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"I have to not take myself too seriously and I have to realise that if it is meant to be, it will be."
An interview with Take Me Home Tonight’s “The Frederking”

If you’re an 18-year old nascent film actress, and your first speaking part is in a low-budget Australian indie directed by a 19-year-old who gathered the financing by knocking on neighborhood doors, you wouldn’t expect the gig to take you to Cannes a year later or lead to Hollywood auditions. With no delusions of grandeur, Adelaide native Teresa Palmer couldn’t have dreamed of such an outcome for her film debut. But that’s what happened.

2:37, directed by teenager Murali K. Thalluri, turned out to be a potent, extraordinarily crafted fictional account of high school social unease and teen suicide. The film premiered at Cannes in 2006, and Palmer, whose character was burdened by a dark secret, was singled out from an ensemble of moving performances. The following year, she appeared opposite Daniel Radcliffe in December Boys, and by 2008 landed a plum Hollywood supporting role in Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler.

Since moving to Hollywood, Palmer’s work has been rooted in comedy and fantasy. On the heels of last summer’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, she currently can be seen as Number 6 in the teen sci-fi romance I Am Number Four and as Tori Frederking (aka “The Frederking”), the girl of Topher Grace’s dreams in the ’80s comedy Take Me Home Tonight, which features a wealth of young comedic actors, including Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Chris Pratt, Demetri Martin and Lucy Punch, along with leading man Grace, who also executive produced the film.

Under the Radar met with Teresa Palmer last month in Beverly Hills.

Take Me Home Tonight is set in 1988. You must have been an infant back then.
Two. [laughs]

Did you do any research on the period?
I did. I was given an ’80s kit that was put together by Topher Grace and Gordon Kaywin, the producing partner. It was full of John Hughes movies and Flashdance and an ’80s soundtrack. It was my first experience with the ’80s. I don’t really remember anything about being four years old in the ’80s. It’s strange for me to have my first experience while shooting a movie.

Did you have any input on the look of your character?
Yeah, definitely. Working on this film, it was great. It was such a collaboration. Everyone was on the same page. We wanted Tori to be the quintessential golden girl, and that meant finding the perfect dress. We’re at the party all in one day, so I really only have two outfit changes: my outfit at the mall, and then my gold vintage Halston dress for the party. We found that pretty quickly. But then it was all about, “How big do we make the hair? How far do we go with the makeup?” We started off really huge, and then we scaled it back, because Topher said, “Look, I know it’s the ’80s, but we still want her to look attractive.” [laughs] So, it was an interesting journey.

I was curious about that, because, when Tori first appears at the party, your hair is pretty high, but in subsequent scenes it’s toned down.
Yeah, it flattens down. [laughs]

Had you worked in comedy before this film?
No, this is my first experience doing a comedy. And then I did Bedtime Stories after this film.

What was the most daunting or challenging aspect of working with so many talented comedic actors?
It was just very intimidating. Especially the first few days, I just knew I was not the funny person in the group. I was surrounded by comedic geniuses, which is very daunting. The good thing is, I knew I didn’t have to really make the audience laugh. That’s not what my character is there for; she doesn’t serve that purpose. But they were such warm and genuine people. I never felt intimidated after the first day. I was just part of the gang, and we became so close on this movie. In fact, two of them got married. Chris Pratt and Anna Faris are married, and they met on the movie. It was a really beautiful time in my life, and I feel blessed to be part of such an amazing cast.

During the opening titles, is that a shot of you playing volleyball?
It is! Yes, I used to play volleyball at school. I played softball and netball and volleyball, and I was a horse rider. So, it was exciting. I was definitely channeling my teenage self when I was shooting that for the opening sequence.

Seeing your car in the film, the Volkswagen Rabbit, I was immediately struck by how long it’s been since I’ve seen one of those on the road.
That’s what we wanted people to feel. We wanted audiences to go into the movie and have the sense of nostalgia. And I think what we did, which is very smart, was we didn’t make fun of the ’80s. We didn’t spoof it. We really explored it and celebrated that time. It was such a magical time people’s life, and I like that. It feels as though this movie was actually made in the ’80s.

Your character’ last name, Frederking. Do you know where that comes from?
The Frederking. I think Michael Dowse, the director, knew someone called The Frederking from high school. So we made it her last name, and we thought it was very cool to call her by her last name, The Frederking. It’s very typical for the popular girl at school to be known by their last name.

In the film, Topher’s character, Matt, tells a pretty big lie to gain Tori’s interest. What’s the biggest lie you’ve been caught telling?
Hmm, I would have to think about that. I don’t lie as much as I sugarcoat things, but there was this instance at school. The guy I was dating, he referred to himself as a graffiti artist, but really he was just this delinquent who used to go around schools and spray-paint walls. He went to my private Catholic school on my birthday, in the middle of the night, and spray-painted the entire school with Happy Birthday Tezza, which is my nickname. I remember turning up on Monday, and everyone in the entire school was staring at me. I was in year 10. And I got dragged into the principal’s office, and I pretended I didn’t know who Tezza was – when it was quite obviously my nickname – and I had no idea what was going on. I ended up getting suspended a few days because I wouldn’t give up my boyfriend’s name.

