The zombies in "Warm Bodies" lurch, groan and eat human flesh like any others, but horror fans will notice something different about them.
"They're romantic," 26-year-old Aussie Teresa Palmer says. "They have feelings and they have personalities. And they listen to good music."
"Yeah," her co-star, Nicholas Hoult, 23, says, emphasizing, "We're doing our best."
Hoult plays R, a zombie with a wicked wit who lives at an airport in Jonathan Levine's film, which opens Friday. R and his zombie buddies attack humans like any other zombie, but when he sees Julie (Palmer), he falls head over shuffling heels for her and decides her boyfriend's brains will be the last he eats.
Both actors were fans of the genre--"I've watched 'Evil Dead,' 'Return of the Dead,' 'Night of the Living Dead.' ... 'Dawn of the Dead.' 'Shaun of the Dead,' 'Zombieland,' " Hoult says in the video above--but they were intrigued by the zombie rom-com (romantic zom-com?) twist of "Warm Bodies." During an interview at the Peninsula Hotel, they talked about the crazy things they've done for love, the challenges of playing a zombie and what they would do if they had to live at an airport for a year.
(In the video above, they talk about eating brains--OK, other odd foods. Watch them demonstrate their zombie shuffle in the video at the end of the story.)
Your movie leaves us with the idea that love can overcome just about anything. How do you feel about that practically, in real life?
TP: I absolutely agree with that.
NH: Yeah. I agree. I think it could be a very powerful thing for good. It can be destructive as well, if in the wrong hands.
TP: That's true. But I do believe love breathes life into you. And when we were born, we're newborn babies, we come out of the womb and all we need is love. And you see that babies really thrive and heal from being loved and nurtured. And I think as we grow older and become adults we kind of forget that and we need to go back to our roots and understand that human connection and love is just so integral to just growth and feeling better. [Laughs.] So anyway, that's my thoughts.
NH: Nice speech.
A true romantic.
TP: Yes, I am.
NH: I'm crying a little bit.
TP: My God, he really is. [Laughs.]
So R goes to great lengths to save Julie. What's the most romantic thing you've ever done for someone?
NH: I make stuff.
TP: So do I.
NH: Yeah. It's pretty sappy.
TP: What sort of things have you made?
NH: I've made videos; I've made cards and books.
TP: Oh, me too; I do that.
NH: I've knitted things for people.
NH: Yeah, I learned how to knit. [Laughs.]
TP: That's really cute. [Laughs.] I scrapbook. I edit things together with music and then I'll put the little DVD in the scrapbook and photos and just all those sorts of things.
Back in my day, we made mixtapes.
TP: Yes. It's always very elaborate.
NH: I never made a mixed tape. I'd like to go back to doing that.
TP: I sometimes will make a CD for the scrapbook so I have it so that I know what songs are going to come as they're turning the page, and it's relevant to what I've put in the page. And sometimes they'll read it faster than I hoped and it kind of messes up that system. It's all right. [Laughs.] Nerd!
What's the most romantic thing someone's done for you guys?
TP: Oh. OK. I was leaving Adelaide to move to Los Angeles and my love at the time, he threw me a really beautiful going away as a surprise. My whole family came from different parts of Australia, and all my friends and it was really beautiful. It was sad, bittersweet, but it was just the most incredible thing. Everyone revealed themselves to me. And I was like waa! [Laughs.] That sounded bad. Don't put that in! They just popped out; I was just having dinner and everyone just kind of started walking in. I was like, "Oh, that's my dad." It was nice.
NH: That sounds kind of eerie.
TP: It was great. I loved it. What has someone done for you?
NH: Forgiven me.
TP: Ah, good answer.
[They both laugh.]
And that's all we need to know about that. It gets personal, right?
TP: Moving on.
In the movie, we see people not communicating and staring at their phones. What's another time in actual society that it seems like people are disconnected zombies?
NH: When you're listening to your iPod.
TP: Yeah, definitely.
NH: That blocks out, and also causes a lot of car accidents because people can't hear the cars coming.
TP: Yeah, it's all about the phones or like the texting and the emailing and I totally have been doing that today. Like I've been walking around, I'm still doing emails like, "Oh, nice to meet you," and then back to my email. It's awful.
NH: You're very busy, though.
TP: I am.
NH: It's OK. Don't beat yourself up about it.
TP: I am busy but still it happens.
I went to a dance club and was shocked to see almost everyone on the dance floor texting while dancing. And not even looking at the person they're dancing with.
NH: I never text whilst dancing.
TP: I don't think I've done that either.
NH: It's dangerous.
TP: It could be dangerous, for sure.
Although, I don't know if zombies would dance.
TP: He would.
NH: We do the zombie shuffle.
TP: Yeah, we do. We actually filmed some stuff--oh, thank God that not in the movie. Do you remember, we had to do that silly song? I had to do a song. We put on music and I had to start singing to like David Bowie; I think it was called "Moon and Daydream" something or other. Yeah, and it was embarrassing. And he danced with me. I made you do that, what was that?
NH: They made me do that, yeah, the wiggly arm thing
TP: I was like, "Woo!"
Was that in the airplane?
TP: Yeah, it was fun. I don't think much of that got in the movie.
