Known for films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Dope, actor Tony Revolori got to finally live out a lifelong dream when he became part of the Marvel family in Spider-Man: Homecoming, playing the role of Flash Thompson. Below, Tony — who will soon be seen reprising his role as Flash in Spider-Man: Far From Home — shares his experience going from Marvel fan to becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what connected him to Marvel’s characters, and more, including a very meaningful encounter with the legendary Stan Lee.
The earliest Marvel memory I have is a shared Spider-Man-themed birthday with my older brother, and us each receiving huge Spider-Man figurines that were almost as big as three-year-old me. At that time, I had no idea how much Spider-Man and Marvel would actually affect my life, but then again I was three. I didn’t really have many deep thoughts outside of “Where did my mom hide the candy this time?” I grew up in Anaheim, California — or as most people know it, the city where Disneyland is located. As a young Hispanic boy in a pretty white and semi-Republican area, I was bullied and all the usual blah blah blah…
“GET TO THE GOOD STUFF” I can hear you yelling already, but patience! I’m building to it. Gotta have the origin story.
Before being engrossed with Marvel’s comics, I was heavily into the Marvel Saturday morning cartoons. X-Men: The Animated Series, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, The Fantastic Four: The Animated Series (really, all the animated series) — I obsessed over all of them. My brother and I watched the shows with University-level attention, as only kids can, soaking in every moment, and in the commercial break, we’d act out the scenes, calling out our characters and our moves. Sometimes they’d be from the show, but a lot of the time we made them up. Don’t act like you didn’t do this too!
I remember one episode better than the rest. It was in X-Men (cue the awesome opening titles): Logan/Wolverine finds a scared Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler and he’s got to save him from the community who despises him. I couldn’t tell you then why that stuck in my head so much, but it did, and Nightcrawler soon became my favorite character.
My first interaction with any actual comics was at the famous Golden Apple on Melrose in Los Angeles, California. My father, brother and I were eating at the Hot Wings across the street, as had become a tradition whenever we drove to LA for auditions. Neither my brother nor I could keep our eyes from gazing across at that store while eating our lunch. Thankfully, our dad took pity on us and walked us over.
We wasted no time looking in the aisles and through every bin, stand, and table. My brother and I both knew we had to be smart about this, because we didn’t know when or if we’d get another chance to come back to this heaven. So, we decided we’d each get complete stories — not single issues — and milk the trip as much as we could. We debated over who got what, but I remember we walked out with two thick books filled with amazing pages. One was a Green Lantern with Kyle Rayner as its lead (the only Hispanic Green Lantern at the time). The second was a complete encyclopedia of X-Men characters. Those were the first comics we ever bought and we studied them like the Bible. My cousins and I even made a dice game out of the X-Men encyclopedia. It was needlessly complicated with ever-changing rules but that single book gave me so much joy as a kid. I’ll never forget it.
Jump ahead to 2002, and we’re at my first Marvel movie: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. My dad, brother, and I went to the theater — already one of our favorite things to do together. My dad loved movies. He took me and my brother to see Citizen Kane at a revival screening as our first movie-going experience. He wasn’t so much into comic book movies but he was a good dad and sacrificed a couple of hours for his kids to see Willem Dafoe give what I then thought (and still kinda do now) was an Oscar-worthy performance.
I experienced something magical in that theater. For the first time, I felt like I could relate to the main character in a movie. I felt like Peter Parker, a nerd who gets bullied, who wants the girl, who just needs a little help to get out of the shadows of his peers. It wouldn’t even be a year till I identified with another Marvel character in a movie, as Nightcrawler crossed my path again in X2. My 7-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend why I related to him so much. I wasn’t blue, I couldn’t do flips, or teleport, and didn’t look like a demon. I felt a kinship to all of the mutants, but especially him.
Finding a Way into Marvel
Now, every year, a new comic book movie was coming out and I began to want to appear in these movies. I was reading about every character I could, while thinking, “Maybe I could play him, or him, or it.”
