Nicholas Hoult’s Zombie Love in Warm Bodies
By: Lynn Barker
You know all those zombie movies and TV shows; mindless, undead folks rotting and stumbling around eating the living. Well with his unique novel “Warm Bodies”, author Isaac Marion made us believe that love can bring a zombie “back”. The dark and funny novel has been made into a film starring Nicholas Hoult (young Hank McCoy/Beast in the X-Men movies and starring soon in Mad Max: Fury Road and as the lead character in Jack the Giant Slayer).
In Warm Bodies, teen zombie “R” falls for human Julie (Teresa Palmer) and changes his fate and his whole world. We’re in Beverly Hills talking to cute Nick, who has a very short buzz cut now for a film but you can’t miss those gorgeous eyes.
Kidzworld: How did the lovesick, “goofy” side of your zombie character “R evolve?
- Nick: I didn’t say “I’m going to make this guy goofy.” When I first read the script, I instantly understood the character and cared about him and wanted to play him. On set, I realized the thing that makes him goofy is that he obviously cares about this girl so much. He tries his best. And it’s tragic, you know.
- Guys struggle talking to girls in the best of times. So add on that, the fact that you’re undead, you’re rotting away and you can’t really talk at all, and she’s terrified of you, it makes it very tricky. So I think that’s where the goofy humor comes from. It’s like that situation of trying to charm someone but having no chance amplified a lot.
Kidzworld: I was amazed how you went through so many different phases on R’s way to becoming more human. They didn’t shoot that in order did they?
- Nick: No.
Kidzworld: So one morning you would be like super zombie and in the afternoon you’d be more human. Did that drive you crazy?
- Nick: No. You know what? Me and (director) Jonathan (Levine) sat down and went through the key moments of when alterations would happen, when changes would take place for R. The big steps. First seeing Julie, the first time they really connect and we went over all these things. And then we marked those up in the script and then had a zombie scale of like, “Okay. This is the most zombie, and this is least zombie.” Then we’d shoot and Jonathan would be like, “More zombie. Less zombie. Talk a little bit faster. Talk slower. Don’t talk at all. Shut up.” (we laugh) So, yeah, that’s how we did it.
Kidzworld: How did you learn the zombie walk and other standard things we’re used to seeing?
- Nick: We watched Dawn of Dead, Night of the Living Dead, all those old ‘80’s movies. But we watched 28 Days Later as well, Zombieland, Edward Scissorhands, Shaun of the Dead. Then I would walk around in my hotel, and sometimes in the gym on the treadmill I might run a little bit zombie on that. But then ultimately it was just you walk up on set and you have all these ideas and you’ve written all this stuff down, and then you just have to go for it, and believe it, and completely commit to it and hope for the best.
Kidzworld: It worked really well. Your co-star Dave Franco was saying that you got feisty on set. You pulled out a naughty (Playboy-style) magazine at one point when you were sitting on the plane.
- Nick: Don’t listen to anything he says.
Kidzworld: Well, it’s “US Weekly” in the movie, but it was evidently something else on set.
- Nick: Okay, yeah. There was a scene when Julie had been asleep on the plane and then she wakes up. I did one take just being silly where I had, yes, a naughty magazine. We found it in the props, like, on the plane and I sat there and then when she woke up suddenly I panicked (and put down) the magazine. I also got a tattoo of Jonathan Levine’s face on my arm; a transfer, not a real one, for the shower scene but you don’t see it in the film. It was just for the first take when he didn’t know. He called “action” and you see his face on my arm and me giving it a little kiss. So that made him laugh.
Kidzworld: I’ll bet! R lives in an abandoned 737 plane stocked full of stuff he cares about. Let’s say it’s post-apocalypse and you have to hide in a lair, what would you have in there for yourself?
- Nick: I probably wouldn’t have records just because it would make more sense just to take an iPod for space and a dock. So I’d do that. I’d try maybe some comfy cushions and blankets, and some canned food, and then some nice pictures I guess. I mean nowadays, you could take an iPad down there, couldn’t you?
Kidzworld: As long as the batteries hold out.
- Nick: Oh, yeah. I’d take my iPad and then I’d build like a dynamo on a bike or something to power it up, or get little hamsters to run in a cage and charge it through that.
Kidzworld: Sounds weirdly workable. You’ve got a lot of genres in the movie: romance, action, drama. Was that part of your interest in the project?
