Actress Teresa Palmer talks about falling in love with a zombie

Ed Symkus

Australian actress Teresa Palmer – yes, that’s a darn-good American accent she puts on in her new film “Warm Bodies” – has been acting steadily but kind of flying under the radar of most viewers for almost a decade, with small parts in, among others, “Wolf Creek,” “The Grudge 2” and “Bedtime Stories.” She gained some prominence as a super-powered alien in “I Am Number Four” and as part of an ensemble cast in “Take Me Home Tonight.” Later this year she’ll be seen in Terrence Malick’s newest film, “Knight of Cups.” Right now Palmer, 26, co-stars, with Nicholas Hoult, in “Warm Bodies,” facing the unenviable task of playing Julie, a human girl who’s the possible love interest of a zombie who can hardly speak.

Did you read the book before you made the film?

I did read it, but only finished it recently. I decided, before doing the film, that I didn’t want to read it because I knew that [writer-director] Jonathan Levine had sort of taken these characters and made them his own. So I didn’t want to be skewed. But as we were going through production, I wanted to find out a little more about Julie. So I’d read little segments of the book. Now I’ve gone and read the parts that I missed. So I have read the whole book.

Why would a normal human fall for a zombie?

You actually see Julie’s arc in the film. At the start, she’s certainly not in love with him. She’s petrified and trying to escape. But then he starts to grow on her, and he does some very sweet, endearing things and she realizes that everything we know about the zombie world is completely wrong. He has feelings and thoughts, and he’s caring, and he’s nurturing. I think it really just takes her by surprise.

You do so many scenes with just Nick. How did you approach that situation?

What I love in a costar is someone who’s really open to playing around with the scene. When you throw something at them in the middle of a scene, they throw something back. There’s this interesting dynamic you can create. Some actors aren’t interested in that at all. But it is a collaboration. You should be helping each other to do the best version you can, and make the scene the best. When actors just focus on their own work and what they are doing, I think that’s quite debilitating. I’ve been in situations like that, but it was great in this film. There was spontaneity and chemistry.

Are you allowed to say anything about the Terry Malick film?

I can’t say much. I was only meant to come in for one day on that movie and do a particular scene. But I ended up being there for a lot longer. That was a dream come true. I was absolutely pinching myself.  But to be honest, I haven’t read a script, or anything. I don’t really even know what I’m playing. The whole thing is very much improvised. I will say it is some sort of version of myself, I guess. I’m so inspired by his work. I’m producing something now (a still-untitled documentary about what makes people happy), and I just keep thinking about my experience on that set, and how I can apply what I learned while I was filming with him to my own project.

Ed Symkus writes about movies for GateHouse Media.