Marisa Tomei on Playing Aunt May in ‘Spider-Man’ and Typecasting

Actress Marisa Tomei

“I’m always fighting whatever stereotypes one gets into and trying to change it up.” – Marisa Tomei

Say what you want about Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei playing Aunt May in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it is definitely casting against type and an early sign that this Spider-Man movie wasn’t going to retread much of the previous movie versions of the character. In an interview with the New York Times, Tomei talks about being unfamiliar with the character and how she purposely tries to subvert stereotypes in order to avoid typecasting.

Tomei admits that when she signed to appear as Aunt May in a brief scene in Captain America: Civil War, she did not know that May is typically depicted as an elderly woman in the comics. She explains, “I was horrified. Talk about crushed. [Laughs] I went through the whole negotiation without knowing. They just kept saying ‘an iconic character, an iconic character.’ It sounds kind of ridiculous, but it all happened very quickly. It was right before Captain America: Civil War was shooting. Everything happened within maybe 10 days. But I was more focused on my deal, honestly. And then, the illustration was revealed to me.”

Though she plays a much-younger version of Aunt May in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tomei does recognize that actors often face casting issues as they age — but she points out that she makes an effort to diversify her projects. She says, “They get depressed. Morose. Bitter. [Laughs] No, we’re staying away from that. I did two plays this past year [The Rose Tattoo at the Williamstown Theater Festival and How to Transcend a Happy Marriage for Lincoln Center Theater], and Spider-Man. All of them were very rich experiences and very different. Of course, I’m always fighting whatever stereotypes one gets into and trying to change it up. Not because of some cerebral approach to it, but more from a soulful approach. As you can see in this, my big stretch is being from Brooklyn but playing from Queens.”

For example, Tomei flexed her acting range by playing a rare villainous role on TV’s Empire, which she admits was a challenge for her. She reveals, “It was also challenging to me, to be that authoritative and bitchy, really. The suits helped. I’ve played a handful of sunny people, and I’d like to do something where I get to be either obnoxious or dark and angry. It’s hard for me to feel that way. That’s a whole other psychological dive, I suppose.”

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