Before I headed off to Montreal for my set visit on Warm Bodies, I quickly learned that this flick is based on a book. I ran out and picked up the book and immediately found myself immersed in a unique zombie perspective that could be interpreted in a lot of different ways.
Was it going to be a straight up nasty zombie flick (there is some zombie nastiness going on, sort of a class war between different types of zombies, and of course humans), or was it going to focus more on the romantic aspects of the novel, about a zombie finding human characteristics in the lovelorn brain of the boy he's eaten?
Well, I naturally wasn't sure which direction things were going in, but I got some clarification from director Jonathan Levine.
"I like the love stuff, man. I like zombie movies and I like genre movies a lot. To watch. Less so to make, I think. I like the allegorical significance of it. It’s really just about a guy and a girl and the guy is trapped in his own kind of shell and can’t get out of it. That part of it really appealed to me. I like that kind of stuff a lot."
But would it appeal to the hardcore fanbase? Producer Bruna Papandrea seems to think that the different spin on the genre will show promise to the jaded. "When I describe this film, there's always a little bit of I Am Legend in there, which also pulled off that (PG-13) rating quite well. I think there will be something new for those hardcore fans."
Yes kids, the film is PG-13, but that doesn't worry Jonathan Levine, he knows where his F-Bombs are butte:
With that said, there is a possibility of nastier stuff hitting the home video market: “Eating the brains is pretty bad. I don’t think it will ever fully make it into the movie because it’s pretty hardcore. R-Rated DVD, exactly!"
Levine went on to tell us (perhaps somewhat unfortunately for the real horrorhounds out there) that "It’s a movie about love. So I think girls are more willing to [be open to] that. think it’s certainly for younger people. It’s supposed to be fun and accessible and I think hopefully a lot of people will enjoy it. hope that all audiences will fall for these characters and that it doesn’t get too sappy and that they’ll be into it."
So there we have it. Although the flick seems to be gea towards an admittedly younger, female audience, there's certainly some hope that the new take on the genre will turn a few heads at the same time. Knowing this, any true zombie fan would want to know- what are these zombies like? What can we expect from an admittedly more sanitized version of the undead in this film?
The charming and friendly Nick Hoult was happy to provide us with some insight on being a zombie, alongside his zombie co-star, Rob Cordry. These guys have unquestionably put some prep time into their roles and done some homework.
Cordry describes zombie training camp: "Nick and I spent an afternoon with this guy from Cirque Du Soleil and we kind of bounced around a room about this size for a couple hours and then went outside and ran. He had us lean up against a wall and sort of put all our weight on the wall and then sort of pull yourself slooowly of the wall, [French accent] ‘As if the wall is giving birth to you”. It really appealed to my pretentious college theater training."
And he went on to tell us what we'd be in store for as zombie extras, later in the day: '“It’s interesting because you, and you guys will be faced with this later today, you don’t want to be the George Romero Zombie with their arms out and they can’t bend their knees. But also don’t want to be the ’28 Days Later’ rage virus zombies because they’re just like wild animals. It’s sort of somewhere in between. It’s really like, they don’t feel pain, right? They don’t feel really anything. So just imagine what your body would feel like if you couldn’t feel anything."
Nick was kind enough to share with us the joys of eating his first zombie brains. "Eating brains is fun. It's kind of like a cold, wet sponge they made the brains out of. The idea that Jonathan came up with is that because these brains are memories it's kind of like being alive again, it's kind of like a drug to the zombies. The brains are quite a release. There was one day where there was a scene where I crack open Dave Franco's head to eat his brains. We used a dummy, and I actually pulled some of the dummy's hair out and it was on the brains so I ate a load of fake brains and the dummy's hair which wasn't the most pleasant experience."
And although he got a mouthful of dummy hair, Nick insisted that if we thought the way he ate brains wasn't romantic, he let us know, "You haven't seen how I eat brains."
And although this is a romance film, zombies do not get..boners, according to Rob Cordry: "Uh, no. Absolutely not. But I think that towards the end of then movie when the zombies start becoming more human, I think ‘M’(Cordry's character) is probably the first to experience one.”
