Director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness) and actress Analeigh Tipton (American’s Next Top Model, Crazy, Stupid Love) were in Boston to promote their film Warm Bodies. Levine also wrote the screenplay based off the book of the same title. About the film:
A funny new twist on a classic love story, Warm Bodies is a poignant tale about the power of human connection. After a zombie epidemic, R (a highly unusual zombie) encounters Julie (a human survivor), and rescues her from a zombie attack. Julie sees that R is different from the other zombies, and as the two form a special relationship in their struggle for survival, R becomes increasingly more human – setting off an exciting, romantic, and often comical chain of events that begins to transform the other zombies and maybe even the whole lifeless world. The film stars Nicholas Hoult as R, Teresa Palmer as Julie, Analeigh Tipton as Nora, along with Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich and more.
The pair have been touring the country promoting the film and they were asked if they sit and watch the film every time it’s shown, Jonathan Levine, “I can’t. It’s like, imagine the movie you’ve seen the most, imagine seeing that like a 1000 more times. That’s the number of times I’ve seen a movie by the time it gets to people. Once a movie is done, I literally don’t (watch it). 50/50 has been on Showtime and it’s cool when I’m flipping around, like holy shit I directed that movie, and I’ll watch it for 5 minutes. My girlfriend is the production designer so I’ll watch it every once in a while, but I can’t watch it for more than 5 minutes without being ‘I f*cked that up, I f*cked that up.’ So then I’ll just change the channel. And she looks and can’t believe she put that painting up.”
I asked Ms. Tipton if she’s the type of actress that can or can’t watch herself on the big screen, Analeigh Tipton, “I’ve had both experiences recently. With this one it’s nice, I play the best friend and I kinda come in and out of the film so I can lean back and really enjoy the film for what it is. It’s such a small piece of me that I don’t bother myself that much. I haven’t seen it with an audience yet. I’ve only seen it sitting awkwardly alone in a theater.” Levine talking to Tipton, “You saw it in a big movie theater by yourself?” Tipton, “Like a decent size screening room.” Levine, “That seems weird (laughing).” Tipton, “I told you, I had my Snickers bars because they always have that basket of candy so I just stock up.”
Coming off a critical and box office success like 50/50 which was about a young man with cancer, but was more a comedy than drama, Levine was asked if it was easier to do a film like Warm Bodies because of his previous experience. Levine, “Yeah definitely. 50/50 was good training ground for this and not just the combination of the positivity and bleakness, but just combining comedy with drama. Just combining tones, 50/50 was very helpful for me. I learned a lot from Seth (Rogen) and Evan (Goldberg) about it. It totally helped prepare me for this.”
I had re-watched 50/50 after Warm Bodies and noticed a lot of similar tracking shots and shots of people walking and similar styles. I asked him if it was intentional or just something he does. “I think it just might be a subconscious thing. I think the common thread thoughout is that they have isolated characters. I hate to compare something as serious as a guy going through cancer to what the dude in Warm Bodies is going through, but I do think I’m attracted to these protagonists who are kinda trapped in a way and have no choice. Our guy in this movie has to laugh at the fact that he can’t express himself. His internal monologue is funny. I think there’s that common ground. But I also like to try to move the camera as much as possible.”
Being based on a book, Jonathan was asked what drew him to story. “I got the book, I’m trying to think of the timeline. Summit showed me this book and I really liked it. Then I kinda auditioned or interviewed for the job. I got the job and then 50/50 came around maybe a month later. 50/50 happened really quickly because another director had fallen out of it. So between reading 50/50 and being up in Vancouver shooting it or prepping it was 2 weeks. So I started adapting this script while I was in Vancouver. This was going to happen before 50/50.”