You grew up in Adelaide?
Adelaide, South Australia.

What was that like?
It was amazing. I had such a great upbringing. It’s a very family-oriented place. They also call it The City of Churches, which it is. But it’s very pretty, and we had amazing summers, and it was a very beach-oriented upbringing. I’d eventually love to bring up my own family there.

Did you have a church upbringing?
I did, yeah. I was religious, Catholic, a very good Catholic girl. Now I’m more so spiritual. I’m very spiritual now, and it’s very important. It’s a priority in my life, but I haven’t really been going to church, much to my mother’s dismay. [laughs]

You parents are churchgoers?
Oh no, my dad is an atheist. My parents divorced. My dad and my stepmom, they’re atheists, and my mom is very religious. [laughs]

What was that like growing up?
Well, they divorced when I was two-and-a-half, so I don’t remember them being together, and I really cannot picture them being together whatsoever. They are polar opposites. So, it was cool. I actually had the best of both worlds. I got to experience both arguments. [laughs] And yeah, I end up sort of splitting the middle. I’m more religious than I am not, but I’m not nearly as Catholic as my mom. She goes to church every day.

Them being polar opposites, do you recognize traits of each in yourself?
They’re polar opposites in their business sense and their spiritual beliefs, but they’re both very gentle, warm, shy. They’re sweet, and so, they’re the same in that way. And I have that side of me, but I’m also a lot more gregarious than my parents and more outgoing. I think I actually get that from my grandma.

I read that you wanted to become a teacher before you got into acting.
Yeah, I did. I’m a typical ENFJ. I don’t know if you’ve done the Myers-Briggs personality test. It’s one of the famous personality tests that was started in the 1950s, and my result was ENFJ, and they’re actually called “the teacher.” That is very much who I am, and I love teaching. I’m passionate about it. I actually went back last year, and I taught the year 12 students at my old high school. I taught the drama class, and I had them run scenes from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The film was coming out three weeks after that, so I filmed them doing the scenes, and then sure enough, in three weeks they got to go to the cinema and actually watch that scene in the movie.

That’s cool!
Yeah, they really enjoyed it!

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to teach?
I always wanted to teach drama and English. I guess they were the subjects I was best at.

How old were you when you shot 2:37?
I was 18. It was in 2004, and then we did some re-shoots in 2005.

Did you have a good sense, when you were shooting the film, how it would play out on screen with those overlapping threads?
No, not at all. I had never acted in my life. I was just thrown in the deep end. I had to play a rape victim who’s pregnant with my brother’s baby. I just didn’t know at all how it was going to turn out. We hit door bells to get money. I did my own hair and makeup. We were rewriting scenes. We got paid like a hundred dollars a day. It was just a very, very small film, and we had no idea what it was going to look like, or that, especially, that it would have its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

And Murali was 19 when he shot it?
Yeah, he was 19, I was 18, and we were all learning. We were just kids learning how to make a film. It’s so surreal to think that we went to Cannes with it. And it kickstarted my career! It’s what made everything happen.

Do you know what he’s up to now?
Murali’s a great friend of mine, yeah. He’s writing scripts, and he’s got a film called Jewel, which his really heartbreaking and beautiful. He also has a film called World War III, which he’s been writing. He’s very talented, and he’s just trying to figure out what his passion project is. He got offered a lot of movies after 2:37, but he wanted to focus on his own stuff. He felt that he was more connected to doing that rather than taking on someone else’s passion project.

Was it after that film that you began to audition for roles out here in Los Angeles?
Yeah, it was. I did 2:37. Then, after I did that film, I emailed an agent in Sydney, Ann Churchill-Brown, who represented at the time, Heath Ledger and Nicole Kidman, so I sort of got this Australian agent, and she decided to send me out to America pretty much straight away. And I met with managers before Cannes happened, and got signed up with a manager, and then after Cannes I came straight to America for two weeks. I said, “I’m coming for two weeks.” And my stepmom came with me, and I auditioned for a bunch of movies, and I ended up getting the offer on three films in those two weeks. So my manager’s like, “You’re staying here! You’re gonna do these movies.” And that was it. It’s been a snowball since then.

How was the I Am Number Four shoot compared to your previous films?
That was the most grueling shoot I’ve ever done. I had to become a warrior, and I really had to embody an Angelina Jolie kick-butt type. And, for me, it’s quite far removed from who I am. I’m very bouncy and bubbly and positive, and my character is calculated and intimidating, and enchanting and intoxicating, so I was very focused on changing every aspect about myself. It was really hard, really difficult. I had to isolate myself from the rest of the cast. It was a grueling three months. But really worth it and so rewarding! And she’s such a cool character and mysterious and sassy, and I would love to play her again.

What do you have coming up after the release of I Am Number Four and Take Me Home Tonight?
I have Say Nothing coming out at some point this year. It’s a drama/thriller. It’s an Australian independent movie, and it’s done by the same guys who did Animal Kingdom and The Square. And Joel Edgerton is my co-star, who’s a brilliant actor. Two couples are in Cambodia, and one goes missing, and it’s this mystery that unravels. It’s an exploration into what happens when something very tragic strikes a community, and it’s pretty dark and edgy. But refreshing! So different than anything I’ve done before.