Roundtable Interview: Writer/Director Jonathan Levine Talks Warm Bodies, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, and More

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On Friday, February 1st, Summit Entertainment is releasing its feature film adaptation of Isaac Marion’s wonderfully clever zombie novel Warm Bodies with director Jonathan Levine at the helm.

Levine’s first feature, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, has become an instantaneous cult classic due to the fact the film has still yet to be released (can someone get on that, PLEASE?), and since then he has gone on to helm several successful projects including The Wackness and 50/50.

During a recent press day for Warm Bodies, Dread Central caught up with Levine for his roundtable interview, where we heard more about what attracted him to Marion’s original story and his thoughts on his casting choices for Warm Bodies. We also spoke to him briefly about whether or not he thinks horror fans will ever get to see Mandy Lane and much more.

Check out the highlights from our roundtable interview with Jonathan Levine below, and look for more on Warm Bodies all week.

Question: Can you talk about balancing the tone and the awkwardness of this character [R, played by Nicholas Hoult] as he tries to relate to Julie in this world?

Jonathan Levine: Yeah, I think that what attracted me the most to this project was that awkwardness. But I also think that once you have that central core element that makes this so smart, you realize there’s a lot to this story. R is just this shy guy; he’s trapped inside this body which is something I think a lot of guys can relate to. It’s something I can relate to, and so that acts as bit of a guidepost against all of the other noise that could have potentially derailed the movie. That to me was one of the main reasons I did the movie- the metaphor of what zombie-ism represents here.

Also, I think on a certain level Warm Bodies asks what it means to be alive, which is something I certainly tackle every single day, like whether it’s the fact that my strongest relationship in my life right now is with my iPhone. I mean, I love my girlfriend, but I talk to my iPhone way more than I talk to her (laughs). So really this is about what it means to be alive and are you making the most of every moment that you can.

I think the character that Nick [Hoult] plays is far more alive than a lot of the humans we all encounter on a daily basis. If you look around a Starbucks, you’ll notice you’re surrounded by zombies (laughs). And so that’s what I really enjoyed about it.

Question: What made Teresa [Palmer] perfect for the role of Julie then?

Jonathan Levine: Well, not only is she terribly charismatic, but she had come in and read for me for The Wackness, and really, it had come down to her and Olivia [Thirlby] so I never forgot about Teresa ever since that. So she had this incredible charisma and had this amazing effervescence that I thought was really important to have playing opposite Nick. I was really scared that when you have a case of one person who isn’t talking at all, it’s almost like the other person really has to carry those scenes themselves, and it can be a very challenging role for an actor to do something like this. But I just thought she did great with this role that was so full of life but really had some soul to it as well.

Question: And what about for Nick then?

Jonathan Levine: Well, without Nick I don’t think I would have done the movie. If that [his performance as a zombie] fails, it really fails so spectacularly that I don’t think I’d ever work again or something. But I did a working session with him at my house before we started production, and there was this moment when we were chatting – I already liked him a lot just from meeting him – and we just realized it was that moment where he had to pretend to be a zombie and I had to watch him do it. And I just remember thinking that this was the weirdest professional thing I had ever done, but he did it and it was great. He just went for it; he aggressively went for it, and I think that a lot of people would have been scared of this role.

There’s also something just so relatable about Nick, too; you feel for him because there’s something about him that you can’t help but empathize with him even though he’s a zombie. And he had a lot of the physical stuff already. We did some stuff where Nick, Rob [Corddry], and I worked with a movement coach a bit, and it was an incredible testament to them both that they didn’t completely crack up every time they had to try a new exercise. I have some video that will never see the light of day (laughs).

Question: How did you get John Malkovich to agree to be in a zombie movie?

Jonathan Levine: Well, Summit has a great relationship with John, and I always knew that I wanted to get someone in of a certain caliber or stature for this role. I remember talking to him the first time – and he’s not just an actor but also a storyteller, too – and he said that he really liked the story because it felt like something his theatre company might produce. And I think he gravitates towards material that isn’t always ‘easy,’ and I think he realized this was something special, which I was very grateful for. Seeing the last movie that he produced, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I can just see what his tastes are and why he’d like a project like Warm Bodies. It was such an amazing opportunity to work with him.

Question: Do you feel like because you’ve found success with other mainstream projects like 50/50 and The Wackness (and hopefully this movie) that we may finally get to see All the Boys Love Mandy Lane released at some point soon?

Jonathan Levine: Yeah, I think so, but I don’t think it necessarily ties in to how I do as a director. I think eventually they’ll disentangle the rights and people will get to see it. It has a great cult following from the people who have seen it, and there’s almost this ‘legend’ now of people who haven’t been able to see it, too, which is kind of cool- almost like you have to meet a guy in an alley to get a copy or something (laughs).

But I do really hope Mandy Lane gets to see the light of day. It’s not just for me because I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a great career so far since making it, but it’s more about the actors who were in it because they all did such a fantastic job and their work deserves to be seen. I always imagined Mandy Lane to be this movie where college kids would take a few bong hits at the end of the night and just throw it on to watch late at night.

Warm Bodies

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