Teresa Palmer is an actress you might not know as a name, but she’s been in a number of movies (I Am Number Four included) that have meant to turn her into a star. She’s been in an Adam Sandler Movie (Bedtime Stories), did a big budget Disney summer film (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), and she’s got this and Take Me Home Tonight coming out within a month of each other. But here – instead of playing the romantic lead, she gets to play the asskicking Number Six.
In I Am Number Four, there is a race of good aliens being chased on Earth by evil aliens, and so Palmer’s Number Six is working to make sure she doesn’t die just like Numbers One, Two and Three (they must be killed in order). As such, she’s transformed herself into an ass-kicker. A Motorcycle-riding, heavily-tatted lady of vengeance. In person Palmer, seemed chipper – which sounds like a word easily paired with her Australian accent- and jaw-droppingly attractive. Easy on the eyes if you will. She was a fun discussion. This was a roundtable interview, so I asked a number of the questions, one of which I think is pure Houx. See if you can guess which one:
Who kicks better ass, you or Number Four?
Oh, Number Six, only because, I don’t know what it would be like in the future. But she has been honing her skills for a really long time and so when she comes in, she’s experienced in her legacies and she knows how to use her powers. And Four is only just discovering his. So at the moment she would kick more butt. In a few years if he starts working on his legacies, I think it would be a pretty stiff competition.
Maybe we’ll see it in a sequel?
Maybe in the sequel, who knows. Hopefully enough people will like the movie and embrace the film and then we can have a sequel.
In a picture like this, are you already signed on?
We’re signed on for three. Which is actually pretty standard when you shoot a studio film, just in case it does well, they want to make sure you’re signed on for the sequels. And that’s always really funny. I remember when I got the contract, I was like, “oh how exciting, three movies.” But you never know if it’s going to happen, though I would definitely embrace the idea of a franchise.
So you’re signed on for Sorcerer’s Apprentice 2?
Um , yes, I yes, I have signed on for Sorcerer’s Apprentice 2 if, if that ever came to fruition (Palmer laughs).
What was your physical training for this film?
The physical training was very intense. I had a couple of months’ training. I learned martial arts, I became a stunt woman, I had to learn how to fall and how to fight and how to kick and punch people and ride on a Tek ATI Motorbike, so it was intense and I was black and blue for most of it. I found it very grueling. But at the same time exhilarating and it’s a nice feeling to know that you can kick some major butt.
You trained with Peng Zhang, correct?
Yes, and he is phenomenal.
One of the best martial arts instructors out there?
Absolutely and he not only is he so talented, he’s also very warm and lovable. And he would joke around. But he’s tough on me for sure. And we would be on set and we’d been training for six weeks, so I knew the movements I had to do. But if it wasn’t specific enough or sharp enough, he would yell “Jai yo!” at me, which mean, I think it means “keep going” or “energy energy” and it was really hard – I felt like I was in the Olympics. But I loved him, he was very encouraging.
Did you do a lot of your own stunts?
Yeah, I said to the stunt guys and Brad Allan – who stunt coordinated the film – that I wanted to do it all myself. I said “I want to just become Six.” And they said, “look, you’re not going to be able to do everything yourself, but you can train a lot so that you can do most of it.” I ended up doing everything but two shots in the movie. And that was when Six is thrown from one end of the room to the other room and she lands on a table and things crash on top of her. Insurance-wise, it wasn’t a good idea for me to do that one (Laughs). And then there was some side kick flip on the side of the wall, but I couldn’t do that either.
About doing all the stunts, how long into the shoot did you regret that decision?
Actually the first week of training I did not know what I signed up for. It was scary. I was in so much pain, my body was just aching, it wasn’t used to doing that, that intense training. And after that moment, something just clicked in and I became so motivated and determined to turn myself into a warrior. The nice thing about the stunt boys is that I didn’t want them to treat me like I was a fragile actress. I wanted to become a stuntwoman and I said that to them from the start. Which meant it was a lot harder, and they didn’t take no for an answer at times. I’d say I don’t know if I can do it and they said “yes you can, you’re going to be doing it.” I’m so glad they persevered with that and so did I and I saw the movie and I think it paid off.
This is an international cast all things considered, were your cast mates jealous you didn’t have to do an accent?
No, they weren’t jealous, but it was very refreshing for me to use my Australian dialect, ’cause usually I have to play an American or a British woman and it was nice to just be a South Australian alien, who would have thought? And I had to go in and ADR some of it at the end of the movie, because my accent is so thick that they couldn’t understand me at some points in the movie. So I Americanized some of my words. In fact my favorite line in the movie that Six says is, “lucky for you I saved your ass.” And no one could understand what I was saying, so I had to (very American) “lucky for you I saved your ass.” And then finally they understood me.
If you learned so much of the stunts in the training, what made you stand out in auditions… did you know the producers?
No, I didn’t, I just went in and tried to channel my inner Angelina Jolie and I wore head to toe black leather in the audition room and I was just trying to act all tough and it worked, I guess. They cast me only a few days after that.
Speaking of Angelina, is that a career you’d like to emulate or other careers you want to follow?
I would love to emulate Angelina Jolie’s career, I think there’s something very enchanting about her – almost intoxicating. I always want to see her movies, even if I hear that they’re not so good. If Angelina Jolie is in it I still am captivated by her and I love to see her work. I used her as a reference for this role – I watched Tomb Raider a few times and Wanted, and I think she really encapsulates what it is to be a female warrior. I just used all of that for Number Six.
