I sat down with Lights Out lead actress Teresa Palmer on Monday, July 18th to talk about her new film. Below is the full interview, with both my questions and Teresa’s responses.
JS: Where did you get the inspiration for your character? Where did it come from inside of you?
TP: “It’s funny because there’s a lot about her that I can relate to, and there’s a lot that feels really foreign to me about her. Certainly, I can relate to her dynamic with her mother; I have a similar one. My mum also suffers from schizoaffective disorder, so I could see where she was coming from. It’s like we both got to a crossroads, and I went one way and Rebecca went the other way. So, from that experience, it’s really enriched me. And, I really enjoyed my childhood even though it was a little dysfunctional at times, but she [Rebecca] has held on to the negative parts of it, and she’s focused on how her childhood has been obliterated. So, it was funny to try and put myself back in the situations that I have been in in my childhood and have a different relationship with them. It was really complex and at times very uncomfortable, but I loved it. I loved the experience, and it was therapeutic too. And then I had to listen to death metal and all these things that I’m not really that into, but it was cool to explore just a very different person from myself.”
JS: Did you get more into death metal from working on this movie?
TP: “No! Not so much!”
JS: It’s not your forte?
TP: “Eh…It was definitely not my forte, but some of the lyrics, once I could actually hear the lyrics beyond a lot of the noise, there were really interesting, inspiring, deep words that these people were writing about. It was coming from a place of suffering and wanting change, so I thought that was really interesting.”
JS: Obviously, the big scare of the movie is Diana, this creepy, shadowy figure that’s always in the background. Were any of your emotions or reactions to the scary moments and jump scares real surprise from having Diana on set, or was it all acting?
TP: “I loved that we wound up using practical effects because she was always there for the scenes, and I could react to her. In terms of being afraid, sometimes, when she would have to come up behind me, they would have her take her own timing. So, I would be crouching down knowing that she was coming, but not exactly knowing when she was going to come. That was a little unnerving. But, I knew Alicia, the girl who plays Diana, very well because we became friends on I Am Number Four, she was my stunt double on I Am Number Four. So, she would always talk to me about it, and by the end of it, I was like ‘You don’t even need to talk to me about it. You can just come out and grab me and do what you want to do,’ which was really helpful for me. But, it made our lives a lot easier having her right there in front of us because we had an image to look at, and she really gets under your skin and implants herself there. I certainly know that I brought that image home with me. In the dark, I would see what I thought was a silhouette of Diana, and obviously it wasn’t her. So, it’s smart, it’s really smart filmmaking to do that.”
JS: Are you afraid of the dark, or were you afraid of the dark as a kid?
TP: “I was! I was!”
JS: Have you gotten over it?
TP: “I have moved through it somewhat. I quite like the dark. I started doing this meditation in the darkness, which really helped. It’s called sensory deprivation meditation, and we actually used to do it at Moby’s house, the singer. And, so he would turn all the lights off, and it was so dark that you couldn’t even see anything in front of you, and you would do meditation and chanting. It was this kinda spiritual practice. That was so claustrophobic the first couple of times that it happened, and I needed to know where people were in the room. Then I really moved through that, so maybe that process healed my fear of the dark. Being a kid, I had a touch lamp, which was big in the 90’s, and I would turn it on all the time, constantly, in my room, or I would go and sleep in my mom’s bed.”
JS: Going along with the practical effects, I read in the production notes that the cast was able to do most of their own stunts. Did you enjoy doing your own stunt work?
TP: “Yeah, I did a lot of my stunt work. I didn’t do the big stuff; there was a throw over the balcony, I didn’t do that. I did get thrown up against the wall. I was the actor that years ago that said that I had to do all my own stunts, you could ask Alicia. I definitely did the majority of my stunts in I Am Number Four. I learned how to ride the motorbike, and I became a stunt woman to the point where the stunt coordinator said, ‘I would hire you as a stunt woman if you ever decided to not be an actor.’ Now that I’m a mum, I know that I’m not invincible, and it’s just not worth me going and hurting myself or breaking a bone when there are people that are paid and know how to do it better than me. So, I actually allowed my stunt double to do a lot of the bigger stuff. But, Alex DiPersia, this was his first big film, who played my boyfriend and is like a brother, he wanted to do everything. Of course, he has completely changed his mind, and on his next film, he’s going to let his stunt double do everything.”
