CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Interview: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer Rev Up ‘Warm Bodies’
CHICAGO – With the popularity of TV’s “The Walking Dead,” and just the whole trend of faux zombie gatherings in social culture, the undead have never been more popular. A distinct twist on the concept is found in “Warm Bodies,” starring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, portraying two very unlikely lovers, alive or undead.
“Warm Bodies is directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) and takes place in a post-apocalyptic USA, where normal humans are walled off from brain eating zombies. LIke director and zombie master George Romero, Levine brings to visual life his own script using metaphor, emotion and humor to navigate the landscape of the undead.
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment
Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer are young adult actors who have worked their way up through their ever-progressing TV and film roles. The England-born Hoult made an auspicious major film debut in “About a Boy” (2002), and also had featured roles in “A Single Man” (2009), “X-Men: First Class” (2011) and the cult British TV show “Skins” (2007-08). Teresa Palmer is from Australia, and has appeared in “December Boys” (2007), “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (2010) and “Take Me Home Tonight” (2011). Both also have been linked in the past to high profile relationships, Palmer with Topher Grace and Hoult with Jennifer Lawrence.
HollywoodChicago.com sat down with both Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer to talk about their unusual zombie movie, and their evolving careers.
HollywoodChicago.com: Nicholas, here is a question from aspiring actors everywhere. What are the three keys to performing as the undead?
Nicholas Hoult: It’s the movement and the groaning of course, but it’s also that feeling of being trapped, and then trying to connect again.
Teresa Palmer: I didn’t get to play the undead, unfortunately, but I love the idea of feeling totally lost, and the frustration of not being able to communicate emotion like that.
HollywoodChicago.com: Obviously writer/director Jonathan Levine intended this film as a larger metaphor for our current lifestyle and society. What element or elements of this metaphor did you both attach yourselves toward when developing your characters?
Palmer: For me, it was the idea that love can heal and bring life back to you. Julie completely believes that and is a romantic. Despite how dark her world is, she manages to look at it in a bright, beautiful light. I think that is really refreshing, and I wish people would do that more in their lives.
Hoult: It was about being present and making the most out of life for me, and trying to connect with actual people, not to get absorbed in all the technology around us. Enjoy life, not being distracted by it.
HollywoodChicago.com: You both had significant scenes with John Malkovich. Given his wacky reputation, did he do anything on set that made you think, ‘oh yeah, that’s the Malkovich I’ve heard about’?
Palmer: I was initially intimidated to hear that I would be playing John Malkovich’s daughter in the film, but when I met him he was soft spoken, gentle and humble. He does love YouTube videos, and that’s hilarious. He would show me these skits on YouTube and impersonate them to a tee. He found that incredibly funny, and really committed to the impersonations.
Hoult: I didn’t have as many scenes with him, through his character he was trying to shoot me, threatening to shoot me or laughing at the fact that he had shot me. The interesting thing about him is that while we were shooting, he was designing a clothing line and doing two operas.
Palmer: He is a colorful man of many talents.
HollywoodChicago.com: You play lovers in the film. What do both think is the key to good chemistry between actors when playing lovers, and what was the personal connection that you felt toward each other that made beings lovers that much easier?
Hoult: It was genuine love for me, wasn’t it?
Palmer: It was, you’ve got the exclusive scoop, I fell in love with Nicholas Hoult. [laughs] I think you have to be generous. So many actors will think about there own craft or what they’re doing in a scene, and it’s a dance between two people and it has to be a collaboration. You have to be open and watch them, because if they’re throwing you something it’s for their performance and your performance. That’s the key.
Hoult: We got along well and had fun, and it was a nice stress-free environment on the set anyway. When I was auditioning with Teresa, she would give me a nudge and a smile at the end, and I would see them why a zombie would not want to eat her brains, and care enough to look out for her. [laughs] So it was straight forward in that sense.
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment
HollywoodChicago.com: Since you’re both from outside the U.S., what is the best way to actualizing the American accent. Is there one tip that everyone knows, when trying to get that accent right?
Palmer: I have voice drills that I do. For me, the ‘r’s’ are significant, so I’m always [starts drill] ‘…mother, father, sister, daughter…’ over and over.
Hoult: Did you say ‘mother father’? [laughs] That’s what you say before a take?
Palmer: ‘Mother, father,’ it’s always wrestling inside me. [laughs] You have to get your mouth warmed up.
