Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy, X-Men: First Class) and Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four) star in Jonathan Levine‘s latest film, a hysterical and heart-warming story about young love…and zombies. Warm Bodies is the feature film adaptation of the novel of the same name from Isaac Marion and it’s a wonderfully inventive and original take on traditional zombie films. Moreover it puts such a clever spin on the mythology that it succeeds in making a ludicrous concept into something delightful, endearing and a bit of a paradigm shift.
GoSeeTalk sat with the two stars to talk about their experiences making a Zombie love story that is as fun and witty as it is self-aware. Read through the highlights of our discussion below…
Guys, welcome to Dallas.
NH: Thank you.
TP: Thanks you for having us, we love it here.
Warm Bodies is such a great movie. It’s lots of fun, and such an original genre-bending story. What about the script really made you gravitate to it and made you say ‘I have to do this‘?
TP: Exactly that. It was such a breath of fresh air, it was original and unique and daring. I love that it’s a mash up of all these different genres. It’s comedic and it’s a romantic film with some action film, then of course it’s the zombie genre which is fantastic.
NH: Yeah, I really like the take that it was told from my character’s perspective which I don’t really think we’ve seen that before in a film. It gets into the zombie mindset, then with Jonathan Levine directing, I think he’s got a soft touch and being able to balance making a film funny and not taking itself too seriously, but then also keeping a lot of heart and keeping it grounded in reality even with the concept that maybe seems slightly ridiculous. He manages to do that with this film really really successfully.
Can you tell us about your make-up process a little bit?
NH: The make-up only took an hour and a half. Adrien Morot did it; a very talented make-up artist.
TP: He won an Academy Award didn’t he?
NH: He won an Academy Award for Barney’s Version. It was very simple to wear in many ways and with some contact lenses it really helped to create the character. Once you get the make-up on and the wardrobe and these fantastic sets that we had it was very believable and easy to kind of get lost in the world that they were creating for us.
Nicholas, you said you were drawn to the role for its challenges. Can you talk about the difficulties in a mostly non-verbal role and how you prepared?
NH: It was a new challenge, luckily there was some great voice over which gives you some insight into my character’s thoughts and kind of witty self-depreciating outlook on the situation he’s found himself in. But then it was all about just focusing on this character who’s tried his best to emote and connect even though he’s struggling with it and I think a lot of guys…
TP: …struggle with that *laughs*
NP: *laughs* can relate to that. Put them in a room with a girl they like and suddenly they panic and have nothing to say. Fortunately for me I was surrounded by very talented actors, a 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 then try and react in a kind of Zombie manner…with emotions.
The tone of the book is very different than the actual movie and the book isn’t as funny as the movie. Did you read the book beforehand or after you read the script?
NH: I read the script first and loved it and cared about the character a lot and thought this could be a very interesting and different film. Then once I had met Jonathan and got cast in the film then I read the book. As you said it’s really different and there’s some really interesting ideas and concepts and some very strange things that aren’t in the film. But it was a great insight. The descriptive writing that Isaac managed to capture with the feelings that R goes through are fantastic and helped in creating the character.
TP: It was really well adapted.
NH: Yeah. Also the script that Jonathan wrote didn’t change a lot throughout filming. He had captured the characters and all the key story beats really clearly and that was nice so we could balance it particularly for me having to me and then you *turns to Teresa* having to go through so many emotions of being petrified of me and then this relationship developing, then me also kind of healing. Because the script is so strong it didn’t change and that made our jobs easier.
TP: So much easier and that’s a rarity I think. More often than not when you go to shoot a film the script that you initially read prior to filming completely changes by the end of it. Certainly a lot of the acts get changed around. This was fantastic and it’s very liberating as an actor to just put your trust in the director and the material they’ve written because it’s so strong. And yeah, I think it’s a great blessing for you as a performer.
What do you think attracted your character Julie to R?
NH: My dashing good looks
TP: *laughs* Yes! His dashing, somewhat pale, looks. Um, his way, this beautiful way about him, his light spirit and the way he is so sensitive and just wants to look after Julie and take care of her and he wears his heart on his sleeve and she knows he’s a good guy and that he’s trying so hard that she sees that he actually is making the best of this horrible situation. I think she sees that in her own self too and can relate to that. She’s been thrust into this world, this horrible dark world where her mother’s been killed and her boyfriend is now missing and she’s this bright light among this dismal community and I think R is the same way.
