The Sunday Telegraph: February 2009

Teresa Has Hollywood In Her Palm

The Sunday Telegraph   |   Written by Melissa Field

Teresa Palmer recalls the moment she realised she was about to become a bona fide Hollywood moviestar. “I was sitting in an LA Starbucks in my trackie daks, catching up on gossip over a latte with two girlfriends, when I received a call from my agent saying Adam Sandler wanted to meet with me – right away.”

Following an emergency wardrobe reconfiguration in which Palmer dashed to the bathroom and swapped her sweatpants and hoodie for her girlfriend’s “cute leggings and tee”, she hotfooted it to Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City to meet one of the world’s biggest stars and audition for the role of his love interest in Walt Disney Pictures kids’ flick Bedtime Stories.

“I was there in record time,” laughs Palmer. “But when I met Adam, I had to pretend I wasn’t starstruck, so I was like, ‘How you going, mate?’ I was trying to be cool, but inside I was thinking, Oh my God, a movie with Adam Sandler.”

Given she’d already auditioned once before, only to be told by the casting director she “wasn’t Paris Hilton enough”, Palmer says she was thrilled to be given a second chance. When the news came, two days later, that she’d secured a spot in the film, it felt surreal. “It took me days to accept I’d been cast in a big-budget Hollywood studio production. How can it get any better that this?”

Being summoned to meetings with Hollywood A-listers is something 22-year-old Palmer had better get used to. Although she’s scuffed into the cavernous photo studio where our interview takes place looking as if she’s stepped off Bondi Beach, rather than recently landed from LA – her super-tight black jeans and cream racer-back singlet are complemented by a pair of well-worn black Havaianas – there’s an undeniably charismatic quality about this young star. I once interviewed another on-the-verge actor who exuded a similar ‘bound to be a huge star’ vibe. Her name?

Angelina Jolie. Whatever ‘it’ is, Palmer has it – and then some.

The actor is back in Australia for a five-day visit to catch up with family and friends, and to film an ad campaign for venerable Aussie denim purveyors Just Jeans. She leads a star-studded cast of local talent (including presenter Fuzzy Agolley, model Simone Kerr and singer and Neighbours actor Dean Geyer) chosen to promote the winter range.

“It’s ironic I was asked to take part. When I was 15, I dropped my resume into Just Jeans in (Adelaide’s) Rundle Mall, hoping for a weekend job,” she says. “I didn’t land the gig because I was too young. So, as a girl who lives in denim, I’m stoked to be involved.”

With her old-school Hollywood curves, luxuriant swathes of golden hair, cobalt-blue eyes and porcelain skin, Palmer has something of fellow Aussie actor Naomi Watts about her. After charming everyone at today’s shoot with her easygoing amiability and killer grooving to MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular, she happily chats about her stellar career to date – despite being jet-lagged and craving 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. “I’m a bit zonked out right now,” she laughs.

Sipping daintily from a glass of water, Palmer talks about relocating to LA in 2007, following the buzz generated by her film debut in the critically acclaimed independent Australian film 2:37. Shot on an almost non-existent budget, the movie, which graphically depicts the events leading up to a teen suicide, premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, where it garnered a standing ovation.

Aged 19 at the time, Palmer had just embarked on a teaching and journalism degree, but soon realised it wasn’t for her.

“I’d always dreamt of acting but, in Adelaide, we don’t have exposure to the opportunities that make stardom a possibility. I had a local agent and one day he called and said, ‘There’s this teenage boy here who says he’s making a film and he wants to talk to you.’ Before I’d even met Murali Thalluri (2:37 ‘s then 19-year-old writer, director and co-producer), I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I knew that, despite its controversial subject matter, I’d signed up for something special. Everyone poured their blood, sweat and tears into it.”

Citing the film’s reception in Cannes as her “most proud moment to date”, Palmer acknowledges that 2:37 ‘s impact (and her ensuing 2006 AFI Best Actress nomination) propelled her first to Sydney, then to Hollywood, where she was snapped up by the agent who represents Cameron Diaz and Eva Longoria. “I’ve been incredibly blessed,” Palmer admits. “I was picked up by a couple of great agents who’ve really supported and believed in me, even though I still have only a few film credits to my name.”

