Directed by John Whitesell and written by Tiffany Paulsen, the Netflix original romantic comedy Holidate follows holiday haters Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) who meet on a particularly bad Christmas that leads to a pact to be there for each other on all of the holidays throughout the next year. With their arrangement to be one another’s plus-one locked in and no need to worry about being dateless, they have fun that leads them to realize that they might actually enjoy hanging out together more than they expected.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Aussie actor Luke Bracey talked about whether he’d ever had anything similar to a “holidate” before, what he enjoyed about the script, the pressure that families can put on you, whether he’s a holiday lover or hater, the fun relationship dynamic, and what made him crack up on set. He also talked about shooting a movie about Elvis Presley with director Baz Luhrmann, and the excitement of going to work every day.
COLLIDER: I thought this movie was so much fun.
LUKE BRACEY: Thank you. It’s the perfect movie for right now, with a bit of fun, a bit of laughs, and a bit of romance. It’s really a sweet thing to be watching, at the moment. I had a ton of fun making it. Going to work for a couple of months and just laughing all day was really, really fun. I had such a great time. I had so much fun. I just want people to enjoy the film.
When you make a movie like this, that so depends on the chemistry, is there like a moment of, “Oh, my God, what if I get there and we just hate each other?”, and then you have to spend a whole movie together?
BRACEY: That’s really every film. You spend so much time making it, and you spend 14 hours a day for a number of months with these people, so that’s always a little worry but I’ve been really lucky on every job that I’ve ever done. It’s always been a real pleasure and I’ve been able to work with awesome people that I’ve always gotten along with. I’ve been very fortunate, in that I’ve always managed to snag jobs with some of the good ones.
Before doing this movie, had you ever heard of a holidate or any sort of equivalent to that? Has that ever been a thing for you or any of your friends or family?
BRACEY: Not really. Obviously, you have platonic friends and stuff like that but I’d never heard this specific idea. That’s one of the things that really got me when I read the script. First of all, it was just really funny, off the page, which is a big thing. Reading a script, sometimes it’s supposed to be funny but you just can’t get the laughs. But I was laughing out loud when I was reading this script, and I thought the concept was great. Especially around the holidays, there are events that are built around having a partner and when you don’t have one, it can be quite stressful in that way and you just see other people’s eyes looking at you. It’s one of those things with relationships, that way. Sometimes we forget who we’re doing things for. Are we doing them for our idea of what other people see us as? I like the idea of a holidate to just be like, “Look, this is a friend of mine that’s here, so that you don’t have to even talk to me about that because that’s not what I wanna talk about.”
What do you think it is that make people allow their families to pressure them in that way, when they wouldn’t let other people get away with that?
BRACEY: Yeah. It’s that familiarity. It all comes from a place of love and good intentions but it just gets lost in this idea of, “This is what you need to do and this is what needs to happen,” rather than, “What do I wanna do? What do I want to happen?” But I think it comes to a place of love. I hope it does. I’m lucky, my family has never really put that pressure on each other. With us, it’s this “As long as you’re happy,” kind of thing and I think that’s what it should be. It is a funny thing, that kind of pressure that’s put on this whole idea. People might even jump into things that they’re not ready, or want, or are built for, just to appease other people. That’s the opposite of how we should be forming out relationships.
Are you somebody who is a holiday lover or a holiday hater, or do you fall somewhere in between? Are you someone who does the matching holiday sweaters at Christmas, or do you not go that overboard?
BRACEY: I love the holidays. Christmas day is the one day that I’m guaranteed to be with [my family], and it is my favorite day because of that. And the weather in Sydney is always beautiful. So, Christmas day is my favorite day of the year. We don’t quite do matching Christmas sweaters because it’s a bit warm and we don’t really do matching anything. But we sit around and everyone’s got the one dish that they make and bring. It’s just a really awesome day. I look forward to it every year. If I’m ever missing home, during the year, I’ll look at photos of it and watch videos of it and it makes me feel nice and warm inside.
I’m much more of a Halloween person because I have better Halloween decorations than Christmas decorations.
BRACEY: Halloween is a good time. I’ve been in America for a number of years now and it’s something that I’m understanding a little bit more every year. I still find it a little strange. It’s very morbid with death and skeletons but for little kids. I find that a little strange. If I grew up in America, I might be a little scared of it. But no, it’s a fun thing. With my American family that I lived many years with and who are just so close to me, I remember going trick-or-treating with the kids when I was little and it was such a sweet thing. I really, really enjoyed those times trick-or-treating with the kids.
This is less of a friends-to-lovers story and more of a “strangers who barely start to tolerate each other” story. What did you enjoy about that dynamic because the banter between your characters is so fun?
BRACEY: I think that’s where all great relationships are. They’re in a place of honesty. One thing that’s really endearing about Jackson and Sloane in this film is that they’re really honest to each other and about themselves and about each other. When you think about the basis of a relationship, one of the reasons things progress throughout the film is that there’s no, “Well, I should say this because they’re going to like that.” It’s a pure version of themselves that they’re bringing to this initial friendship, and that’s endearing to someone else. When you’re open and honest, there are no secrets. That’s probably the thing that makes it work for Jackson and Sloane, just in their friendship in general, and then obviously with how things progress. That’s a beautiful thing, the place of honesty that they come from. All relationships, especially romantic relationships, have gotta be honest. Jackson and Sloane make each other laugh, and that’s another huge part of it.