She’s not doing Wanted 2.
Look out! I know it could be an opening.
Did you ever fall off the bike?
I did, yeah, that’s a good question. (laughs) I did fall off the bike. It’s a very fast bike. I started learning on a smaller dirt bike and we worked our way up to riding the Tek ATI. And then when I got to Pittsburgh, I’d been training on one specific type of Tek ATI, I get there and the bike’s completely different from what I’ve been training on. And the stance is different because the gas tank on the one in the movie, the red one, it’s at the front. And that means that I’m sort of lying on top of the bike when I’m riding. And it just feels so unbalanced and you’re just so vulnerable in that position. I had two days to learn how to ride like that. And it was difficult and I dropped the bike at one point. I was going kind of fast and then I stopped short. And I just felt it was a slow motion moment. It just started teetering over to the left. My facial expression just changed and I just saw stuntmen running at me from all different angles, like “no!!!!” I fell off. And then I realized “oh I’m okay.” I tried to lift the bike up – it’s just way too heavy for me to lift it up by myself. I had snapped the mirror off, I felt so awful. But they were happy that I was okay so they let me off the hook.
That was like half the budget!
You’ve also directed a documentary, tell us about that.
Yeah thank you, I’m glad that you picked up on that. I went to Kenya last year and worked with the Happy Africa Foundation and they’re this wonderful organization who places an emphasis on sustainability. And they go and they do aid work but they don’t try and take over from the people there, they work with the community. And I asked them “what areas do you need help in?” They’d tell us and then we’d go in and we help them. It’s sort of like that saying. “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime” and that’s what they do. And I decided to direct a documentary last minute. I took my little flip camera there – it was a guerrilla-style shoot. It’s really a study on happiness and what it means to different people from all around the world in different social circumstances. It was very eye opening. I thought I would go into that situation and want to teach them all about what I’ve learned being an Australian and living in America. And I found that I was learning so much more from them, and just about community and about love and, yes, they may be poor in material wealth. But they’re so rich in other things like love and spirituality. And the way they are with each other. So my documentary shifted into that area. It’s a work in progress though. I want to travel to a few other countries and collect more footage before I really start cutting it all together and before I release it.
Will it be a theatrical release or will you do the festival circuit?
The festival circuit I think, I have some people in Australia who are interested in producing it with me. And we’ve just actually come up with a list of countries we’re going to go to. You have to be very sensitive as well when you go into the country and you’re filming. And it’s just all about right timing and, and all that sort of stuff. But it, it’s definitely something I’m passionate about and it’s exciting.
Do you see yourself stepping into the director’s chair for future films?
Absolutely! I’m writing my first film at the moment, called Track Town with my producing partner Tahyna Tozzi and it’s actually a total contrast from the documentary, ’cause the doc places an emphasis on happiness and what that means, my movie is very dark. It’s in the realm of like The Wackness meets Animal Kingdom meets Thelma and Louise. It’s about two girls in the nineties in Adelaide, who end up getting themselves into a really dark situation. And they accidentally kill a seventeen-year-old boy who overdoses on some drugs that they give him. And they’re dealing with the ramifications of that. It’s essentially a road movie – they’re pursued and there’s a serial killer involved in there too and… it’s been quite a journey, actually, I never knew I knew how to write and I still don’t know if I do, but it’s a great challenge.
We’ll tell you.
Yeah, you can tell me.
Are you writing one of the roles for yourself?
I am, which is another reason why I love directing and writing, because there’s not a lot of material out there and constantly you read scripts that you don’t feel that connected to. And I have these dream roles in my head and I thought, “why not just write these roles for myself?” and create opportunities for me and my friends? I’m putting my friends in them and I’ve already found my DP and the script isn’t even written yet. Very ambitious.
Did you bond with (Co-star) Callan McAuliffe since you’re from the same country?
He’s my little buddy. Callan and I get on so well, he’s got a great sense of humor and I’m very proud of him. I just think he’s so endearing in this movie and he’s got an impeccable accent and I really think he’s going to be a big star. And we’re all going to be very proud of him when the film comes out in Australia.
As an Australian actress at what point in your career do people say you should try to learn an American accent?
I usually am playing American students in American films, so for me it was more refreshing to actually be using my natural dialect in this movie. And I embrace it, and I wonder if what happened to Keira Knightley will happen to me. She did Pirates of the Caribbean in her natural dialect and in a lot of films after that she was just British. I hope that I get to just keep being Australian in all these movies. But I have a feeling I’ll go back to the American dialect on the next film.
How long have you been working on the American dialect?
A long time. Well, probably since 2007 since I did my first American movie. Actually that was 2006, I did The Grudge Two which was my first American film, although my accent in that film is horrific. In 2007 I realized I had to work with a dialect coach and started working with Liz Himelstein who works with Nicole Kidman and, and Naomi Watts, and so she definitely has a great ear for the Australian accent peaking through in the American dialect. So she’s been very helpful for me.
And with that, she was done with us. I wish I could convey how saucy the exchange of “We’ll tell you” “Yeah, you can tell me.” came across, because it is that much more hot in the transcript. I Am Number Four opens on Friday.
SCHWAG DISCLOSURE: Cap and T-Shirt. Not really worth a fuss.