Writer/director Jonathan Levine, whose film credits include “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, “The Wackness” and “50/50,” recently spoke with Phoenix Movie Examiner about his new horror-themed romantic dramedy “Warm Bodies.”
In “Warm Bodies,” which opens Friday, Feb. 1 at movie theaters throughout the Valley, Nicholas Hoult plays a zombie who becomes involved with the girlfriend (Teresa Palmer) of one of his victims (Dave Franco) and discovers that their romance sets in motion a sequence of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.
Question: What attracted you to this project?
Answer: I liked the positivity of it. I had done another genre mashup movie called “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” that was kind of relentlessly dark. And in “The Wackness,” there are a lot of comedic moments but it is pretty dark too. “50/50” is also dark, although it is ironically the lightest of those three. I thought that this movie was really a nice way to play with very positive messages about tolerance and what it really means to be alive. This was an opportunity to play within the tropes of romantic comedies and give the audience what they want but do it in a very unique way. I liked the fact that it was positive but I liked the fact that it was self-aware, too. There is this tension between the Disney thing - like the princess kissing the toad - and the sort of harsh violence of the apocalyptic world. So even though there is a lot of self-aware cheesiness in the movie, it is balanced out by a darkness which makes it a little more palatable to cynical people like myself.
Q: Tell me about the adaptation process. Was it at all difficult?
A: The book does not necessarily lend itself that easily to translation. A lot of is is very metaphysical so, in adapting it, I had to convert that into action and events. There was a lot of wonderful prose that I was never able to get into the movie. I just hoped to get the spirit of that tone into the movie. And I think that we we were successful in doing that. Plus, the brain eating stuff was very cool - and was actually part of why I wanted to do it because you can do this kind of trippy, first-person point-of-view - but that, too, was a challenging thing to adapt. What was great about the book is that there was nothing when I was adapting it that was unimaginable. You could do anything with these characters and style and it would still be appropriate. This is just the one road we chose to go down. I love the fact that it is about these young people who are dealing with this apocalypse and have a bit of an attitude about it. I love the irreverence of it.
Q: Can you expand upon that? Because I loved the irreverence, too. In fact, I could have watched an entire movie designed after the first 4 minutes in which zombies just walk around groaning at one another as you attach voiceover to the main character's thoughts.
A: I do not think that you could. I think that it would get boring. I mean, I love that stuff, too. Those first 4 minutes - all of the social commentary and the opportunity to play with style - are kind of what drew me into the movie. But at some point the story has to start. I can tell you that in the editing process there were several different movies. There was a version of it that had 30 percent less comedy. It was very sad and about this guy who was alone. But that was boring. And then there were a hundred versions with wall-to-wall voiceover - almost like “Look Who's Talking.” What we ended up doing was a balance. I have to go to extremes in either direction to end up in the middle. That is my process. And sometimes I do not end up in the middle. Sometimes I end up more on one side or the other. But it is always good to have this system of checks and balances with tone.
Q: True. So then did the unique nature of this movie and its tone ever scare you?
A: When I was writing this movie, there were 20 pages of zombies just groaning at each other. You cannot help but be a little scared about how it is going to turn out. I had the most weight on my shoulders but I was also the person who was supposed to be the least scared. And I was very scared. But seeing Nick [Hoult] and Rob [Corddry] and the way that they tackled their roles with an utter lack of fear inspired me to be less afraid. Luckily, I immediately got on board that way as soon as I saw them in rehearsal. So my goal in the future is to not even be scared in the first place and just do what I want.
Q: Finally, this movie was originally scheduled to be released last summer. What can you tell me about the delay?
A: I think that we saw how crowded the summer was going to be and we got scared. And I think that we were right to get scared. I had always been really nervous about a summer release date. I was nervous about going up against “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” which would have come out 3 weeks before us. This is a special movie that needs a little breathing room. I think that this is the type of movie that needs to come out in the beginning of the year when there are other movies that are unique and daring. This is the time of year when movies either suck or are awesome and different and I can promise people that this is not in the category of sucky movies.