In October 2011, I was lucky enough to visit the set of Jonathan Levine‘s Warm Bodies. The film follows R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie who falls in love with the non-zombie Julie (Teresa Palmer) after eating her boyfriend’s brains. Judging by the trailers, it looks like Levine has crafted a sweet, funny rom-zom-com.
In addition to getting zombified on the set, I got the chance to interview Rob Corddry. Corddry plays “M”, R’s best friend and fellow zombie. During our interview, we talked about the physicality of his character, working with Cirque du Soleil to get the right movements, his appreciation of the zombie genre, his [adult swim] TV series Children’s Hospital, and much more. Hit the jump to check out the interview. Warm Bodies opens February 1st.
Can you introduce us to your character in the film and his trajectory in the story?
CORDDRY: I play “M” and like most best friends in movies, he is the guy that is there to at first to be sort of the foil to the main character. To support him and yet also be his worst enemy. To remind him that there is a ticking clock and we have to get to the 3rd act. And generally act as the opposite to the main character. The only difference is, in this movie, I mainly do that mostly with grunts.
The whole concept that zombies have best friends, I mean that there is a personal relationship, we’ve never explored that before.
CORDDRY: Yeah! The way I wrapped my head around that was I guess because ‘R’ and I, ‘R’ is like the most advanced zombie, are sort of coming out of it. And I’m sort of in the next wave, that we must have some kind of feeling for that kind of thing instinctively. But also in the book, my character is a sex fiend. He tries to have sex with women in a bathroom and like ust bumps up against them naked. You’re definitely going to want to put that in your [piece]. Summit’s gonna love that. It’s not in the movie. So they do, they don’t remember, but they have some kind of gut instinct for what it’s like to be human. Ultimately it’s frustrating for them. They don’t really remember what it is, but they do follow these patterns. For instance, I don’t know if we’re going to do this but I suggested to Jonathan that when we first meet my character, he’s just standing and staring at the airport bar. Because he just knows that this is somehow very significant to him at some point in time. So he just sits there and stares and tries to figure it out. We haven’t shot that scene yet, Jonathan goes ‘That’s a great idea. It’s probably about a $25,000 idea’. Because we have to build the bar. So we’ll see exactly how much he liked it.
Is doing kind of a pretty non lingual performance kind of like being in a silent movie?
CORDDRY: No. Not at all, actually. Because in a silent movie people had to mostly rely on their expressions. And zombies also don’t do much by way of expressing.
CORDDRY: Um, no. My bag of tricks… I guess with this movie,I sometimes tend to overprepare. For this movie I think I have prepared as much I should have in that I didn’t do that much in terms of my character. It’s all mostly just physical stuff. In terms of my character there’s nothing to base him on. The real work and preparation for me was being prepared in the moment, on camera, to react. And trust that I know what I’m doing.
Does your character know his name is ‘M’? Or is he named ‘M’ because that’s the sound he makes?
CORDDRY: It doesn’t happen on camera, but yeah. We eventually, he says “I’m ‘M’.” And he’s ‘R’, and I figure it’s just because when we’re talking maybe at one point I pointed to myself and went “Mmmm” like I’m trying to say ‘Marcus’, which is actually my name. Turns out in the last scene of the movie I say, ‘My name’s Marcus’. And he’s like ‘R’ and he doesn’t know either. She makes his name ‘R’, and I imagine that’s just as close as we can get.
What’s his physicality of ‘M’? Is he shambling? Is he running? Is he limber? Is he falling to pieces?
CORDDRY: It’s interesting because you, and you guys will be faced with this later today, you don’t want to be the George Romero Zombie with their arms out and they can’t bend their knees. But also don’t want to be the ’28 Days Later’ rage virus zombies because they’re just like wild animals. It’s sort of somewhere in between. It’s really like, they don’t feel pain, right? They don’t feel really anything. So just imagine what your body would feel like if you couldn’t feel anything. You’re not going to spend too much time, we spend so much time holding up our shoulders and making sure that we’re breathing. We dont even do it consciously. So they’re just pretty slack, everything’s kind of slack in the face. And, if anything, the two choices I made – one is motivated, one is not – because I tend to walk duck-footed in life, I just made ‘M’ very pigeon-toed and that alone changes my entire kind of body language. So that was kind of enough.
‘M’ goes through a lot of physical violence.
CORDDRY: He does?
In the book.
CORDDRY: Oh shit. I hope my stuntman knows this.
CORDDRY: No, not really. No. See because this is a move and I’m so goddamn pretty. I’m so pretty that they wanted to retain this. Because this right here is the money [he points to his face]. You can’t scratch it up because the girls will be like ‘nuh-uh. No. Where’s the Rob Corddry we’ve come to be slightly repulsed by?
Was there any type of zombie training camp or school?
CORDDRY: Yeah actually. Nick and I spent an afternoon with this guy from Cirque Du Soleil and we kind of bounced around a room about this size for a couple hours and then went outside and ran. Because zombies can run. When we’re looking for food, they run.