I was imagining stories and scenarios where I could join Professor X, Spider-Man, or the Fantastic Four and scouring the internet for any new detail I could about all the characters I loved, while reading any comic I could borrow (since I couldn’t afford them). in 2007, I had my chance: an audition for Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr. who I loved in Chaplin, and directed by Jon Favreau, who I loved in Swingers. This was my opportunity to seize everything I ever wanted, to capture it, and not let it slip away.
My knees were weak, my arms were heavy… I can’t say there was vomit on my sweater already, but I was close. (Thank you to my editor for letting me quote Eminem here). My brother and I waited in Sarah Finn’s office; she’s the casting director for all the MCU movies. I was auditioning for the huge part of… “Refugee Kid.” Remember that scene where Iron Man is in Afghanistan, and he lands just in time to see families getting separated, with the men walking to a firing squad while the women and children are being forced on a truck? (Wow, Iron Man was kind of dark!) They’re all about to be killed until Iron Man swoops in and saves the day, and there’s a kid in that scene that runs out of his mother’s arms to his dad. That’s right, that kid could’ve been me.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the part and I was devastated. My 10-year-old brain thought, “Who gets a second chance?” But still, with every new announcement of a reboot, recast, or re-whatever my hopes would rise again. But I never managed to get back in the room. Until…
Searching for Spider-Man
March 4th, 2015, an email came through with an appointment for a new Spider-Man movie! I was auditioning for the role that I first related to in that sticky movie theater seat all those years ago: PETER. PARKER. And Lord knows I wasn’t gonna mess this up. Cue the soundtrack of my life playing an inspirational, uplifting song (let’s go with “Eternity” by Jordan Critz).
I had emailed my agents the month before.
I know I probably shouldn’t send this cause you guys are awesome and probably gonna do it anyway but I was just wanted to express my interest in possibly playing a certain superhero. I know they probably arent even auditioning right now or even thinking yet but again just wanted to see if I could put my name in there hat. Thanks hope you guys are all well.
You can see the typos in there so you know it’s directly copied and pasted from my email. But they delivered and here we go, second chance. Leading up to this, I researched everything about Spider-Man. Not just Peter Parker, but Miguel O’Hare and Miles Morales, with the thought that maybe they would ask me how I can fit into this Marvel Cinematic Universe, being that I’m not white like Peter Parker.
I drove there with all the confidence in the world, and after looking for parking for 15 minutes (because that’s just how LA is), I still had that confidence. Walking towards the building though, it was beginning to fade, and when I walked into the waiting area, it was all but gone. I looked around and I saw every young white Hollywood actor or read their names on the sign-in sheet. I thought to myself, “Who am I, what am I thinking? Me? As Peter Parker? No way.”
I sat in that room waiting for my turn and then… I bombed that audition so badly. Whether I wasn’t good enough or it was just self-sabotage, I don’t know. I drove home that day dejected. I should probably say I might get in trouble for telling this story with all the NDAs I’ve signed. But whatever, come at me Kyle, Barry, or Matthew. (Top Level Security team for Marvel. Sorry, guys, love you!)
Two days later, I got the news I already knew without them telling me: “It’s a no.” Days passed and I was still feeling bad about the audition. I moved on though, continuing to work, and now, as an adult with my own bank account, buying comics. It was mostly X-Men, and that summer I realized why they spoke to me so much.
I’d heard most of the X-Men series were written as a bit of an allegory about racism, which hasn’t really improved since I was a kid, and has maybe even gotten worse throughout my life. And I finally cracked why Kurt Wagner, this blue skinned, demon-looking, German-speaking character, made me feel so connected to him. Nightcrawler, the obsession of my youth, was persecuted — even within his own community, much like I was, and responded with nothing more than a smile and a kind heart. I didn’t always respond that way.
