Director Jonathan Levine (far left) offers script notes to Teresa Palmer, Nicholas Hoult and John Malkovich on the set of Warm Bodies.
This past weekend, a surprising little movie topped the box office over pop-action juggernaut Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook.
Warm Bodies is a zombie romance brought to you by the man behind the recent cancer comedy 50/50; clearly, director and screenwriter Jonathan Levine has an interest in genre bending, and this latest flick is equal parts Night of the Living Dead and Romeo and Juliet. It's told through the eyes of R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie living in an airport.
Levine talked to NPR's Audie Cornish about zombie symbolism, teen alienation and how he became a staunch defender of Twilight fans everywhere.
On zombies as symbols of modern self-involvement
"Issac Marion [author of the novel Warm Bodies] wrote this wonderful book, and this guy was stuck in this airport, and I thought it was this very clever commentary on commercialism. There's this other moment in the beginning of the movie when we show all these people in the airport, just kinda on their cellphones, just wandering around almost bumping into each other. [We wanted] to illustrate the point that ... you can look around an airport today and see a lot of zombies, whether they're brain eaters or not — that there were a lot of people just locked into their own internal boxes. And so you know, every time I'm in an airport now, it's kind of been ruined for me."
On why teens can identify with zombies
"I think that's the great thing about zombies. ... Going back to even Night of the Living Dead, they've always been a tool for holding up a mirror to us and showing us something about ourselves that we might not otherwise know. And I thought the brilliance of this book — and what I wanted to translate into the screenplay — was like, 'Yeah, being a zombie is not that different from being a shy kid.' You're trapped in your own body. Like, this guy thinks he's a total loser, and his internal monologue reflects that. He's totally incoherent and unable to articulate himself in front of this beautiful girl, and I sort of could identify. It reminded me of the protagonists in a lot of John Hughes movies that I loved growing up, and I thought it was just such a clever way to address that kind of character in a way I hadn't seen before."
On how Warm Bodies is just a story of a (dead) guy and a girl
"The voice-over really took a lot of calibration to find that place where it felt like it could just be a guy and a girl. That was something that was really important to me about the movie, was I wanted to — even though it's a zombie in a post-apocalyptic world and all that stuff — I wanted to distill it to the fact that it was a guy and a girl, and we had to kind of calibrate that voice-over to find the right tone a lot."
On being compared to (and defending) Twilight
"I've been dealing with those comparisons for like a month now, and at first I kind of resented them because I felt like it made us sound like, we're some cynical you know, 'Twilight's over and now we're gonna get these young girls and they're all gonna watch our movie cause they have nothing else to watch.' Which I thought was — you know, this movie came from such a pure kind of creative place that ... I resented that notion.
Jonathan Wenk/Summit Enterainment
Nicholas Hoult, Rob Corddry and Teresa Palmer lurch through a scene in Levine's zombie romantic comedy.
Nicholas Hoult, Rob Corddry and Teresa Palmer lurch through a scene in Levine's zombie romantic comedy. Jonathan Wenk/Summit Enterainment
"But now I'm starting to feel bad for the Twilight fans and I want to defend them, because there's this kind of like, inherent — whenever something is compared to Twilight, there's this kind of unspoken pejorative thing about it. And I think that for me, that the Twilight fans — you know we always said we'd be lucky to get like a fraction of the fan base they have; they're so devoted and they're so rabid and loving of these characters that I think that you have to respect it.
"As much as I didn't like the comparison because I felt like it made us sound like some cynical attempt to capitalize on a trend, now I'm a staunch defender of Twilight fans everywhere. And I'm Team Edward, by the way.
"Whatever your taste is, there's a lot of people who love those movies and there's a lot of people incredibly devoted to those movies. And I think it's not nice to them."