By Gary Murray

Actress Teresa Palmer walked into the room in light ivory pants and jacket, her flowing blonde locks brightening the room.  Behind her was Nicholas Hoult, the dark and brooding actor with a shy smile.  He has been on film fan minds since his role as Marcus in About a Boy.  

The two were recently on tour to promote their new zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies.  The film takes place after a plague where half the population has become flesh-eaters and the other half prey.  R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie who lives at the airport, trying to make sense of his existence.  One day he sees, Julie (Teresa Palmer) a young woman and his zombie heart is moved. 

Directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness) Warm Bodies is a Romeo and Juliet story that takes place in the milieu of the undead.  At times, it is frightening and other times it is achingly funny.  As Teresa said, “It is such a breath of fresh air.  It was original and unique and daring.  I love that it is a mash-up of all of these different genres.  It’s comedic and a romantic film.  It has some action and of course it is in the zombie genre.”

Nicholas added, “I really like the take that it is told from my characters perspective–which we have never seen before–to get into the mindset of that.  With Jonathan being the director, he’s got a really soft touch at making a film that is funny and not taking itself too seriously.  But, then also keeping a lot of heart and keeping it grounded it in reality even with a concept that may seem slightly ridiculous.”

In the film, R has few lines and most of the film’s exposition is done in voice-over.  Nicholas found an acting test with the stoic role.  “It was a new challenge,” he said.  “Luckily, there was some great voice-over which gives you an insight into my character’s thoughts and witty self-deprecating outlook on the situation he’s found himself in.  But then it was all about just focusing on the fact that this is a character who is trying to do his best to emote and connect even though he is struggling with it.”

He found a thread between being a young, bitten zombie and being a young, smitten male. “I think a lot of guys can relate to that.  Put them in a room with a girl they like and they panic and have nothing to say.  Fortunately for me I was surrounded by very talented actors with a very strong script and a director who was very supportive and encouraging.  So, I could just sit there and watch them perform and enjoy what they were doing and try to react in a zombie manner,” said Nicholas.

The film is based on the book Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion but the principles were not familiar with the novel when first approached to play their roles.  According to Nicholas, “I read the script first and loved it.  I cared about the character and though that this could be a really different and interesting film.  Once I had met Jonathan and been cast in the film, I read the book.  It is very different and there are some very interesting ideas and strange concepts in the book that are absent in the film.” 

Teresa added, “The script that Jonathan wrote didn’t change a lot throughout the filming.  He had captured the characters and all the key story beats really clearly.  That is a rarity.  More often than not, when you go and shoot a film, the script you initially read prior to filming completely changes by the end.  Certainly a lot of the acts get changed around.  It is liberating as an actor to put your trust in the director and the material they’ve written because it is so strong.  It is really a great blessing for you as a performer.”

Teresa was complimentary about her co-star and how he approached his character.  Of the character R, she said, “He has beautiful way about him, this lax spirit.  The way he is so sensitive and he just wants to look after her and take care of her.  He wears his heart on his sleeve.  She knows he’s a good guy and he’s trying so hard.  She sees that he’s making the best of this horrible situation.”

She expanded on the thought, “I think she sees that in her own self too, she can relate to that.  She’s been thrust into this world, this horrible dark world where her mother has been killed and her boyfriend is missing and she’s this bright light amongst this dismal community.  I think that R is the same way.”

Nicholas sees R as very different from himself.  “A lot of times,” he said, “these characters are outsiders.  I enjoy as an actor to completely try and transform and morph, not sound like myself or look like myself.  Then, I find it is not quite difficult to watch at the premiere.  If you sound and look like yourself–it is terrifying.  It is really, really awkward.  I like trying to bring a human quality and soul to those sorts of characters.  I guess I like wearing a lot of make-up at work.  Those characters I relate to them.”

Since his character had so few actual lines, there were many of moments of quiet with the performance.  “I loved the beauty in the silence,” he said of his stoic-styled role.  “So much is said when we are just looking at each other.  I think the way he is, the stillness and how he is able to emote so much through his eyes and his body language has such an effect on Julia.  It calms her down, slows her down.”