It’s easy to focus on the fight scenes and cool powers, but the heart that people like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and so many of these comic creators have put into their pages, their characters, and their work really does help kids and adults everywhere.
The Good Stuff
Of course, as it turned out, getting that rejection wasn’t the end of my journey with Marvel. Time for the good stuff! I told you we’d get there. No, me doing a terrible audition was not the good part. Later that same year, I got another email for Untitled Marvel Movie, but I knew what it really was. It was Round 3.
I showed up to this audition with ease, not worried about it, knowing I was going to walk in there and do my best. Once again, two days later I heard back — and this time it was good news. They wanted to see me again! A month later, I came back, but now things were different. I walked in knowing Jon Watts, the director, was going to be there, along with Spider-Man himself, Thomas J. Holland. (I don’t think “J” is correct, but it sounds good. Sorry, Tom. Your middle initial is ‘J’ now.)
I came out of that second audition feeling better than the first one. This went on a couple more times, and each time there were more people in the room than before. I originally began the audition process for the role of Ned, but somewhere in the many auditions, they added another role for me to try — the bully. I had doubled my chances!
It was time for my last audition, at Marvel’s office in *REDACTED* with *REDACTED* in the room telling me *REDACTED*, where it was revealed to me that I was actually auditioning to play Eugene “Flash” Thompson. Mind you, I’m not that dumb, so I figured that ‘bully’ meant Flash, and had again gone down the rabbit hole of internet research to find out anything and everything about the character in the comics.
Of course, the first thing I thought about — as did many when they announced I’m playing Flash — was that I wasn’t white, 6’2”, blond, and blue-eyed; basically, Hitler’s wet dream. Maybe I was going to have to go through pigment surgery and get colored lenses like Robert Downey, Jr. did in Tropic Thunder, but either way, I was excited.
About three weeks later, I got a call from my agents and managers telling me, “You got it. You’re going to be Flash.” I was ecstatic. I looked around my room and I could imagine my younger self playing with a Spider-Man action figure. Little did that young boy know what was to come, and truthfully neither did I. Thus my MCU journey began.
I remember the announcement that me and Laura Harrier would be joining the cast. Not since the 2015 Oscars, where I was lucky enough to have 2.7 seconds of screen time, did my phone blow up so much. Family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers had reached out, and that’s when I began to realize how big a deal this was. Of course, this was a big deal to me but I didn’t expect it to be for so many people around me.
Making the Movie
The time had come to fly to Atlanta to shoot Spider-Man: Homecoming. I landed in Atlanta and as I was dropped at my hotel, the driver asked me if I wanted to go to the studio and read the script or rest.
I said, “Give me five minutes to throw my bags in my room. I’ll be right back”.
Three hours later I turned the last page on the script and read THE END. Wow, I used to be that person who would be waiting for the little bit of news to hold me over till the release of the next movie . Now I was the gatekeeper of those secrets? I wanted to talk about what I just read to any and everyone, spill all the secrets, just geek out with anyone about it… but I couldn’t. I learned to be strong in keeping secrets, unlike my co-star, Spider-Man himself (sorry again, Tom!).
I remember I spent those days enjoying everything as much as I could; racing golf carts around the lot, eating the best catering and craft service I’ve ever had, and the little moments between the cast all hanging out, enjoying these times together.
I remember one day, Jacob Batalon and I were walking back to our trailers from lunch, when from around the corner of a building Tom calls us over. We ignored him as we both just wanted to go into our trailers and nap. Tom later revealed Chris Pratt, James Gunn, and Dave Bautista were over there and wanted to say hi to us! I kicked myself because I love Parks and Recreation so therefore I love Chris Pratt, but it wouldn’t be long till I finally met him at…
We were in the middle of shooting Homecoming, with maybe one month left, and were a surprise Comic-Con panel that no one knew about. We got up extra early that day and jumped on a plane to fly five hours to San Diego. Once off the plane, we went through secret hallways and rooms at the airport to avoid everyone, mostly the paparazzi, and drove to the Hard Rock Hotel, where we were all staying. I had a couple of hours to kill so a friend and I went to explore. It was phenomenal! I was incognito wearing a hat, glasses, and a Game of Thrones T-shirt. No one stopped me, but then again, no one knew me. I could’ve worn an “I’m in Spider-Man: Homecoming” T-shirt and no one would’ve cared.
