Much like the film these two actors were in Chicago recently representing, this interview turned out much more fun and entertaining than I'd expected it to. When you interview younger actors, you never quite know what you're going to get. Occasionally you'll get an actor so careful or nervous about what they said that one-word or one-sentence answers are the norm and that amounts to a terrible time for both interviewer and reader. Or you get the not-so-deep thinkers who have no trouble chatting up a storm but add nothing by way of insight to the discussion. In the same week, I interviewed the two leads of WARM BODIES and of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, and all four actors were intelligent, charming, and incredibly open and easy to talk with.
If you've already dismissed WARM BODIES for whatever reason, you'll be denying yourself a truly smart and funny romantic comedy in which one of the star-crossed lovers is a zombie, played by Nicholas Hoult, probably best known as Hank McCoy in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and the upcoming JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. But Hoult has been acting since he was a child, coming to most people's attention as the titular character in ABOUT A BOY, then later as Nicolas Cage's son in THE WEATHER MAN, the object of Colin Firth's affection in A SINGLE MAN, and as Eusebios in CLASH OF THE TITANS.
And his slate of upcoming releases is impressive as well. He'll be reuniting with his GIANT SLAYER (a big-budget take on the Jack and the Beanstalk story) director Bryan Singer for X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and he co-stars opposite Tom Hardy in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, both of which we talk a bit about. But as the protective zombie named R in WARM BODIES, he reveals a sense of humor and a gift to convey a great deal of emotion with very few facial expressions or dialogue at his disposal.
His co-star in WARM BODIES is Teresa Palmer, the Australian-born actor, who first appeared and made a name for herself in such films as WOLF CREEK and THE GRUDGE 2, followed by various genre films like BEDTIME STORIES, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE, and I AM NUMBER FOUR, and the '80s-set comedy TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT. Of her upcoming roles, I think the one I'm most curious about is KNIGHT OF CUPS, Terrence Malick's post-TO THE WONDER film, also starring Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchett.
In WARM BODIES, Palmer plays Julie, who has lived her whole life training and fighting zombies. If you haven't figured it out already, the film is a take on the Romeo and Juliet story, just set during the zombie Apocalypse. But their relationship may serve as the starting point of a cure for zombie-dom, so it's important they survive both the humans' desire to kill all zombies, and the zombies' desire to eat all humans. The film is directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness), who has a real talent for capturing people in their 20s on film and treating them like real people, not allowing himself to resort to stereotypes. Please enjoy my spirited chat with Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer…
Capone: Hi, Teresa. How are you? It’s nice to meet you.
Teresa Palmer: Hey.
Nicholas Hoult: How are you doing?
[One of the publicists tells the two: “Steve is from Ain’t It Cool News.”]
TP: Oh, I love Ain’t It Cool News! Always checking that one out.
Capone: Really? That’s a good start.
NH: I hate it! [Laughs]
Capone: It'll be a good balance then.
TP: We love Ain’t It Cool. Are you based here?
Capone: I’m based here, yeah. The site is based in Austin, Texas.
TP: Oh cool.
NH: How long have you been writing for Ain’t It Cool?
Capone: I'm coming up on 15 years.
TP: You’re kidding. I love that website. Have you been on there? It’s great.
NH: Uh huh.
Capone: [Noticing that Palmer is bundling herself in her coat after coming from a photo shoot in a cold room in the hotel.] You guys look like you’re still cold.
TP: I am freezing from that last interview. It was a really cold in there. And they were filming it, so I couldn’t wear my jacket.
Capone: Did either of you or both of you have any kind of love for zombie lore before you got involved with this film?
NH: I like zombie films. I had seen a fair few of them, but I wasn’t a die-hard zombie fan whereby like I believe that zombies should only ever be brain dead, and you shouldn’t get to know them a bit better. So I was a fan of them and then how this story kind of pushed and developed that. It’s really taken a more comedic zone with ZOMBIELAND and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and I liked how this own incorporated a bit of that, but then had a bit of romance as well. It’s a nice story and told from the zombie’s point of view.
TP: I liked zombie films, but only recently did I discover that “Oh, they are quite interesting.” I really liked DAWN OF THE DEAD and 28 DAYS LATER, Danny Boyle’s film, I thought it was so brilliant. It was petrifying. It was really raw and gritty and you get like transported into that world, and I thought it was great filmmaking and really made me interested in the zombie genre.
NH: Yeah, that’s a good film.
Capone: Now that you’re a part of universe, have you started to realize that there are different camps in zombie fandom, and that some people think all zombies should move slow and some are okay with them moving fast. It’s a constant debate, especially since 28 DAYS LATER, which technically isn’t a zombie film, but it certainly borrows a lot from that genre.
