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During the recent press day for Warm Bodies Dread Central had the opportunity to chat with Palmer during a roundtable interview with the Australian actress who discussed her involvement with the project.

Question: Can you talk about how it felt to play a strong female protagonist in Warm Bodies since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of those kinds of roles in the genre world?

Teresa Palmer: I just loved it! I’m not always a fan of the damsel in distress, I like the empowered woman, a strong woman, and that’s the reality of my own life because all the women I know in my own life are very strong and can take care of themselves. And certainly Julie can too; she can shoot a gun and defend herself and I love that she’s feisty enough to try and escape her situation a few times rather than just sit there and wait for help. I loved that.

Question: Was it challenging at all having to play opposite a zombie for most of the film since he can’t really communicate all that well?

Teresa Palmer: Well, I thought it would be a challenge because R really doesn’t get to express himself and so Julie is doing all of the talking so I was really worried about finding the chemistry and finding the rhythm of the scenes because I didn’t really have anyone to bounce my dialogue off of. But Nick Hoult is such a gifted actor that he was really able to emote almost everything just through his eyes; I mean, his eyes are so expressive and his little subtle choices with his facial expressions and his body language actually meant that I had SO much to work off of then in the end because I could respond off of all of his little moments.

Question: Was it hard at all working alongside the CGI creatures- the Boneys?

Teresa Palmer: Nah, not really; they were guys in motion capture suits so it was almost more hilarious than anything else really. But I do have to say that Jonathan Levine was very much about grounding this story in reality and the way that he did that was just every single day on set he was making sure that the production design was perfect and was just very particular about all the details really. We shot at an abandoned airport in Montreal and the whole place was just decked out as if there really was a zombie apocalypse. All of our zombie extras had make-up and were really on set, there was no digital zombies in that sense at all and I think all made this a really wonderfully authentic feeling story.

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Teresa: “I am a little tired! We were in London yesterday, Toronto today, Chicago tonight. Then we’re off to New York and L.A., too.”

JJ: Can you tell us about Warm Bodies and your character Julie?

TP: “I play Julie, and she is the daughter of General Grigio played by John Malkovich. Julie is a spitfire! She’s independent, and sassy, and brave, and she is living in a world of the zombie apocalypse. One day she goes out with a group to find medical supplies, and they get bombarded by zombies. Julie gets taken captive by R – a lovable zombie played by Nicholas Hoult. She’s very fearful, and she doesn’t understand why he hasn’t tried to kill her. Then she starts watching him and realizes that everything they thought they knew about zombies is wrong. There is something very different about R, he has thoughts and feelings and he wants to protect her. Julie’s fear turns into curiosity, and then the curiosity turns into a deeper connection and they realize that through this connection R starts to heal. This sparks a change in not just R, but in all zombies. It’s a really endearing, warm-hearted story.”

JJ: What was your favorite scene to shoot?

TP: “I love the scene on the plane when Julie is talking about her ex-boyfriend Perry, played by Dave Franco, and how she saw a light in him dim. Julie gets emotional, and R is watching her, and he sees her struggling with her emotions, so he touches his hand on his heart and then touches his hand on her heart. It’s a beautiful moment, and it really is a trigger for Julie and she realizes that he is something new, something different, and it affects her to her core. It helps breathe life back into Julie, and she breathes life back into him, and it’s a chain reaction. And a beautiful romance!”

JJ: What was it about Warm Bodies that made you want to be in the film?

TP: “I loved how different the script was! It was strong and unique and refreshing. I loved hearing from the zombie’s perspective – we get to hear his thoughts, his feelings, and what it’s like to be a zombie. I loved that it was both comedic and romantic and that there is a really wonderful social commentary to the film. It’s about how de-connected we are. We spend so much time on our phones and writing emails and sitting on social media that we have really de-connected from one another. It’s about the power of human connection and how love can heal us.”

JJ: We heard you’re a bit of a practical joker…

TP: “You know, I’ve heard that before too and I have no idea where it came from! My friends always laugh about it because no one really knows where that originated from. I was definitely the chatterbox at school, my friends and I would fool around a bit, but just in a funny way.”

JJ: So there was no practical joking on the Warm Bodies set then?

TP: “No, that didn’t really happen on this movie! We all had a lot of fun on set, we were all really passionate about the movie and connected over a love for the story, but we didn’t really play any jokes on each other, no. I wish that I could tell you some really amazing, funny, crazy practical jokes though.”

