They say a hero is only as good as their guy in the chair. And by "they", we mean Ned Leeds, who in Spider-Man: Homecoming was delighted to learn his best friend Peter Parker is the masked spider hero. Jacob Batalon is back in Spider-Man: Far From Home, although this time his role will be switched up; he's fallen for Betty Brant, and now his focus is all about love as his buddy takes on multiverse threats.
Screen Rant caught up with Batalon as part of our visit to the Far From Home set, where we went deeper into Ned Leeds' role in the sequel.
It’s always been a challenge in the comics of protecting Peter’s secret identity, and now you’re tasked with that also. How are you rising to that challenge in the sequel?
It comes up in a number of different ways this time around. I think that with the whole Elemental creature attacks and stuff like that, and it happening around the world and Europe specifically where we’re at, it definitely gets kind of hard for Peter to disappear conveniently and do his thing. It gets really funny, to a point where it’s almost ridiculous how no one can tell if he’s Spider-Man or not.
Speaking of his relationship with Peter, in Homecoming Ned only just found out that Spider-Man was Peter. And then we saw in Infinity War that he’s comfortable being the distraction. What’s the relationship between those two like now? How has that changed since we last saw them?
I don’t think it’s changed that much; it’s pretty much the same sort of deal. For the most part in Far From Home, he’s not really focusing on being a hero per se. He sort of just begrudgingly agrees to help fight off these monsters when he really just wants to relax. So that dynamic doesn’t have to sway too much, but it’s still very hilarious how we try to keep it a secret from MJ, Flash, all the kids.
We’ve also seen Ned tease some hacking abilities. Does he get to put those skills to the test in the sequel?
I think that Ned has different plans on his mind this time around. He’s still the guy in the chair and everything, still the best sidekick ever, it’s just that I definitely think Ned has different agendas as well. Not just being the hacker or whatever. That must have sounded really cryptic just now, but it’s really not.
Going into Homecoming, there was a lot of uncertainty about whether what you guys were building would stand on its own – it was another interpretation of Spider-Man, different versions of his classmates essentially. But coming off Homecoming, everyone really dialed into that type of humor, they really liked what you guys brought to the project. Does it free you up going into the sequel to know that people embraced this interpretation of Spider-Man and really accepted you guys as part of the ensemble? They really want to come back to Far From Home to spend time with you guys, too.
It’s definitely very liberating. I think the first time we didn’t really know what would sell, so to speak. Like, what we thought the audience would like. Because again, like you said, the whole expectation of it being just another Spider-Man movie [put the pressure on] to make it different in every aspect. From it being a part of the MCU to Peter actually doing high school things as opposed to high school being the backdrop of Spider-Man. So we’re really happy with the fans. The fans love us, and we love them. Their support means everything to us, and it’s really a lot easier to know what they like. It’s definitely been a faster, fun process this time around.
One of the cool things with Ned in this film is his relationship with Betty. Can you talk a little bit about that, because that’s obviously very different to what you were doing in the first film?
Betty and Ned are kind of a distraction for each other during this point in time. It’s really Ned’s first time being with someone, so to speak, and it just plays into the whole story where she’s always there with Ned. It’s a really cute pairing, and it just turns out really sweet and funny having that dynamic with [Angourie Rice], who’s really amazing by the way. It’s just another fun aspect of the film.
How does Ned shift so quickly from being excited about him and Peter being single guys out on vacation to being in a serious relationship? Is it just one magical plane ride?
Yeah, I definitely think it’s the definition of a whirlwind romance. People will definitely fall in love with their relationship so quickly. I don’t know how to explain, because I don’t really like cutesy relationship type of people, but Ned and Betty are so adorable. It’s great.
Jacob, I think everyone’s going to be really curious about the Elementals. We were there to see some of the Venice scene being shot, we know that’s a water creature. What else can you tell us about filming with the effects that are going to create the Elementals? What should people know about the Elementals going into the sequel?
They’re all just very big, massive, scary things that can actually kill people. I think what makes it so different and makes it a standalone story in and of itself, is that in Homecoming nothing really happened on a world scale. The Vulture was just terrorizing private parts of New York essentially, but these monsters actually can destroy whole countries and everything. So it’s looking to be crazy scary and huge, gigantic Elemental monsters.
Obviously in this film, you’re on the trip and you’ve got a very tight set of people. So you’ve got Peter, Betty, Michelle, Flash and everybody. What’s the dynamic like in the movie and on set together? Because obviously you know each other better now, and you’re all friends.
On set, it doesn’t even feel like work. The first movie was pretty fun, but we were still getting to know each other. And like you said, now that we know each other, it was so much easier to get on. When we weren’t working, we were always hanging out outside of work anyway – we spent almost ridiculous amounts of time together. I feel like I just gained 8,000 family members, and tt’s been really fun. There’s never been a rough day at work.
Does Ned get a superhero sidekick nickname in this movie? Is that relationship formalized in any way between him and Peter?
You know, definitely not. It’s cool being the guy in the chair, so that side unto itself is just an honor. And I don’t think Ned is looking for that sort of recognition. I really think he just wants to be a part of Peter’s life.
You visit a lot of different locations around Europe in this one. I wonder if you could let us know which was your favorite to visit: was it Venice, was it London? Which was the best place to shoot or the best experience?
I definitely think Prague was probably the best time. It was just a really fun town. Venice was beautiful, and London’s just like New York. It’s really hard to choose. I would say all of it, but definitely Prague was really fun.
For you personally, what was your reaction to the end of Infinity War when the lead of your franchise got dusted?
I mean, I don’t know. I don’t want to seem like I’m heartless. It was crazy, it was sad, but… You know. I felt emotional, but I guess being on the other side of things you don’t get as shocked as you think you would. But it was a really good scene. In the theater, I was actually laughing at that scene, really loudly, like hysterically. All the people crying in the theater looked up, and when they recognized me, I looked away and stared at the wall. And that was me watching the movie.
One of the scenes we saw you guys film was when you were in the Tower of London. The crown jewels were there, and something was trying to come through the door and get you guys. It was a bunch of takes over and over again, and there were a bunch of alternate lines thrown out. I was just wondering if that was representative of the entire shoot for you. Did that feel like how you guys shot the movie? Was there a lot of room to play around, or was that an anomaly?
I feel like the whole process was like that. I think, as you go through the scene, you sort of figure out more things to it. More than you would on paper, and so it helps a lot to just constantly film and find new things through that. That’s kind of the process regularly with us.
Jon Watts, the director, was coming off of a bunch of indie films when Homecoming became one of the biggest films of that year. How was the experience working with him on set different for Far From Home compared to Homecoming?
Jon was sort of in the same boat. Spider-Man was his first huge big-budget thing and before that he had done commercials and independent films. So he was on that same wavelength of the pressure and understanding that it takes a lot to make a movie. Especially to make it stand alone, and I think he’s gone a good job from then to now of handling the pressure of what the fans want and what we try to portray in our films. I definitely think the difference is in the confidence; he’s a lot more sure of what he wants now.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019