Teresa Palmer on Warm Bodies, Terrence Malick, her cinema verite film
Zom rom com Warm Bodies featured a lot of sweet and funny teen romance moments but also plenty of post-apocalyptic action scenes. When production transitioned into those run-from-zombies sequences near the end of the shoot, Australian actress Teresa Palmer, who plays Julie, had to get into action star mode.
Below check out an EW exclusive video from Warm Bodies’ Blu-ray extras (out tomorrow, Tuesday, June 4) that features Palmer recollecting the taxing transition into the production’s action sequences.
Then read on for more from Palmer about the making of Warm Bodies and Australian drama Wish You Were Here, where she plays one of four friends who embark on a vacation-gone-wrong in southeast Asia. Following its premiere at Sundance in 2012, Wish You Were Here opens in U.S. theaters this Friday, June 7. The 27-year-old actress also told EW about her work on Terrence Malick’s upcoming film, Knight of Cups, and how it inspired her to make her own cinéma vérité project that will complete production in late August.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me more about the challenges of turning into an action star for Warm Bodies.
TERESA PALMER: You have to be sprinting, and I’m wearing these really heavy combat books and basically you have to maintain a certain amount of distance from the car that’s carrying the camera. And they dictate the speed, so we actually didn’t have a say in how fast we go. So you do ten takes and you’ll just be sprinting and progressively getting slower and slower and more tired. And then of course they needed more energy. It was really fun and physical. It was all really interesting stuff. I love transforming into a little warrior for films like this and I Am Number Four.
How did Nicholas Hoult do with all the running?
Nick was great. Nick had an extra challenge in that he had to do it all zombified. So he’s running with a gimp leg, and he’s trying to fight yet he has to seem like he’s a zombie. So he’s trying to fight, having one arm hanging lower than the other. He had done a lot of training with a body movement expert, someone who worked at Cirque du Soleil. He had a lot of practice. I would be at the gym with him in our downtime, and he’d be running like a zombie on the treadmill. It was hilarious.
This idea of a zombie love story worked in Warm Bodies because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it still has a lot of heart. How did your part as Julie help create that tone?
It was really already there and grounded in the script. The script was in a really beautiful place by the time we got to start shooting. And so it was just about breathing life into this character and injecting some of my own essence into her. The storyline really kind of takes care of itself. We don’t need to push the wit.
We all have very jovial personalities on that set between Corddry and Analeigh [Tipton] and Dave Franco and Nick. Everyone already had that kind of light-hearted spirit to them. Even John Malkovich is a really funny person. Not a lot of people know that about him, but he’s very comedic and he likes to joke around. So I think our natural personalities really bled through the roles. At the end of the day [director] Jonathan Levine just wanted it to all feel very real. In this extraordinary situation he wanted the characters to feel grounded in reality, and that is what I strived to do is just find as many real moments and genuine authentic connections to Nick and to this world.
You made your debut with some Australian films, but more recently you’ve been in American productions. What was it like to return to working with an Australian cast and director for Wish You Were Here?
It was fantastic. It really was a blessing in my life. I was so happy to go back and work with such a talented group, the Blue-Tounge Films boys are amazing. When [director Kieran-Darcy Smith] sent me the script of Wish You Were Here, I just connected with it instantly. It’s such a great raw Australian drama and is brave and like nothing I’d seen before. I love that all the characters are flawed. They’re not just the antagonist or the protagonist. They have parts of them which are very human, dark parts and good parts about them, and I love that my character, Steph – it’s very blurred for her. Is she being a good person? Is she being a bad person? Is she the antagonist, or is she just a very kind of lost and scared woman who’s making some irresponsible choices? That’s why I wanted to be in this film and to work with a talented guy like Kieran. And also explore what it’s like to be a 25-year-old girl dealing with growing up and becoming a woman and all the things that she’s faced with.
Were you about 25 when you shot it?
I was about to be turning 25. So it was kind of in the right ballpark for me. I had a very different experience from Steph, though, because I graduated high school and then I just came straight out to America. My life almost got hijacked in a sense. I didn’t make the decision to come to America at 19. The decision was really made for me when our film got into Cannes. There were American agents there, and they just kind of plucked me and took me out to America, and my life began out here as an actor, and it was definitely not something I thought was ever going to happen to me. And so I didn’t really get to experience going to university. I sort of missed out on all those experiences. So it was fun to go through some of those experiences through my character Steph’s eyes. She’s more similar to a lot of my friends who are back home in Australia. ’Cause I just started working I never went through I never went through the party, going out a lot stage. I grew up a lot faster than some of my peers.
What can you tell me about your role in Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups?
I can’t tell you much because obviously Terry’s films are shrouded in secrecy but also because, to be perfectly frank, I don’t know too much about my character. It was all improvised. My character was not one written into the script. She was added in. I was only supposed to be there for a day and then Terrence added me to the film, to the story, and I just had complete freedom to be a heightened version of myself. I don’t know how they wrote me into the film or what I represent but it was a really interesting experience for me. It was the best filmmaking experience of my life. He’s a complete genius, and it felt really organic, and I loved this guerilla style of shooting and how he trusts his actors so much. He gives them control and he hands over the reigns to them to find our own artistic expression. I’ve never had that experience before on a film.
I drew inspiration from that experience for the movie that I’m working on currently, called The Ever After, which is the film that I’m producing and I’ve written and I’m starring in, and it’s my partner Mark Webber who’s directing it. So it’s largely inspired by the experiences I had on the Malick film.
What made you decide to take on that bigger role on a film, producing and writing it?
I love all facets of filmmaking, and I love my partner’s movies. We just decided to do a film which blurs the line between fiction and reality, so I play an actress. I play a woman who’s in Warm Bodies and I Am Number Four. We’ve added some fictional elements to it: Him and I are a married couple, and we have a five-year-old daughter, and I’m still dealing with post-partum depression and the fact that I threw my career away to be a mother. It’s been a really interesting experience, and I’m loving every second of it. All of our friends are in the film, and it’s a small, close-knit group of people. It’s cinéma vérité. We’re using non-actors. My mum is my mum in the film. My dog is playing my dog. Our friends’ daughter who I know very well is playing my daughter. It’s been a really beautiful experience. We’re inspired by Malick but also [John] Cassavetes and I had the opportunity to work with [Cassavetes’ widow] Gena Rowlands on a film last year, and I was picking her brain about her experiences with her late husband and how they used to shoot films with their friends and finance all their own movies, and that’s essentially what Mark and I are doing.
In particularly emotional parts of the film, have you found it tougher or easier to dig into those emotions when you’re playing a version of yourself?
It’s far more vulnerable. This whole experience has been really vulnerable because Mark and I are injecting so much of our own lives into this film. He grew up on the streets in Philadelphia as a homeless boy, and all of his experiences and all of my experiences with my very colorful upbringing – we’re putting it all in the film, including people from my past and all my friends. So it’s been incredibly vulnerable, but obviously it’s very, very easy for me to tap into certain emotions because they’re my truth. It’s really as authentic pain and authentic feelings, and that’s why I was so excited about it because you rarely get to see that level of intimacy on film as well as that real darkness. So it’s nerve-wracking but also therapeutic and the most creatively fulfilling experience. I just want to continue to do more and more and more films in this way.
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Knight of Cups