JJ: Nicholas told us that the brains he had to eat on set were like a peachy-cake. Did you get to try them at all?

TP: “I did! I got to try them for the first time at a parody shoot we did to promote the movie a few weeks ago. It was really mango-y! It was jelly-like, and it had sugar in it, and it tasted like fresh mangos. I could have eaten the entire brain, it was that delicious!”

JJ: Do you think you could ever fall in love with a zombie, like Julie does?

TP:” If the zombie is as sweet, and endearing, and as caring, and humble as R then absolutely. He also had amazing taste in music, he doesn’t talk back, and he’s a great listener! So, for all those reasons I think it could be a possibility!”

JJ: If the zombie apocalypse were to actually happen that you would survive it?

TP: “Yeah, I think so. I think I have an upper hand because I’ve been in Warm Bodies, and I got to learn how to shoot guns – I’m pretty good with a shotgun now! I think I would probably pretend to be a zombie. I think that would be my number one tactic, to zombify it up. Do hair and make-up in the mornings, go out and pretend to hunt for humans, and then go back to my lair and eat my tin food and listen to music. I would play make believe in order to survive!”

JJ: Did you go through a lot of training to learn how to shoot the shotgun?

TP: “I actually just built upon the training I had for I Am Number Four. I kept learning martial arts, and I did a lot of weight training, and then I’d go to the gun range and learn how to shoot. I had to learn how to put together a gun, load it, then pull it apart again, and do it with my eyes shut. Just getting used to handling the weapon and getting really comfortable with it. It’s fun! These are all the wonderful things you get to pick up as an actor, you get to learn all of these new skills. It’s one of the perks of doing what we do.”

JJ: Are you into the zombie craze at all?

TP: “I love zombie movies! I’m a huge fan of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, I thought that was an incredible film. It’s very gritty and realistic. I also love Zombieland, because it interjects a sense of humor into the zombie genre. I think that’s what Warm Bodies does, and then it takes it a step further by adding the romantic element. I do love that zombie culture is almost like social commentary. It’s really important to be a part of something that has a message like this.”

JJ: What’s next for you once you’re done promoting Warm Bodies?

TP: I have a movie with Terrence Malick called Knight of Cups coming out. I don’t know when, and I don’t really know much about the story because it’s true Terrence Malick style and the story has been kept under wraps, and a lot of it is improvised. That was the greatest filmmaking experience that I’ve ever had. I also worked on a film called Parts Per Billion with Josh Hartnett and Rosario Dawson. Then there’s a film I’m working on called the Fun in Forever, it’s directed by Mark Webber. It’s a fantastic piece. It’s about the breakdown of a marriage, and a lot of it is improvised. I just started shooting that, and I get to film at my family home in Adelaide! We’re bringing a lot of real elements to the movie, and incorporating real members of my life and my family and my friends. It’s a really interesting experimental film.

JJ: Is there anyone specific you would love to work with in the future?

TP: Cate Blanchett. She’s in Knight of Cups, but we don’t have any scenes together. I think she’s a real chameleon, and she is just a true icon in Australia. I think if I had the chance to work with her it would be the best acting class ever!

JJ: Last but not least, do you have a dream role in mind – anything specific you would really like to take on?

TP: Something very gritty and layered and dynamic. My favorite role to date, which has already been on screen, was Alice from Closer. I love that play, I think it’s a complex character, it’s all very layered and grounded in reality. Natalie Portman was phenomenal in that film. If I could find a character in that same vein, I would be very excited!

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GQ: Any idea as to why the zombie genre is experiencing such a renaissance right now?
Teresa Palmer: 
A big part of it is that Hollywood is cyclical. It constantly comes back around to these genres that we have been interested in over the last 40 years. But I think there’s something quite fascinating about the idea that we could potentially be headed towards the apocalypse, and so people are interested in exploring what that would feel like, whether or not there could be an outbreak and people could turn into zombies. They want to see how the humans can get together and face this head on.

GQ: In Warm Bodies you fight a lot of CGI zombies. Was that hard to do acting-wise?
Teresa Palmer: 
We had stunt guys who are dressed head-to-toe in green outfits as stand-ins. I felt sorry for them but they were actually feared and very scary and threatening in a weird, green way. But then, other times, Nick and I would be acting against nothing. There would be someone yelling out “You’ve just been shot!” and you’d have to have a reaction, or, “The zombie picks you up around the neck and you can’t breathe! Struggle!” and you’d have to just mime it, basically. It’s hard, but that’s what we do.We play make believe. You just have to do it in the best way possible and Nick and I laughed our way through it and tried to stay as genuine and as authentic as we possibly could despite the circumstances. But I think we definitely both had many takes of particular moments in the film.

