Halfway through his senior year at the Bronx High School of Science, Arun Bishop received an unexpected request. He was sitting in the principal’s office chatting casually with an adviser when the vice principal approached him with an offer from Marvel Studios.
Marvel wanted to send the newest Spider-Man—the London-born actor Tom Holland—to high school so he could better understand his role as the teen Peter Parker. But because Parker is a brilliant tech whiz at the fictional Midtown School of Science and Technology, there was only one place Holland could go.
You see, the Bronx High School of Science is not your run-of-the-mill high school. It is consistently ranked as one of the top high schools in the country, and students must score highly on a competitive New York City-wide exam to gain entry.
The public school’s list of notable alumni is so extensive that it has its own Wikipedia page and includes eight Nobel Prize winners, the celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the “Iron Man” and “Elf” director Jon Favreau. (Full disclosure: I also attended Bronx Science, but I have yet to make it onto the Wikipedia page.)
Marvel wanted Holland to shadow a student who was pursuing a STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—curriculum similar to what Parker would be studying, and Bishop quickly emerged as a prime candidate. As a senior, Bishop was the captain of the school’s robotics team and was taking high-level science classes.
Bishop—a big Marvel fan who lists Iron Man as his favorite Avenger because of his love of robotics—quickly agreed to let Holland shadow him for a couple of days.
“I’ve never been huge on celebrities. I never followed that sort of stuff,” Bishop told Business Insider. “But I thought it’d be a really cool experience.”
At the beginning of February 2016, Holland arrived at Bronx Science and met Bishop in the courtyard before school started. The pair got to know each other a bit and reviewed Holland’s backstory.
Because Marvel wanted Holland to get as close to an authentic experience as possible, he had to go undercover. In addition to Bishop, the only other people who would know Holland’s true identity were his teachers and a few members of the administration.
Holland would use an American accent and introduce himself to other students as Bishop’s cousin Ben. Any questions about how he got into Bronx Science without taking the entrance exam would be explained away by saying his father was in the military and recently was stationed in New York.
The plan was almost foiled from the start. The school had provided Holland with an ID card so he could swipe in at the beginning of the day. However, instead of creating one with a unique card number, it instead made a copy of Bishop’s, with a different photo and name. When the pair entered the school, the system registered it as someone trying to swipe in twice and sounded the alarm. Security came over, but they explained the situation and carried on without attracting too much attention. From there, it was time to go to class.
“What Marvel wanted was just to get the experience of a typical STEM high schooler’s life,” Bishop said. “They didn’t want me to do anything special—just walk through the day as I would any other day.”
With a backpack in tow, Holland accompanied Bishop through his STEM-intensive schedule. The actor sat in on Advanced Placement physics; linear algebra and differential equations; experimental engineering; AP calculus AB; AP English literature; and AP microeconomics.
“I felt a little bad for him, having to go through my entire schedule,” Bishop said. “If you don’t know what’s going on, those 40-minute classes must be boring.”
But even though most of the course material was going over his head, Holland was enjoying himself. In England, he had been to only all-boys schools, and he told Bishop it was “a little funny” to be in a coed classroom.
After their first day together, Bishop said it was easy to forget that Holland would soon be one of the most recognizable people in the world. He said the actor was very easy to talk to and that it got to the point where he just felt like he was talking to another friend.
“I kept reminding myself: ‘This is Tom Holland. He’s gonna be Spider-Man for Marvel,’” Bishop said. “It’s weird now when I see him in a commercial or something. There’s a disassociation where my brain knows I’ve talked to this guy and shown him around school, but seeing him on the screen is different.”
By the second day, the thrill of being undercover was wearing off, and Holland was starting to experience a feeling most high schoolers have daily: boredom. To pass the time, he tried to convince some people that he was Spider-Man. It wasn’t that easy, though.
“Most of them wouldn’t believe him at all. Because that just doesn’t make sense, right?” Bishop told Business Insider. “Why, at Bronx Science, would there be an actor who’s been shadowing me for a day and a half?”
Bishop and Holland went out into the courtyard during their lunch period to have some fun. Holland would ask students if they would mind answering a few questions about Marvel, and Bishop would film the interaction on Holland’s phone.
“He’d ask them: ‘Do you watch Marvel Movies? Who’s your favorite superhero? What do you think of the new Spider-Man actor?’” Bishop said. “It was crazy; nobody recognized him.”
Bishop and Holland did manage to convince one group of girls that Holland was Spider-Man by showing them his ID and having them look him up on their phones. When the girls realized a celebrity was in their midst, they “went a little crazy,” Bishop said.
At the end of Holland’s two days undercover, the pair parted ways. Holland left to begin filming the first of six films in which he’ll play the famous wall-crawler.
Bishop is now a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in computer science. Though he was selected to help Holland better understand the life of Parker, his career goals line up more closely with those of Tony Stark: Bishop hopes to one day obtain his master’s and work in the field of robotics.
And now that Spider-Man: Homecoming is taking the box office by storm?
“I have obviously bragged a little,” Bishop said. “Because why not?”