“Warm Bodies” could be described as a romance/thriller inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” except the couple in love are a male zombie and a woman. In “Warm Bodies,” it’s a post-apocalyptic world in which zombies and humans are at war. Nicholas Hoult plays a zombie named R who spares the life of a young woman named Julie (played by Teresa Palmer) after he is inhabited by the spirit of her boyfriend Perry (played by Dave Franco), whom R had killed during a zombie attack. R’s best friend is M (played by Rob Corddry), and Julie’s closest pal is Nora (played by Analeigh Tipton).
As R tries to protect Julie from getting killed by zombies (she sometimes has to pretend to be a zombie to avoid detection), Julie is trying to find her way back home. Along the way, the unlikely pair falls in love. And when those close to them — including Julie’s stern, zombie-killing, military father Colonel Grigio (played by John Malkovich) — find out about R and Julie’s secret love, they are met with disapproval from both sides. At the Los Angeles press junket for “Warm Bodies,” Hoult and Palmer did these interviews about making the movie.
Interview with Nicholas Hoult
What were your initial thoughts when you first read the script to “Warm Bodies”?
The first thoughts after reading it was a really great reaction, actually. I enjoyed reading it. I read it really quickly as well. I sat there [and thought], “That’s cool. Great idea. I like the humor in it. I like the action. I like this character.”
Ring the agent. “Can I do this movie?” “Well, you can try and convince them to let you do it.” And luckily, I had an audition with Jonathan [Levine, screenwriter/director of “Warm Bodies”], and met up with him and stuff, and luckily, he liked me enough to give me a shot at it.
“Warm Bodies” crosses many movie genres. Did you have any worried that the tone of the movie would be wrong?
I knew it was funny going into it. I knew that there was going to be some physical comedy and some ridiculous things that were out there. But it was also heartwarming and touching to watch this guy who feels a little bit trapped and just wants to connect with someone, to watch him find a girl who is that spark and who can start the transformation for the positive in his life.
And also, she sees the hope in him trying and kind of helps him out. It’s a sweet story and unexpected. Jonathan does a fantastic job in balancing it. It’s funny but it doesn’t get out of hand to become a parody or a straight-out comedy. There’s depth, and you really care about these characters.
Did you see any similarities between “Warm Bodies” and “Romeo and Juliet”?
I didn’t see it until another pointed it out to me. I was reading the script when I practicing on the accent, and the guy I was working on the accent with said, “Oh, it’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’” I was like, “Hang on. Is it?” I flipped through it and I thought, “Ah! It’s all falling into place now.” There’s a few little nods to that as well, like the balcony scene.
There wasn’t anything form knowing that I suddenly thought, “This changes the way I play the role” or anything like that.” The character had a very clear idea of not just how I was going to play it but that feeling that all his energy should be focused on the other people and trying his best to communicate with them.
Was it tough to do more grunting than talking in “Warm Bodies”? There was that memorable scene with you and Rob Corddry in the bar.
That [scene] was fairly late into filming, so we were grunting experts that that point, but it was one of those weird things where in the first take, we both grunted a little bit, and then we started to really get into it. And then the conversations started to embellish a little bit. Even though we didn’t really know what each other was saying, it was funny.
I lost it a few times just watching him. I could tell a few times. He’d do a grunt and I’d be like, “Oh, I get that.” And it’s great. It’s very similar to what two blokes in a bar would be like. It was nice doing that.
What was it like working with Teresa Palmer?
She’s fantastic. She’s a really great actress and sort of bubbly and has a great edge. I knew when we first did a reading together that she was going to be the perfect counterweight to what I was doing. She just has a little light in her smile, and it when it goes off, I can see how it would trigger R to say, “I’m not going to eat this one. I’m going to look after her.”
And so that’s what we needed. And she had some massive scenes that she had to do with me, and I’m not really doing a lot back. It was great to watch her bring that character to life.
Were the scenes you had in the plane improvised a lot or was it all scripted?
That was pretty scripted. We went into the film with a really solid script that didn’t change much throughout filming, which is rare. Nowadays, you go into a film and the script you started with, there’s not a single page left of it by the end result. But with this [“Warm Bodies”], it was such a solid script that it didn’t change that much.
Have you been surprised by any of the reactions you’ve gotten from people who’ve seen “Warm Bodies”?
So far, there haven’t been big surprises. I’m glad that people are finding the same stuff that I find funny when they see the film. There are always some weird things that people pick up on that they thought you were doing — character things that you didn’t even realize.
A few people picked up on the fact that I wasn’t blinking a lot. They were impressed with that, which I didn’t think people would notice that much. Jonathan said, “Dead people probably wouldn’t blink that much.” And I got myself into a whole world of pain with that one.