GQ:  Usually if a lady character is going to have an illicit romance with a paranormal creature these days, it’s with a vampire. But you have a zombie boyfriend. What are the perks?
Teresa Palmer: 
Well the great thing about having a zombie boyfriend is that they don’t talk back. As women that’s so desirable in a man. And the zombies in our film are pretty sweet. They want to keep us safe and reconnect and be in love and they’ll do anything they can to protect us. Who doesn’t want that? I think that’s a very appealing thing.

GQ: John Malkovich plays your overprotective Dad. Tell us about him please.
Teresa Palmer: 
John Malkovich is fantastic. He definitely set up a father-daughter dynamic between us, but I also just think that’s his way. He’s so sweet and caring and he’s a gentle man and he has a crack-up sense of humor and really loves to laugh and make jokes. He has all these favorite youtube videos and really all day he playing them for me and impersonating them.

GQ: What are John Malkovich’s favorite You Tube videos?
Teresa Palmer: 
Um… He likes that one “Sitting on the Toilet”? It’s just this girl who’s sitting on the toilet and she’s singing “Sitting on the toilet, sitting on the toilet.” She just does that for about ten minutes. That’s one of his favorites. He’d run around singing it on set all day. His other favorite is Australia’s party-boy Corey Delaney. He’s this  Australian teenager who wears a hat and sunglasses and he’s thrown the biggest party Australia’s ever seen and is really cocky about it. Then he refuses to take his sunglasses and his hat off and apologize to the people whose houses he’s trashed. He’s just so funny. Then the woman’s asking him to take off his glasses and he’s like “No, I’m not taking them off cause they’re famous,” and John would impersonate that to a tee, accent and all.

GQ: You grew up in Australia right?
Teresa Palmer: 
I did in Adelaide, South Australia.

GQ: How was that?
Teresa Palmer: 
It was great! I loved it. I had a very outdoorsy childhood. My dad lives on ten acres of land and has endangered Australian species so I literally got the quintessential Australian upbringing—or what people think would be the quintessential Australian upbringing: I would hang out with kangaroos and yabba dabba doos—I just made that last one up. Everyone always thinks I just make up the names because they sound so phoney.

GQ: Did you always plan on going into acting when you were growing up?
Teresa Palmer: 
I didn’t really plan on it. It was just a dream, definitely, but coming from Adelaide, South Australia I never thought it could be a reality. I started to pursue a teaching career and then I fell into my first acting job and I kept on getting more acting work and it was only until recently that I realized this is probably going to be my career. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be doing this.

GQ: What were you going to teach?
Teresa Palmer: 
Drama and English were my strongest subjects when I was in school so that’s what I was trying to focus on as a teacher.

GQ: When did you officially move to the U.S.?
Teresa Palmer: 
2007, I moved. That transition was definitely difficult and isolating and I didn’t know anybody here. I had to learn how to drive on the other side of the road and do my own washing and take care of myself and it was so lonely, but I’m glad I fought that averse feeling. I grew so much as a result and now I have perspective and realize what an integral time that was for me. I’m so happy I went through all that.

GQ: And what is up next for you?
Teresa Palmer: 
I have a film called Knight of Cups coming out. It was directed by Terrence Malick. I love that film. It was amazing. I got to work with Christian Bale who’s obviously an incredible actor. Working with him was like going to the best acting school possible. I’m in a film at the moment. It’s directed by this fantastic guy called Mark Webber, who’s a great director and his film, The End of Love, was at Sundance last year. He was doing an experimental film. It’s blurring the lines of reality and picture. My family plays my family, we shoot in Adelaide, South Australia and a lot of real elements of my life will be in the film too.  It’s called The Fun in Forever.

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WWD: How did you wind up becoming friends?
Analeigh Tipton: We bonded over Moksha yoga in Montreal, where we filmed “Warm Bodies.”
Teresa Palmer: In our down time we wanted to get some physical activity in, so we decided to do this great form of hot yoga that actually started in Toronto. Analeigh just texted me that there’s now one in L.A., so we are yoga buddies here, too.

