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INTERVIEW: NICHOLAS HOULT on 'WARM BODIES'

Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
January 5, 2013

Based on the debut novel from writer Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies combines elements of horror, romance, action, and comedy with a dash of social commentary to bring a new twist to the mythology of the undead.

When atypical, internally conflicted zombie R (Nicholas Hoult) stumbles upon human survivor Julie (Teresa Palmer), he is immediately drawn to her--perhaps because she radiates an irresistible aura of beauty, or perhaps because he has absorbed her boyfriend's memories by devouring his delicious brains. Either way, he is compelled to protect her from his fellow undead, and what begins as an escape from the ravenous hordes turns into the spark of a genuine relationship. As the two face threats from humans and zombies alike, their unlikely and forbidden connection awakens something in R, and it soon becomes apparent that his growing attraction to Julie may be the key to regaining his very humanity.

Warm Bodies is directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), who also adapted the screenplay from Marion's book. The supporting cast features Rob Corddry, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco, John Malkovich, and a slew of zombie extras who shambled around an abandoned airport in Montreal for the making of the movie.

In this interview, Nicholas Hoult talks about his experience of bringing the oddly charismatic R to undead life.




MEDIA: How would you characterize your own personal history with horror films, and zombie movies in particular?

NICHOLAS: I didn't watch a lot of horror films growing up. I remember when I was pretty young--I can't remember how old--I found The Exorcist, and I was like, "What's all the fuss about with this?" So I put it in. It terrified me, obviously. [laughs] And I'd get too scared, so I'd flip back to watching the telly, watching kids' shows, calm myself down for a little bit, and then go back for a bit more exorcism. But I don't watch a lot of horror films. I watched a lot in the build up to this--you know, as many zombie films as possible--right back from all the '80s classics up until Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland and 28 Days Later, just for ideas, and to get a sense of what I was getting into.

The zombies in this world can manage a few words, but they mostly just grunt and groan. From an acting perspective, how do you compensate for the restriction of not being able to use your voice as you normally would?

I mean, it was that thing where you couldn't really talk much, couldn't express much. But that was something that I liked--the idea of doing it. I was like, "This is going to be a tricky one to try and pull off, this character." The eyes are kind of important, I guess, and you try and do some stuff with those. [laughs] But I'm not sure how you compensate for it, really. It's just kind of a feeling...

Maybe body language? How did you come up with R's particular walk?

I'm quite a slower walker anyway, and I slouch, so I kind of just went a bit further with that. [laughs] And then me and Rob would have, like, zombie training school with a guy that used to work for Cirque du Soleil. And we'd kind of grow out to the floor and move around, and then get hungry and smell food, and all this sort of stuff--you know, ridiculous. [laughs] And running up and down in the car park like zombies. And yeah, again, it was more just a kind of feeling of being very tired and heavy--you know, he hasn't got to be anywhere. Like you know when you get stuck behind people who are really wandering slowly on the street, and it's annoying because they've got nowhere to be and you're trying to get somewhere? He's just pacing around, like waiting for something to happen. And then he meets Julie.



What did you think of the extensive make-up process for this role?

It's actually really useful, and luckily, the make-up artists were really nice. And I've done a lot of make-up before. When I played the Beast [in X-Men: First Class], that was four hours. So it's one of those things where you kind of sit there in your chair and you zone out. But it's a nice transformation. You kind of see this character come to life. And then once you got that, and then the grimy clothes on, you walk onto some great sets we had. And you walk on and see a lot of other zombies and stuff, and you're like, "This is making my job a lot easier for me."

Were you stuck in the same wardrobe every day?

Yeah. I mean, there were varying forms of it--you know, there was slightly cleaner, slightly muddier, bullet hole, knife hole... [laughs] Even though it was exactly the same thing, I got quite attached to it, actually. I kept the hoodie. I've got it at home.

What were the prop brains made of?

It was like a peachy, sponge, wet, cold thing with blood on top, and then some grapefruit occasionally, and bits of random stuff.

Vinyl records play a key role in the connection between R and Julie. What's your take on that vintage medium?

You know, I was a CD generation growing up. So it was CDs, and then obviously MP3s and iPods and all that sort of business. But I do have a record player and some records. It's not a massive collection, just a few. And I enjoy listening to it. Like R says in the film, there's something more alive about it.

What song, album, or artist would you pick if you wanted to play a really choice cut for someone?

Oh, it depends on the mood, doesn't it? A couple of the vinyl albums I've got are the White Stripes albums. But I might go back and do some Nina Simone or something like that...Go back and listen to a few of those, maybe.

Given that there's no "blood flow," so to speak, what do you think R is hoping to get from a relationship with Julie?

Are you talking on a sexual level? Just to be clear... [laughs] You know what? I honestly think that it's one of the few times that a guy probably wasn't actually in it for the sex--you know, this is a guy that actually really just wants to protect her, and he wants to feel that connection with her. But I don't think he's after the sex. From the beginning, anyway. [laughs] I mean, if it's a by-product, very nice. And obviously, it's a complete panic for him when there's that scene in the bedroom and he kind of sees a living girl with not many clothes on. It's a big moment for him, and definitely makes him feel more alive.



How did you feel about working with John Malkovich?

I was a big fan of his. I remember we studied Of Mice and Men at school, and I watched the film loads--you know, it's easier than reading the book. [laughs] So I was nervous, obviously, meeting him. But he's a really nice guy. I only have a couple of scenes with him, and then he shoots me. But just to watch him, it's fascinating to see how he works. And yeah, I'm really glad that he did it.

What elements from the book helped to inform your performance in the film?

There's some great descriptive writing in the book about how it feels--you know, just the breathing and the trying to formulate words, and that racking the brain for memories and stuff...So I did read it after I got the role, and really enjoyed it.

How did you go about determining how "human" you could make R?

We watched other films. We watched things like Edward Scissorhands and stuff like that...It was tricky because there's that fine line where it's like...You know, he's undead, he eats brains. But there's another level of "corpsedom" called the Boneys--they're the next level of decay, and they're pure evil and don't think at all. So I guess with this, it was the movement for him, and the grunting and groaning--that kind of form of talking. And [I would] think about it a lot, and work with Jonathan and chat about it and watch stuff, and then eventually, you just go onto set and go for it, and hope for the best. I believed it--you know, when I was doing the scenes, I was like, "I'm dead and I like this girl, and I want to make her see that I can be human, and I want to feel a connection."

Capturing the right tone for this story must have been a challenge for Jonathan. Were you nervous about how the final product might turn out?

No. I wasn't really that nervous. I trusted the fellow right from the first time I met him. I was like, "This guy knows what he's doing." I saw 50/50, and I was like, "He knows how to balance [comedy and drama]." And I knew it from on set as well--I knew just from his direction of me. Because I'd get carried away and I'd be like, "Oh, we can be funny here and do this..." And he'd be like, "No, we need to rein it in a little bit and keep it serious there." So I knew he had it all kind of figured out in his head from the start. And the script really didn't change that much from what was originally on the page--you know, his script was really a great adaptation. I was nervous to see if I could pull it off, but I wasn't nervous about how he was constructing and putting the film together.

So what was your initial reaction when you finally saw it?

I was happy with it. I was. I sat there and I enjoyed watching everyone else's performance. I enjoyed listening to the soundtrack. It brought back a lot of good memories. And I think it works. I think you care about the characters, and I think it's an enjoyable film.

Thanks for your time.

Nice one! Thank you so much. Have a lovely afternoon.


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