It’s Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles, and Chris Pratt and Tom Holland are feeling the love. Though there’s a significant age gap between the 40-year-old Pratt and the 23-year-old Holland, the two exude a warm, jokey rapport, one forged by their shared experience inhabiting Marvel superheroes, with Pratt playing Star-Lord in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise and Holland playing Spider-Man. “I can’t help but try to be like a big brother to Tom,” Pratt says. “Thanks, man,” says Holland.
The latest Pixar animated film, “Onward,” in theaters Friday, draws upon that fraternal feeling, with Holland and Pratt lending their voices, respectively, to Ian and Barley Lightfoot, two young elves who embark on a quest to try to magically bring their late father back to life for one day.
Director and co-writer Dan Scanlon drew inspiration for the heartstrings-tugging fantasy comedy-adventure from the death of his own father when he was a baby and a recording of his voice that he and his older brother came upon as teenagers. “Sadly, like myself, a lot of kids do have to deal with these themes [of losing a parent] and I think our hope is that the movie can kind of walk them through it in a way that is honest but also fun and funny,” Scanlon says. “We do our best to ride that line.”
Pratt and Holland, who have shared the screen in the box office juggernauts “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” spoke to The Times about delving into the movie’s emotional depths, embracing nerdy fantasy pursuits and pressing onward through the ups and downs of Marvel superstardom. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What appealed to you both about “Onward” when you first heard the pitch?
Holland: Obviously it doesn’t need that much convincing for someone to say yes to a Pixar movie, but it was even easier when I heard how passionate Dan was about telling this story. So after my first meeting I was basically begging for them to give me this job and I was lucky enough that they did. And then I got luckier still when they told me that Chris was involved and he was going to play my big brother. I thought that was kind of a storybook ending because we have a very brotherly relationship anyway.
Pratt: When Dan told me his story about his relationship with his brother and the trauma of having lost a father, it was very moving. I lost my father [in 2014], and my brother, sister and I entered that inevitable season of having lost a parent early and so that was something I’ve dealt with and I understand.
Some of the stuff was incredibly emotional [to perform]. I remember being pushed to that edge to where you’re like, “This is a cartoon. I’m not going to go there.” It’s always a bit of an inner conflict, like, how much of this am I willing to share right now? And then they push and they push and they push and then you go there.
What are your personal favorite Pixar movies?
Holland: I’d say my top 3 would be “Toy Story 2,” the first “Incredibles” and “Coco.”
Pratt: Yeah, “Toy Story” is great. I was a big fan of “Up.” And I’ve seen “The Incredibles” so many times with my son that it’s always going to be a special movie for me.
This movie takes place in a world of elves and unicorns and magic and is steeped in role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. Were you guys into that sort of fantasy stuff when you were growing up?
Holland: I love the “Lord of the Rings” [movies]. I never read those books but I did read “The Hobbit” and I loved that. And then I played “Skyrim.” I had all Daedric armor. It’s the mack daddy of all the armor. Look it up.
Pratt: My friends had D&D but I was weirdly not allowed to play it — it wasn’t something we were allowed to do in our household. But we would play “Rifts” and “MechWarrior” and other role-playing games. Mostly, though, my brother and my friends and I dreamed of growing up to draw comic books. I remember I had this book about the lore of dwarves and I would draw thousands of dwarves and battle axes and war hammers and helmets and armor and stuff like that.
Was it easy for you to tap into the kind of brotherly relationship we see between Ian and Barley? Chris, you’ve said that, through your Marvel connection, you’ve tried to be like a big brother to Tom in a way.
Pratt: I’ve made plenty of mistakes. But you learn from people’s mistakes if you’re smart, so I would like for him to learn from my mistakes. Don’t ramble in interviews is the main one, I think. [Laughs]
I think he’s handling [stardom] incredibly well, though. I’ve had many incremental steps to get to where I am, and each one was a massive victory for me — from not having to wait tables anymore to getting my SAG card to doing a job that paid me more than 500 bucks all the way up to where I am now. And for him, going up to the level that he’s at now that quickly has got to be hard. So when I first met him, I tried to affirm to him that I’d heard about what a great actor he was and that he could hold his own against Robert Downey Jr. That was one of the first things I wanted to tell him: “This is how you’re perceived. People think highly of you.”
Tom, has it been difficult to adjust to huge fame so quickly?
Holland: I think what I’ve been really good at is only living my life in the spotlight when I have to. You don’t see me in a tabloid magazine. You never see me on a date with a famous person. When I go home I live a very, very regular life. I play a lot of golf. I go to the pub. The pub quiz is the highlight of my week with my family. The idea of being a movie star is weird to me. It doesn’t feel like that’s who I am at all.
I do have moments where I freak out and I go, “What’s happening to my life? I don’t know how to handle anything like this.” And then I call someone like Chris or call my brothers and figure out it. Because people work a lot harder for far less and we just have to keep reminding ourselves of how lucky we are to be in the positions we’re in. And if that means someone is going to take a picture of you when you walk outside your house, you have to take it on the chin and realize it’s a privilege and not a burden.
When you’ve played these giant Marvel superheroes and been in the biggest movie of all time, do you ever worry about getting people to see past that and accept you in other roles?
Holland: I love Spider-Man so much that if people only saw me as Spider-Man for the rest of my life that wouldn’t bother me at all. Being Spider-Man is literally my dream come true. There is an interview of me about 10 years ago on my first red carpet and someone says, “If you could be any superhero, who would you be?” And I say, “I’d like to be Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield.” And it happened!
Pratt: It’s inevitable we’re coming into other things with audience expectations. People look at your face and they carry with them into the theater any baggage they have around the characters you’ve played or character flaws you may have personally — if you have a different political opinion, if you’ve done something stupid in the press recently. Some people have mastered the art of completely hiding in plain sight and you never know who they are. I’ve never been like that. I’m just a little bit too open and talk a little bit too much. I’m not calculated in that way. It’s just not natural for me.
We’ll see. I still owe installments of these franchises but I have been in a position where I was pigeonholed before and I broke that mold when I did Star-Lord [coming off of playing] Andy Dwyer in “Parks and Rec” or even doing Andy from the sort of jock [jerks] that I was playing before. And I still don’t think people actually know who I am.
While we’re on the subject of Marvel, just clear one thing up for fans, Tom. How was Star-Lord able to overpower Spider-Man relatively easily and get him into a headlock when they first meet in “Infinity War”?
Holland: [Smiling] Because I wanted to be cuddled by Chris Pratt.