Although this stuff didn't make it to the film, Cordry was happy to relay some of his character's motivation that he picked up on from the book: "in the book, my character is a sex fiend. He tries to have sex with women in a bathroom and like just bumps up against them naked. You’re definitely going to want to put that in your [piece]. "
We were lucky enough to catch a scene that Jonathan had just finished cutting that I immediately recognized from the book. In the scene, R has taken Julie to his own little corner of an abandoned airfield that happens to have a plane he can hang out in. It's one of their first encounters alone together, and Julie is trying to get a handle on the situation. R tries to put her at ease by spinning up some Frank Sinatra and casually skipping the record to certain parts of the song, sending her a message that she's not in danger. I remembe the scene vividly from the book and it didn't disappoint me here, capturing some real emotion and a bit of a genuine "aww" moment. It was undoubtedly a good start and a great way to encapsulate the overall vibe of the film.
The bottom line here folks is that this is actually shaping up to be a sweet little zombie film. I know that might sound like a couple of words that don't go together but think back to Fido- an unconventional spin on the zombie genre is welcome in my books. At the end of the day, this is a film about relationships (with direct and obvious parallels to Romeo and Juliet), as crazy as it might sound. Nick reinforced this fact as the day went on.
Nick: "In the short story that was first written there's a line that said, "My penis fell off two weeks ago." That's kind of how I've been playing it. Went method on that. With vampires there's the tension, wheras this there's more of a sweetness because it's about reaching out and trying to connect with someone. The romance comes from these two people who shouldn't be together sparking a revolution."
Here are a few insights from the female lead, the gorgeous, friendly and talented Teresa Palmer.
Teresa was able to shed a bit of light on the film's setting, which tends to be more of a generic "America": "It’s this Green Zone. It’s post-apocalyptic world, so there’s not much left, really. Buildings are crumbling, houses, everything has just been depleted of all life. There’s this one little concrete area that my father secu off with guys with guns. We have to have these retinal scans to get in. It’s really intense and it’s a pretty bleak existence."
Want to know how R begins to turn the corner and begins protecting Julie?: "Obviously, to survive, zombies are supposed to be eating humans. You realize that we’ve been hanging out now for eight or nine days and he hasn’t eaten me and he hasn’t really killed anyone else. So, that sort of is where you notice a change starts to happen through love and connection and life. I sort of breathe life into him. He starts to heal himself and you realize that corpses can heal themselves and eventually go back to being human, which is what they want."
She also offers her take on the Romeo and Juliet influence: "I noticed there were so many parallels between the two stories and it essentially is the same idea. Even our names: “R” for Romeo, “Julie” for Juliet, and we have Mercutio is “M,” Robert Corddry and the nurse,“Nora.” I started picking up on all these little coincidences. I’m sure they’re not really coincidences, I’m sure that’s paying homage to Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare’s work."
She even offers a few more influences: "It is such a Beauty and the Beast story. Also, I liken it to Edward Scissorhands sometimes. Essentially, he’s an outcast and she, in a way, feels different from other people she’s in contact with. She’s so anti what’s going on with her father and the military. She misses life the way it was and I think that spark in her has definitely been dimmed. She starts to lose hope. And then R, I think, both of them breathe that life and that light back into each other. So it is definitely on par with the Beauty and the Beast story. It’s got so much heart and warmth."
Ms. Palmer also offe some candid thoughts about her respect for John Malkovich, who plays Julie's father, General Grigio: "He was so open and gentle and just the sweetest man. I’d ask for advice about different things and he was almost a method actor. He’s just phenomenal in this movie. He’s playing it really sort of understated which makes the fierceness of General Grigio come to life even more. He’s super-intimidating, but he’s such a powerful actor, you can see in his eyes what’s going on and how much he loves his daughter.I really felt like I was learning from him. I kept just picking his brain about acting and his thoughts on it all. He was so happy to sit down and talk with everyone on the crew."
Finally, if you're worrying that this might end up a bit too much like Twilight, Jonathan seemed to calm our nerves a bit, letting us know that "With Nick, we’re looking more at ‘Edward Scissorhands’ instead of than ‘R-Patz’ or whatever. I think he’s endearing enough that people will overlook the eating brains part. Everyone has some negative things that they bring to a relationship!”
We'll see what happens when a zombie falls in love as Warm Bodies finally shambles its way to the silver screen in North America on February 1, 2013!