Nicholas, you had played Beast in X-Men: First Class where you had a human and a mutant element and now you’re playing a human with a Zombie element. Is there something that attracts you to being a blue character? That split persona is very fascinating and a lot of psychology goes into the film about you being a Zombie and a human. Can you explain that process?
NH: A lot of the time, these characters are outsiders and I enjoy as an actor being able to completely try and transform and morph and not sound like myself or look like myself or move like myself because then I find it’s not as difficult to watch when you’re sitting at the film’s premier. If you sound and look like yourself it’s terrible *laughs* it really is, it’s really awkward. So with these I like being able to do that and I like being able to try and bring a human quality and soul to those sort of characters.
Was there one scene or sequence that stands out as being the most fun to shoot?
TP: I think we both think that sequence where me and my friends have gone out to get medical supplies and we’re in the building and it’s the first time the zombies come and stampede in which is also the first moment R lays eyes on my character and it’s a pivotal moment in the film.
NH: So much happens in that short period of time where we attack. I get shot, it’s going crazy, it’s a full action sequence, I eat Dave Franco’s brain and I relieve his memories with Julie.
TP: Then I’m shooting a shotgun and sliding on my knees.
NP: And yeah, it’s the first time we interact and it’s a lot going on and it’s just a fun sequence to shoot.
TP: We shot over three days and it was great. There was a smoke machine, stunt people, I’m throwing knives at R.
NP: Yeah, you stab me! I get shot and then I get stabbed really early on. I get shot twice in this film.
TP: And then I’m crying *laughs* it was a lot in that sequence but it’s what makes it our favorite one I think.
NP: And any scene with Rob Corddry because the guy is hilarious and would make me laugh uncontrollably most of the time.
TP: He’s such a crack up!
Well that communication was just great between you and him.
NH: Yeah it was very male communication. Most of the time guys don’t have the best talks and so we’re sitting at a bar and just grumbling back and forth “unnnhhuunnn”…”yunnuuhhnnn”. *laughs* We were improvising groans when we sat there and Rob had one particular groan that would get me every time. We’d sit there going *more Zombie groans* and then he would let out a really slow monotonous long groan.
TP: For as long as long as he could hold his breath, he just kept going!
NH: I would be looking at him and in my head I’d be going “please stop doing that I’m going to laugh, please, please”.
TP: He’d be biting his cheeks to stop himself from laughing!
NH: There’s a lot of outtakes from this film.
Speaking more to the emotions of your characters, a lot of what carried the moments where you couldn’t speak was the music. It was a really awesome and eclectic soundtrack.
TP: Yeah the music is almost like another character.
Absolutely, and I was thinking that just like teenagers who have trouble communicating and use songs to describe how they’re feeling, you two did the same. Since this was your “love story” did you two have any input as to the songs used in the film?
NH: No, that was Jonathan. He always manages to create great soundtracks for his films and there’s a nice mix in this one between Bob Dylan and one of the first songs my character plays for Julie is Guns ‘N Roses “Patience” and it kind of hits the moment right on the head because she sees there’s something going on that’s more than meets the eye with this guy. But then they’ve got this mix of the more modern like M83 that’ll kick in occasionally and give it that spark.
Midnight City (by M83) is such a great song.
TP: I love that song! The soundtrack in itself is very eclectic, we have the old artists, we have the new artists, it’s upbeat and fun and that’s really very representative of what this film is too. It’s romantic, it’s funny it’s all these different things so that’s why I thought the soundtrack was perfectly fitting for this film.
What are you hoping that your young fans get from this movie relationship-wise?
NH: Relationship-wise, I don’t know. But I think maybe just recognize how busy the world is now a days. With so much going on we’re at sensory overload and so perhaps the thing we really need to be able to do is just shut that out and be aware of the world around us so we can connect and just appreciate the little things. And just enjoy life.
TP: My favorite message of this movie is really the idea that love breathes life back into us. There are so many disfranchised people in the world and if you can just connect back to the idea that love can heal. Love can make the world a brighter shade and that’s something that I connect to personally and I think the story really shares that with people.
Teresa, you learn how to be a human again even though you already are one. Can you explain your character’s transformation and what it’s like to fall in love with a Zombie?
TP: I think what’s really neat about this story is that my character Julie breathes life back into R but he also breathes life back into me.
NH: I give you hope.
