The Adelaide-born star talks life in LA, John Malkovich’s sense of humour, and loving the undead
Teresa Palmer is parked on the side of a road, hiding from a pair of relentless monsters who are ravenous for human flesh. “A couple of photographers have been following me around for the last few days,” she explains to Time Out on her mobile phone. “I can see them over there near the shop I always go in. Just waiting around. It’s so silly.”
Palmer is amused by her predicament rather than peturbed. Having grown up on a wildlife sanctuary in the Adelaide Hills and worked as a teen at a Cotton On in a shopping mall, she now has a fully fledged Hollywood movie career. She has played the feisty blonde woman of action in low-tier genre stuff like The Grudge 2, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and I Am Number Four, finding time for the occasional Australian film such as Wish You Were Here. The work has been consistent since she arrived Stateside in 2006 with the calling card of Adelaide-made high school thriller 2.37. “I came out to see if I could do anything in two weeks and I ended up booking a couple of roles in that time. I got pretty lucky.”
In February, zombie romcom Warm Bodies opened in the US at number one. It’s a film she’s enormously proud of. Palmer stars as Julie, one of a ragtag group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world who meets an undead walker called R (Nicholas Hoult, of About a Boy and X-Men fame) who hasn’t quite lost his humanity. Gradually, R’s hunger for brains is replaced by the hunger for love.
“I’d never seen a film told from the perspective of the zombie before,” Palmer says of the movie, directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, 50/50) from Isaac Marion’s novel. “The message is that love can breathe life back into you; the healing power of human connection. I had an amazing experience on this movie, playing this character who is brave and sassy and looks at the world a brighter shade than everyone else.”
Julie’s father, an anti-zombie hardliner, is played by John Malkovich. An intimidated Palmer knew she’d have to bring her A-game to the film’s Montreal set but was surprised by the actor she met there. “He was just this funny, sweet, soft-spoken man, so kind and hilariously funny. He would impersonate YouTube videos. The interview with [notorious Aussie party boy] Corey Delaney is John’s favourite. We would sit there for hours laughing our heads off.”
Six years in LA and her newly single status (exes include Scott Speedman, Topher Grace and Russell Brand) haven’t dampened Palmer’s enthusiasm: she’s a happy camper. Her latest passion is a wellbeing website, yourzenlife.com, that she launched with fellow Ozpack actor Phoebe Tonkin (The Vampire Diaries). “We realised we were meeting wonderful people all over the world who could share their knowledge,” she says. “The website is a scrapbook of wellness and spirituality and philanthropy.”
In the wake of Warm Bodies demand for the 26-year-old actor has intensified. She has already wrapped Knight of Cups for Terrence Malick, a filmmaker she has dreamed of working with for years. “He’s my favourite director of all time so it was huge for me. He sees the beauty in the world that people often overlook.”
All this positivity – it’d be enough to get any undead heart to start thumping again.
Warm Bodies screens from Thu Apr 11.
Dead funny: Top five zomedies
1 Brain Dead (1992)
The gorier Peter Jackson’s zombie opus gets, the funnier it gets. Deadly viscera, anyone?
2 Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Simon Pegg’s Shaun gets his personal life together with the help of a zombie invasion
3 Fido (2006)
Billy Connolly is a domesticated zombie pet in an alternative 1950s America. "You crazy, wonderful zombie!"
4 Zombieland (2009)
The banter is witty, the zombies are hungry, and Bill Murray’s cameo as himself brings down the house
5 Dead Snow (2009)
Zombie Nazis attack in a Norwegian horror-comedy where the subtitles are more or less redundant