Zombie film Warm Bodies heats up star's career

Crédit photo: Warm Bodies Official Zombie film Warm Bodies heats up star's career

Teresa Palmer always understood she had to be determined as an actress to make it in the business, but she didn’t want to lose perspective in the process.

As it turned out, the Australian earned jobs in independent Aussie films before managing a transition into American studio movies while staying true to her motto.

“If you are having fun on screen, it shows,” said the 26-year-old at a downtown Toronto hotel promoting her latest effort, Warm Bodies, which opens Feb. 1.

The zombie film is loosely based on the popular Isaac Marion young adult novel, which combines humour with horror, so Palmer had a great opportunity to live up to her slogan.

She plays Julie, the daughter of Grigio (John Malkovich), the leader of a human settlement in a post-apocalyptic America left in ruin by a plague and wandering gangs of zombies.

When zombie R (Nicholas Hoult) eats the brain of Julie’s boyfriend, the ghoul becomes infatuated with her and subsequently saves her from a pack of flesh-eaters. As R and Julie get closer, R starts to transform into a more human form and Julie starts falling for him.

“Julie felt to me like a well-rounded female character and I really was interested to find out what she was about, so that made my job really easy,” said Palmer. “I felt she was a bright spark, and she sees the world in a brighter shade of colours than most people. She’s a gift to play as an actress.”

Another plus was the fact that she had an instant connection with Hoult, who played the Beast in X-Men: First Class and is best remembered as the lead in the acclaimed British TV series Skins.

Aside from rumours that Hoult and Palmer are romantically linked, they had an easy rapport that made their jobs in front of the camera almost instinctual.

“We really didn’t try and overthink it,” said the actress of their onscreen relationship.

It helped both of them that director Jonathan Levine scheduled their scenes in chronological order.

“A lot of the time, we got to shoot in sequence,” she noted. “As we were getting to know each other, so were our characters.”

The script’s reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was a device that Palmer preferred to ignore, although she admitted the Warm Bodies balcony scene that had Julie warning R to run for his life had to be addressed.

“Mostly, I wanted to remain present and be in each scene as it was written, and not judge it as an actress,” she said. “I know R and Julie are sort of the homage to a classic love story, so I admit I was mesmerized when I walked out onto the balcony and did the scene.”

In fact, she was more intimidated by the prospect of working opposite Malkovich. It didn’t take her long to get over it, however.

“He’s surprisingly very gentle and humble and soft-spoken and very polite,” Palmer said. “We definitely established the appropriate dynamic, which was a father-daughter relationship. He gave me some sound advice about relationships and boys and love and life.”

Eight years ago, Palmer wasn’t sure what her future would hold, but a starring role in the Aussie indie film called 2:37 made an unexpected splash at the Cannes Film Festival.

Based on that performance, she landed a co-starring part in December Boys, opposite Daniel Radcliffe, and The Grudge 2. She played opposite Topher Grace in Take Me Home Tonight and Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories, followed by parts in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and I Am Number Four.

Perhaps her biggest thrill so far was being invited to take part in Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups last year. Apparently, the quixotic director lived up to his reputation.

“I had a unique experience on that movie,” said Palmer, smiling at her understatement. “I found out the night before I was going to do it.”

At the time, the actress only knew this; she would have a scene with Christian Bale in a drama about excess, which also starred Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett.

“But I didn’t know my name and I didn’t know who I was playing, although it was hinted at that I would probably be a stripper but I didn’t have to take my clothes off.”

She arrived on set the next day, she said, “and I was told I would be improvising the whole thing” with Bale in the back seat of a limousine.

“I ended up having this incredible time and I was shooting for seven days,” she said. “It was definitely guerrilla-style filmmaking and I don’t know if I can touch having that experience ever again.

“And by the way,” Palmer, added with grin, “I don’t even know if I am going to make the final film, but being around Malick was absolutely enough for me.”

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