TP: There is not much hope in our society right now and the refreshing thing about Juile is that she is more of a bright spark than the majority of the humans left in [the film’s] population. When she gets thrust into this situation with R where all of a sudden she’s being taken to his lair. She finds he’s a hoarder and there are these trinkets, he has vinyls and he’s playing her music. Initially she’s very fearful and she’s very confused and it’s a bizarre situation but her confusion turns into curiosity and wonderment. She has no idea that Zombies have this side to them at all and everything we know, especially my father John Malkovich, about these corpses is completely backwards and it’s through that that she realizes there really is hope. Through our love he’s starting to heal. Perhaps if he’s starting to heal the others can heal too and it’s just an organic transition from the fear into the curiosity into admiration and eventually into love.
It’s symbolic too like the scene when the walls to the city came down.
TP: Yes! That’s another message, bring down the walls. It was really beautiful.
How was it like acting when your co-star doesn’t have much material to give back to you? Constant dialog versus constant silence?
TP: I loved the beauty in the silence I have to say. So much is said when we’re just looking at each other. His stillness and the way he’s able to emote so much just through his eyes and his body language has such an effect on Julie it also calms her down and slows her down. For me I initially was nervous about the idea that I have the majority of the dialog, pretty much all the dialog between the two of us. I’ve never taken on a role quite like that. It’s definitely the most I’ve ever spoken in a film. But then when I got on set and saw how fully into R’s shoes Nicholas managed to get, he really got beneath his character, and then I truly felt like I was in the room there with R and I was Julie and that alone told me so much.I could look at him and know exactly how he was feeling and that’s a testament to what a brilliant actor Nick is. I never felt alone in those scenes at all.
NH: It was something to work by when I got cast. There was obviously a really fine balance to strike because I wasn’t saying a lot or be able to do a lot in the film. We needed someone for Julie who had a positive spark and energy around her, someone that you could believe and Teresa completely had that from the first reading we did together. I remember at the end of one take there was one moment where I was sitting there groaning and she gave me a little nudge and a grin and a smile and I sat there and it was like a little heart-warming moment where I was like alright, this is a girl I can understand not wanting to eat her brains and being able to create change within me. That made it really nice on set because I could just sit there and enjoy your performance *turns to Teresa* and watch and then sometimes get so wrapped up in it I’d forget my one line.
TP: That’s funny. I knew your lines as well and I’d be like hinting to you going “Safe”…
What was the most physically challenging element to the film?
TP: That whole end sequence was pretty difficult, the sprinting.
NH: Yeah, Zombie run was pretty difficult.
TP: *laughs* Zombie run?
NH: OK Zombie shuffle.
TP: I was really going for it.
NH: Yeah Teresa’s really quick. I’d been practicing on the treadmill in the gym and running around in the car park and it was still tough. But then the run is uncoordinated which is weird because I’m obviously quite the athlete *laughs* so to not run 100 meters in 9.3 seconds is odd.
So how many times did you have to run and film that scene?
TP: Well that’s the thing. We filmed the end scenes over three weeks and we were pretty much running all day. What they would do is they would mount the camera on the back of a golf cart and drive in front of us and someone would be on the back. But we have to keep a specific distance and they’re the ones that set the speed so we actually have to keep up with the golf cart so you can’t get tired you have to just keep on running and you really feel like you’re running for your life!
So what do you guys prefer, Olympic Sprinter Zombies or Slow Moving Zombies and what are your go-to Zombie flicks?
NH: My go to Zombie flick would be Shaun of the Dead.
TP: 28 Days Later
NH: But I don’t know about the Zombie speed. In this one I shuffle but I can keep pace, I can run but not like a super athlete.
It was an awesome hybrid that you portrayed on screen.
NH: Yeah I felt it would be strange if I had suddenly been like Bwooosh and take off running. But that’s not my character, one who could suddenly be a great strong Zombie who could win fights easily. So we found a nice balance between the two.
If you could eat any celebrity and ingest their memories of anyone in the world who would it be?
NH: I’ve said a few different answers. First I went Henry VIII and then I went Tina Turner. I’ve kind of been all over the place but I’d like to ingest the mind of some really intelligent scientist or great philosopher or psychologist but then I feel as though that might destroy me, or I just wouldn’t understand it.
TP: Elizabeth Taylor for me. Old school Hollywood, all these incredible stories in her life, and Richard Burton, that would have been interesting. But yeah it would have been great to see what old Hollywood was like.
NH: I’m gonna go with Freddy Mercury. I watched a documentary on him recently and the guy was incredible.
Thanks to Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer and Summit Entertainment for arranging this interview. Warm Bodies opens this Friday February 1st.