ShockYa had the pleasure of sitting down with the creative minds behind Warm Bodies, which opens this Friday, February 1st. Present at the Four Seasons Hotel were director Jonathan Levine, author Isaac Marion, and stars Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, and Dave Franco.
Q: Are you a fan of zombie movies?
Isaac Marion: They’re all kind of interesting in their own way. I liked 28 Days Later because it wasn’t campy and tried to tell a genuinely powerful drama with a monster that’s usually seen as lowbrow. On the flip side, Shaun of the Dead takes all of the clichés of zombie movies and turns them inside out and examines them.
Nicholas Hoult: I was before this, and I went to watch the 80s ones and some of the recent ones as well. I like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. This one is kind of switched around, from the zombie’s point of view.
Teresa Palmer: I’ve always been a fan of zombie films. I loved Zombieland. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it pokes fun at the zombie genre.
Dave Franco: My favorite zombie films? 28 Days Later, Evil Dead…can we only do two?
Q: What were your first impressions of this project?
Analeigh Tipton: Skeptical. It could really go either way. It could be absolute shit or it could be great, there’s not a lot of in-between. But then I heard about the people involved, and that’s what sold it for me.
Teresa Palmer: I made a point of not reading the book until the movie was complete. I was just so impressed. There was romance, which worked. I wasn’t too sure before I read it, but after I did, it was really so beautiful and poignant. There were so many amazing messages, like how love can breathe life back into people. In our society, there are so many people with broken spirits, and the power of human connection can brighten these souls. I can understand how the whole world started to heal itself through Julie and R’s love.
Q: What was the tone like on set?
Teresa Palmer: It was so fun. Jonathan Levine is amazing at creating an environment where everyone wants to be at work. I think because we felt so connected to the material, everyone worked harder.
Nicholas Hoult: It was very difficult to not laugh with Rob Corrdry around.
Dave Franco: It was a primarily younger cast. There wasn’t a bad seed on this one. People feed off the director’s energy, and Jonathan loves making movies. On set, if you do a take that he likes, he’ll jump at his chair and run at you pumping with his fist.
Q: What was zombie school like?
Nicholas Hoult: We trained with an ex-Cirque de Soleil guy in how to walk. It was one of those things where you just have to try it out and see what works. We didn’t want to be too over-the-top with the zombie stuff.
Jonathan Levine: With Nick, we watched Return of the Living Dead. And, he was like, okay, let’s watch Awakenings. I was like, whoa, this guy is coming at it from a very different angle. The Cirque de Soleil stuff was really helpful but super weird. I was waiting for Nick and Rob to just start cracking up, and they didn’t, to their credit. It was great to have that baseline of movement and facial expressions. Extras worked with the movement coach as well, but I didn’t want it to be uniform, so we let people do their own thing. We wanted our version of zombies to be slightly different, but also pretty much the same.
Q: How do you console genre fans upset with your interpretation of zombies?
Jonathan Levine: All I can say is that I would really hope that people would be open-minded about it. The jumping-off point for this is that genre is meant to be used as a way to access certain truths about life today. The core metaphor is holding a mirror up to who we are today. Zombies more than anything are social commentary. I wanted people to be able to confuse our zombies with really depressed people.
Isaac Marion: I got a lot of flak for having a talking zombie, which was kind of enjoyable. With a fan page on Facebook, I would get some really amusing hate mail. I was doing a reading one time and I decided to spice it up with some hate mail I had just gotten. It’s been really popular because it’s horribly written and exaggerated, like “You should be launched into the sun and burned alive.” It comes from people who have a very narrow view of what a genre or a mythology is, like “This is medically impossible…” It’s funny to see people’s reactions.
Nicholas Hoult: Hardcore zombie film fans should give it a chance because it’s funny, and it’s a sweet movie that doesn’t take itself very seriously.
Dave Franco: I think they’ll like it. It’s obviously a zombie movie, but it’s one that we haven’t seen before. It’s got a really interesting tone that infuses humor, which we saw in Shaun of the Dead, but it’s more serious. Levine was the perfect man for the job after coming from 50/50, a tough tightrope walk, dealing with a really serious concept but also adding this element of humor. In the wrong hands, who knows what would have happened.
Q: How was it filming some of the more serious action scenes?
Teresa Palmer: It was actually pretty petrifying, but I love doing stunts. It’s hard when you’re freezing cold and you have to be sprinting down concrete.
Analeigh Tipton: It was terrifying going toe-to-toe with John Malkovich. In the first take, he grabbed my hand and pushed the gun to his skin, and said “I need to feel the gun to believe it.” I was like, okay, John. On the next few takes, I would always apologize, and he would take my cheek, and just go, “Thank you.” It was great, it was awesome actually.
Q: Can you talk about the transition from paper to screen?
Isaac Marion: I was pleasantly surprised with how faithful it was. I was happy that it even remotely resembled it, and that it’s 75% faithful.
Q: Is there more to this story?
Isaac Marion: R didn’t have a life before it started. His past will be more important than he thinks in the sequel. His past is not very pleasant. There’s a novella which is 100 pages long which is a prequel, which takes seven years before. I’m just finishing that now, and so hopefully that will come out soon.
Jonathan Levine: I don’t love talking about it until I know if anything likes or will see the movie. My superstitious Jewish side doesn’t want to think about that. On the other hand, I love these actors, I love the story, and, should anyone desire it, I will be there to help again.
Q: How did you negotiate the comedic material with some of the more dramatic content?
Jonathan Levine: This is a trick I learned on 50/50. Just always try to make it funny, never to the point where it’s a goof and you’re taking people out of the scene. People like to laugh, and when you’re screening a movie for people, you like to hear them laugh. You always have the option of taking it out. Give the actors the freedom to go for the joke when they see it.
Q: How are zombies and vampires good or bad for the society?
They’re both good, I think. Zombies are the opposite of vampires. They’re not sexy, they’re dull and boring, the result of what it means to have lost touch with being alive. They’re the worst possible version of a person.
Q: Dave, you’ve established a certain kind of standard role for yourself. What’s that like?
Dave Franco: I’ve been kind of pigeonholed recently as the asshole. It’s not who I am, and I don’t know why people keep seeing me that way and why I can do that decently well. I’ve exhausted the douchebag role. There’s nothing else I can bring to it. I’ll be an extra in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie. I just want to be around and learn from these guys.
Q: Analeigh, Are you writing a zombie movie?
Analeigh Tipton: When I first got on, I was working on this animated feature about a loveable zombie. I’m going to need to do some re-working on a storyline that I thought was really clever. It was a similar approach to Monsters’ Inc, where they work in haunted houses and live among us.
Q: In what way can you relate to being a zombie in real life?
Nicholas Hoult: I’ve had some bangin’ hangovers, and that’s a great way to associate with being a zombie.
Written by Abe Fried-Tanzer