NH: There's going to be some good DVD extras on this I think.
Yeah, like what else?
NH: We got a lot of out takes.
TP: Yeah. And there's a lot of laughing. Nick and Rob Corddry, they kind of were cracking each other up a lot of the time.
NH: Well, he was cracking me up. I don't think I made him laugh once. [Laughs.]
Julie's a strong character. Is that something that attracted you to the role?
TP: Definitely. I think it's really important that there are strong female characters because women are strong independent girls. And that's exactly what she is; she's a brave and sassy and she's got a beautiful spirit and she's positive, and I loved all of that.
NH: And a good high kick.
TP: Yeah, I was showing that off sometimes. I loved being physical for this role. And I got to learn how to shoot a gun and slide around, do some stunts and do a lot of running. It was fun. Yeah.
What were your special challenges for playing a zombie?
NH: I guess it was just, yeah, not been able to communicate verbally and having to try and express myself physically more. We'd practiced a little bit and then kind of just made it up as we went along. Luckily, Jonathan Levine is a very talented director. And he guided me in the right way and we found a good balance I think of being zombiefied but not too much.
Was the makeup helpful?
NH: Yeah, the makeup and the costume and a set we were on, they were all really helpful. Once you get into that environment with all the gear on, it's very easy to just believe what's happening ... The whole thing about the character is that he's focused on the other people about trying to communicate with Julie, so most of the time I was just focusing on Teresa and that was it.
Was it hard to snap out of it?
NH: No. [Laughs.] No. There was no like taking the job home at the end of the day. [Laughs.]
TP: [Moans like a zombie.]
Not doing the method acting.
NH: No. There was no method on this one.
Did they train you on the zombie walking?
NH: We had a guy from Cirque du Soleil come in, and me and Rob and some of the stunts and stuff would walk around inside a room and he'd be very descriptive with his language about like feeling heavy and aches and pains and emphasizing them but not being stereotypical zombies. He be like there's food in the corner and we'd all rush to the corner and be like, ah, food. And then we'd run around in the car park practicing our zombie runs.
John Malkovich plays your dad. He's a founding member of Steppenwolf here in Chicago. How was working with him?
TP: Yes, I know. We actually talked about that. He's fantastic. You guys should be very proud. He's wonderfully quirky and extremely humble and bright, obviously. And he's got such a gentle spirit, which is funny because I was initially quite intimidated when I heard he was going to be playing my dad. He's such a recognized figure and he's this force. And then when I met him he was just so gentle and kind. And he had a hilarious sense of humor. So it's really nice. We got to watch him do what he does best and it was like the greatest acting school ever.
How about Rob Corddry?
NH: Rob was fantastic. He improvised some really funny great stuff. But also just as a fellow zombie buddy to have a good guy to kind of figure it out with and just play around with in an acting way. [Laughs.]
What do you think the best and worst part of the zombie apocalypse would be?
TP: That where your loved ones are dying? That would be a bit of a bummer. [Laughs.]
NH: [Laughs.] Yeah. The imminent danger.
TP: Yes. I think the threat.
NH: The good side you wouldn't have to queue up at a lot of places. The lines would go.
TP: I like that you'd be listened to more. Sombies can't speak that much, so. [Laughs.] They just have to listen. What else? I mean, it would be kind of exciting. It would be, right?
NH: Most of the time people drive around in cool cars after the zombie apocalypse comes.
TP: Oh, yeah, that's hilarious. [Laughs.]
NH: I imagine they do that as well.
TP: Yeah, that's kind of cool.
NH: Cruise around in the mustang. Won't get any speeding tickets.
TP: [Laughs.] Yeah, that's true.
How do you think R would fit in with the friends from "Skins?"
NH: As a zombie? I mean, a lot of the time I suppose they were quite hung over anyway. [Laughs.]
TP: [Laughs.] Quite a seamless transition.
NH: He'd probably just fit in a treat. [Laughs.]
What's the most extreme thing either one of you has done?
TP: To become popular? I bought a skateboard and I would strap it to my backpack and I would wear my low-slung jeans. And I'd talk about how like, "Yeah, I was going to get sponsored by this skateboarding company." Meanwhile, I never even stood on it. People were like, "Ah, can you show us a trick?" And I'd always pretend that, [I'd say,] "I rolled my ankle last week and it's just starting to heal." So I would pretend I was a skateboarder. And I took up graffiti as well for a bit.
NH: Oh, that's good. There must be something about skateboarding 'cause I kind went through that phase as well.
TP: Could you actually skate though? Probably.
NH: I stood on it but I wasn't good. And I remember once being outside an audition and trying to do a trick and like falling and splitting my lip open. There was blood everywhere and having to turn up and walk inside and be like, "I'm really sorry I had an accident."
TP: They'd be like he's cool; he's edgy.
NH: It was like crossing the road on a skateboard and I managed to mess my lip up.
TP: Oh, my golly. That's hilarious.
I was wondering if I could get you guys to demonstrate the zombie shuffle?
TP: You can. But mine has to be like the parody version; yours can be real.
NH: I haven't tried it for so many months. I don't know if I'll be able to conjure it up again. It was such a dark place I went to.
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