When you hear the words "zombie movie," it's unlikely your first thoughts — or second or third — will go to romance. But that's exactly what the new film Warm Bodies (opening February 1) aims to bring you, as it tells the story of R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie who starts feeling very un-zombie-like feelings when he encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer).
Hoult and Palmer made a recent stop at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas to promote the film, where they cheerfully told a packed press conference about their experience working on the film, choices they made for the roles and what they would do if they actually were zombies.
Spoiler alert: Some of their answers delve into the movie's twists and turns, so consider yourself warned if you want to go into the film pure.
Q: What about the script made you gravitate toward the movie?
Palmer: Exactly that — it was such a breath of fresh air. It was original and unique and daring. I love that it’s a mash-up of all these different genres. It’s comedic, it’s a romantic film, it’s action and, of course, it’s the zombie genre, which is fantastic.
Hoult: I really like the take that it was told from my character’s perspective, which I don’t think we’d really seen before in a film, to get into the zombie mindset. With Jonathan Levine directing, he’s got a really soft touch about being able to balance making a film funny and not taking itself too seriously, and then also keeping a lot of heart and keeping it grounded in reality even with the concept that maybe seems slightly ridiculous.
Q: Nicholas, how hard did you find it to get across emotions because your character hardly speaks at all?
Hoult: It was a new challenge. Luckily, there’s some great voiceover, which gives you an insight into my character’s thoughts and kind of witty, self-deprecating outlook on the situation he’s found himself in. But then it was all about just focusing on the fact that this is a character who’s trying his best to emote and connect even though he’s struggling with it. And I think a lot of guys …
Palmer: Struggle with that.
Hoult: [laughs] … can relate to that. Put them in a room with a girl they like, and suddenly it’s panic, nothing to say. And fortunately for me, I was surrounded by very talented actors, with a strong script and a director who was very supportive and encouraging. So I could just sit there and watch them perform and enjoy what they were doing, and then try and react in a zombie manner … with emotions.
Q: What do you think attracted your [Palmer’s] character to R?
Palmer: His sensibility …
Hoult: His dashing good looks.
Palmer: [laughs] Yes, his dashing, somewhat pale looks. Look, his way — his beautiful way about him. His light spirit, the way he’s so sensitive and he just wants to look after her and take care of her.
He wears his heart on his sleeve, and she knows he’s a good guy and he’s trying so hard and she sees that he’s actually making the best of this horrible situation he’s in. And I think she sees that in her own self, too; she can relate to that. She’s been thrust into this world, this horrible dark world ... and she’s this bright light amongst this dismal community. I think R is the same way.
Q: Was there one scene or sequence that stands out as being the most fun to shoot?
Palmer: I think we both think that sequence where me and my friends — we’ve gone out to get the medical supplies and we’re in there — it’s the first time the zombies come and stampede in. It’s the first moment you lay eyes on my character, and it’s obviously a pivotal moment in the film.
Hoult: Yeah, so much happens in that short period of time where we attack, I get shot, it’s going crazy. It’s a real action sequence.
Palmer: Whilst I’m like shooting a shotgun, sliding on my knees and killing zombies.
Hoult: Yeah, it’s the first time we [their characters] interact and there’s just a lot going on. It was a fun sequence to shoot. ... And any scene with Rob Corddry, I think, because the guy’s a load. He made me laugh.
Q: Well, the communication was just beautiful between you two [Hoult and Corddry's characters].
Hoult: Yeah, it was a very male communication anyway. Most of the time guys don’t have the best talk. It was like sitting at a bar and then watching sports and [grunts and groans]. We were improvising groans; Rob had one particular groan that would get me every time. We’d be doing short groans back and forth and then he would just let out a really slow, monotonous, long groan …
Palmer: For as long as he could hold it. He just kept going [laughs].
Hoult: And I’d be looking at him, and in my head I’m just going, “Please stop doing that. I’m going to laugh.”
Palmer: He would bite his cheeks to stop from laughing.
Hoult: There’s a lot of good outtakes from this film.
Q: What was the most challenging physical thing you had to do?
Palmer: That whole end sequence was pretty difficult, the sprinting.
Hoult: Yeah, zombie run is difficult. Zombie shuffle, okay …
Palmer: Because I was really going for it.
Hoult: Yeah, Teresa’s quick. I had been practicing on the treadmill, in the gym and running around the carpark and all this sort of stuff. But then — it’s weird and uncoordinated, because [sarcastically] I’m obviously quite the athlete. To not run 100 meters in under 9.3 seconds is tricky.
Palmer: It was maybe like three weeks at the end, where pretty much we’re running all day. And they would mount the camera on the back of a golf cart and they would drive in front of us and someone would be on the back filming. But we have to keep a specific distance, and they’re the ones that set the speed. So we actually have to keep up with the golf cart.
And so you can’t get tired. You just have to keep on running, and you really feel like you’re running for your life. It’s quite interesting.
Q: Nicholas, with this film and your upcoming slate of films, it seems like you’re about to really become a star. What do you think about that change?
Hoult: I don’t think that’s the case.
Palmer: He is! He’s so humble. He’s obviously going to be a huge movie star, and he deserves it.
Hoult: It’s a thing where I’ve been very fortunate recently to have a good run and to work with talented directors and play characters I really like in films that seem to be really well-received. I’d just like to keep on working.
Palmer: And he’s a breath of fresh air as well because he’s so humble and down-to-earth and normal, and that’s really sweet. I know that everyone who’s worked with him wants to continue working with him. He’s got a really good reputation.
Q: If you could eat the brains and get the memories of anyone in the world, who would it be?
Hoult: I’ve said a few different answers to this. I started off with Henry VIII, then I went Tina Turner — I’ve kind of been all over the place. I’d like to ingest the minds of a really intelligent scientist or great philosopher or psychologist or something, but then I feel as though that might destroy me, or I just wouldn’t understand it.
Palmer: Elizabeth Taylor for me. Old-school Hollywood, all these incredible stories in her life. Richard Burton, that would have been interesting. Yeah, it would’ve been great to see what old Hollywood was like.
Hoult: I’m gonna go with Freddie Mercury. I watched a documentary on him recently, and the guy was incredible.