NH: Well it made them a lot scarier.
TP: Much more threatening, yeah.
NH: Yeah, we didn’t go quite as energetic. They were like athletes. They were serious movers. We didn’t go as far as that in this movie, but we can run, we could crank out a fast pace when we needed to.
Capone: In fact the person I took with me to see this film a couple of weeks ago even leaned over afterwards and said, “How are those bonies even moving? They’re just skeletons with skin on them. There’s no muscle.” I’m like “You can’t think that way."
NH: “Stop ruining it.”
Capone: Have you sort of gotten the sense that some people are in these camps? They take it very seriously.
NH: A little bit. A fair bit, and I think some of the more hardcore fans were more concerned when they had the premise for this film, but I think the way, we tread the fine line between being funny, adding a few elements. They’ve added things like in this one where when a zombie eats brains, he gets the memories of that person.
Capone: As long as you establish the rules and stick to them, I think people tend to go along for the ride.
NH: There are some nice additions, and I don’t think we're offensive in any way to zombie fans. We do a nice few throwbacks to previous zombie films and follow a lot of the rules as well, so yeah, it’s fresh and different.
TP: We hope they are open minded.
NH: I don't feel as if we’ve done something terribly wrong [laughs].
Capone: I like the idea of there being a cure. I can’t think of any zombie film that’s ever tackled a cure.
TP: “The cure is love!”
Capone: I really hope that people who are die-hard fans of these R-rated, gory zombie movies give this one a shot, because I think it’s a nice twist and there are some clever new elements to it. At least there’s an effort to do something different here.
NH: That’s important with any film, I think. Whether it’s a zombie genre or anything. Even though this in some ways follows the Romeo and Juliet formula and is that kind of love story, it’s nice to be part of something different.
TP: And unique. It pushes the boundaries.
NH: A lot of stuff you read you’ve seen a thousand times, and even though there are similarities to other films and other stories, there’s a lot of new stuff in this and it’s nice. The script was good.
TP: Yeah, it stands on its own.
Capone: I assume when you both got involved that you both read the book?
NH: I hadn’t read the book.
TP: I didn’t even know it was based on a book when I got the script.
NH: No, I read the script and…
Capone: I remember about three years ago, Summit was doing a press conference for one of the TWILIGHT films at Comic Con, and they did a little pre-press conference where they brought in the authors of three books that they had purchased and WARM BODIES author Isaac Marion] was one of them. I think it was the only one that had a director attached to it, and when I heard it was Jonathan, I was like, “I don’t know this book. I don’t care. He’s going to do it right.” He does have a real gift of giving young people a voice and working with them.
NH: Damn that guy's good. He’s got the Midas touch. Remember when that review for 50/50 came out whilst we were filming? And it was like he handles the subject with soft hands or something like that, and then we started calling him "Soft Hands" for a little bit. [both laugh] It one of those things where on set, he’s a delight to work for. He’s very enthusiastic and supports a really nice environment and is encouraging. And off of that, he’s so intelligent and he can make these films as you say where he gives young people a different voice, but he doesn’t try and preach. He just lets the story develop, lets the characters develop so you care about them, but not in a way where you have to pity them or anything. He just treads a fine line between keeping it funny, but touching, and I think he’s a great director.
TP: He’s very gifted. Yeah, he’s got an incredible aesthetic. On top of that, I love that he puts his trust in his actors and I think he’s done that on all of the films he’s done so far. He cast us and then let us follow our instincts and he guided us very gently, but that is so liberating as an actor, because we can get on set and find a dynamic between us and let it be very spontaneous and real. I think Jonathan Levine just kept going back to wanting it to feel grounded in reality despite how extraordinary the story was. He wanted it to feel authentic and real and he wanted people to be able to connect to what was happening, and I really think he managed to pull it off.
Capone: In a slightly different setting, R is basically just the ultimate Goth kid.
TP: He’s the outsider.
Capone: He’s got the bad posture …
NH: And the pale face…he's very awkward.
TP: He represents lots of boys.
NH: A lot of guys that just can’t talk to girls; it's a struggle. And bless him. He’s doing his best.
TP: And he wears his heart on his sleeve. I love that.
Capone: When you read the script, what do you remember responding to initially? What really made you say, “Yeah, I can work with this”?
TP: I think just how unique a story it was and that it was told from the zombie’s perspective. That had never been done before as far as I know. A good indicator that I was into the script is that I read it really fast. I started and half an hour later, I finished the script, and usually it takes me a long time to get through stuff and I have to come back later and read through it. But it was so dynamic and fast paced and interesting and funny. I was rooting for the characters so much. It’s really special.
NH: It was the same for me. I read it very quickly and just kind of understood and cared about the character. Then I thought it would be a tricky one to try to play. It was different from most roles.