It seems like striking the right balance between the romance and the raunchier comedy would be a bit tricky. Did you guys have any conversations about how to keep the heart of this film without it going too far in any direction?
BRACEY: Yeah, the director, John Whitesell, was great that way. He’s seasoned and knows exactly what he’s doing in terms of crafting these movies. And then Emma and I, when we first met, it was like meeting an old friend and we wanted to keep that. We’ve become good friends and it was like we had known each other for a long time. That really helps. We didn’t have to play towards the connection because we were friends, and that’s the basis of the movie. It was really interesting because rom-coms can go either way but you’ve gotta remember that the second half to the rom-com is the comedy. The romance takes care of itself. When it comes to drama, it’s all about the build up of tension and then the release. With a comedy, it’s gotta be with a laugh. With drama, it’s with tears or conflict. The script was well-crafted and John, the director, really helped us navigate that. The one thing we did want for the basis of it is that they’re friends first. That gets rid of all the worry about it being romantic or sentimental. At the end of the day, they just need to be friends, and then all of the other stuff will come from that.
They have a pretty big verbal blow-up moment and they also have the big sweeping gesture moment. Is it more fun to shoot the big blow-up that you had to do in the grocery store, or is it more fun to do the big sweeping gesture moment in the mall?
BRACEY: They’re both really fun. There’s something about the crowd aspect for that big sweeping moment which makes it really beautiful. We got to have some fun with my reaction to that. But then, I really did enjoy the confrontation scene in the supermarket because it’s the build up of it all. It’s all about that tension and then that release. It was really fun to throw that passion in and to really have it mean something. It’s not just lollipops and rainbows. It now has consequences for these two characters. I think it’s a really beautiful and honest moment for Jackson. It’s not often that men can be that honest and open, and I really enjoyed that. It’s something that I try to be in my life and try to work towards and often fail at but I’m constantly conscious of. I really love that it’s Jackson taking that initiative. Typically, you’d expect Emma’s character to maybe take that initiative and make that step, and I really enjoyed that reality of it. It’s not always the girl saying, “Hey, we’re in love. Let’s do this.” This time it was Jackson saying, “Hey, can we just stop and have a look at what’s right in front of us?” I really enjoyed that vulnerability from a male character.
It really does feel like there are some interesting role reversals in this film that we’re not typically used to in a rom-com.
BRACEY: The great thing about this film is that it’s unapologetically a rom-com, and I love that. That’s what we want. But at the same time, we managed to invert a number of things. It still is exactly a rom-com but we’re playing with your expectations a little bit. Hopefully, some things happen that you aren’t expecting. That’s what I really enjoyed about the script and I really wanted to do the movie that way. It’s that time in our society where we should question how things have been done so far and why we’ve gotta just do the same as we’ve always done them.
When you shoot a movie like Holidate and you’re living through a year’s worth of holidays in just over one month, did that make for an oddly confusing year for you?
BRACEY: It was quite odd. The strangest thing was that we filmed the movie in Atlanta but it was set in Chicago, so it was May in Atlanta but it was supposed to be Christmas time in Chicago, and you’re wearing a peacoat and a turtleneck and you’re sweating a lot while you’re pretending it’s cold. That threw me. And then, when we did the 4th of July party, it was actually around that time and it was a little confusing. I went on a little holiday afterward for a couple of weeks and I was like, “What day is it? Where am I?” But it was really fun. It was fun being able to celebrate basically every day at work. Most days were us having a party or celebrating something. That was actually really fun.
Was there a scene or a moment in this that made you crack up and you just couldn’t stop laughing?
BRACEY: There were just so many of them, actually. There were some great ones. There was a hilarious, silly, stupid scene in a car, where Emma’s character convinces me to eat some chocolate, which was just ridiculous. That was really funny. Any scene with Kristin Chenoweth in it, I really struggled to keep a straight face. She is one of the funniest people and the loveliest people that you’ll ever meet in your life. Basically, any time she is on camera, it is guaranteed to be a laugh. She just makes me laugh so much. The opening scene, where I’m on that very strange Christmas date with the girl and her family, was funny. I remember reading the script and being like, “Oh, this is real funny. This is ridiculous, and I love how ridiculous this is.” Pretty much every day at work, we just laughed. We laughed all day long. It was such a pleasure to go to work.
You’re also doing a movie with Baz Luhrmann about Elvis Presley.
BRACEY: Yes, right now I’m actually in the car on the way to work.
What’s it like to be on his set and to do one of his productions, because his movies always seem very grand?
BRACEY: I’m not allowed to say anything but it is a Baz Luhrmann production and it’s exciting in the fact that it’s huge. It’s the Elvis story. We all know about him and how big his life was. So, Baz Luhrmann making that, it’s certainly huge and it is so exciting. Every day at work, there’s a buzz and real excitement to it.
His movies are always just so gorgeous to look at.
BRACEY: He’s made some unbelievable films. Who else to make this story besides him? He’s made some beautiful films and the visual aspect of his films are what’s so striking about them. He really draws you in, as an audience. He’s a terrific filmmaker. He’s made some epic films.
Holidate is now available to stream on Netflix.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.