Fade In Magazine: August 2013

Top 100 People In Hollywood

Fade In Magazine   |   Written by F.X. Feeney

Typecasting has stalled many a career, but it won’t be a problem for Teresa Palmer, whose greatest gift may be that she is so startlingly natural wherever she’s planted. This was most evident in her hit from earlier this year, Warm Bodies, in which she’s a tough-cookie survivor, post-zombie apocalypse, in love with a guy with one major drawback — he’s one of the undead. Even at a glance — in such unalike pictures as the Adam Sandler comedy Bedtime Stories; or Take Me Home Tonight, opposite Topher Grace; or the extraterrestrial fantasy I Am Number Four — the romance, action and humor are anchored because Palmer is so deeply down-to-earth.

Although she’s more in demand than ever – with roles in Love and Honor, a Vietnam-era drama co-starring Liam Hemsworth, Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, with Christian Bale; again opposite Hemsworth in the thriller Cut Bank; and in Parts Per Billion, an unsettling drama costarring Gena Rowlands – the driven Aussie is keen to generate her own projects, too. They include Track Town, which she co-wrote with costar Tahyna Tozzi, set to film in 2014. More immediately, she is collaborating on The Ever After with her fiancé, director Mark Webber.

So many Australians have succeeded here in Hollywood. Even so, it’s a huge risk to come all this way. What made you decide to try? Honestly, I had no plan of attack. I fell into acting. I was taking any opportunity that came my way. One came when I was in Cannes [in 2006] with 2:37, my first big film. American casting directors had seen it at the festival and wanted me to audition. My manager encouraged me. I landed in Los Angeles for what I thought would be a couple of weeks — quite excited by this new adventure — then booked two of the roles I tried out for. It was decided for me, I guess. My life unfolded in that way. I was cast in American movies.

At one point early on, you set out to become a teacher – Yes! Healing and teaching are my two other passions, outside of acting.

What subject would you have taught? Drama and English at a high school. I’m always excited, being in a school environment. Since I’ve been working, my old high school and college have invited me back —I’ve taught drama lessons, talked to the kids and hung out with them. I get to play a teaching role in their lives. It’s a really inspirational thing to do.

You quit college to pursue acting. Have you ever thought of going back? I’ve definitely looked into it.
What would you study? I’ve always been interested in midwifery. All of my friends know me as the little mama-bear. I’ve always been interested in the process of pregnancy, and service. I’ve thought about going back to college just to get a degree in this field.I also love psychology. I thought of pursuing the subject at UCLA. I only completed one subject at college in Australia — my concentration was all wrapped up with being in films. It is definitely something I would like to continue some day, and venture in to all sorts of areas.

To be a successful actress, you have to be something of a psychologist on a visceral level. I definitely grew up having to learn to read people. I became very good at that, and it’s my favorite thing to do — explore personalities, have deep conversations with people — to discover a spirit. I love doing Carl Jung stuff. The Myers-Briggs personality test? I’m all about that. I love studying up on these sorts of things. They really spark a truth with me, in a helpful way. One of the things I’m very, very passionate about outside of acting is a lot of self-development work, rich in spiritual life. That’s where the interest in psychology comes in.

Does that involve meditation, or is it reading and thinking? Reading a lot. Practicing open communication, delving into my psyche and getting close to the core; analyzing where certain feelings and thoughts come from but not placing judgment on that.
Making your own unconscious mind available to you, in a way. What we have to offer is already there, but too often we censor ourselves. Absolutely! I’m focused on being a more conscious person. It’s really been very eye-opening. Probably the one subject that I love talking about!
Let’s talk about this in terms of the characters you play. You’ve described Julie in Warm Bodies as “a sassy warrior.” It’s clear you loved that about her. Are more like her being offered to you? There’s been no thick stream of offers, though Warm Bodies has been great for me. There’s definitely been more interest in me for these feisty, independent, very spirited roles. Which is great, because I wasn’t always seen in that way. But, I’m still at the point in my career where I’m fighting for roles. The difference is that I can be much more selective in terms of what I fight for. I can be choosier, do films I’m passionate about or can feel inspired by.
Do you suffer the pressure to take jobs, as opposed to losing momentum? That is the conversation you have with your team. Do you lower the bar and stay visible? Or do you raise it so that you’re not seen as much, but the quality of films you’re seen in is of a high standard? That is where my head is typically at. Obviously I need to be more or less available and make sure I’m not being too precious. If you can talk about a film that is coming out when you go in to meet people, it works powerfully in your favor. I follow my instinct; I don’t feel like it has been necessary for me to lower the bar just to keep my face out there.

