Living dead you can warm to
ANY interview dealing with zombies must include the obligatory and, yes, relevant question: Do you feel a kinship with George A. Romero?
‘‘I do feel a great debt to him, and I also feel like we are kind of following in his footsteps in some way,’’ says Jonathan Levine, director-writer of Warm Bodies.
‘‘The wonderful thing about Romero is he established the rules and created this amazing allegory in Night of the Living Dead. And then proceeded to, first of all, vigilantly use the genre as a vehicle for social commentary, which we try to do to some small extent, and also continue to tweak his own rules.’’
In the Warm Bodies novel, writer Isaac Marion uses an abandoned airport much as Romero did a suburban Pittsburgh shopping mall for Dawn of the Dead.
Levine, who also directed 50/50, Nicholas Hoult as the hero zombie known as R and Teresa Palmer as Julie, the human he rescues and falls for, to her initial fear, dismay and confusion.
Palmer had auditioned for Levine’s second feature, The Wackness, with Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck, and he never forgot her. Once Hoult was hired, she read with him.
‘‘It was their chemistry, really, that inspired me to cast her. Her role is incredibly difficult because she’s acting opposite a guy who’s basically grunting the whole time,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s a lot of responsibility on her to keep the scenes entertaining, and she had such effervescence and a soulful thing going on, that it was really a no-brainer.’’
Based on her turn as Julie in Warm Bodies and her work in movies such as I Am Number Four and Take Me Home
cast Tonight, she seems primed to break out, the director predicts.
Analeigh Tipton, who plays Julie’s best friend, Nora, turned heads as the baby sitter in Crazy, Stupid, Love, starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. A 13-year-old is tireless in declaring his love for the 17-year-old sitter who is crushing on someone else in a thread that skirts the edge of squeamishness.
Tipton, a third-place winner on America’s Next Top Model in 2008, doesn’t go for conventional sorts of roles, she says.
‘‘I’m kind of a little bit odd. I’m not attracted to some of the traditional female young-girl roles, and I like how edgy the character of Nora is and her off sense of humour, just slightly understated, and Jessica from Crazy, Stupid, Love had that bit of humour.
‘‘I think, if anything, for me, they’re perfectly a normal fit . . . But I trust the directors that it will come out looking normal.’’
When she and Dave Franco, who plays Julie’s doomed boyfriend, arrived in Montreal where the movie was filmed, they were sent to a gun range for instruction about safety, control, stances, types of guns and ammunition and when to use what and where.
‘‘That, to me, was fascinating because it wasn’t just, ‘Here, hold this to look cool’. We really were trying to be authentic to it,’’ she says. ‘‘I learned how to take apart and put back together a handgun without looking at it, and it was interesting. There’s quite an art to it, in the proper hands.’’
Also as part of her research, she spoke with the novelist, brought a zombie survival handbook with her and engaged in a Love Boat viewing marathon, in keeping with one of her character’s quirks that didn’t migrate to the movie.
‘‘I went and got the boxed set of that show and rewatched all of those episodes every night before filming, which had nothing, at the end, to do with my character,’’ she says.
But she loved how kitschy, positive and, in its own kooky way, progressive in terms of social issues it seemed.
If books, including Romeo and Juliet, and music help Tipton with characters, the madcap song selection is a key part of the movie’s appeal.
Levine looked at ‘‘the most bombastic, overwrought songs about feelings’’ he could find.
‘‘The ’80s were a great time for music like that. Power ballads, especially, like Patience and Missing You.’’
Given what he considers a John Hughes revisionist vibe to the movie, the 1980s further felt right.
‘‘The music that he uses in his plane (doubling as his home) is meant to reflect a nostalgia for a bygone era. It’s a way for him to communicate, but it also represents a yearning for something lost. So we got to use this great ’70s album rock, like Hungry Heart from Bruce Springsteen. I’m unnaturally obsessed with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm proved beautiful and relevant.’’
Warm Bodies opens today.