Boy meets girl. Boy turns out to be a zombie. Boy and girl fight the undead masses for a chance at "the cure." Writer/director Jonathan Levine tackles young love and the undead in his latest film, Warm Bodies. Starring Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy, Skins, X-Men: First Class), Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four) and Rob Corddry (The Daily Show, Children's Hospital), Warm Bodies is a bizzarre, fun look at love-at-first-sight from the point of view of a teenage zombie. Drawing inspiration from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and the light-hearted chemistry of its cast, the movie brings an exhuberant tone to the usually drab supernatural romance genre. Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier caught up with the trio to find out more about playing undead, making each other laugh, and why Warm Bodies is no Twilight...
Emmanuel Itier: This zombie romance is a unique take on the usual undead story. Were you familiar with Isaac Marion’s novel when you first signed onto this film?
Nicholas Hoult: I wasn't aware of the book. No, I read the script first and really enjoyed it; liked the character a lot, cared about him, and thought it'd be a fun character to play. And then Jonathan Levine is a great director, so I wanted to work with him.
EI: How did you get into character, to accurately portray a zombie in love?
NH: Yeah, I watched a lot of zombie movies, and not just the old zombie movies, the more recent ones—the 28 Days Later and Zombieland and stuff—but also watched things like Edward Scissorhands and all those sort of things. Just anything where there was some sort of strange physical performance.
EI: Although your character narrates much of the story through voice over, your scenes with other characters are mostly mute. What were some of the challenges you faced while shooting this film?
Challenging wise, there were some challenges physically. I can't really talk, so that was a bit tricky. But there's also a lot of bonuses to playing a zombie: you don't have to learn a lot of lines. You can pretty much guarantee that you're not going to have much dialogue each day. It was a lot of fun to make.
I mean, there were scenes that were difficult just because I couldn't stop laughing, which isn't good. Zombies don't laugh too much. Rob Corddry made me laugh a lot. I struggled through scenes with him, big time.
EI: At its core, Warm Bodies is a very sweet romance. What themes did you find compelling to explore in the story?
NH: A few things. Obviously, the power of love and how that can change and be a good force in the world, but then there's a lot of messages about how the human race aren't that dissimilar to zombies in many ways. We're kind of so focused on technology and living in such a fast-paced world that we don't ever stop and really connect with people.
EI: I noticed that character names seemed tied to Romeo and Juliet.
NH: Yeah, definitely. And then M is Mercutio and Nora is Nurse. Yeah, there's definitely relations back to Romeo and Juliet. It's a nice take on a classic story.
EI: Do you consider this movie a part of the recent teenage supernatural trend, like The Hunger Games and Twilight? What makes Warm Bodies stand out from the others?
NH: I think this one stands on its own because it's got much more comedy in it than those films. It takes itself lightly, even though you really care for the characters and you're rooting for them. And it's got a bit of drama and romance and some action in it. There's also a nice tone to it where it's not super serious.
Emmanuel Itier: You've been doing smaller films for a while now. What first attracted you to this project?
Teresa Palmer: Well, I loved it. I read the script and I instantly connected to it. I thought it was different and unique. It was so well-written and it really moved me. And because of that, I rang up my agent and I was like, "How do I get this movie?" and then that started the long process of auditioning.
I did a chemistry read with Nick Hoult, and then did a couple more auditions, and then I was sent an email and had a meeting with Jonathan Levine, and I got the movie.
EI: You mentioned your chemistry with Nick – how difficult was it for you to play out that chemistry with a character who doesn’t speak?
TP: Yeah, I was initially very intimidated about the idea that I drive the movie with the dialogue. R can't really express himself verbally, so he's limited to grunts and groans, but Nicholas Hoult is such a phenomenal actor that he was able to really give me so much to work with. He was very expressive with his eyes and his body language was amazing, and I felt like he was speaking volumes without actually opening his mouth and saying any words. That's just a testament to the talent that he is.
EI: What would you say your most challenging scene was?
TP: It was difficult towards the end of the movie, we have this sequence where, after we've fallen in the water, I get shot, and my father turns up... The only reason it was difficult was because it was really freezing and we were sitting in the water for so long. The water was heated, but then by the eighth hour it was really cold and we both were sitting there freezing. We had beanies on in between and we had towels wrapped around us. That was a little challenging, but apart from that, it was just such a blast in this movie. I really don't have any complaints. It was amazing.
EI: Your character names are simply R and J. Would you consider this a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet?
TP: Yeah, we certainly pay our homage to Romeo and Juliet. It's the quirky version of that classic love story. I loved it.
It was actually funny—I didn't realize until we were shooting that R did stand for Romeo and Julie was Juliet. It wasn't until we did the balcony scene that it all kind of clicked in, and I realized. I was so dumb; I ended up announcing it to everyone, like, "This is like the balcony scene with Romeo and Juliet!" and everyone was laughing at me because everyone knew well before I did.
EI: Do you think this film fits into the teen supernatural romance genre, like The Hunger Games and Twilight? What makes Warm Bodies unique?
TP: Yeah, I think we're really embracing the comparisons to the other YA movies. Hunger Games and Twilight are obviously hugely successful franchises, but it is our own film. It's very edgy and it's different, and I think at the core of what this story is, it's really about how love can heal us and love breathes life back into people. That is what I think the true story of Warm Bodies is.
Emmanuel Itier: This seems like such a fun role. What was the process like to become a zombie?
Rob Corddry: It was a lot easier than learning a bunch of lines, that's for sure. No, I've always been, I guess a very ... I like to say "physical" performer, but some would say "big," you know. I definitely count as much on my body as I do my voice or whatever when I'm doing anything. So I didn't really see it as different in that regard, but to get prepared, I got up a little… No preparation. I didn't do anything. I'm lazy. I didn't do a thing. I skated through this movie.
EI: Nicholas was telling us about how much you made him laugh on set. What was the dynamic like between the two of you?
RC: There was a moment when I was messing with him—but it was my character messing with his character, to be fair; it wasn't, like, Rob messing with Nick—and he was really bummed out about a girl. He's lost the girl, and the best friend role in movies is to say either, "You got to go get her back and here's how. Here's a terrible way to get her back," or say, "Come on, you don't need her. Look, you got me."
And so I basically just started slapping him a little bit, just overt, and it was really, like, the only way I could think of that a zombie would try and, like, "Come on, man..." You know? And it went on forever. It became Rob messing with Nick, basically, after a while.
EI: This film is definitely unique, but what is it specifically that sets it apart from other teenage supernatural romance movies like Twilight or The Hunger Games?
RC: I think it's completely different from the Twilight genre, in that the Twilight genre is definitely focused on one particular crowd, not so much the horror lovers, or... I can't say that they're not focused on men in general, but this is, like... this movie, it's very smart, just the sign of a good story or script, in that I can't think of anybody, a kind of person, that it wouldn't appeal to. You know? There is definitely enough horror, enough comedy, enough romance, enough of anything you like about movies to get you there. It's a new thing. We invented a new thing.
EI: Good. A zombie thing.
RC: Yeah, it's a new zombie thing.
EI: A romantic zombie thing.
RC: Yeah. We're like the Albert Einstein of zombies.
'Warm Bodies' was released on February 1st, 2013 and is currently playing in theaters nationwide.