In this year alone Teresa Palmer taken on extreme robbery in “Point Break”, dirty cops in “Triple 9”, and, hardest of all, unreliable males in Nicholas Sparks’ “The Choice”.
Now comes “Lights Out”, a film from first time director David Sandberg and horror producing royalty James Wan, in which Palmer plays Rebecca, a tough and emotionally detached adult who must confront her childhood fears of the dark…for a very good reason.
On the phone from L.A., we chatted with Teresa about the current appetite for horror films, strong roles for women, sequel potential and future work plans.
Congratulations on the film, I thought it was really fantastic. Although possibly a little too effective, I think my electricity bill has gone up since I saw it.
Teresa: [laughs] That’s awesome. You know what – me too. I feel you. I definitely had the same visceral experience and I’m in it! Which is a really funny thing that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around. I was literally there; I saw how it was done, I read the script, I know the story, yet watching it I was petrified. To me that was a good sign – it made me understand this movie really works. People are going to enjoy it.
I have always wondered about that – if it’s ever as scary for the actors filming as it is for the audience. I understand you had not seen Diana in costume before you filmed your first scene with her?
Teresa: That is correct. I think they did that on purpose. I had some idea of what she might look like, and I knew the girl who was portraying Diana, I had worked with her on “I Am Number Four”. And for the scene I’m lying in my bed, and the lights are flashing on and off going red and back into darkness, and red and back into darkness. Typically they don’t have anyone for you off camera, you just have to act it. But she was there in my close up and I could see her and see what she was doing and it was mortifying. It was so mortifying. I was completely shocked and stunned. There’s a moment when she’s looking down and she flicks her head and stares and me. She had these contact lenses on that looked like fly eyes and it was absolutely horrendous. My blood was going. I was having such a physical reaction to it so it was great for that scene as I had to act so scared. That definitely helped!
This is something a bit different for you and I understand James Wan was the one who recommended you for this film. Had you had any contact with him before?
Teresa: I did not know that! You just gave me that information. I had no idea. That’s amazing. I’ve always been a huge fan of his. He really has this genre down pat – it’s his niche. He knows how to create fear in people just from visuals and sound effects. And he’s a master of it. To have him behind this vehicle was really encouraging. That’s really flattering to hear that, I don’t know what work of mine he had seen. The script spoke for itself – it was brilliant, and layered, and a family drama as much as it is about a supernatural element. That’s why I wanted to jump on board.
And it had such a great female presence. I watch a lot of movies and I’m very conscious of the disparity on representation of male and female characters. Last year was a great year for female leading roles, and still it was only 22 per cent overall. Is it hard to find those meaty roles for women?
Teresa: I think definitely these days there’s more of a movement towards embracing strong female characters and having these layered women lead these films. I love that, obviously being a woman myself [laughs]. In my career I’ve definitely portrayed women who serve the purpose of the man stories, or the man’s journey. And I’ve come to a point in my life now, maybe since becoming a mother, that I really want to represent the strong female who doesn’t need to rely on a male for anything. She really holds her own in this movie and I’m just so attracted to that character and it made me proud to be able to portray someone like that.
I thought the dynamic you had with Maria Bello, who plays your mother, was really fantastic. Did you guys work closely together to cultivate that history and relations?
Teresa: Yes in a sense. We definitely talked about it. I have experience with a lot of people in my life who have to navigate with mental illness. For me, it’s a very familiar theme. I’m so grateful that they chose such a competent actress to portray that in a naturalistic way and I love the way she did it. It was just beautiful to be in there and to be watching her and bouncing off what she was giving me. I really enjoyed it – it was like I was at acting school.
And it was great to see a film like this addressing such a big topic like mental illness.
Teresa: Yeah, you know what was interesting to me is that I think that this entity works as a brilliant metaphor; the darkness in my mother’s life manifests itself as an evil presence. So there was a greater meaning to it than just being this entity. So it was that kind of theme that I was really attracted to.
I understand this film was slated to be a winter release but it got moved to summer just based on the positive response to the film. This makes it possibly the only original film coming out this summer that isn’t a franchise or a sequel or a reboot! Is it nice to be in there with those big budget blockbusters?
Teresa: Yeah! I mean it’s always nice, whatever film you’re being released with is wonderful. But it’s nice we’re the only genre film in this space and on this weekend. There’s been a really amazing group of committed audience folk who love their horror films so I’m hoping that awareness is out there, and I know the interest is out there because I know people love this concept and idea. It’s such a primal, instinctual yet simple premise, and people are excited by it. I know people want to see it so hopefully they’ll come out and be there on the weekend. I certainly won’t be watching “Star Trek” or “Ice Age” that weekend…maybe the weekend after [laughs].
Do you think there is room to expand the “Lights Out” universe after this?
Teresa: I would love to see these characters again. I think there’s so much more for Rebecca to say and it was really beautiful to see how she blossoms in the film. She starts off very detached and cold and she’s trying to protect herself. She’s a very dark character when we first meet her, and she goes through this beautiful journey of self-discovery and by the end of the film she’s really warmed up She’s this closed flower at the start and has really bloomed by the end of it. I think there’s so much more to see with her. It’s interesting to know whether Diana can possibly come back or not…so I would love love love to do a sequel but we shall see!
What’s next for you? You’ve got baby number two coming up, will you be taking some took off?
Teresa: Yes. In the last two years I have done nine films. At the end of last year I felt really burnt out, physically and emotionally. We’ve just bought a house in Adelaide and I think I’m already in that nesting phase and I’m only five months pregnant! So I’m really excited to get down and get nesting and travel back and forth from L.A. to Adelaide and set up our home. So it’ll be really lovely. This year’s more about promoting the films that are coming out. I have [Mel Gibson’s] “Hacksaw Ridge” at the end of the year, and “Berlin Syndrome” will come out early the next year, so I know I’ll have that slate, and after the baby’s born, I’ll probably get back to work – as long as my children are allowed to come with me! But I’ll definitely jump back to being a working Mama.
“Lights Out” is in cinemas everywhere 21 July 2016.