do that.

So by the time you received a script, it was always Ned doing the sorcerer business. 

Yeah, we definitely didn’t think it was going to happen, but it happened.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
Tom Holland as Peter Parker, Zendaya as MJ and Jacob Batalon as Ned in Spider-Man: No Way Home

On the day itself, how sad was the final scene in the donut shop where no one remembers Peter? 

That day actually wasn’t too sad. The real sad days were the last two days. It was the scene where we’re all hugging, and Peter is explaining to [Ned and MJ] that they’re going to forget him. That was actually our last day or second-to-last day, and it was so fucking sad. (Laughs.) It was actually really sad, but also beautiful at the same time. There were just too many tears in my eyes, and I couldn’t think straight that day.

Overall, what day on a Marvel set have you replayed the most in your mind? 

Oh my gosh, there’s so many. When we were filming [Spider-Man: Far From Home] in Europe, there were just so many days in London and Prague that are hard to pick. One of the more memorable ones was actually not even filming a scene, but it was when Andrew [Garfield] and Tobey [Maguire] first arrived [on No Way Home]. We all had a rehearsal read-through with them, and just watching them talk and hearing them speak for the first time was mind-blowing. To just hear them collaborate with Tom [Holland] on being the three Spider-Men was so awesome.

Did you have an inner monologue with yourself at the time? “Jacob, play it cool, man.”

(Laughs.) I feel like Zendaya and I were really there to support Tom. She and I worked with [Andrew and Tobey] quite a bit, but it was really about the three of them. So that was a lot of low-key pressure for Tom, but it was awesome. Just as a fan, it was crazy to watch them do their thing. I remember the day we did these photo shoots for promos and stuff, and they did the three Spider-Men meme in all their suits. It was very surreal.

Jacob Batalon
Jacob Batalon as Ned in Spider-Man: No Way Home

When Ned portaled Andrew and Tobey’s characters into his grandmother’s house, there was a lot of space left for audience applause. Were you literally directed on the day to leave room for clapping? 

No, the gravity of the moment just really lended itself to that. It actually felt like a real reunion of crazy epic proportions, and that scene wasn’t actually supposed to happen in Ned’s grandma’s place. It was supposed to be a real crazy superhero scene and not in Ned’s grandma’s house, so the way it turned out was really great.

You were in F. Gary Gray’s last movie, Lift, for Netflix, and your character was a part of the Venice stretch of the film. 

Yes, we were in Venice. I also spent a week in Dublin, and both locations were so fun. The speedboat chase was probably the most action-y and Mission: Impossible-esque I’ve ever felt on a movie, and I’ve jumped off the side of scaffolding. (Laughs.) So it was definitely the peak of action for me.

Gary obviously shot The Italian Job in Venice as well, so Kevin Hart’s character likely spoke on Gary’s behalf when he said, “It feels good to be back,” at the very beginning of the film. 

Yeah.

Was there any fanfare on set and among the crew about it being Gary’s return to Venice? 

Everyone was just so excited to work with him because he is kind of a mythical figure in that type of way. But he was also very professional and wanted things to go a certain way, which really helped with the production. It felt so directed and on purpose and planned, and so it was really cool to watch him operate. But I feel like crews in other countries are definitely different compared to American crews. They’re very professional, but they’ve also got their own shit going on. So it was definitely an honor to work with F. Gary Gray.

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Tarot is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.

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