- Nick: Yeah. Yeah, it was. The first time reading it, I liked the character because it made me laugh, and I thought it was well-written, and moved along at a good pace. Jonathan Levine is very good at balancing serious issues but he’s dealing with making them light hearted and he doesn’t try to hammer home messages or anything. This film doesn’t become a complete parody but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a fine line to tread. I like the action bit, horror bit, the gruesomeness. And you’ve got the bad guys with the Boneys (more severe, unreclaimable zombies). Yeah.
Kidzworld: Did you take any inspiration from any other performances?
- Nick: I read some quotes from Johnny Depp about when he played Edward Scissorhands. I think I’ve still got them in my phone actually. He (Depp) was just saying when he played that role, he was not trying to make people feel sorry for him and just playing it truthfully basically. And that was a good quote that I read, and I was like, “All right. It’s a good point to make. I don’t want people to feel sorry for this character. I just want to see that he’s trying his best and root for him”.
Kidzworld: Talk about working with Teresa (Palmer). She had some nice things to say about you so be kind.
- Nick: (laughs) Teresa is fantastic. I got cast in this and then we did a few readings with a few girls, and all really great actresses, but I remember the moment when I realized that Teresa was the right girl. Obviously she’s very bubbly, and charming, and fun. I sat there doing my zombie impression, and she looked over at me at the end and gave me a little smile, a little nudge, and a little giggle. And it just made me smile and I was like, “Yeah, okay. I get this. This girl could make this guy change.” It was nice.
Kidzworld: When “R” is at his most zombie, she does most of the talking.
- Nick: I didn’t have to do much a lot of the time, I would sit there, and zone out, and think about lunch, and then get front row seats to watch Teresa act some great monologues. So I’d sit there and be like, “Damn, that was good. Yeah, carry on. Let’s do it one more time. One more for me. I’m enjoying this.” So, yeah, it was a treat having a leading lady who I really got along with and like a lot. It was good.
Kidzworld: You do the “R” narration of the film. Did you know you would be doing that from the beginning?
- Nick: I knew there was going to be narration, and my voice-over was in the script but it wasn’t the same voice-overs that ended up in the film now. Some of it’s the same, but varied and changed. We just wanted to get the right tone from the beginning because that’s the only time you really get a sense of who R was before he became undead. So it’s that thing of just trying to find the right level, and keep him witty and charming, but still a troubled soul.
Kidzworld: You’ve been acting since you were five. Do you remember your first audition?
- Nick: It was the easiest job in the world, and I was quite a hungry kid. They said, “Sit under this table and pretend you’re eating cake.” I was like, “All right. I got this.” And that was all I had to do. A great job. But yeah, and I did a lot of TV in England, shows like “Skins”. Earlier, when I was 12, I got cast in About a Boy and that was a very lucky break. And then I stayed in school until I was 17 but carried on working through films some here, some in England. And then recently this, and then Jack the Giant Slayer. That comes out in March I think.
Kidzworld: Based on the Jack and the beanstalk stories. Tell us about that.
- Nick: It’s a big family swashbuckling adventure. It’s a story about this young farm boy, who I play, called Jack, who has to go on this mission to try and save a princess in a land called Gantua, which is where the giants are imprisoned in the sky. Lots of giants in this one, not just one, and they’ve all got great personalities, and they are all motioned captured, and fantastic special effects. So it’s a good fun family film.
Kidzworld: You have more movies coming.
- Nick: Yeah, we’re going to shoot the new X-Men this year. Mad Max will be out next year as well. I wear a lot of make-up again. It’s becoming a habit of mine, king of the eye shadow. Mad Max was fantastic. It’s a boy’s dream. I’ve been waiting to do it since I got cast in it in 2009. It’s been a long time coming. But to get out there and see all of the vehicles that they’ve built, and then the landscape in Namibia is fantastic and incredible. Particularly when they put all these cars in there, and drive them around, and it’s a lot of fun to blow stuff up. And George Miller is one of my favorite directors that I’ve ever worked with.
Kidzworld: That one is supposed to take place after the last Mad Max Thunderdome movie, right?
- Nick: Yeah. I play a guy called Nux. He’s a driver and a young warrior.
Kidzworld: You still live in England?
- Nick: Yeah, an hour west of London in the country.
Kidzworld: Do you have ducks and a dog or sheep?
- Nick: No. We have a dog, not ducks. Yeah, little pet hedgehogs that we stroll around.
Kidzworld: What happened while making Warm Bodies that you were not expecting?
- Nick: I was surprised by just how much fun we had. You go into films and you’re like, “Oh this is a nice bunch of people. It’ll be fun.” And then so often everyone gets stressed, and the pressure’s on, and people get unhappy. Blah Blah Blah. In this one there was none of that. It was really a great place to work.
Catch Warm Bodies in theaters starting February 1st.