In “Warm Bodies” Nicholas Hoult plays a soulful zombie called R, and Teresa Palmer the human girl trying to survive in their dystopian world who falls for him. Jonathan Levine’s adaptation of Isaac Marion’s book proves a clever genre take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” told with a surprising degree of charm and good humor. And though much of its success is due to Levine’s script and direction, it also depends to a great extent on Hoult’s and Palmer’s performances. They talked about the challenges and opportunities afforded by their roles in a recent Dallas interview.

“[The script] was such a breath of fresh air,” Palmer said. “It was original and unique and daring. I loved that it’s a mash-up of all these different genres—it’s comedic, and it’s a romantic film, and it [has] action—and of course it’s a zombie film, which is fantastic.”

Hoult added, “I really liked the take from my character’s perspective, which I don’t really think we’ve seen before in a film—to get into that mind-set…and Jonathan had a soft touch in making the film funny and not taking itself too seriously, but also keeping a lot of heart and keeping it grounded in reality, even with a concept that may be slightly ridiculous. He manages to do that in this film very, very successfully.”

Hoult’s part, of course, demanded a special zombie look. “The makeup took an hour and a half,” he explained. “Adrien Morot did it. He’s very talented; he won an Academy Award nomination for ‘Barney’s Version.’ It was very simple to wear in many ways. And it really helped create the character. Once you get the makeup on, and the wardrobe, and these fantastic sets that we had, it was very believable, and easy to get lost in the world that they were creating for us.”

Hoult also attributed his ability to fashion the character to Levine: “[There’s] some great voice-over, which gives you an insight into my character’s thoughts and kind of witty, self-deprecating outlook on the situation he’s found himself in. Then it was all about just focusing on the fact that this is a character who’s trying his best to connect, even though he’s struggling with it. And I think a lot of guys can relate to that! And fortunately for me, I was surrounded by very talented actors, with a strong script and a director who was very supportive and encouraging. So I could just sit there and watch them perform and enjoy what they were doing and try to react in a kind of zombie manner.”

Palmer emphasized that the script was so good that it didn’t change much in the course of the shoot. “And that’s a rarity, I think,” she said. “More often than not, when you go out and shoot a film, the script that you read prior to filming completely changes by the end of it. It’s fantastic, and very rewarding, as an actor just to put your trust in a director and the material as written, because it’s so strong.”

How does Palmer explain how her character of Julie comes to fall for a zombie like R? “His way—his beautiful way about him,” she said. “His spirit—the way he’s very sensitive and just wants to look after her and take care of her. She knows he’s a good guy and he’s trying so hard, and sees that he’s actually making the best of this horrible situation he’s in. And I think she sees that in her life, too—she can relate to that…. It’s an organic transition from fear, to curiosity, to admiration, and to love.”

What attracted Hoult to the character of R, or to the mutant Beast he played in “X-Men: First Class”? “A lot of time, these characters are outsiders,” he explained, “and I enjoy completely trying to transform and morph and not sound like myself or look like myself, or move like myself, because then I find it’s not as difficult to watch when you’re sitting at the premiere….And I like to bring a human quality and soul to those sorts of characters.”

Both stars credited each other for much of the film’s success, especially since R is initially unable to speak at all, merely grunting, and only gradually can form words.
As Hoult said, “There was obviously a really fine balance to strike. Because I wasn’t saying a lot in the film, we needed someone for Julie who had a really positive spark or energy around her, someone that you could believe. And Teresa completely had that from the first reading we did together. I remember at the end of one take there was a moment when I’m sitting there groaning and she gave me a little nudge and a grin and a smile. It was this heartwarming moment, where I thought, this is a girl that I could understand not wanting to eat her brains!”

And after the laughter had subsided, Palmer added, “So much is said when we’re just looking at each other—his stillness and how he’s able to emote just through his eyes and his body language. I was initially nervous that I had the majority of the dialogue…I’ve never taken on a role quite like that. But when I got on set, I saw how in our shoes Nicholas managed to get—he really got beneath this character and I truly felt I was in the room with R. I looked at him and could tell exactly how he was feeling, and that’s a testament to what a brilliant actor Nick is.”

And what do Hoult and Palmer hope people will take from “Warm Bodies”? “The world’s so busy nowadays, there’s so much going on, a sensory overload,” Hoult replied, “and perhaps sometimes just shut that out and be aware of the world around us, and appreciate the little things—and just enjoy life.” Palmer, meanwhile, pointed to “the idea that love breathes life back into us. There are so many disenfranchised people in the world, and if you can just connect back, love can heal, can make the world a brighter shade. I think the story really shares that with people.”