There are countless young actresses in Hollywood who are hovering on the verge of becoming the next big thing; each one of them possesses a certain indefinable something, and is poised for A-list immortality as soon as their big break syncs up with equally big box office returns. But Teresa Palmer isn't just waiting for that serendipitous convergence of preparation and opportunity, she's making it happen; and after watching her steal the end of the new film 'I Am Number Four,' you may find yourself wondering why she wasn't just given the film to begin with.
We sat down with Palmer at a Los Angeles press day for 'I Am Number Four,' in which she plays Number Six, an ass-kicker and name-taker who helps the title character come of age as a warrior in his own right. In addition to talking about the various physical challenges she faced while fleshing out her latest role, she offered some insights about her other upcoming role in the comedy 'Take Me Home Tonight,' and reflected on the trajectory her career has taken thus far – not to mention where she wants it to go.
Cinematical: It's a little bit uncharacteristic to have these kinds of female bad asses. What did they tell you about the character, and what did you want to bring to the role?
Basically what they said to me was that this girl has been hunted by an enemy alien, and she's sick of being hunted. So she decides to make the hunters the hunted, and she flips the coin and she says, "you know what? I'm going to come and track them down and start fighting them" – which means that she's been training for years for these battles. She's Number Six so she's got a bit of time, because five people have to die before they aggressively start pursuing her, so she's a martial artist, she's a swordswoman, she rides on a Ducati motorbike, and she's definitely a force to be reckoned with. And that meant that I had to do a lot of intense training to embody that character.
What were stunts that you were certain you wanted to do yourself, and what did you decide early on you definitely would leave to the stunt team?
From the start, I had a meeting with the stunt coordinator, Brad Allen, and he's incredible. I just said to him, "look, I don't just want to have a stunt double doing all, of these action scenes; I want to become Number Six." She was such a cool character that I felt like I'd be doing her a disservice if I didn't learn the skills myself. He was like, alright, that means training four hours a day every day, and I said, "bring it on!" That was before I started, and halfway through I was like, what am I doing? So everything you see in there, I pretty much do, but there's one thing I don't do – oh no, two things: one, I get blown up – I don't get killed - by a grenade, and I fly from one side of the room to the other, and land on a table, so they had a stunt double do that and he got battered. He was wearing a wig, but he was really battered and bruised.
And the other one was doing the side flip up the wall; they couldn't rig the wires for me to flip on my side. But everything else, I did – all of the flips, the fighting, the stabbing, the shooting, and I just trained for that. I had to change so much about myself to become that character, because I am not a warrior, and I had to learn that.
Your character doesn't seem to be involved in any of the film's romantic entanglements. How refreshing or unique was that, since you could be in the biggest movie in the world and if you're the love interest, you may have less interesting things to do.
My last film before 'I Am Number Four' was 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice,' and I was the love interest. But unfortunately when you play the love-interest role, it's like a lot of the action and a lot of the cool stuff gets to go to the guys because you're usually the damsel in distress and they usually come in and swoop in as your hero and you fall in love with them because of that.
The thing with Number Six is that she is the hero, and she partners up with Number Four and together they become the perfect weapon to defend themselves against the enemy, and it's very interesting to play someone who is so in control of herself and who can take care of herself like that. She doesn't need anyone to help her out with that sort of stuff, and she's as intimidating as she is enchanting and intoxicating, and she's such a complex character that it was one of my favorite characters to portray. I touch wood hope that I get to continue to play her in hopefully some sequels.
Movies like this have a lot of mythology for actors to chew on and integrate into their performances. How difficult or easy is it to digest all of that stuff, and then still make sure you're present in each scene?
Well, what I usually do is there's nothing worse than an actor feeling self-aware, because it takes you out of the moment and takes you out of the character. You just realize it yourself, that you're just faking this thing that you're about to do. So what I do is I do all of the work beforehand – I read through the script, and I'll understand the meaning of different words, like I have to say "chimaera," which is like this animal-thing in the film. I have to say "Mogadorian," an enemy alien, and "Legacies," which means special powers.
So I familiarized myself with this world and what these certain things mean, and then when I go on set, because the work is there, I just let it go and just be in the moment and embody her as much as I could and just be Number Six. I really felt like I knew what I was talking about when I was talking about the Mogadorians, and the image in my head was the Mogadorians really trying to kill me, so you just have to lose yourself in that, really.
In your next movie, 'Take Me Home Tonight,' you play this guy's dream girl, maybe not unlike what you did in 'December Boys.' Is that a comfortable challenge? Certainly it's not unflattering, but you're playing someone who almost seems to represent something more than simply being a character.
I think in 'December Boys,' Lucy was very manipulative and she knew how to use her body to win this guy over, and she just came into his life like a tour de force – this strong presence – and all of a sudden this young guy was like enamored by this girl who's very sexually precocious. But in 'Take Me Home Tonight,' Topher [Grace]'s character has had a thing for my character for years; it's that typical story of the guy who always was infatuated with a girl who he will probably never get.
And in this film, he gets the opportunity to be with her and it's what that feeling is, and so it is a very different character from the one in 'December Boys.' But she's not a typical popular girl; she has vulnerabilities, and there's a real quality about her that she's very endearing and their relationship is so interesting. She finds him so refreshing, and I loved that, but you can get typecast out here in Hollywood, and that's why a film like 'I Am Number Four' was very attractive to me – because I knew this was something I'd never done before, and which possibly could be a franchise, which I would love to be a part of.
'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' was a fun movie, but it seem to didn't be as successful as I'm sure you guys were hoping. What sort of barometer do you set for yourself in terms of a film's success? Because even if a film doesn't make a lot of money, I'd think you need to feel some kind of satisfaction from the experience of making it.
It's funny because a lot of people look at 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' and think, wow, it didn't perform very well at the domestic box office, but it actually performed very well internationally, and for me, I just want to make sure that I'm not doing a disservice to the character. I want to be 100 percent into this character, put as much of myself into her as I can, and if I have done that and I'm happy with that, then I feel like I have done my job and that it was successful for me.
I always try and protect myself because you never know how the film's going to turn out; you have to just be there on set, you have to just do the best job you can do, and then the scary thing is that you move away from that and it's no longer in your hands. But I think Jon Turtletaub set out to make a film that appealed to a young audience, and it did; from all of the kids that I've talked to, they really thoroughly enjoyed the movie. So it's just money at the end of the day, and I'm proud of the film. I was proud of Becky Barnes and her relationship with David in that film, so I feel happy – I feel like touch wood everything's been successful in my eyes so far.
The first film I saw you in was that Australian film 'December Boys,' and you have since moved on to bigger and bigger films. Has that progression been pretty natural, or do you have a sense of strategy for where you would like your career to go?
I think it's a bit of both. I think I organically fell into these bigger movies; I came out to Hollywood, I got a Hollywood manager and an agent, and obviously they want to raise your profile as much as they can so that then you're in a position where you can choose smaller, independent films and you can get them financed.
So I think we've also been very strategic in terms of things that we've been saying no to; I want to make sure that I'm working with really great filmmakers and I'm passionate about the project and the character and it's different than what I've done before. And I feel like so far, I've been able to do that, but having said that, I'm really excited to go back to Australia and shoot this little film, 'Say Nothing,' and be part of a tiny, independent movie. I haven't done that in a few years, and I think it's really just about balancing those things.