The movie is quite action packed. How did you train for it?
T.P.: There was a lot of running. And I now know how to shoot a shotgun. We are not damsels in distress. We know how to fight the undead. I’m glad that Hollywood seems to be embracing these strong female characters.
A.T.: At the same time it wasn’t a statement either. They were still super girly. You can be strong and still feminine. There is a scene where I’m supposed to be watching TV and taking apart and putting together a gun, which I can now do with my eyes closed. It felt so good that I would sit around and just play with my gun.

What’s up next for both of you? 
A.T.: I have a film called “One Square Mile” with Richard Jenkins and Kim Basinger, and I did my first lead this year in “Two Night Stand” with Miles Teller.
T.P.: We all knew a lead was just around the corner ’cause she’s so fantastic in this movie and a hilarious comedienne.
A.T.: Aaaw, thanks.”
T.P.: It’s true. After “Warm Bodies,” the next film I did was “Knight of Cups.” It’s a Terence Malick movie [with Christian Bale and Natalie Portman].
A.T.: Didn’t you get that role when we were on set?
T.P.: I didn’t get the role I originally auditioned for but they ended up making another part for me. It was completely improvised. No script, no idea what the character was, what I was wearing, or my name. We just started rolling. And I just wrapped a film called “Parts Per Billion.” It’s about the last few days of the world and it follows the story of three couples and how we’re dealing with this impending apocalypse.

What do you dream of doing next?
A.T.: Every time I read a script I’m surprised. There are roles I didn’t know existed. But I haven’t done a period piece yet, which I’d like to try.

How did you begin acting?
T.P.: Growing up in Adelaide, Hollywood was like a distant dream. I made a low-budget Australian movie [“2:37”] at 19 and it ended up premiering at Cannes and changing my life. I was at university at the time studying to be a teacher.
A.T.: I moved to L.A. to be a writer and I sort of fell into acting.
T.P.: I read her blog during the shoot. It’s so intensely poignant and she sees the beauty among things that people often overlook. And she’s funny. She was going to write a rap skit for us to do on the movie.
A.T.: It was something about cuddling…
T.P.: But nobody else really thought it was funny. She’ll have to finish it so we can do another project together.

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Warm Bodies is a romantic horror movie that’s told from the point of view of a zombie – did we miss anything?

It’s not easy to pigeonhole, is it? It’s not one genre, but many mashed together. It’s very refreshing – a quirky take on the classic love story. Telling the story from the point of view of the zombie hasn’t been done before.

It offers a new spin on Romeo And Juliet, with the undead and living as the Montagues and Capulets …

Yeah, I love that it is a different take on the zombie genre, too, with the zombie getting a chance to be loved – it’s very endearing.

My character Julie meets [zombie] R (Nicholas Hoult), who is a weird, nurturing being and they organically strike up this romance.

Julie starts off petrified and then fear turns into curiosity and then that turns into romantic feelings.

So, if you’re a romance fan you get that with the action and the zombie-horror. I hope the zombie fans are open-minded!

Julie’s a strong character. Do these types of roles inherently appeal to you?

Yeah, definitely, I’m so excited Hollywood seems to embrace these strong independent characters. I love playing women that are strong and sassy, it’s something I am connected to.

And I love the action element to these movies. In [sci-fi thriller]  I Am Number Four I played a character who was dedicated to helping save the world! I got to do a lot of my own stunts, as well.

Sounds like a fun day at the office …

I love learning all these skills as part of what I do as a living, shooting guns and zipping around on wires.

What new talents do you have on your CV now?

I am a skilled gun handler after going to a gun range 30 times for this movie.

I had to be very comfortable with guns, knowing how to put them together, shoot them and then take them apart.

I don’t know many people who know how to do that!

Was it fun playing out a zombie romance?

The relationship between R and Julie is very representative of how it does feel when you are with someone for the first time – you do feel tongue-tied, the guy does try to listen and everyone is a bit awkward.

And Nick [Hoult] is a very nuanced actor, he knew how to portray zombie emotions through body language and his eyes – he said so much without being able to express himself verbally.

What sort of set does director Jonathan Levine (cancer comedy 50/50) run?

He sets this beautiful tone on set that is fun and open and collaborative.

He plays a lot of music and jokes around, and that was integral to our movie – it’s a fun movie and that energy and fun translates onto the screen.

Music plays a key role in the film with songs by The Black Keys and Bruce Springsteen – what sort of music did Levine play on the set?

He played a lot of his own music, underground American rap like Mobb Deep and The Roots, which was great for me and [The Daily Show’s] Rob Corddry, who grew up listening to that sort of thing.