Teresa had to take on a major portion of the talking in Warm Bodies.  She said, “For me, I was initially nervous about the idea that I have the majority of the dialogue–pretty much all the dialogue between the two of us.  I have never taken on a role quite like that.  It is definitely the most I have ever spoken.  But then when I got on set and I saw how ‘in our shoes’ Nicholas managed to get.  He really got beneath his character.  I truly felt I was in the room there with R and I was Julie.  That alone told me so much.  I could look at him and I knew exactly how he was feeling.  That is a testament to what a brilliant actor Nick is.  I never felt alone in those scenes at all.”

Nicholas loved the challenge of being mostly mute during the filming of Warm Bodies.  He also knew that the actress who took the part of Julie would have to work over and above what a normal actress would have to perform in a normal film.  He said, “When I got cast there was obviously a fine balance to strike because I wasn’t saying a lot or being able to do a lot in the film.  We needed someone for Julie to have a real positive spark and energy around her.  The role needed someone that you could believe in.  Teresa had that from the first reading.”

He knew early on that she was the right actress for the role.   “I remember at the end of one take,” He said, “there was a moment where she gave me a little nudge and a grin and a smile.  It was this little heart-warming moment.  This is a girl where I could understand not wanting to eat her brains and being able to create change in me.  It was really nice on set because I could sit and enjoy Teresa’s performance and sometimes get so wrapped up in it that I’d forget my one line,” he shared with a laugh.

They both admitted that the running for the third act was the most physically challenging aspect of making the film.  “We filmed the ending for three weeks,” Teresa said. “Pretty much we were running all day.  What they would do is mount the camera on a golf cart and they would drive in front of us, being on the back filming.  We would have to keep specific distance and they are the ones who set the speed.  So we actually have to keep up with the golf cart and you can’t get tired.  You have to just keep on running and you feel as if you are running for your life.” 

Both had nothing but admirations for comic Rob Corddry, the former Daily Show correspondent who has appeared in such films as Hot Tub Time Machine and Old School.  Nick admitted that there was one particular moan that made him lose his character focus every time.  He said, ‘The guy is hilarious and made me laugh.”  She finished by saying “He’s such a crack-up.” 

One of the elements the two enjoy from the film is the score.  Teresa said that the music was almost a character in the movie.  In a film where the lead actor has very limited expressions, the tunes became his voice.  “There is something going on with this guy,” Nicholas saw with his music choices, “more than meets the eye with this guy.  It kind of gives it a kick.”

Teresa added, “The music is very eclectic.  It’s romantic, it’s funny it is all these different things.  I thought it was fitting for this film.”

They did see a grander message to Warm Bodies.  Said Teresa, “I think what is neat about the story is that I breathe life back into R and he also breathes live back into me.  There is not much hope in the society (of the film).   The refreshing thing about Julie is she is more of a bright spot than the majority of the humans left in this population.  When she gets thrust into this situation with R where all of a sudden she is taken to his lair.  He’s a hoarder and there are trinkets.  He has vinyl and music.  Initially, she is very fearful and very confused.  It is a bizarre situation.  Her confusion turns into curiosity and wonderment.  It is through that where she realizes that ‘Oh, my gosh–there is hope.  Through our love, he is bound to heal.  Perhaps, if he is starting to heal, then the others can heal too.’  It is just an organic transition from the fear into the curiosity, to the admiration eventually to love.”

Then Nicholas Hoult added, “The world is so busy now days and there is a sensory overload. Sometimes, just to be able to shut that out and be aware of the world around us, to connect and appreciate the world and just enjoy life.” 

Teresa Palmer finished the thought and interview by saying, “My favorite message in the movie is the idea that love breathes life back into us.  There are so many disenfranchised people in the world and if you can just connect back to love can heal.  Love can make the world a brighter shade.  It is something that I connect to personally and I think the story shares that with people.”

Warm Bodies opens Feb 1st.  

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