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Teresa Palmer Talks Aussie Thriller ‘Wish You Were Here’ & The Upcoming ‘The Ever After’ With Mark Webber

Teresa Palmer Talks Aussie Thriller 'Wish You Were Here' & The Upcoming 'The Ever After' With Mark Webber

On the sun-kissed coast of Cambodia, four young Australians party, explore and kick back and relax, soaking up the sun during the day, and sweating it out at night. But this idyllic backdrop holds something far more sinister in store and when only three of the four return home, so begins a mystery crossing national borders, and poised to fundamentally change the lives of everyone involved. So begins “Wish You Were Here,” a lean thriller from director Kieran-Darcy Smith, from a script he co-wrote with one of the film’s stars (and his wife), Felicity Price, in a picture that features two of Australia’s hottest exports at the moment, Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer.

And it’s the actress we caught up with on the phone last week to talk about the movie, made under the Blue Tongue Films banner, a production house of like-minded collaborators that has put its stamp on movies like “Animal Kingdom,” “The Square” and “Hesher.” And while we did touch upon her work on Terrence Malick‘s “Knight Of Cups” (read out that here) as well as some of her upcoming projects (which we’ll get to), the thriller was at the center of attention, and what caught Palmer’s eye in the first place, was just the chance to work with the Blue Tongue clan.

“I read the script and I immediately signed on because I loved the story, I loved the idea of shooting back in Australia again, playing this complex character, and just being involved in this film. I loved the Blue Tongue guys, I think they’ve produced some great quality movies, and I wanted to be a part of one of them,” she explained.

The film follows the married Dave and Alice (Edgerton and Price), who following the mysterious and unexplained disappearance of their traveling companion in Cambodia, are trying to press on with their lives. Palmer plays Steph, Alice’s sister, who was also on the trip, and who’s boyfriend is the one that went missing. She initially stays behind in Cambodia hoping to pick up some thread on where he’s gone, but she eventually returns home to Australia and is the key to some explosive revelations, but as Palmer makes clear, her character wasn’t designed to draw ire from the audience.

“It was very important for all of us to make sure that Steph isn’t the antagonist; she isn’t the villain in this film,” Palmer said. “She makes some really bad choices and she can be very irresponsible. We just wanted her to come across as a flawed human being; she really does mean well, she’s just lost and really navigating through what it’s like to be a 25-year-old woman. I think that if there was a second movie she’d be a very different person because [of] the experiences and it’s a fine line because she makes some awful mistakes, but then we also have to feel for her, too, so it was important to get that vulnerability right.”

And indeed, Darcy-Smith’s direction and precise script (“It’s actually a rarity to stick very close to the script, but this script was so good; it was already completely there on the page.”) adds textures to the somewhat, mercurial Steph (at least at first) in a movie that contains a very controlled tone. But this isn’t a bloodless movie by any stretch. Understandably, the drama that unfolds in Australian following the disappearance is a bit more raw, but the Cambodia flashback sequences — shot on location — spark and breathe with life and freedom, capturing what was a very loose run-and-gun approach.

“It was amazing,” Palmer shared about those scenes. “In the script it was [described as] loose montages in Cambodia, so we winged it when we were there. We got the camera and we were like tourists; we went into the markets, we looked around, and they just filmed us interacting with the locals. It was a really wonderful experience…They had loose ideas of where we were going to film, but we had no control over crowds. We didn’t have any extras, it was very much guerrilla style shooting, dealing with shots and walking through markets and really capturing our faces as we were holding on to these big spiders crawling over our bodies. We watched a snake get gutted and all these interesting things and they’re a part of the Cambodian culture. We got to experience that as they were filming the movie, so it’s very authentic.”

But, ultimately, it was the entire production — which shot a tight 26 day schedule — that inspired Palmer, who after starring in several bigger Hollywood films, found herself going back to the roots of the kind of movies she made at the beginning of her career. “It was very refreshing to me because I first started out doing movies in this way, and I loved making tiny, independent films and feeling like a collaborator and that’s what I could feel in this movie,” Palmer shared. “I felt a part of this family, and that I was making this film just as much as Kieran Darcy-Smith was and so it just feels very different. I felt like I had more of a say in my costumes that I wore; I had a say in my hair and makeup, and it was fantastic. It was really liberating as an actor to be able to have so much say in who you’re playing.”

And it’s that free spirit of working as team that she’s bringing to “The Ever After” (formerly known as “The Fun In Forever“), an independent project she’s producing, that she co-wrote with Mark Webber, who is getting behind the camera. “I am now doing a film that we start shooting July 22nd in Los Angeles and then the film that I wrote with my partner Mark Webber. He’s directing it, we’re both starring in it, and we’re playing a married couple. I’m playing a married woman who deals with postpartum depression and Melissa Leo stars in the film, she just attached herself which is really exciting. I play a version of myself that blurs the lines between reality and fiction; the majority of it is improvised,” Palmer explained. “We’re largely inspired by what I did with Terrence Malick, but also Mark is inspired by Gena Rowlands and Nick Cassavettes and movies like ‘A Woman Under The Influence‘; just the way they made their films together and that’s what our dream is.  Mark and I want to continue to do this in our life and that’s a really fulfilling experience.”
And it’s all rather remarkable, given that at only 27 years old, Palmer has gone from indie movies to Hollywood fare, and from an actress, to someone who can now add writer, producer and director to her CV. And it’s something Palmer is more than aware of. “It’s funny because it’s come full-circle; I started out in a film that was all about the human spirit and overcoming adversity. I played a rape victim, who’s pregnant with my brother’s baby called ‘2:37‘ that premiered at Cannes, and I loved that story and I loved how much that impacted people and moved people in a beautiful way,” she reflected. “Of course I came out to Hollywood and I got put in these big Hollywood studio films and it was really exciting, and it was important to me to raise my profile so that I can be in the position to be able to make my own movies and be in independent films again. For me I’m just inspired by stories that can make a positive change and impact people in a beautiful way and that’s what I hope to continue to do in the future.”
I never feel totally fulfilled. I constantly want to keep pushing myself and I love the idea of telling stories that I want to tell; and I’m interested in producing and filmmaking, but I’m also very connected to philanthropy and documentary filmmaking and working on my website, which is a health, wellness, and spirituality site; it keeps me very busy,” she added. And as long as Palmer keeps making choices as interesting as “Wish You Were Here” and embarking on projects from the heart like “The Ever After,” we’ll be checking to see what she’s up to next.
“Wish You Were Here” opens on Friday, June 7th.

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