The invisibility didn’t last. The cast all gathered in the hotel lobby and drove to the back of the convention center, where people waited to take us to a huge waiting area. All the other Marvel panelists were there already. Everyone from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther waiting. Where did I belong in this group, I wondered, marveling (forgive my one pun) at the people surrounding me. I finally met Chris Pratt, and I embarrassed myself, but he was very kind about it.
Then, it was time for the event to begin. Everyone gathered with their castmates and co-workers of their respective films and we were all taken behind the stage at Hall H, which was filled to capacity that year with 6500 people. First up was Doctor Strange, and I listened as much as I could, though it was hard to hear. When they started showing the footage of the movie, I remember sneaking out from backstage toward the front to see it. Some fellow castmates followed suit, and then we rushed back before the lights came back on. We did this again for Thor: Ragnarok, which followed.
Finally, it was our turn. I remember Tom walking out and hearing the deafening roar of the crowd. Then one by one he called us up. This was the first time I was officially revealed as Flash Thompson and I was scared I was gonna disappoint. But to my surprise, I walked out to that same deafening roar as everyone else. I couldn’t hide my smile; I was too excited to be there. Watching footage from a movie we were still shooting on that stage was truly an experience I’ll never forget.
Here’s a funny story about that Hall H panel. We all get called up, everyone from every movie, to take a huge group photo. Being a fan, I wanted to stand next to the Guardians of the Galaxy Ravager actors who showed up in full make-up. So I stood next to them, giving Danai Gurira my spot on the higher platform. To my disappointment, some of the actors in full make-up left right before the photo was about to be taken. But who takes their place? None other than Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson! If you watch the video of that moment you can see my surprised face, and Jon Watts smacking me upside the head for standing next to Brie. The rest of my cast looking at me laughing… Pretty funny. Here’s the link below. You’re welcome.
I want to thank all those who’ve shown love and support to me playing this character – because that wasn’t everyone. Within minutes of the announcement, it circulated that I was the new Flash Thompson and tons of people were not supportive, and were downright nasty.
Very briefly, I want to talk a bit more about the fans who aren’t so enthused by me. Look, I get it. I’m not your version of Flash. You don’t have to like my portrayal of Flash, that’s totally fine, but don’t send me death threats and send hate at me as a person. You’re right, maybe I could put on some weight and bulk up, but don’t tell me to change things I can’t, like my skin tone, eye color, or height. There’s a way to say you don’t like a casting decision that’s healthier for us all. Let’s make it a discussion, not an argument.
I’ll be honest, some of those first reactions got to me. Until I met the OG superhero himself, Stan Lee. It was behind the Marvel booth on the Comic-Con floor, where he was sitting in the back greenroom area waiting to go on. That little area had become my safe haven, as I could no longer walk around without being stopped by the amazingly wonderful people of Comic-Con. A friend introduced us, whispering in Stan’s ear who I was playing. He looked me up and down for a second and then ordered something from his assistant, who promptly left.
For a second I thought, “Please not you too, Stan”.
He smiled and said “Flash, huh? Bet you’re mad I didn’t give you super-speed.”
He laughed, breaking the tension. After a brief conversation, he gave me some kind words, telling me: “They’ll be mad and they’ll be terrible, but just remember, you’re Flash now. No one can take that away from you. Plus, I think you’ll do great.”
I thanked him, trying to not let him see my teary eyes. We took a quick photo, joined by Jacob Batalon, and then we started our goodbyes before Stan called out, “Wait!”