What’s the most recent film you’ve completed? Parts Per Billion. That’s with Rosario Dawson, Josh Hartnett and Gena Rowlands. It’s a really amazing cast — Frank Langella, Penn Badgley. I was really proud to be a part of that ensemble. I saw a lot of my own journey in this girl I play. She is going through a lot of turmoil. She sees things other people don’t necessarily see. At the time I auditioned I was very involved in meditation and developing my intuition, which mirrors the journey that she goes through.I was also very excited to work with Gena Rowlands. I’m so inspired by everything she did with her [late] husband [John Cassavetes]. A beautiful power couple! My partner Mark and I often refer to Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands and the magic that they made together. I got to pick her brain on the set — ask her what it was like shooting with her husband, using all their friends in their films.

You’re referring to [actor-writer-director] Mark Webber. Yes. Mark’s film The End of Love was playing in Krakow at a festival called OffPlusCamera. It was fun, and exciting to establish a relationship with the film industry in Poland.

You’ve started your own production company — you must be thinking of finding allies. They have such thriving resources there. Was that on your mind? Absolutely! We even spoke to people about coming over to Krakow and shooting a little film there in those streets. It’s just so rich in history and culture. It would look incredible on camera.

How do you navigate the high-wire act of working with somebody you love? How do you foresee balancing that with Mark? It’s very dependent upon the person you’re working with, the person you’re in love with. Mark and I are collaborators first, and honest communicators. That’s key. We want what’s best for each other. We want to continue to create films together — always. We’ve managed to strike a balance between our home life and our work life, and it happened in a very organic way.

Did you guys meet when you were working on a film together? Oh, no! I saw his movie — The End of Love.

About a young widower, played by Mark, trying to raise a young son — played by his actual son, Isaac. Exactly. I thought it was so poignant, so beautiful, so grounded in reality. I thought, “I’d love to work with that filmmaker.” And — this being a very modern romance — I put it out over Twitter how I felt about his movie. He saw this Tweet. We started following each other. We started writing one another.

That’s right out of a Jane Austen novel, but here and now! [Laughs] Yeahhh! An old-fashioned story. We wrote each other for three months before we even met. We got to know each other’s spirit through these emails. We fell in love without seeing each other. It was wonderful, and from the start we wrote about working together: how we could collaborate on something very special.

Mark is directing your next film, right? The Ever AfterWe’re in pre-production right now. We have actually shot a segment of it; we went down to Australia and filmed a montage sequence for the beginning of the movie. It’s the study of a couple who are dealing with adversities and who’ve stopped communicating. We explore the notion of monogamy. We touch upon affairs. My character suffers from post-partum depression. It’s been an interesting journey for us to act these conflicts and dramas while we’re in a relationship so far from this. Yet we know we speak for thousands upon thousands of people in serious long-term relationships. The divorce rate is now at 60 percent. We’re asking the questions every couple faces in the daily struggle: Do we fight for it and stay, or is it too far gone? Do we need to leave? The couple we’re creating is focused on this decision at a pivotal time in their life.We’re going to shoot in Los Angeles.

You’ve also co-written a script with Tahyna Tozzi called Track Town, which you’ll both perform in, while she produces and you direct…We have the script. We’re in pre-production, deciding what we’re going to do with it, what the budget’s going to be — still very much the developmental process, because of both our situations. Tahyna’s just got engaged, and I’m working on [The Ever After]So for the moment, it is slightly on the back burner, but we plan to come together later this year and see it through.

If not Track Town, will you be directing some other project for yourself any time soon? Definitely! I have loved working on The Fun in Foreveras a producer and a writer as well as an actor — and just being super hands-on, even though my partner is directing it. I get to shadow him and watch everything he’s doing, and have such a say. Mark’s encouraging me to direct, and I do dream of doing that; of being a woman with a voice.

