It’s easy to forget, when watching a movie, that it takes months upon months of filming to get that 90-minute cut. So when hearing the rundown of actress Teresa Palmer’s upcoming films, it’s somewhat difficult to comprehend how she has eight coming out this year.
“I haven’t really slept and I worked nonstop for the past two years,” Palmer said in her darling Australian accent. “In fact my manager, who’s been in the business for 35 years, is like, I’ve never in my career had a client work as much.”
Palmer’s 2016 kicks off with the Terrence Malick-directed Knight of Cups, which hits theaters today. Then there's Triple 9, a Los Angeles crime story starring Casey Affleck and Chiwetel Ejiofor; The Choice, a Nicholas Sparks adaptation with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson's Benjamin Walker; and, finally, Hacksaw Ridge, the very highly anticipated WWII drama that returns Mel Gibson to the director's chair.
“I love switching it up with all the different genres, because it keeps me on my toes,” she says. “I can’t afford to be lazy because I’m constantly having to push myself and get deeper into the work. That’s a challenge for me and I think I would get bored otherwise.”
Palmer, 30, didn’t plan for it to be this way. Two years ago, she was hunkering down with her husband and newborn son, Bodhi, when the roles starting coming in. “I had my son and I was expecting to have the year off, and not really do anything,” she said. “But all of a sudden these great opportunities starting coming my way and I was like alright, I’ll jump at these opportunities, if it means I can bring my son along with me.”
Currently, Palmer’s drawn to gritty, dark, independent films—which sparked her interest after filming “Berlin Syndrome,” a story about a young journalist in Germany who has a one-night stand and the next morning finds she’s held captive in her lover’s apartment. “It delves into the definition of Stockholm syndrome and what it means to love fiercely and intensely and passionately,” she said. “It’s violent and sexy and vulnerable and flawed and so many things.”
“It was the closest thing I’ve ever done to Method acting,” she continued. “It was [also] the first time I couldn’t enjoy bringing my son to set at lunchtime because I was in such a dark place and seeing him would bring me out of that place. I wouldn’t be as deeply in the character as I needed to be… That movie is the main reason why I feel like I need to take much time off.”
Palmer’s own life is not at all gritty or dark. With her high school best friend Phoebe Tonkin, she runs a website called Your Zen Life, a health and wellness blog. “I wanted our site to become this really positive community, where we were all uplifting one another instead of creating separatism or passing judgement on one another, because that happens so often in our lives,” she said.
She practices what she preaches. Throughout our interview she mentioned things like her “manifest board,” which just a few years ago featured the reclusive Malick himself. “He was like smack-dang in the middle of my manifest board,” she recalled. While Palmer chatted away for 20 or so minutes, Bodhi gurgled in the background, and at one point she stopped to translate for him, laughing. “He’s asked me if I would put milk on his boo boo from my breast…We’re still breast feeding,” she said.
“I live a very happy life,” she continued. “It’s very sunny and shiny. I’m not faced with constant turmoil. And maybe there’s something about being drawn to the darker material because I can explore those darker parts of myself, which I think each and every one of us has within us.”
That could be the premise of Malick’s film, which sees Christian Bale cycling through a litany of women (Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman among them) in an effort to find himself. The women represent his different facets, light and dark, and Palmer plays a carefree Vegas stripper. Though there’s not much in the way of plot, it’s a meditative examination of the human quest for happiness, helped along by the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who just won his third Oscar for The Revenant.
“[Terrence] encourages you to bring life into your character in a way that’s drawing upon our own essence,” Palmer said. “I play a character that’s so interesting and vibrant and wild and erratic and playful and I have those elements in my personality yet they’re sometimes quite suppressed, just living my life and working and having a family. It was really liberating to have this journey of self exploration.”
Although perhaps her journey was a little two convincing—Bale thought Palmer actually was a stripper throughout filming. “When I first met Christian, I heard him speaking in an American accent and I was like, 'Oh, my goodness, he’s a method actor! He’s staying in character, I need to stay in character!” she said. “So then I came up with this elaborate backstory about like, I’m a stripper, I’m from Virginia, I have a daughter, and I’m a dancer—I don’t like to call it a stripper.”
Bale believed her, and it wasn’t until months later when he was driving down Sunset Boulevard and saw Palmer on a billboard for the movie Warm Bodies that he realized he’d been duped. “He was like, hang on a second…that’s that stripper!” said Palmer.
Talk about acting chops.