We’ve seen multiple iterations of Spider-Man’s Aunt May on the big screen in the last 16 years, but Lily Tomlin’s version in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is completely different than what Rosemary Harris, Sally Field and Marisa Tomei have done. Sure, she’s as loving and protective as any other take, but what sets her apart is her deep involvement in her nephew’s vigilante activities. She’s definitely not the damsel in distress she’s been depicted as in the past — and it was one element of the character that the actress playing her really valued:
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse notably doesn’t follow Peter Parker as its central hero, but does still have a key role for Aunt May to play. Specifically, while her actual nephew is killed in the first act of the movie, she winds up teaming with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and the alternate dimension Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) to try and stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from activating his super collider and destroying the city. Saying exactly how she helps is a bit spoiler-y, but she does play an important role.
I got to discuss the role of Aunt May in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse with Lily Tomlin a couple weeks ago when I sat down with the actress during the film’s Los Angeles press day. Being familiar with the many different versions of the character we’ve seen in popular culture, I was curious how she felt about not playing the standard — put into some perilous situation that requires rescue from the webslinger. As it happens it was something that she definitely appreciated, partially because it offered something new and didn’t go the easy route.
Overall it was very much a project of which Lily Tomlin loved being a part, expressing love for the diversity that the animated feature offers, and the fact that it’s a special take introducing audiences to a character they may have never heard of before. And the fact that her version of Aunt May has an active and important role in all of it was a very real bonus. Tomlin explained,
You can watch Lily Tomlin discuss not only her role in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, but also her first experience watching the finished film, by clicking play on the video below!