You directed a documentary shot in Africa, on the theme of what makes people happy. To turn the tables: What makes you happy? The simple answer is, being surrounded by the people I love. Living as my most evolved self, any way I can. To be open and communicating, healing and teaching. Collaboration with Mark is amazingly therapeutic. To delve into your psyche, to experience emotions and feelings that have been there for twenty-seven years of my life? Really, happiness for me means being brave, shining a bright light on those parts of yourself that are darkest, of accepting and becoming more conscious. This is not to say it hasn’t been difficult when things surface, but it has really, really deepened my acting. These things seem to go hand in hand. I’m so grateful I’ve found a partner in my life who is just as passionate about these things — and with whom I can talk about it for hours and hours. We’re going to do daring and wonderful things.

Speaking of which, tell us about your role in Knight of Cups and working with Terrence Malick. I auditioned for the casting director. This was last year. I didn’t get the role I tried for, and was very disheartened. Malick is my favorite director by far. I usually don’t let auditions get me down, but I’d connected with this material and pictured myself in detail on the set with Terrence Malick. About a month later, literally the night before it was about to shoot, I was offered a small one-day role, that of a woman who talks to Christian Bale about key aspects of his life, especially about not selling out. I didn’t know anything else about the role. I just said yes, and arrived on the set. The majority of what we did was improvised. I got to work with Christian Bale. Everybody who knows me knows I believe he’s the best male actor of our generation. Yet he’s also really humble, very unaffected by his great level of success. That is a refreshing thing to see, as a young upcoming actor. I can’t really tell you much more about the film, obviously. Terrence Malick holds his cards very close to his chest.

What’s Malick like as a person? How is he different from other directors? How does he address improvisations and problem solving? He really embraces your essence. It’s so incredible. I essentially play a version of myself. He was so encouraging of me, and my ideas. It was supposed to be a one-day part, but he kept me on for five. He just really gave me the reins. He let me go off wherever I wanted to veer it. There’s such art in that. He’s not “controlling,” in that sense, at all. He knows the look of the film. He knows the subject that we’re talking about. But other than that, he’s really allowed us the space to find the breath of his characters, to find the life-force of who this character is. He just embraces and nourishes it. He allows it to be what it is, without manipulating it. I would love to work in that manner on all my films.That’s been a fantastic inspiration for The Fun in Forever, and how Mark and I see the scenes. Make it a dance between the actors! Let them find it for themselves. Gently steer, but really, give it over to them. Let it grow from that.

Of all the films you’ve made thus far, which has helped you the most in terms of getting better scripts? I Am Number Four helped me raise my profile, Warm Bodies even more so. But working with Terrence Malick has — by the way — been a great point of conversation in meetings with directors. Everybody is fascinated by him. Everybody wants to know what he’s like. That’s been very helpful!

Which of your films taught you the most? Which one had the steepest learning curve? Warm Bodies: I really felt under the gun with that, because I am in the majority of the scenes and have most of the dialogue. I have to do all the talking — I’m acting off of a zombie! My co-star was simply not going to be able to talk back! I knew my energy and my life-force were going to have to drive the plot and felt a huge anxiety in the weeks leading up to shooting the film — yet once I just gave over to the experience and trusted my instincts, confident that I knew my lines cold and had the dialect and the character right, and knew who she was — I let go of the pressure and let it organically grow. Of course, on the Malick film I got to do that tenfold! All you do for Malick is trust your instincts, and go with your gut, and allow yourself to experiment. Both Warm Bodies and Knight of Cups have shaped who I am as an actor, currently. I hope I deepen my work with each passing movie.

Love and Honor and Cut Bank are up next for you. What can we expect in terms of your work? Cut Bank is a great little crime thriller, psychological drama, really fun and interesting. I get to work with John Malkovich again, as well as Liam Hemsworth and Sir Ben Kingsley. I get to be from Cut Bank, Montana, have an accent — a really fun character, with a vibe like that of Patricia Arquette in True Romance, very different from anything I’ve done before. Love and Honor is with Liam Hemsworth, set in the 1960s. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet, romantic movie. I play a strong-willed journalist who’s very much anti-war but surprises herself by falling in love with an American soldier — a Vietnam vet who goes AWOL. We shot it in Ann Arbor with a really great crew, and I enjoyed delving into the 1960s era. To feel what it was like to be around those times, and the political issues that young people were dealing with, and how different life was. I’m so far removed from any of those experiences.

And yet — in a certain way — from what you describe of working with Mark, and your own passions and explorations, the 1960s holds up a mirror to what you’re attempting and what you strive for. Exactly! There has been a shift toward conscious living today that people were talking about in the 1960s — what love means, of communication. It really has come full circle.