It was edgy music that made you feel very cool, so we felt we were making a really cool, unique movie.
Is John Malkovich, who plays your dad, as scary as you’d think?

I was pretty intimidated to start off with [when I knew] he was going to play my dad.

It’s funny because he’s not an intimidating force at all. Watching him on set is the best acting school you could ask for.

He’s hilarious and light-hearted, incredibly humble and generous, and has a cracker sense of humour – really not what you’d expect!

Are zombies the new vampires?

There seems to be a lot of zombie films popping up right now, and there’s things like The Walking Dead [on TV].

It’s a genre people are always intrigued by and there are some members of society who think we are really headed towards some sort of zombie apocalypse, which is interesting in itself.
You’re a joint first ticket holder for the Port Adelaide Power footy club – does that confuse people in Los Angeles?

No one over here knows what Aussie rules is!

When I talk about being the joint ticket holder they say, “You mean soccer?” “No!” “You mean rugby?”

“No!!” For me it is second nature, I grew up going to the football since I was five.

I love watching the sport but it’s hard to watch it in LA. I try and catch games when I can.

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It’s something casting directors have clearly tapped into: some of her most memorable roles include a mermaid (H20: Just Add Water), a witch (The Secret Circle) and a werewolf (The Vampire Diaries, for which she’s won a following in the US).

She also starred in Home and Away, Packed to the Rafters and cult feature film Tomorrow, When the War Began, as well as last year’s shark tale, Bait.

“I really love playing strong, ballsy characters, whether on television or film,” she says. “It’s strange, I used to only get cast as the naive girl next-door, but then something happened and now the only call-backs I get are, like, the vixen or the mistress … the ones that cause trouble. Something happened when I turned 21.” She lets out a laugh.

Tonkin lives in LA, but is keen to return to Australia for work: “Being US-based is great, and we have a bit of an Aussie crew,” she says of mates such as Teresa Palmer (with whom she started wellness website yourzenlife.com), “but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t come home. I would love to do more work in Australia there. I’d jump at the chance to come back.”

Buy the February issue of Harper’s BAZAAR to read the full Young Actor’s Portfolio

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LA-based Australian actresses Teresa Palmer and Phoebe Tonkin are switching their focus from the silver screen to balance sheets by launching a lifestyle website called Your Zen Life.

Palmer has starred in films including The Grudge 2 and December Boys, while Tonkin’s films include Tomorrow, When the War Began and Bait 3D. Tonkin also stars in The Vampire Diaries.

Your Zen Life describes itself as an online scrapbook, where like-minded people can share their knowledge of, and passion for, health and fitness.

The site only launched last month, but already counts New York-based Australian entrepreneur Michael Giles as a contributor. Giles is also a blogger for StartupSmart.

Palmer and Tonkin talk to StartupSmart about why they decided to create Your Zen Life.

Why did you launch the website?

Both of us are so passionate about health and wellness, and have witnessed the benefits of living a holistic, natural way of life.

Travelling and meeting new people gained us access to some of the best nutritionists and tools to live out our best, healthiest lives possible.

We wanted an outlet to share this knowledge and create a community of like-minded people.

The idea of inviting people to contribute to the site came from hearing feedback over Twitter and email. We realised that people want a platform to share their stories and inspire others.

How did you fund it?

We both self-funded the whole idea. It really is a passion project.

But eventually we want to get to a place where the site is making money, which we can put directly into charity, as philanthropy and being able to give back to our planet is in part the essence of the site.

Who is the site aimed at?

Anyone who is interested in creating a more Zen-like life. We want to inspire people to look after themselves, whether that’s emotionally, physically or spiritually.

What is so great about social media these days is the direct interaction between readers of the site, and from that we can cater to what our readers are interested in.

We found a lot of questions about living this way but on a budget, so we are conscious of that when we are writing or sourcing context.

Do you think star power has any impact on the site?

We believe the power of Twitter and Facebook has been pivotal to getting the word out about our site.

And being able to be in contact with some of the best professionals in the field of health and wellness is also a perk of being in the public eye.

But at the end of the day, we are just two twenty-somethings who are so passionate about living this way, and that passion is what drives us to make the site what it is.

What is your growth strategy for the site?

Getting traffic to the site is key. We are trying to maintain a level of consistency with the blog posts so that our readers can come to rely on our site.

It’s great to have people who drop by every now and then, but what we are after is loyal fans of the site who check it almost every day.

At this stage we are just trying to get the word out about the site.  

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