With the Cirque du Soleil what were the…
CORDDRY: He actually helped me a lot. He had us lean up against a wall and sort of put all our weight on the wall and then sort of pull yourself slooowy of the wall, [French accent] ‘As if the wall is giving birth to you”. It really appealed to my pretentious college theater training. And then we just walked around, stared at each other and grunted for a few hours.
And out of the 45 shooting days how many are you on set for?
CORDDRY: I think exactly half. It’s been both one of the easiest and one of the hardest shoots that I’ve been on. Because I’ve been up here in Montreal for pretty much the whole time but I’m shooting half the days. So it’s a lot of time away from my family.
It’s a good town for that.
CORDDRY: Vodka and whores mostly. First thing in the morning. No, I have a show on Adult Swim called Children’s Hospital and we start shooting on December 1st so I pretty much spend all of my downtime writing. Yesterday I woke up and didn’t even put pants on. I just sat at my desk all day long and then went to bed when it got dark. So that’s pretty much my time off.
As journalists we can understand that.
CORDDRY: Yeah, exactly. My ass hurts as much as yours does. How do you do it?
So you seem pretty well informed about the Romero zombies and the 28 Days Later zombies. Are you a zombie guy? Are you a fan of the genre?
CORDDRY: Very much. Very much so. Before I even got this movie I was very fond of saying I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad zombie movie. And, really I’m hard pressed to think of one. Even the bad ones are pretty great.
There’s a couple.
CORDDRY: Name one. I know the really bad good ones.
Survival Of The Dead.
CORDDRY: I like all the …Of The Dead movies. I like all of them. Even the worst George Romero one is the one that’s in the one that’s like in the 70’s with the army. It’s Day Of The Dead and even Day Of The Dead it’s like, ‘bright’. It’s daytime. It’s not his best but it’s still great. Oh and I’d have to say I think that the first ones I ever saw were those mid-80’s kind of comedic, campy zombie movies -
CORDDRY: Return Of The Living Dead. There were two of them, right? That’s what got me into it. Because it’s kind of silly, but it was scary as well.
Can you talk about the comedy part of this? Because I know that Jonathan Levine has some comedy chops and obviously you’re a comedian. How comical does this film get?
CORDDRY: It’s less of a comedy than I thought it was, to tell you the truth. Like any good script it has its funny moments so it’s not just a dirge all the time. Dirge and romance. And my character is largely I guess at times the comedic relief. But that’s being very generous to say. I would say that it’s only funny in the way that a lot of these kinds of movies are. Like, young kind of romance. That’s what it is. Young romance with this kind of element to it.
You said in the book that ‘M’ was a sex fiend. Do you think zombies can get boners?
CORDDRY: Do I think zombies can get boners? Uh, no. Absolutely not. But I think that towards the end of then movie when they start becoming more human, I think ‘M’ is probably the first to experience one.
There are different levels of zombies. There are the ‘Bonies’. Can you walk us through some of that?
CORDDRY: Yeah, I guess the challenge with a story like this, it’s really the first movie where it’s told from a zombie’s point of view. Zombies are the protagonists so you’re faced then with the lack of an enemy, right? So it brings a new element to the zombie mythology [in that] zombies now devolve. If you’re a zombie for too long, or perhaps for some other reason, I guess the same reason we don’t really know what changes ‘R’ and everybody back into humans it could be a similar mystery, they devolve into what they call ‘Bonies’, which are just devoid of any connection to their human side. It’s just a complete new species and they’re all evil. And they can get erections. Rock solid. Really metal.
CORDDRY: Yeah, this is sort of my action badass scene. Which I love. I’ve got a couple of those, [Eastwood voice] ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll go get ‘em” type of lines! And, ‘Take care of the girl I’m gonna go kick some ass”! I’ve got a couple of those lines in the movie and today I’ve got two of them. So that’s what I’m doing today. I’m being a badass zombie.
What can we expect from the next season of Children’s Hospital? Will it remain as sensitive and caring as it’s been the last couple of seasons?
CORDDRY: Children’s Hospital, if possible, will have even less heart than the last three seasons.
Here’s more from my visit to the set of Warm Bodies:
- Matt Visits the Set of Warm Bodies and Gets Turned into a Zombie
- Director Jonathan Levine Talks about Zombie Movies, What He Learned from 50/50, Horror and Romance, and More on the Set of Warm Bodies
- Nicholas Hoult Talks about Eating Brains, Playing an Unconventional Hero, Communicating without Words, and More on the Set of Warm Bodies
- Teresa Palmer Talks about Her Favorite Zombie Movie, Having a Relationship with a Zombie, the Influence of Romeo and Juliet, and More on the Set of Warm Bodies
- Producer Bruna Papandrea Talks Working with Director Jonathan Levine, Aiming for a PG-13 Rating, Zombie Sex, and More on the Set of Warm Bodies