By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Aussie transplant Teresa Palmer, calling from her Hollywood-area home, reveals that she recently returned from Adelaide, her hometown, where she was making arrangements for the upcoming birth of her second child.
“I’m not going to be back in Adelaide until I’m 36 weeks (into the pregnancy) so I was like, ‘I should probably meet my birthing team before then in case this baby decides to come early,’” she reveals in her perky way.
A busy working mom, Palmer, 30, finds it necessary to stay organized. In the past two years, the blond, blue-eyed beauty has completed nine films. Nicholas Sparks’ romantic drama “The Choice” and the action-heist remake “Point Break,” hit theaters earlier this year. Now, the psychological horror drama “Lights Out,” is set to debut.
Having started out doing school plays, Palmer began appearing in Australian films while still a teenager. She made her Hollywood feature debut in the horror sequel “The Grudge 2,” but really became noticed when she played the love interest to “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe in 2007’s coming-of-age drama “December Boys.” Other credits include playing Adam Sandler’s love interest in “Bedtime Stories,” Topher Grace’s love interest in the ‘80s homage “Take Me Home Tonight, ” starring n the sci-fi action thriller with Alex Pettyfer in “I Am Number Four” and the 2013 zombie romantic drama “Warm Bodies,” with Nicholas Hoult.
A woman of action, Palmer met her future husband, actor-director Mark Webber, when she introduced herself to him via Twitter a few years ago. They began dating in 2013 and were married by the end of that year. They co-wrote and co-starred in the 2014 drama “The Ever After,” which he directed. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Bodhi, and share custody of Webber’s eight-year-old son, Isaac, from a previous relationship.
In “Lights Out,” Palmer plays Rebecca, a young woman who is estranged from Sophie (Maria Bello), her schizophrenic mother. Reluctantly, she is pulled back into her family’s troubles when half-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) starts experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that had once tested and threatened her safety. Rebecca and her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), head over to Sophie and Martin’s home where a dark and dangerous entity called Diana, has resurfaced. What remains uncertain is whether the entity is real or something conjured by Sophie from her damaged psyche.
“Lights Out” is directed by first time feature filmmaker David F. Sandberg, and based on the scary three-minute short film he made and posted on YouTube a few years ago. To date, that short film (also called “Lights Out”) has gotten more than a million views.
Palmer was unaware of the short film when she was approached to star in the feature-length version, produced by horrormeister James Wan (“The Conjuring” movies) but knew she was in for an exciting and frightening ride when she tried to watch it at night alone with her sleeping baby. Spooked, she waited to watch it with her husband the next day, and was hooked.
Q: It’s a mystery to the audience for much of the film whether Diana is real or imagined by Maria Bello’s character?
Palmer: I know. Is it a figment of her imagination? That’s my favorite kind of film—whether it’s really going on and if it’s actually happening or if it’s manifested from this mental illness?
Q: Had you seen the short film on which this is based?
Palmer: I read the script but I didn’t realize it was based on a short. So I went home that night and my husband happened to be out of town. I’m there with my little baby and I started to watch this. I stopped watching halfway through, and thought, “No, this is not happening. I don’t have my husband here to protect me. I’m supposed to turn the lights off so my baby can sleep. So I’m not watching this until daylight.” So it already had freaked me out because it’s just that simple premise of playing on our fear of the dark. It’s a primal, instinctual kind of fear, and I wasn’t willing to trigger that in myself until I was sitting next to my husband with the lights on. After that, I was like, “There’s something really interesting here.”
Q: Did you have a fear of the dark before making this?
Palmer: I am pretty good at sleeping in the dark. I actually sleep with an eye mask on. I have earplugs in and an eye mask on because I like to get into that darkened state before I sleep. But my actual room is quite bright because the moonlight streams in to our window. I like it that way. I want it to be dark where I’ve made it dark with my eye mask but I want the room to be a little lighter so if I pop the mask off, I can see everything in the room.
Q: You want to be in control of the level of darkness?
Palmer: Exactly. But I was petrified of the dark when I was a kid. I slept in my mum’s bed until I was 11 or 12.
Q: What was it like working with Maria Bello?
Palmer: Maria is fantastic. Just to watch her portray that character in such a realistic manner. It was really important to me, to be honest, who played that role and how they played it. I was cast first, and they asked me who I thought should play Rebecca’s mother. I was really nervous because I grew up with my mother having a similar disorder. I know that world so well. It was just my mom and me. It’s all through my family. I’ve experienced it. I know it so well that I’m very sensitive to when it’s portrayed onscreen.