Capone: As an actor, you're limited in the ways you can express yourself. There’s so many reasons why it would be a real acting exercise. Talk about establishing that, you and Rob [Corddry, who plays R's zombie friend M] especially, communication, when you don’t have your speech yet. Did you work out the levels of being able to do certain things?
NH: Yeah, well me and Jonathon went through that, and we picked out key moments in the script, because R has to heal throughout and his speech has to improve. So we went through and picked out the key moments and had zombie levels, I guess. But beforehand, we watched a lot of films. We watched a lot of zombie films, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and all of those sort of things that were related, and then myself and Corddry and the few stunties did like zombie workshops.
Capone: I was going to ask if you had any zombie training.
NH: And we'd practiced like walking around and feeling our body and just getting used to that stuff and then running around in the car park, which Teresa managed to see the video of.
TP: I saw it! It was very impressive.
NH: Highly embarrassing. And with the speech thing was, I worked with a dialect couch, because I have to do an American accent as well a little bit, even when groaning. It was kind of that grumble thing, but then we also thought about people who had brain injuries and their lack of memory of the words, because I had no memory, but also the loss of the muscle memory to form the words, which is always the more difficult part. I don’t know if any of that comes through, but I thought about it.
Capone: You didn’t shoot this in order though, did you? Because making that gradual transition and not shooting in order seems like it would be especially tough.
TP: We got to shoot a chunk of it together, which is great for us. We had rented a plane and…
NH: It was a set.
TP: It was a real plane one time, and we had sort of the middle of it, and set decoration came and decked it out with little trinkets, and it was fantastic. So at the beginning of the film when we are starting to get to know each other, that’s when we had to shoot that stuff and we developed the dynamic between our characters as Nick and I were starting to get to know each other, and I loved that we were able to do that.
NH: Levine gives it time to grow.
TP: And to develop that relationship organically, and that was really important.
NH: But the rest of it after that was all over the place. We shot most of the stuff at the airport [much of which is at the beginning of the film] right at the end of filming.
TP: Which actually was great, because that was the end of the movie. We sort of shot at the end of production.
NH: The airport stuff?
TP: No, all the running around stuff shooting. Wasn’t that at the airport? Oh no, it wasn't!
NH: What are you, making MEMENTO?
Capone: With Julie though, you get a sense that she’s lived this life most of her life.
TP: All of her life.
Capone: Okay, I don’t know if we ever got a real timeline…
TP: Yeah, in the book she was born into it.
Capone: So did you have to go through the requisite weapons training and fight training?
TP: I did, yeah. Especially because General Grigio, John Malkovich’s character. He is the head of the remaining human population, and of course he wants his daughter to protected and know how to look after herself. So I thought it was integral that Julie be so comfortable with weapons, and she knows how to fight, she can look after herself. And I don’t think she enjoys the dismal life that she leads, but she is such a highly spirited girl that there’s still a brighter light in her than most people, and I think that’s what R is attracted to. But it was great for me. I got to shoot a shotgun and go to a gun range.
NH: You did a really good job with that shotgun.
TP: Thanks. I was channeling my inner Angelina Jolie.
NH: I’d like to think I’d be able to do that, but I don't think I would. I’d have my eyes closed screaming. [Laughs]
TP: That was really fun. It was empowering.
NH: I was the first to burst through that door in that scene where we attack them.
TP: It was scary. My heart was beating so fast.
NH: Yeah, Dave Franco hits me, and then suddenly all of these people open up with like semi-automatics and shotguns and stuff. Even though you know they’re blanks, things can go wrong with this sort of stuff, and there’s a lot of people shooting at me right now.
TP: And you had to hit all of your marks. I had a specific sequence where I’m shooting a zombie’s head off and then I swing around and I have to fight a zombie and kick one. It was really physical, and I loved doing that.
Capone: I love how you both have these partners in crime too, that you have in Analeigh and you have in Rob. What did they add to the mix, do you think?
TP: Comic relief.
NH: With Corddry, comic relief, but also he’s definitely the best mate that’s there when the lead goes down and all hope is lost, he’s the one that will pick you up. He also helps to develop the fact that it’s not just R that’s changing, but other people around are. He gives a stellar performance in this film, I think.
Capone: If he were sitting here, I’d say, “That’s a real acting job.” It’s not just doing funny stuff; he’s adding to it.
NH: Exactly. He’s acting and pulling that off. He’s a great guy.
TP: He’s really fantastic, and Analeigh is an amazing actress. She's quirky and funny. She was throwing in a lot of unscripted stuff too and she tries to keep Julie grounded and trying to bring her back to reality, but I also love that she’s such an amazing friend to her too that when she gets introduced to R, despite going against all of her instincts, she decides to accept him and also connect with him.