Hoult: I have certain words as well. When I did X-Men, I would say ‘Niles’ a lot, from the TV show ‘Frazier’ to try and pick it up. For ‘Warm Bodies,’ luckily I was just grumbling a lot. My least favorite American word is ‘burger.’
Palmer: Mine is ‘New York.’ [Starts drilling] ‘Mother, father, Teresa Palmer…’ [laughs]
HollywoodChicago.com: Nicholas, you broke out in a big way in ‘About a Boy’ as a child actor. What film or TV appearance was the vital transition for you from child actor to young adult roles?
Hoult: Definitely ‘Skins’ on TV.
Palmer: People are obsessed with him as Tony. It’s crazy.
Hoult: It was a very different character to play, more adult and risky. When I was auditioning, I thought they’d see me as the Sid character, because that was more in line with what I had been doing, so Tony was a nice step outside my comfort zone.
HollywoodChicago.com: Teresa, your bio says you were discovered working at a mall and cast in the ‘2:37,’ which went on to get attention at the Cannes Film Festival…
Palmer: That’s not exactly it. But I was cast in ‘2:37’ while I was doing those type of dress up role in a mall, like Strawberry Shortcake, Santa’s Little Helper, the Christmas Fairy. Because of all that, my picture was in a database called Central Talent, and the director saw my picture and cast me from that.
HollywoodChicago.com: So it wasn’t accidental, you were intending to be an actress?
Palmer: Yes, but the only work I could get in Adelaide [Australia] was the mall-type character jobs. I always wanted to act, but I never thought it would be a reality, so I did pursue other careers like teaching and journalism. I just fell into this first film, and it gained success at the Cannes Film Festival. That’s what triggered everything.
HollywoodChicago.com: Nicholas, you had a significant role in Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man.’ Did you experience anything different on that film because you essentially had a fashion designer directing it?
Hoult: No, his attention to detail and his aesthetic was phenomenal. He pays such attention to the detail, and wanted everything to be perfect, but on the other hand was relaxed about the performances, in a way in which he knew every character perfectly. He adapted the screenplay as well, so he was able to direct and emote what the characters would feel. That really helped. It was shot in only 21 days. Colin Firth was also very easy to act with, very laid back.
HollywoodChicago.com: Teresa, you worked with Daniel Radcliffe on ‘December Boys’ at the height of his Harry Potter fame. What did you observe about him, and his performance, that told you he wanted to break away from getting typecast as the boy wizard?
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com
Palmer: It was his first film outside the Harry Potter franchise. He was the most unaffected actor I’ve ever met, even in his fame and success. He was a regular guy, down to earth, and made sure to know everyone’s name on the set. He embraced an Australian accent, which is a very hard accent to get right, and did a fabulous job on that. He was just excited to play something different, and he did fantastic work.
HollywoodChicago.com: Nicholas, you had a high profile celebrity relationship. What do you think is unfair about your human feelings versus public speculations?
Hoult: It comes with the territory and I understand, from that point of view. It’s also a storm in a teacup in many ways, it feels likes it’s a big deal, but tomorrow it’s nothing. It’s not that interesting. You want to keep as much personal stuff to yourself, because you don’t want an audience sitting in the cinema thinking about that, instead of your performance.
HollywoodChicago.com: You are in the long line of Australia actors who have found success in the film industry here. What do Australian performers say about Americans when they’re having a few drinks at the pub that you don’t want us to know?
Hoult: [Laughs] This is a perfectly safe place to tell the truth.
Palmer: I actually think we feel incredibly blessed and lucky to be given such great opportunities. I can only put it down to the fact that there have been incredible Aussie performers before me, paving the way to come in and get these opportunities.
HollywoodChicago.com: Okay then, what culturally do you find strange about the United States?
Hoult: Well, England is becoming more Americanized every day.
Palmer: Yeah, it’s not that different.
Hoult: I will say that if I was a child actor in America, rather than England, that my career would have gone off the rails. There is a different emphasis and pressure here, whenever there is a success they take them out of school and home school them, plus there seems to be many more groups of people pushing against them.
Palmer: What I find hard about the industry is that the media wants your work to define who you are – Teresa Palmer, the ‘Actress.’ To me, it’s just my job, because my life is so rich in other ways with different passions and lots of friends. I get to do this as a job, but I don’t let it define me, and that’s much harder to do when you’re in Los Angeles and in the industry.