JS: I also read that you actually really enjoy horror films, and I was looking through your filmography and it didn’t look like you had done a horror film up until this point. Was it your choice to not really do one before now or did you feel that now’s the time that you wanted to branch into that?
TP: “Well The Grudge 2 was one that I did, such a different movie; that was my first American film. The characters weren’t nearly as deep or complex as these ones, but it was a good entry into the world of horror. I learned on that movie how to scream and how to be afraid. So, cut ten years later, I decided to do this film and genre because I am so interested in ghosts and the supernatural. Everyone who knows me knows that about me. But, secondly, I think there is this new wave of horror films that are full of substance and interesting characters, and that to me is what makes it so wonderful and successful because we actually care about who these people are. And, it grounds these films in reality, when there’s this side of it, the supernatural aspect, that a lot of people don’t really believe in, so sometimes it can feel far from being authentic. So, when you have these real characters, and then throw the horror element in, everything suddenly seems much more authentic and real.”
JS: That makes sense, instead of just having the pure terror aspect of it.
TP: “Yeah, and then I think a lot of these characters were there to be killed in previous movies or to look pretty. Now, there’s a backstory, there’s complexity and darkness, there’s a journey that they go on from the start to the end. So, I think it’s important to choose films like that, and audiences seem to be gravitating towards those.”
JS: Would you do more horror movies now that you have done a bigger production one? TP: “Yeah! I would love to do a sequel to this film! That would be amazing, but you never know. We will see after this weekend, I guess! We will see how it goes.”
JS: Do you think this film will resonate with filmgoers?
TP: “I hope so! Already the reviewers love it, and it’s quite rare for a genre film to have such amazing reviews. So, that’s been very positive and certainly rewarding and is a good sign, but it’s about getting the awareness out there and really encouraging people to come see the movie. I hope that they do. I think everyone so far that I’ve taken to see the movie really enjoyed it and took a lot more away from it than just a horror film. So, we’ll see.”
JS: Who was your favorite actor to work with on set?
TP: “My favorite actor was Maria Bello, in terms of performance. She was so subtle in the way that she played schizophrenia on screen. I just loved her nuanced performance and the choices she made. She would touch her fingers and twist her fingers, and I remember seeing that with family members of mine who are mentally ill, like these little ticks that they would do. And, she had all those little ticks, and it felt like she could really get beneath who this character was and portray her in such a real way. It helped me so much in the scenes because I really felt that I was dealing with a mentally ill woman. I loved that! In terms of people, Alex and I got along really well, and he would tell me the most outrageous stories you can imagine. We had such different upbringings; he came from an extremely wealthy family, and as a result, had the most colorful, adventurous stories to share with me. There would be a little light in the darkness when we would do a scene then go off to the side and gossip about all these stories, so it was really nice.”
JS: One more question to wrap it up. Obviously, you are from Australia, so you have done both Australian films and now American films. Which do you like better and why?
TP: “It’s really hard to tell because I loved, loved, loved so many American movies that I have done. And then there’s something about home in my mother country that is refreshing and really reenergizes me. To me, it’s not so much the location or whether it’s an American film production or an Australian film production, it’s actually just the filmmakers and the story and the character. Gosh, I have so many that I enjoy. I have to say probably my favorite to shoot was shooting in L.A. That’s where my home is, that’s where my children are, that’s where my husband is, and I got to do that for Lights Out. It was amazing: I could go to work, then come home, with all the lights on, and sleep in my own bed. That’s such a rarity for people in my industry to be able to do that, so that was definitely a good choice.”