How hard was it for you not to blink a lot?
Sometimes there’d be long scenes and I’d be sitting there [thinking], “These contact lenses are really dry, and I haven’t had a blink in a while.” But we got through it.
Interview with Teresa Palmer
What were your initial thoughts when you first read the script to “Warm Bodies”?
I first read the script of “Warm Bodies” maybe a year-and-a-half ago. My agent sent me the script and said, “This is really special.” He told me the premise. And I thought, “Wow! That’s unique. That’s different.”
And I read that script, and it truly was an original story. It was endearing and fast-paced and there were so many fantastic elements to it that made me really excited to be a part of it.
How would you describe Nicholas Hoult?
What I was really nervous about coming into this movie was the fact that I was doing a lot of the heavy lifting, in terms of the dialogue. My counterpart Nick doesn’t really get to say anything in this movie. He can’t express himself verbally, apart from a couple of groans here and there.
All my nerves went out the window when I arrived on set. Nick and I started hanging out, and we have such great chemistry right off the bat. He was able to convey such emotions through his eyes and his body language and his facial expressions without saying a word. And it just made my job really easy.
What was it like working with “Warm Bodies” screenwriter/director Jonathan Levine?
Working with Jonathan Levine, who is the fabulous director of “Warm Bodies,” was incredible. He is, I think, such a pioneer. I saw his film a few years ago called “The Wackness.” And I just thought it was so special. He had an incredible aesthetic. The music was fantastic. It was very much grounded in reality.
And with “Warm Bodies,” the experience was just terrific. He set such a wonderful tone on set, which was “Hey, everyone, we’re making this film, and let’s be pumped about this, and let’s be excited and enthusiastic and positive.” And there wasn’t any fear-based directing. He just put his trust in us as actors and let us follow our instincts. And that’s just so liberating.
What’s your favorite scene in “Warm Bodies”?
My favorite sequences in “Warm Bodies” would be between R and Julie, when we’re first connecting and we’re getting to know each other. And there’s a fine balance between Julie between really confronted and fearful and scared, but then curious and shocked and confused, because everything she knows about the undead is wrong: They have feelings and thoughts.
There’s a beautiful scene in the plane where I’m talking about my ex-boyfriend Perry and how he’s become dead and damaged, and R puts his had on his heart, and then he puts his hand on my heart. And that, for me, is the jumping-off point. That’s when she starts to feel these emotions, and they fall in love.
How would you describe “Warm Bodies” as a movie genre?
“Warm Bodies” is difficult to describe because it is so many things and feels like so many genres. It really stands alone in that sense. It is part romance, part comedy, part action. And there’s that under-genre and essentially the message of the story is that love breathes life back into people, and how special and important healing the power of human connection is. And that’s what I ultimately think this film is about. It’s just a beautiful, fun ride.
It’s all of those things. It’s dark and meaningful with all these messages, but it’s really light and enjoyable and fun and great music. So that’s why I think it will appeal to a mass audience.
Have you seen “Warm Bodies” with an audience yet?
I haven’t had a chance to see it with an audience yet. I only saw it with two other people in the cinema, but even then, I felt the positive energy and a great response. I’m looking forward to getting to the premiere and having a roomful of people excited to see the movie and just feeling the buzz from the audience.
What was it like working with your “Warm Bodies” co-stars Dave Franco and Analeigh Tipton?
I loved working on “Warm Bodies” so much because we were surrounded by the most amazing comedians, from Analeigh Tipton, who is hilarious — she’s going to be huge in the comedy world — to Dave Franco, who is so funny. You see some his skits on the Funny or Die series. And then Rob Corddry.
It was just a bucket of laughs. Everyone was playing off of each other and laughing and having a blast. It was just such an enjoyable and memorable experience for me.
Did “Romeo and Juliet” influence how your played your character in “Warm Bodies”?
The film pays to homage to “Romeo and Juliet.” R could be Romeo. Julie is Juliet. Nora is the Nurse. And that’s really wonderful. It’s our quirky version of that love story, which is fantastic.
It took me a little while to cotton on. I didn’t realize until I was on set, and I was doing the scene on the plane where I’m talking to R and say, “Do you have a name? Richard? Ricardo?” And then I just ad libbed, “Romeo?”
And then Jonathan Levine comes in and says, “Don’t say Romeo this time. Let’s not actually say Romeo.” And I was like, “Why?” And he was like, “Well …”
And then I realized, “Oh my gosh! He’s supposed to be Romeo, and I’m Juliet.” But it’s really beautiful. I didn’t really focus on being my version of Juliet. I just stayed true to Julie, the character in the book.”
For more info: "Warm Bodies" website