Capone: That interrogation scene is great, when she is just grilling you relentlessly.
TP: And that keeps it real as well, because your best friend is protective of you, and I would do that to my friend if she brought a new guy back.
Capone: If he weren’t a zombie, she would still probably ask the same questions.
TP: Yeah, exactly.
NH: Everyone's grilling me the whole time, her best friend, the dad. They gave me a tough time with it.
TP: They drag you through the ringer.
Capone: I wanted to ask you guys about a couple of things you’ve got coming up. You made a movie with Terrence Malick, which I could spend the whole rest of our time talking about, and you probably can’t say that much about it, but can you tell me anything about what you do or what the movie is about? I don’t know anything about it, other than who is in it.
TP: I know who’s in it. I know who I acted with.
Capone: Well you know who might be in it, because he changes his mind sometimes. Are you sure you’re going to stay in it?
TP: That’s the funny thing, you finish filming and then you think, “Well, I’m just going to celebrate that experience, because I never know if I’m going to actually make it in the film.” To be honest, I never read a script. I don’t even know even the basic premise. I was brought on last minute and we improvised a bunch of stuff. We shot I L.A. and Las Vegas.
NH: You shot in Vegas?
TP: Yeah, it was funny. We were shooting on the street with Christian Bale, and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES had just been released, and we didn’t have many extras or anything; it was very much just guerilla-style filmmaking, so everyone who was walking the streets were actually in the movie. But they created a huge circle around Christian and were filming and taking pictures of him, and it was really hard to navigate with such huge crowds.
Capone: So you really just know what you did. You have no like big-picture idea?
TP: No, and I think they also find it in post, and that’s what I love about Terrence. He's my favorite director of all time, and I was so blessed to have that experience. It was the best filmmaking experience I have ever had.
Capone: I hope we see it soon.
TP: I hope so too.
Capone: And I’ve been seeing trailers for JACK THE GIANT SLAYER all over the place now. It’s coming out really soon actually.
NH: Yeah, it comes out a month after this one.
TP: What a big few months for you.
Capone: Then you’re working with Bryan again on the new X-MEN. Have you been told anything about this yet?
NH: DAYS OF FUTURES PAST? No. I’ve heard little rumors. I haven’t read a script, but I know Bryan is really excited about it.
Capone: He’s picked one of the best storylines out of the X-MEN comics ever; I don’t know how much of that they're really going to do, but what we are hearing about merging these two timelines…
NH: Merging with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Jackman, bringing back some of the original cast. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to it. I really like that character a lot, so that’s good.
Capone: Do you think you’ll have a scene with Kelsey Grammer?
NH: [laughs] I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything about Kelsey, yet. That would be good though. That would be nice to have a little "Fraiser" banter.
Capone: Then you’re in that new MAD MAX film too.
NH: Yeah, we finished shooting that in December.
Capone: I just saw video yesterday of them filming some of the car stuff.
NH: I’m not sure.
TP: There might be some second unit.
NH: There might be some stunt stuff going on, but George Miller is really visionary and a great guy.
Capone: The fact that that even exists blows my mind.
NH: Oh yeah, yeah. It was one of the most exciting sets ever to be on.
Capone: Who do you play?
NH: I play a character called Nux. He drives one of the vehicles and gets involved.
Capone: Is he a good guy? A bad guy?
NH: I’m not giving away any of that.
TP: You’ll have to go see the movie!
NH: But that won’t be out until next year.
Capone: Teresa, I think I read somewhere that you’re making a movie with Mark Webber, that he’s directing [called THE FUN IS FOREVER]?
Capone: I think he’s incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to talk with him a few times about stuff he’s directed and acted in, but his first film in particular I think is amazing.
TP: EXPLICIT ILLS? Yeah. Did you see THE END OF LOVE?
Capone: I have not, but I know it just came out.
TP: It just came out yesterday on iTunes. It's beautiful.
Capone: Yeah, but I’m excited to see it. I heard it was really good.
TP: Yeah. It’s almost an experimental film. It’s really cool. We're blending the lines between reality and fiction, and we are shooting in Adelaide, South Australia, at my family’s house.
Capone: Your family’s house?
TP: Yeah, I'm incorporating my whole family and my friends. We play a married couple who are dealing with marriage and the realities of what that can be sometimes, and it’s the breakdown of a marriage, but it doesn’t end too sad. [Laughs] But it’s been really interesting being a producer on that. [What I didn't know until later is that Webber was apparently spotted around the hotel the day of this interview. Draw your own conclusions about that.]
NH: And they are attacked by aliens.
TP: I wish.
Capone: That would be a great twist. Alright, well thank you guys so much. It was really great to meet you.