His assistant had returned with a couple of comics he’d signed and he handed me The Amazing Spider-Man #574. On the front cover? Flash leading a squad of soldiers in the night, now joined by Stan’s signature, and an inscription.
I won’t share what he wrote… I’m sorry, but those words I’d like to keep with me. I thanked him and he left me with the parting words, “Looking forward to seeing you be the best Flash Thompson”.
He didn’t need to say any of these things, and he didn’t need to leave me something that is now a prized possession, but he did, out of the goodness of his heart. Stan was a hero, true to his characters. He’s missed dearly. Rest In Peace, Stan. Read Stan’s Soapbox if you haven’t… It’s worth it.
Homecoming and Beyond
The next big event was the LA premiere of Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 28th, 2017. I hadn’t seen the film and was nervous. I took my mom and two brothers and I remember looking over at my younger brother (then 6) staring at the screen, just like I did when I saw the first Spider-Man movie nearly 16 years before, but this time he got to stare at people on the screen who looked like him. From Zendaya and Laura Harrier to Jacob Batalon, Abraham Attah, myself, and so many others.
At that premiere, it really dawned on me how important our representation as people of color is. Going forward, my little brother will never have to imagine that someone like him could be on the screen or justify why they could be up there. He won’t have to walk into an audition and explain how the brown guy could fit into the movie. I’m glad that for the next generation watching these films they won’t ever have to stretch their imaginations or be ready with those types of scenarios to appear in these worlds. Of course, my brother didn’t realize any of that. He just thought the movie was cool and that he liked Jacob’s Ned better than me. The rest of the premiere night was a blur of partying and hanging with the cast.
I get invited to all the Marvel premieres now, and I can’t say it’s not the most amazing thing. I remember going to the Avengers: Infinity War premiere and just walking down the huge purple carpet stretching blocks long, with the gorgeous design of all the past superhero suits and props of different characters on display.
Watching that movie was just amazing, sitting in the section with all the other Marvel actors, from Michael Rooker, Tessa Thompson to so many others. The movie itself was terrific, but the afterparty was the first time it really hit me how I may not have been a part of Infinity War, or a huge character in my own film, but I was in this universe, I was family. Paul Rudd and Peyton Reed both came up and had a conversation with me. Come on… who doesn’t love this guy?
They told me they loved my character in Homecoming and we spoke about Infinity War, and our similar and different experiences on Marvel sets, and Barry (Marvel Security) asking everyone to help out, and trying to keep up with Mark Ruffalo and Tom Holland spoiling everything. It was welcoming to talk to these other people who’ve been doing it longer then I have with familiarity.
And then it was time for our sequel…
Sadly there’s not much I can say about Spider-Man: Far From Home, which I know is disappointing. Truly sorry. But here’s an exclusive! I’m not in Avengers: Endgame. Dun Dun DUN! Okay, forgive me, that you probably already knew. I do promise all the juicy secrets of our time on set will come out on our press tour for Far From Home. So be sure to watch for that. In the meantime, shameful plug alert: You can follow me on Instagram @TonyRevolori or @tonyrevoloriphotography, where I’ll probably be posting my behind the scenes photos from the set.
It’s time to end this. The closing act. I’ve been very fortunate to have been on this ride. I truly never knew what this was going to be like. All the fans, all the people, all the memories. It’s been incredible and then I turn around and see the young me watching these movies and reading comics with disbelief that one day he would actually get his dream of being able to play in this world we love so much. Thank you to my cast for being so much fun, Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige for supporting me and diversity, Jon Watts for casting me, the fans for all the love… Thank you. Also to you who’ve read this, I say thank you. I don’t know when my time with Flash will end, and whether I’ll be in it for another 10 years (fingers crossed) or this is my last one, but it doesn’t matter much to me. I’ve had a blast and am happy I got a chance to have this journey — from Fan to Flash.