I felt that whoever did this role had to do it justice, and then Maria came in and it was like being slapped back into my childhood. She was phenomenal. Just her little idiosyncrasies—the way she moved her fingers and her hands. The way her voice was, it was just a beautiful portrayal of a woman struggling with mental illness. I think it’s one of the most isolating things someone can deal with. So I really loved (Maria); we really connected.
It’s all through my family. I’ve experienced it. I know it so well that I’m very sensitive to when it’s portrayed onscreen.
Q: What was it like working with her and this child actor Gabriel Bateman, who plays your half-brother?
Palmer: Gabriel is just this beautifully present little actor who could sink his teeth into this role in a way that I haven’t seen other child actors do before. He was really scared and I really felt for him because in order to play that character he had to really believe what he was seeing was real. To watch a little boy be afraid like that, especially as a mother to boys, was hard.
Q: Was it helpful to have Alicia Vela-Bailey who plays Diana as a real creature as opposed to being CGI?
Palmer: I know Alicia. She was my stunt double on “I Am Number Four.” We became really good friends on that and would go to the gym together. So on this, she texted me and said, “I’m in your movie. I’m playing this entity.” So I knew she would be in this dark suit. They didn’t tell me when she was on set. She was on the ground scratching on the floor and then I saw her. I screamed out loud and everyone started laughing. At first it was shocking to see her in real life. Just the way she could contort her body was terrifying, and then we’d see her (on the set) in a chair reading a book or taking selfies as Diana. It was bizarre.
Q: How easy is it to be scared throughout?
Palmer: The energy kind of followed you around. Everyone felt uneasy in that house. It was very scary, no offense to the owner.
Q: What did you think of the finished film?
Palmer: It affected me in a way I was not expecting. You’re really transported to this world and it’s completely terrifying.
Q: Did becoming a mom affect how you approached it? Did you have a different sense of what family meant?
Palmer: Certainly it opened me up emotionally in every aspect, the dynamic with the little brother. I felt feelings for (Gabriel) that I hadn’t felt on film sets before. I was such a mama bear not only to the character but also the actor. He had to go to some very vulnerable places and I was always checking in with him and making sure he was OK.
I was never like that before (I had my first son). I used to just goof around with my co-stars. So I was very much emotionally invested in his well being. It helped our dynamic onscreen. I loved him and cared about him. My oldest son—my stepson—is his age, and he’d come to set all the time. They used to hang out and kick the soccer ball around in front of the house. It was lovely.
Q: How was it working with a first-time director?
Palmer: David (Sandberg) is very soft-spoken, and one day he came up to me and said (in a quite voice), “This can be stressful, sometimes.” I was like, “That’s your stressed out? You’re unbelievable. How are you so calm?” Even if he was stressed or nervous, you never felt it from him. He made this short film that became so successful. It came out of his brain. Everyone believed in him and I could tell on set that he knew what he was doing.
Q: Was producer James Wan hands-on with this film? Did he suggest some ideas?
Palmer: Yeah, he came to visit us a bunch of times. He’s obviously the king of this genre but he put his trust in (first time director) David Sandberg, and really believed in him. He handed him the reins. Sure, he oversaw the process and every now and then he’d come in with this brilliant note, even if it was just to move something from one spot to another, and it would make such a difference. That was really special.
Q: You get tossed around quite a bit in this. Did you do your own stunts?
Palmer: No, I had a stunt double. Years ago, when I did “I Am Number Four” and “Warm Bodies,” I insisted on doing a lot of my own stunts. I was so confident about doing everything myself. I loved it. I became just like s stuntwoman. So I knew I could do it. But now, being a mum, I realize I’m not so invincible. I still want to have more babies and I don’t want to get injured.
Q: After you have your baby, do you have other projects lined up?
Palmer: It was good that I always had this loose plan where I’d have my baby, Bodhi, and then I’d work for two years, and then I’d have another baby. That’s actually unfolded organically in a way. I did nine films in two years, which is really intense. Especially the end of last year, it was the most intense period of working for me because I had no time off between Mel Gibson’s film and the “Berlin Syndrome” (an Australian film directed by Cate Shortland). Both of them were probably the hardest movies I’ve ever done, so I was emotionally and physically spent at the end of the year. I was like, “That’s it. I’m taking (2016) off.” Then I figured it was a perfect time to get pregnant and have a baby. So it’s worked out really well. Now, I’m promoting all of these films, which is wonderful. And then I’ll have my baby at the end of the year, and get back into it all again next year, and start working again. As long as people are willing to have my baby sons come with me, then I would love to keep working and keep the ball rolling.