Traditionally, vampires are the movie monsters who get all the girls. But Nicholas Hoult is about to change all that.
In the zombie comedy Warm Bodies, which opens Friday, Hoult plays R, an undead young man who falls in love with Julie, a live girl ( Teresa Palmer of I Am Number Four) and finds himself coming back to life.
The road to true love, however, is dangerous in this crumbling, post-apocalyptic world: Humans have barricaded themselves into an armed fortress of a city, and Julie’s military-minded dad ( John Malkovich) shoots lurching corpses on sight.
The British-born Hoult ( A Single Man, X-Men: First Class) laughs at the idea of being the first zombie romantic hero — R doesn’t look quite as rotten as the undead on AMC’s The Walking Dead, though he’s a bit veiny — but says he loved the script’s characters and wit.
“As ridiculous as the concept is, it really worked,” he says. “I believed it. This character isn’t good-looking or eloquent or fast paced. But he’s protective of Julie. He cares about Julie. He’s trying his best. And those are all redeeming qualities.”
So how do you go about playing a zombie with a heart? The cast watched the classics ( Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, The Evil Dead) and more recent comedic fare ( Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland) to prepare.
“It was great to see how the movies developed and how the genre has pushed into the comedic realm,” says Hoult, 23. “We’ve taken that a step further.”
Hoult and costar Rob Corddry, who also undergoes a humanizing transformation as R’s best undead friend, trained with a Cirque du Soleil professional to practice their zombie shuffle and other key movements.
“That was great, so I didn’t feel so self conscious about it,” Hoult says. “It helped us get in the right mind frame. We also had to run, which was tricky, running so uncoordinated and trying to keep up with Teresa.”
More difficult was the concept of playing a corpse with only minimal ability to talk or react to what’s happening around him.
“At first I said, ‘Hang on, this is going to be a little tricky,’ ” Hoult recalls. “We worked on mannerisms without going too over the top. But the main thing is he’s like a lot of guys. He can’t communicate very well, and all he really wants to do is connect. Every guy has been in that situation.”
Hoult got his start in the business at age 8 opposite Hugh Grant in About a Boy, a “fantastic experience,” he says. He’ll next be seen the title role in the fairytale adventure Jack the Giant Slayer, which opens in March, and has another X-Men film coming out next year.
“You’ve got to try and mix it up,” he says of his career. “I’m trying to work with good directors and talented people and playing different characters. I enjoy doing little personal one-on-one scenes talking across a bar, but I also enjoy running around killing giants. It’s like being a big kid.”