These include roles in horror flicks Restraint and The Grudge 2 (with Sarah Michelle Gellar), and a starring role in December Boys – notable for being the film in which Harry Potter ‘s Daniel Radcliffe loses his onscreen virginity to Palmer’s character, Lucy. “Daniel is amazing,” she gushes. “He’s so unaffected – he’s just a regular guy living an extraordinary life. If I’m lucky enough to achieve anything similar to his level of success, I absolutely plan to stay normal as Daniel has.”

Despite the high-octane career ignition Palmer initially enjoyed, she’s already endured a particularly brutal Hollywood disappointment. After being cast in sci-fi flick Jumper with British actor Tom Sturridge, the pair were sacked following a script rewrite and more established actors were cast. Palmer was replaced by The OC alumnus Rachel Bilson.

“It was hard, but I knew landing a job in Hollywood didn’t necessarily mean you’d keep the job until the end. That was why I didn’t celebrate being cast in Bedtime Stories until the day we wrapped. When we finished I went, ‘Wow, I just filmed an Adam Sandler film and I wasn’t fired. I’m so grateful.’” (When released last February, Jumper was less than well-received, and Palmer used the pay-off she was given to put down a deposit on a house in Adelaide for her mother.)

Only-child Palmer was raised by her mum, Paula, following her parents’ divorce when she was three. “My dad remarried, so I have two half-sisters and two stepbrothers,” she says. “I had the best of both worlds when I was a kid. I’d spend a quiet week with my mum, then I’d go to my dad’s property in the Adelaide Hills, where there were all these kids and animals running around.”

Both Palmer’s parents and their partners travelled to LA in December for the world premiere of Bedtime Stories. “And they all crashed at my tiny two-bedroom apartment,” she laughs.

A bit of parental red-carpet support was probably much appreciated by Palmer, as the premiere saw her reunited with her bad-boy Brit co-star – and ex boyfriend – Russell Brand. The couple had a brief, but intense, relationship in 2008 after meeting on the set of Bedtime Stories. Brand – a household name in the UK, where he’s best known as an edgy comedian and serial womaniser – claimed hooking up with Palmer had made him “a changed man”. Four months later, it was all over. How was it, coming face-to-face with him again?

“Well, it’s always awkward meeting up with your exes,” she murmurs diplomatically. “I’ve had wonderful times in my personal and professional lives this past year, and I’ve had less than wonderful times. I’m very happy right now and Russell is a good friend of mine, so it was great to see him.”

Palmer has clearly moved on and is now dating Spider-Man 3 star Topher Grace, with whom she’s just completed filming the comedy Young Americans (scheduled for release this year). The pair were spotted recently enjoying some downtime in Adelaide.

If 2008 was Palmer’s breakthrough year, 2009 looks set to be a period of frantic consolidation. She’s just landed the lead role in another Disney film, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, opposite Nicolas Cage. Meanwhile, she’s also set up a production company with her LA-based Aussie friends Tahyna Tozzi and Nathalie Kelley. “We’re working on a script set in ’70s Australia that’s a cross between Natural Born Killers and True Romance.”

Clearly, a generation-Y slacker Palmer is not: the drive of this girl is impressive. But none of the big plans she discusses stems from an arrogant sense of entitlement – more an unshakeable ‘why not have a go?’ confidence. “I’m a workaholic, I always try to fill my time with projects,” she says.

Palmer’s also acquired an accoutrement essential to any Hollywood starlet: a handbag-size shih tzu called Luna.

Time off is minimal, but when she does chill out, it doesn’t involve wild nights on the town. “I did all my partying when I was 18,” she says. Instead, Sunday night chez Palmer is board-game night.

“My girlfriends come over, I bake an apple pie and we play Cluedo and Twister in our pyjamas. You won’t find me passed out in a club or at the opening of an envelope,” she says. “I’m about as far away from the rehab-bound starlet as you’ll ever meet. My plan is to stay away from all of that and to keep working on projects I’m passionate about. I’m in this for the long haul.”