This is the director’s first PG-13 film and he was asked about trying to find a tone for his first PG-13 rating. “I was never too worried because I view this movie more following the footsteps of The Goonies, The Princess Bride or even Wall-E, movies that have nice parts in the center of them, but they aren’t super earnest and have a degree of cynicism to them. I never thought that amping up the gore would help tell this story in any way. It wasn’t really about that. I wanted it to be gory because I wanted people who like zombies to not think we are pussies so we pushed it as far as we could, but it wasn’t really about that. Also it’s a movie geared to young people and I didn’t want them to not be able to see it or have to sneak in. I saw Project X in a movie theater in Albuquerque, the theater was filled with 16 year olds and I was like they all snuck in, they all bought tickets to something else and snuck in and Project X doesn’t get to say they made money from them.”
Having seen most of Levine’s work, I noticed he uses music brilliantly. I asked him which songs he knew he wanted, which ones came in post. “I wrote a bunch of stuff into the script. I wrote Simon & Garfunkel into the script which did not make it into the movie. I wrote Guns N’ Roses which did make it. I write songs into the script when I’m listening to them when I’m writing, but never really thinking they’d work. I mean thinking they are a good tonal guide, but not the exact song would work because when you’re putting a song in a movie it’s not so much about the song, it’s about the lyrics, the tempo, how it kinda works with the rhythm of the scene. Just Patience (Guns N’ Roses) stuck. We kept trying a bunch of stuff and I’m really happy where it ended up.”
I asked Analeigh, as an actress, if she finds it easier or more difficult to do a scene knowing a certain song goes along with it and what it‘s like working with a director who uses music so well. “Personally that helps me. I’m a big music person. I compare a lot of my emotions to how something sounds. That’s a tool I use for myself. I don’t know if all actors do that. I don’t know if we ever did, but I know I could express myself much better to him with music if we had a problem trying to get an emotion out. He would give me a song and I would get that emotion. As a filmmaker myself, music is where I drew from creatively and artistically. Seeing his films do that is cool.”
Co-star Dave Franco seems to get a lot of smartass type roles (this, 21 Jump Street) and they talked about him. Analeigh, “To women he’s such a sweetheart and so kind and not an asshole at all which I appreciate.” Levine, “No, Franco is literally the nicest person in the world. I was doing the first leg of the press tour and I did a couple of cities with Dave and he was like ‘Someone told me I had an asshole face.’ (laughing). But he’s literally the nicest guy in the world. In fact he’s too nice. (turning to Analeigh). Remember that night we were shooting in that village where in the scene they are walking through and he’s says something like ‘We stick together no matter what.’ It’s at night and we’re in Montreal and it’s freezing. It was like a 17 hour day or something. And Franco had only shot like the first half of the day and we had picture wrapped him. He was done and he went out to dinner and one of the dudes who worked at the restaurant was like ‘Hey man I loved you in whatever’. They started talking and the dude literally followed him around the whole night. They went out drinking and Dave came back to visit the set just to hang out with us and the guy was with him. He was so nice he couldn’t be like ‘Listen man, just leave me alone.’ He let the dude hang out with him the whole night.” Analeigh (laughing), “It was so awkward.”
The film also stars one of my favorite Massachusetts guys, Rob Corddry. I asked them how awesome Rob is. Levine, “Rob is incredible. What can I say about Rob? He has that thing that Seth Rogen has which is just that thing where you can be ‘Hey dude I need you to say something funny here because I‘m not smart enough to write it’ and he can do it and with five different takes, he’ll come up with five different versions.” My favorite line in the film is Rob’s line “Bitches”. On that line, “That was totally ad-libbed and we didn’t put it in the movie for a while because we weren’t sure if it was too much, if he broke character, and then we tested it once and people went crazy. I just said it doesn’t f*cking matter, it’s just too funny. But the great thing about Rob is also in that scene, I find him pretty moving. He’s a pretty amazing dramatic actor as well. He’s also really smart. As a storyteller, as someone who created his own TV show, he’s a very smart person to bounce ideas off of. Again one of the nicest guys.”
