For rising star Teresa Palmer, her new film “Warm Bodies” presents a unique opportunity. On one hand it’s a film that fits well in the ever-popular zombie genre, and in an unusual twist, it’s also a comedy romance — and lucky for Palmer, she’s long been a fan of both.
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“I love zombie films like Danny Boyle’s ’28 Days Later’ — I thought it was so brilliantly done and so grounded in reality. I was definitely thrust into the zombie world watching that film,” Palmer told me in a recent interview. “But ‘Warm Bodies’ was different for me. I definitely connected with this idea that it was a quirky take on the classic love story. It was so unique and never been done before, and the people involved were so inspiring to me.”
Opening at No. 1 with $19.5 million in ticket sales over the weekend, “Warm Bodies” stars Nicholas Hoult as R, one of a few zombies in a post-apocalyptic world who is still capable of thinking. Happening upon human survivor Julie (Palmer) during an attack with his fellow zombies, R curiously saves the woman and the two quickly develop a strange bond.
One of the things that’s inspired R’s new sense of compassion is the fact that he’s eaten the brains of Julie’s boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco). It seems the brain food has not only triggered in R’s mind Perry’s memories and emotions of the time he’s spent with Julie, it’s mysteriously turning the zombie human again.
For Franco (“21 Jump Street”) “Warm Bodies” provided an interesting story dynamic. The downside is, he’s a major character who’s killed off 10 minutes into the film, but the upside is, the character is featured thereafter in flashbacks.
“My first instinct, reading the script, was, ‘I get killed off pretty quickly, so just stop reading the script and don’t do the film because there’s nothing to do here,'” Franco told me in a separate interview. “But then you get to see my story play out in flashbacks. R sees very intimate moments that I share with Julie and through these very human moments, it starts to change him and makes him see the way things were before he was undead. His heart literally starts to beat again.”
As for communicating the zombie’s newfound emotions, Palmer said Hoult played it masterfully.
“Nick didn’t have many lines, effectively — he had a lot of grunts and groans — yet he was still able to give me so much in terms of a performance I could work with,” said Palmer, 26. “I have to say, I was worried about the challenges, not having the words to bounce off with my co-star. I thought it was going to be a very difficult task for me. But he gave me so much emotion through his eyes. I can’t even believe how deep the well of talent is that he possesses.”
Franco said he loved working on “Warm Bodies” because of the creativity it inspired, especially considering the uncharted territory of a zombie comedy romance. To that end, Franco said Jonathan Levine — who directed the film and adapted the screenplay from Isaac Marion’s bestselling novel — was the perfect person to take on the genre-bending adaptation.
“It’s always scary for people to tackle something that is so unique and different,” said Franco, 28. “But with someone at the helm like Jonathan Levine, who is such a smart, young, up and coming guy, I knew going into the film that I was going to be safe. When you see the words on the page, it’s a very solid script; but in the wrong hands, it could have been a mess.”
Franco, the younger brother of actor James Franco, said he believes the key to the success of “Warm Bodies” is the way Levine finds balance in blending the film’s genres.
“During any moments in the film where there could have been some serious melodrama, he allowed us to change things up and make it feel real,” Franco said. “He also directed ’50/50,’ which also had a very interesting tone, trying to balance some comedy with a very serious subject matter (with cancer), and he did it seamlessly.”
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Palmer, who previously starred in such hits as “I Am Number Four” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” also thinks Levine nailed it.
“I absolutely love the fact that the film is different. The zombie fan and the romance fan can each get what they are looking for in this movie,” Palmer beamed. “There’s so much more to it. There’s this incredible message in the film about love and how love breathes life back into us. It can transform us. It has this powerful gift.”
Franco is also certain that “Warm Bodies” will be warmly embraced by all types of audiences.
“Going into this movie you don’t have to be a huge zombie fan, because it has this love story, too,” Franco said. “People can walk into this, and the main thing they can take away — above anything else — is that it’s a love a story that happens to be about weird circumstances in a strange world.”