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Tom Holland on learning to accept being 5-foot-8: 'I cannot do anything about my height. I can put on more muscle'

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In just a few short years, Tom Holland has become one of Marvel’s breakout stars, starring as the iconic Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) in five movies to date — four of which have made more than $1 billion each.

But while the world watches his heroic adventures on the big screen, Holland is the first to tell you that just because he's famous doesn’t mean he's immune to the same insecurities non-famous people face. 

"One of my biggest faults is that I'm an impossible people pleaser," Holland told GQ in its latest cover story. “I don’t like the idea of people not liking me. So I will do whatever I can do to make that not the case."

Standing at 5 foot 8, that feeling of wanting to be liked has bled into other aspects in his life, such as obsessing over his height, body and always wanting to "be on" for his fans.

"I'd do this thing on red carpets where I would stand closer to the photographers than the people behind me [to look taller]," he explained, adding that he's learned to focus on what he can control. "I cannot do anything about my height. I can put on more muscle."

And that he did. In 2016's Captain America: Civil War, the costume department put him in a muscle suit. And over the course of six movies, the suit got smaller. "Now I just have a penis cup," he said.

His fitness routine extends beyond just Spider-Man. In the upcoming Uncharted, in which he stars alongside Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas, Holland credits Wahlberg for inspiring him to bulk up for the role.

"I saw him walk onto set in his costume and I was like, 'F***, he is twice my size,'" he said. “After the [COVID] lockdown, we had five months off, and I just ate and trained and ate and trained. When I got back on set, the first thing he said to me was, 'Wow, somebody has been training.'"

This kind of dedication, he said, began as a young boy after being discovered by a West End choreographer, who saw his potential and eventually cast him in the West End production of Billy Elliot. On the day of his debut, he came down with tonsillitis. 

Not wanting to disappoint anyone, Holland decided to push through.

"I was like, 'I can’t miss this, because all of these people are coming,'" he said. He delivered an epic performance but was later forced to take a week off. It was a moment that stuck him, even to this day. "I got the nickname Sick Note, which frustrates me to my core," he said. "Now as an actor I push through everything, because I'm not going to be Sick Note."

As he's gotten older, however, Holland began to learn the power of saying no and embracing the responsibility that comes with fame — something his girlfriend Zendaya has helped him realize. 

"Having her in my life was so instrumental to my sanity," he said. “She is so good at being the role model for young guys and girls. When anyone comes up, like, 'Can I have a picture?' it's never a bad time. Whereas my initial reaction was: 'Why are you talking to me? Leave me alone.'"

Age has also made him realize the power of realizing his own limitations, which he plans to carry with him in the years ahead. 

"Now as I'm getting a little bit older, I'm like, It's good to have things to work for. Just don’t give 100 percent of your energy towards it. I'm trying to live my life a little bit more freely," he said. "People mistake my kindness as weakness. Sometimes I see people trying to take advantage of me because I'm a nice person. Let me tell you, when you're a 19-year-old kid, they really do take advantage of you. You don’t know any better. Now I look back and go, 'Wow, I wish someone had told me that I could say no.'"

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