With the upcoming "World War Z" following dozens of recent big screen zombie films and "The Walking Dead" dominating water cooler conversations in offices allover the world, what more can be done with the undead genre?

Summit Entertainment and "50/50" director Jonathan Levine are attempting to take the genre in a new direction with the upcoming "Warm Bodies." I paid a visit to the elaborate Montreal set late last year, where I saw firsthand the film's undead mayhem and the romance at its core. They even turned me and the other visiting journalists into zombie extras.  
 
"Warm Bodies," based on the book of the same title by Isaac Marion, is working hard to evade the "'Twilight' With Zombies" moniker that some are using to describe it. After visiting the set, it sounds like "'Romeo & Juliet' With Zombies" is more accurate (or would that be "Romero & Juliet"?).
 
"X-Men: First Class" alum Nicholas Hoult plays R, a recently zombie-tized young man who eats the brains of Perry ("21 Jump Street's" Dave Franco) and falls for Perry's former girlfriend, Julie ("Wish You Were Here" actress Teresa Palmer). With the help of his undead buddy M (Rob Corddry), R leads an army of semi-concious zombies against the mindless "boneys" (zombies who have devolved to the point where the lack any human elements). 
 
Along the way, R tries to convince Julie that not all zombies are heartless killers, and, in a rough-cut scene we were shown on the set, uses music to communicate his feelings to her. A very unlikely romance ensues.
 
Palmer attempted to illuminate the strange onscreen pairing. "For the last few years since the apocalypse, all we’ve known is that zombies try and attack humans and eat us," she explained. "So it’s very much a strange dynamic between them. I’m absolutely terrified and petrified of him at the start, and then he starts to show this super-sweet and endearing behavior. He has feelings and he listens to Frank Sinatra and he collects little intricate pieces and he has a heart. She can’t quite believe it; she doesn’t really know what she’s seeing. But she realizes that they’ve been wrong about these corpses this whole time. They’re not just these dead people without feelings and hopes and dreams. They don’t want to be dead. They want to be just like us."
 
Trying to get the audience to sympathize with a reanimated corpse who eats people's brains is no easy task. “It’s challenging," Levine explained with typical understatement. "I think that makes it fun. And it’s a lot about the actors. For Nick we’re looking more at ‘Edward Scissorhands’ instead of RPatz or whatever. Hopefully he’s endearing enough that people will overlook the eating-brains part. Everyone has some negative things that they bring to a relationship!”
 
"It’s really just about a guy and a girl and the guy is trapped in his own kind of shell and can’t get out of it," he continued. "That part of it really appealed to me. I like that kind of stuff a lot. And the opportunity to kind of explore this world that we’ve created was really exciting and the zombie stuff was kind of an added bonus to that”. 
 
Hoult -- all grown up from his "About a Boy" days -- plays R as a sympathetic underdog type. He think viewers will eventually see things R's way. "You can hear the voice-over of my character, which is very eloquent," he explained. "It's partly the way Jonathan is shooting it as well. You can't see some of the more violent, gory stuff. You see it from his point of view because it's something he has to do. The fact that it's shot beautifully makes it less about killing someone's boyfriend, which is never a good start."
 
He further explained how the human elements drew him to the project: "The thing I really liked about the script is it's about someone trying to retain his humanity. Through killing Julie's boyfriend and eating his brains he falls for her and then regains that through being with her. That's the great thing about Theresa: She's such a lively, bubbly person anyway and that spark she brings to the character."
 
However, Hoult still got to indulge in some classic zombie activities. "Eating brains is fun," he revealed. "It's kind of like a cold, wet sponge they made the brains out of. The idea that Jonathan came up with is that because these brains are memories it's kind of like being alive again, it's kind of like a drug to the zombies." 
 
We glimpsed a rough cut of a scene on a monitor depicting R taking Theresa to his hideout in an abandoned commercial plane. At first terrified, Theresa becomes merely confused when R seems to go through the motions of an awkward (and awkwardly wordless) first date, even playing her a vinyl copy of Guns n Roses' "Patience" to set the mood. The song may not appear in the final film however, depending on cost.
 
As one of the few fully human characters in the films, Palmer found her role challenging. "It’s hard because I’m leading all of the scenes," she confessed. "My character, she’s very high-spirited; she’s got a lot of energy. It’s almost as if I’m doing huge monologues after monologues. But Nick is so expressive with his eyes. He gives me so much without having to say anything. I really can just play off of him and I feel what he’s feeling. He honestly is the perfect casting choice for this role; he’s just beautiful in the movie."
 
However, "Bodies" will still deliver plenty of visceral thrills. “When you see them going to hunt and going to eat people and stuff, they go in a pack," Levine explained. "You don’t forget that he’s a zombie. And then hopefully in a scene like this you might forget for a second that he is. But yeah, when they’re all together, you get it. They do zombie shit”. 
 
Montreal proved to be the perfect place to shoot the bulk of "Warm Bodies" for two key reasons: It is home to the abandoned old Mirabel airport, as well as the massive Stadium Olympique (also, conveniently, abandoned since the Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals). Visiting the largely empty arena felt a quite a bit like actually being in a zombie film, aided by the heavily made-up extras walking around. It was also a constant source of amusement to see zombified extras casually texting, having a smoke or even trying to pick each other up.
 
As an added bonus during the set visit, all the journalists were made up as zombies to appear as extras in a key scene. 

Read about my transformation into a member of the undead on the next page.
 


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