One of the new twists on the zombie genre in the film is that when a zombie eats a person’s brain, they sort of download that person’s memories. I asked them if there any memories of their own they wouldn’t want others to know. Jonathan (laughing), “Oh my god. Yeah.” Analeigh (laughing and looking at me), “That’s a first someone has asked that. Some shit, yeah. What about you? Why don’t you share?” Levine, “Probably some nights here in Boston, sneaking out of boarding school. It was in the book and it was one of the things that I really liked. I figured it was an opportunity to play with style a little bit which isn‘t something I always get to do. I thought it was clever cause I love zombie movies and I thought that was really cool. That‘s a new thing that I think people will embrace because it‘s so smart. I watched Enter the Void and kinda ripped that off a little bit.” Jonathan Levine went to high school and lived in Massachusetts for some time.
Warm Bodies is a zombie film with a love story, a zombie without a name, prefers vinyl to iPod, eats this boyfriend‘s brain and now he‘s in love with this girl. Asked how Summit pitches this movie to potential directors. Levine, “Erik Feig, who is one of the heads of Summit, he’s very smart. He’s the person, when you think studio executive, you have this idea in your idea of a guy who’s a douchebag, he’s the opposite of that. He’s a very smart, creative, caring person. He showed me the book and told me to read the first two pages. So that’s what I did. In the first two pages of the book you get the cleverness of the whole premise right away. He never really tried to do the pitch to me. At the time I had only done The Wackness, he wasn’t really asking me to do it. He asked me if I would be interested in doing it then there was this process of getting it.”
I asked Analeigh what about the story drew her to it. “I was fully skeptical at first. That (talking about the pitch idea just mentioned) sounded like a cool idea, but my first read of it was zombie romance which was a genre film and the best friend role can just go bad in so many ways. It was the people involved. I’ve said that so many times I feel cheesy saying that next to the director.” Levine, “We’ve heard each other say things, repeat a lot, although we haven’t really repeated anything right now. You guys are asking really cool questions, but I can give you Analeigh’s answer I’ve heard it so many times.” Analeigh, “But you look at what someone like John Malkovich has done and Nic Hoult coming from Skins, Teresa Palmer who I actually hadn’t seen much of her work, but she’s Australian and has that hot accent. And Jonathan taking something and being able to poetically speak to an audience in a different way. The experience of it was going to be a good risk and one that I could assure I would take something away from.”
Analeigh Tipton talked about working with John Malkovich. “Incredible. He’s brilliant first of all and I think he knew I was very intimidated holding a gun to him. At one point I had to take the gun and really stick it into him and he said to stick it on him hard that he really need to feel the gun. Then after the takes he would put his hand to my cheek and say ‘thank you’ and Jonathan got to work with him even more.” Jonathan, “Yeah obviously he’s a genius and not just a great actor, but he produced The Perks of Being a Wallflower, he produced Juno, he has his own clothing line, he is an opera singer.” Analeigh, “He can rap.” Jonathan, “He can rap. I like to play music on set which I’m actually trying to stop doing, well maybe a little less. At night when people are getting tired I’ll start blasting hip hop and anyways so at one point I was playing something from The Chronic and he (John Malkovich) just starts rapping along. And you know Malkovich has a sense of humor because he’s super funny in Con Air, super funny in Burn After Reading, so part of him knows that it’s funny that he, John Malkovich, is rapping, but part of it is, he’s super into it. He also would reenact YouTube videos that he likes.” Analeigh, “You guys know Unforgivable about the waffles and going to the waffle house? Look that up and picture John Malkovich. It’s called Unforgivable and the guy’s in the woods talking to the camera going off about waffles.”
On the lack of marijuana in the movie. Jonathan Levine, “It was my first movie without weed. You know what, I actually had written Nora smoking weed into an early draft and one of the studio execs was like ‘Really dude?’ In the book she smokes a lot of weed. Don’t worry, next movie will have twice as much weed.”
Warm Bodies opens Friday February 1st.
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