In Warm Bodies, Nicholas Hoult is stagnant and lifeless–but that’s a good thing! He plays a zombie called R, who falls in love with the daughter of a ruthless zombie hunter. Earlier this month, ScreenCrave spoke to the British actor for the film’s Los Angeles press day. While there, Hoult revealed his awkward zombie training and why Warm Bodies deserves your love not hate.
What kind of zombie training did you go through?
Nicholas Hoult: There were some days where me and Rob Corddry and this ex-Cirque du Soleil guy, we would take our shoes off in a dance studio and in different rooms around the production offices and stuff. We’d kind of grow out of the wall and make our bodies feel very heavy. It was good. It was one of those things where you think about it a lot but you’ve just got to try it out and see what works. Jonathan [Levine, director] would see what we were doing and watch and be like, ‘Bit much. Not enough.’
Were you a fan of zombie films before Warm Bodies?
Nicholas Hoult: Yes I was. I went back to watch a load of them before this. I went back and watched the great ’80s ones and The Dawn of the Dead and [Night of] the Living Dead. But I like the recent ones as well. I like how it changed with Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I enjoy watching those. But it’s nice [this film] just because it’s the first time it’s kind of switched around and told from the zombie’s point of view in a funny, lighthearted way.
How would you sell this movie to horror fans who think it’s uncool to have a zombie love story?
Nicholas Hoult: It’s funny first of all, and it’s kind of a sweet movie. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I think the characters are very likable. When first reading the script – when I read the character R – I cared about him and wanted him to succeed. I wanted to play him and bring him to life.
What are the challenges of creating such a warm zombie character?
Nicholas Hoult: The main thing that I tried to focus on in that sense was, ‘All I want is to connect with someone and feel alive.’ That was the main thing I’d think about a lot of times in scenes, particularly once Julie [Teresa Palmer] arrives. [I was] focusing on her and protecting her and caring about her. The thing that she sees in him is the fact that he’s trying. She can see that he wants to change and there’s a lot more going on inside him than maybe it looks from the outside.
How did you do that without having a voice? You rarely spoke.
Nicholas Hoult: I don’t know [laughs]. It’s an odd thing where you’d go into scenes–I’d never quite know what I was gonna do. It’s honestly like a thing of having a great imagination and then just committing to it and trying stuff out and seeing what works. I’m still not sure exactly what I did.
Was it difficult to stay in character? Did you ever just want to speak-out?
Nicholas Hoult: It wasn’t hard staying in character because the sets were really well-made and lit. And we were filming in a lot of real locations as well. The other actors were brilliant. It was kind of one of those things where you got to hang out. A lot of the time I just get to watch them basically, which is a treat. You get a front row seat to watch some really great actors do their thing… So that made it easy to stay in character. The only times that I really struggled was when I would laugh a lot with Rob Corddry and stuff. There’s a lot of me on the outtakes just cracking up.
How is it playing an American zombie? Is this a uniquely American story?
Nicholas Hoult: I don’t think it’s particulary uniquely American, no. It’s kind of universal in the sense of the power of love and change. The kind of Romeo and Juliet themes within it. I’ve done a few gigs with an American accent now. I kind of enjoy acting with an American accent. It feels more like acting when I can hear an American accent coming out of my head.
We’ve heard some actors say an American accent is the hardest to do and they struggle with it.
Nicholas Hoult: Yeah. You’ve gotta work at it. It’s fun. I like characters like this where you get to completely transform. Or The Beast [from X-Men: First Class] where there’s not a trace of you left in them in someway. Also, once you’ve changed your voice and the way you move and all those things the character comes to life. You start to get the speech patterns of how they talk and how it’s going to work.
Is there a specific genre or character you’d like to conquer but haven’t yet?
Nicholas Hoult: I’d like to do an outright, but not silly, comedy. And I’d like to go and do some darker stuff as well. Play some bad guys.
How did you audition for something like this? There’s no dialogue?
Nicholas Hoult: I’d go to work and I’d panic if I had more than three words to say that day. Absolute panic would set in. I’d sit down and be like ‘Teresa, can we go through this scene please. I’ve got a lot to concentrate on.’ And she’d be sitting there and be looking at me like I was nuts. She’s like, ‘I’ve got pages and pages of dialogue I’m doing here. You haven’t spoken in months.’ It was quite a treat knowing that you could go to work and just say ‘Keep you safe. Eat.’ That was pretty much it.
Warm Bodies opens in theaters February 1.