The Crowded Room is markedly different from anything Tom Holland has done. The new Apple TV+ series is his first starring role in a television show, for one. And the character he plays, a seemingly benign upstate New York man named Danny Sullivan who becomes the focus of a 1979 murder investigation, is nothing like anyone the 27-year-old Brit has previously embodied — especially once the layers begin peeling off his character in the twisty dramatic thriller from creator Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, I Am Legend).
The actor best known for playing Peter Parker in Sony and Marvel’s hugely popular Spider-Man and Avengers movies, however, denies any grand career strategy at work.
“To be perfectly honest with you, mate, I'm not actively looking for anything,” he tells us in a new interview (watch below). “The industry's a minefield and you can come across the best script you've ever read one day and the worst thing you've ever read the next. So for me, I really live by ‘Never say never.’ I'm open to everything. TV was definitely not on my radar, but my agents brought it to me. They told me about Akiva, they told me about the subject matter. They told me about the opportunity that this would bring as an actor, and it was music to my ears. So I was happy to sit down with Akiva. He's a great salesperson. He had me after the first meeting and I'm delighted that we made it because I'm very proud of it.”
Holland was so hooked by Goldman’s pitch he became an executive producer on the 10-episode miniseries, a loose adaptation of Daniel Keyes’s 1981 non-fiction novel The Minds of Billy Milligan.
“He’s just so enthusiastic about this project,” says Amanda Seyfried, who costars as Rya Goodwin, an investigator interviewing Danny about his accusations. “He really wanted to get it made. People have been trying to make it for 20, 30 years maybe. And when he came on board and really committed to this, I think that's why we're here talking about it. I owe it to him, for putting himself on the line with such a challenging role. But he was totally up for the challenge and he really showed all the way up.”
Despite only being nine years older than Holland, Emmy Rossum (Shameless) plays his mother Candy — in large part because of the series’ time-hopping element, with Zachary Golinger portraying a young Danny Sullivan.
“It was moving to watch both of them kind of capture the unique nature of the tenderness and sensitivity of this character,” Rossum says. “As my character says in maybe Episode 9 or 10, ‘The world is a cruel place.’ And I think that she knows that her son has always been different and says it many times throughout the course of this series, but there's nothing wrong with that. And the writing [of this] show has this bottomless empathy for these characters who are really doing their best, but really struggling.”
Onscreen, the role of the tumultuous Danny gave Holland, whose previous dramatic film roles include his breakout role in The Impossible (2012) and 2021’s PTSD-themed Cherry, to explore multiple shades of a character like he’d never done before.
“Playing someone as volatile as Danny, someone with such extreme highs and lows, was like an amazing opportunity for me as an actor to try and stretch myself, but also to find a way to exist in the middle,” Holland says. “That's the hardest part. The extremes are easy. I can scream and shout all day and I can cry in a corner all day. But finding that middle ground for me, the subtleties of that performance is what I'm really proud of. And I haven't really found a character in my career that's allowed me to do all three.”
Sasha Lane (American Honey, Hellboy), who plays Danny’s enigmatic roommate Ariana, admits she had never seen a Spider-Man movie or Holland act in anything else. “I think he put a lot of care into what he did,” Lane says. “He didn't have an easy job at all, and none of us did. And so I think his effort and the energy that he put into it was very impressive. And it's really cool to be able to see someone through a journey. And it's not a film, it's a show. So there was just months of seeing him try to perfect his craft and just put a lot of heart into it.”
It's difficult to describe too much of The Crowded Room’s plot without giving away spoilers, but in the marketing materials Apple TV+ does tease that Danny will discover stunning revelations about himself.
The Crowded Room offered Holland a chance to learn about himself, too.
“I learned a lot about myself,” he says. “I learned a lot about my capabilities as an actor. I learned a lot about my abilities to handle certain situations. You know, I think a few years ago I might have been really upset about a few things that were going on on this job, and I was able to kind of keep a level head and focus on the work and do my best. The thing my dad's always sort of brought us up with, ‘As long as you do your best, you can be happy.’”
The first three episodes of The Crowded Room are now streaming on Apple TV+.
Watch the trailer: