INTERVIEW

Actress Teresa Palmer

"Boundless possibilities": Career success has broadened Teresa Palmer's horizons. Photo: Hugh Hamilton

For an Australian actor whose star has risen, fallen and is back on the rise in Hollywood, Teresa Palmer has a conspicuous gap on her CV: she might be the only such actor who doesn't count a stint on Neighbours or Home and Away as a career stepping stone.

''I really wanted to be on both those shows,'' Palmer insists on the phone from Los Angeles. ''I even visited the Neighbours set when I was 15 years old. I used to tell myself that one day I'd be on Ramsay Street.''

I faced adversity and I found that there's so much growth in darkness. 

Twelve years later, the Adelaide native says her absence from Australian soap operas wasn't the only unusual stop on her road to success. After scoring an Australian Film Institute nomination for best lead actress at age 18 for her breakthrough role in the drama 2:37, Palmer got to deflower Harry Potter (well, at least Daniel Radcliffe's character in December Boys) before getting the lead female part in a Hollywood summer blockbuster - science-fiction adventure Jumper - during her first round of auditions in Los Angeles. And that was when her career crashed into its first hurdle. ''Before we even started filming, they decided they wanted to recast my role and the lead guy's role and they ended up replacing us with older and more famous actors [Rachel Bilson from The OC took over Palmer's role]. I didn't have the best experience and I just decided … I was done with Hollywood.

Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult star in <em>Warm Bodies</em>.

Romeo and Juliet and zombies: Teresa Palmer stars with Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies.

''I just wanted to stay in Adelaide and be a teacher and get married and have a family and live a very simple life. I thought that I had had my little moment of acting - and it was exciting and enthralling at the time - but I thought that I couldn't deal with the disappointments and the lack of security and the instability that this gypsy lifestyle brings.''

Palmer's agent and her dad convinced her to give it one more shot, although ''my mum was really happy I was back in Adelaide, frankly''. She returned to LA and landed a supporting role in the Topher Grace-Anna Faris comedy Take Me Home Tonight. But even though Palmer felt ''passion was breathed back into me'' and decided to stay in the US, more disappointment was to come. First she discovered that the release of Take Me Home Tonight, which finished filming in 2007, was to be delayed. (It eventually flopped into American cinemas in 2011.) Then another bona-fide blockbuster in which she was set to star - George Miller's would-be Avengers-precursing superhero ensemble flick Justice League of America - ''fell apart two weeks before we were supposed to shoot''.

''And then it was funny,'' Palmer says. ''This has happened to me numerous times in my career: I will be down to my last two dollars, have nowhere to stay and then an opportunity will land in my lap. That's what happened in 2008. Justice League had just fallen apart, I had no money, I was so sad, I didn't know if I was living the best life I could possibly live by being out in LA and away from my family … and then I ended up getting Bedtime Stories.''

That's right - a role in, of all things, an Adam Sandler children's movie saved Palmer's professional life. ''I know! The jobs started coming a little bit easier at that point.''

Things haven't moved seamlessly since. Palmer hoped to have her own sequel fall into place after a shot as an action heroine in 2011's I Am Number Four, a film whose middling performance at the box office swiftly destroyed that dream. But she remains philosophical about her choices: ''I'm glad I really pushed through it. I faced the adversity and I found that there's so much growth in darkness.''

The idea of ''growth in darkness'' fits conveniently with the two best films on Palmer's resume: 2012's gripping Australian thriller Wish You Were Here and one of the surprise hits of 2013, Warm Bodies.

The latter is an especially ambitious, but wildly original and likeable affair; a romance-comedy-horror-action-drama about a flesh-eating zombie (played by Nicholas Hoult) who falls in love with the normal, alive Julie (Palmer) and starts becoming human again - his heart starts beating, signs of consciousness return to his dead eyes and his pallor, not to mention his conversation skills, improve considerably.

More importantly, the effect Julie has on our undead hero, who can only remember that his name begins with an ''R'', begins to spread through the zombie community.

To my eternal embarrassment, with its unlikely love story between an ashen-faced pretty boy and an attractive young woman, the first tale Warm Bodies reminded me of was Twilight, despite it featuring characters rather blatantly named R and Julie. Mercifully, I wasn't the only one not to quickly notice the film's classier influence.

''It definitely pays homage to the classic love story Romeo and Juliet,'' Palmer says. ''But even I didn't really put that altogether until we were actually on set filming the balcony scene and I was calling down to 'Romeo' - to R.

''I really love that. Ours is the quirky take of that love story. And then definitely there's been comparisons drawn to Twilight.''

Further comparisons have been drawn between Palmer and Twilight star and gossip-mag mainstay Kristen Stewart, due to a resemblance more evident in moving pictures than stills. Could Palmer handle Stewart's level of fame?

''You know, I think I would probably struggle with the lack of privacy. I love that I can walk around town and not get noticed … But, for what I really wanna do with my life, which is use the position I'm in to also be of service and help effect positive change, I know that I have to continue to build my profile so I can reach a wider community.

''So I do know that's par for the course but I don't think I would wish that upon myself. I think that level of fame and scrutiny would be very isolating. Even the tiny amounts I get of it sometimes at certain parties or premieres … it doesn't feed my spirit; it almost does the opposite. I have to come home and recharge my batteries and then, y'know, pull myself together to go and do another one of these events.''

Although Hollywood has finally welcomed Palmer, she isn't averse to signing on to a good Australian project, as happened with Wish You Were Here.

''The script was so fantastic - it was very raw and gritty and smart and it was something I really wanted to be a part of. It was so amazing to come back home and shoot an independent film like that. It felt like a real collaborative process again and I haven't felt that so much with bigger studio films that I've done, so it was really refreshing.''

Like Warm Bodies, the film cast her in a role that required more from her than to merely look pretty. ''My career started out where I was seen as a dramatic actress - I played a rape victim who was pregnant with my brother's baby [in 2:37], then I come out to America and I'm cast in the love-interest role, the girl that's meant to look nice next to the lead guy. She serves the purpose of the man's story.

''I knew that I had to do those sorts of roles in order to raise my profile so that I'd be in a better position to pick juicy roles. I just realised that I was really missing those acting pieces, those amazing opportunities to really show what I can do … When Wish You Were Here came along I was really antsy to sink my teeth into something.

''Since that point I've been much more selective in terms of the sorts of films I would like to be in and the types of roles I take on.''

She jumped at the opportunity to act for auteur extraordinaire Terrence Malick (Badlands, The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life) in the as-yet-unreleased Knight of Cups.

Her role was supposed to involve only a day's work but the director and actor collaborated for more than a week to create a more substantial character. Palmer has long been interested in writing and producing, and her experience with the spontaneous Malick on Knight of Cupshas inspired her to pursue those fields. She and her actor-writer-director partner Mark Webber are making a film titled The Fun in Forever, which is being shot in Adelaide.

''We very much drew upon my experiences with Terrence Malick. It's the story of essentially the breakdown of a marriage … It deals with faith and love and monogamy and it's all improvised,'' Palmer says. ''We do have a script, we wrote the script, but that's gonna be just a launching pad for improvisation.

''To work with Terrence Malick, though … it really just changed the way I saw film. I could understand there are boundless possibilities in this world.''

Warm Bodies is in cinemas now.