Hawaii's Spider-Man star 'found himself' during journey to Hollywood


By Ian Scheuring, Digital Executive Producer, KGMB

Image Courtesy: Sony/Columbia Pictures

Image Courtesy: Sony/Columbia Pictures


Three years ago, in a classroom on the Kalihi campus of Damien Memorial School, Jacob Batalon was faced with the same daunting dilemma that thousands of high school students across the state must also embrace.  

Life after high school weighs heavy on the mind of any high school senior, though for most, dreaming about how best to own one's future – where to go, what to do, who to be – isn't usually the dilemma. Typically, it's more about trying to comprehend what will be required to realize that dream – and then having the willpower to actually do so.

For Batalon, the dream did not initially center around acting. There were no plans to embrace Hollywood, and there certainly weren't any plans to star as Ned Leeds – Peter Parker's best friend – in this summer's 'Spider-Man: Homecoming.'

"I wanted to be a musician," laughed Batalon, speaking to Hawaii News Now ahead of Wednesday's Hollywood premiere of the film. "Acting just sort of found its way to me. I was going to school in New York, and now I'm here doing what I love."

Batalon's post-Damien move from Hawaii to New York City was one he says was born out of necessity – the type of decision usually only made by those who are willing to take risks in order to realize personal goals. Hawaii is still home, he says, "but there were no opportunities for me there."

He found them instead in The Big Apple, where Batalon decided to set aside his musical aspirations and attend the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Art, a film school in Midtown Manhattan whose alumni include Matthew Fox and Miles Teller. 

It was a place, says Batalon – who admits to having been insecure about "the way I looked" – that allowed him to unlock his potential as more than just an actor.  

"At first, I would sell myself short a lot. But when you learn about filmmaking and acting, you actually learn a lot about yourself," said Batalon. "I learned so many things about myself that I hadn't known in the first place."

The experience made him stronger, more confident in himself, and more ready to embrace the opportunities he had left his home in Salt Lake to seek. Batalon's manager – who he linked up with while still in school – caught wind of the 'Spider-Man' audition and convinced him to attend, something he's unlikely to have done before obtaining the self-certainty the Conservatory provided.

Aside from an appearance in a movie he identified "more as a passion project," the 'Spider-Man' reboot – which critics project as one of the biggest blockbuster hits of the summer – is Batalon's first major acting gig.

"I believe that you can only find yourself when you apply yourself, and your environment has a lot to do with that," says Batalon. "If you're in a place you're accustomed to, then you're not growing. You need to be in a place where you can learn more and grow more."

He did plenty of both on the 'Homecoming' set, where he was able to learn from Hollywood legends Robert Downey, Jr. (who reprises his role as Tony Stark in yet another Marvel Universe movie), Michael Keaton (the villain Vulture) and Marissa Tomei (Peter Parker's beloved Aunt May), though his most profound piece of A-list advice came courtesy of veteran actor and director Jon Favreau.

"He told me, 'Jacob, look. I started out with the best friend roles, always the sidekick, but it opens up a lot of doors for you. You're doing a great job, and I can't wait to see you work,'" says Batalon. 

Batalon's Damien classmates and Hawaii-based fans will finally get to see his work on July 7 – the school is reserving several screens in a local movie theater in order to host a viewing party on the day the film releases – and though he says he's anxious for the world to see the movie, he knows better than to take the moment for granted.

"I've been blown away by everything we've been doing, from making the movie to traveling the world," Batalon says. "I've been appreciating everything since day one. It still amazes me how we get to do all these crazy things."

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