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a word from teresa

"I have to not take myself too seriously and I have to realise that if it is meant to be, it will be."
T is for Teresa

“Oh. My. God,” declares the makeup artist as Australian actor Teresa Palmer turns it on for the Harper’s Bazaar cover shoot. In fact, the whole studio, including photographer and assistants, stylists and lighting technicians, is reduced to silence as everyone realises they are witnessing “a moment”. The girl in front of us, who appeared at 7am this morning, jet-lagged and dressed down in skinny jeans, has not only been transformed into a shining goddess by the expert team, but is doing something with the camera that is mesmerising. As the images begin to appear on the photographer’s computer screen, it is as if we are all present at the second coming…or the fourth coming in the case of Australian actors taking Hollywood by storm: first Nicole, followed by Cate, then Naomi and now Teresa (Yes, she’s going to be a single-name actor.)

Palmer just wrapped Bedtime Stories with comedian Adam Sandler, with the highly anticipated-comedy Kids in America, with Topher Grace, also under her belt. She was also in 2007’s well-regarded December Boys with Daniel Radcliffe, the girl with whom the Harry Potter star shares his first screen kiss.

“I loved doing that film because it meant I could go to work and then go home to my own bedroom,” she says of the movie that was made in her home town of Adelaide.

And the latest news in Palmer’s life? She’s dating UK bad-boy comic and noted womaniser Russell Brand, who recently declared himself “a changed man” as a result of the relationship.

Fast-forward 24 hours and the 22-year-old Palmer sitting opposite me wearing not so much as a lick of makeup seems to have the world at her feet. Last night she went to the David Jones spring/summer 2008-2009 show with her friend Megan Gale (they’ve both been cast in the new George Miller film Justice League) where she wore a camilla and marc dress. “I really like to support Australian designers as much as possible,” she says. “Last night I loved the Sabatini and Collette Dinnigan clothes. One day I’d like to wear one of her dresses.”

And something shifted for Palmer last night. It was the first time she felt that people were staring at her, for up until now she has been able to fly under the radar…but probably not for much longer. “It’s funny. I can totally go incognito. No one recognises me in Australia and the photographers were taking my photo and I could hear people saying my name. So that was the first time that I got recognised. I was having a conversation with Lara Bingle and Megan Gale and there’s these photographers circling around you, taking your picture and it makes you become very self-aware. I felt like I have to keep smiling.

“Prior to that it had only really happened when I was at the December Boys premiere in LA. That was pandemonium and it was my first big premiere and I didn’t know what to expect. I got out of the car and everyone started screaming and my publicist took me over to this crowd of people who were waiting and I was like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t go over there, no one’s going to know who I am’, and they had photos of me and were calling out ‘Teresa, can you sign this?’ It’s funny, there were some pictures of me on WireImage signing autographs and I’m looking at the camera with these huge wide eyes and I have the most shocked look on my face: this is my life and this is actually happening to me. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening to someone else because it’s such a bizarre thing to have happen. It’s what dreams are made of. Who knows when it’s going to finish because it can be a difficult industry for longevity. So I just take each day as it comes. It’s really exciting, it’s a whirlwind.”

However, it hasn’t been a fairytale getting to this point. Far from it. Rewind to her first film gig, the Australian independent movie 2:37 and the moment when she discovered acting was her passion. “I’d been going to acting class for a couple of years and I dabbled in a couple of things; I did a few TV commercials. But I kind of fell into it. I had other plans – I was going to work with animals and I’d been accepted into teaching at university and I went to one lecture at uni and then found out I’d got the movie 2:37. So I just quit that and went to start work on the film.” 2:37 was made, Palmer explains, for “$250,000 and none of us had ever acted before and the director, Murali Thalluri, was only 19 years old”. Palmer was nominated for an AFI award for her role, up against Laura Linney, Abbie Cornish and winner Emily Barclay, which isn’t bad going for a first foray into film.

2:37 is an extraordinarily powerful story about youth suicide and Palmer, like all the actors, turns in an astonishing performance that makes the film both compelling and compassionate. “It’s certainly a pretty dark film. There was a lot of controversy surrounding it because there are very graphic suicide and rape scenes. And it was tough because we had a lot of critics but then it went on to the Cannes Film Festival [where it reportedly received standing ovations]. I certainly knew it was a special film but I had no idea that it would get as far as it did. I’m so proud of it. It was certainly very different from anything I now experience in Hollywood.”

After the success of her role in 2:37 she approached Shanahan Management in Sydney (“I knew they were the best agents,” she says), sending the agency an email with her head shot. Shanahans liked what they saw and invited her to Sydney to meet up. “My dad paid for my fare because obviously I didn’t have the means to get myself over there,” she explains, “I was only 18.” Before she knew it she was heading to Hollywood for auditions. And this is where things got very hard for her.

Palmer is refreshingly honest about the awful dislocation and loneliness she experienced when she first moved full-time to Los Angeles – it’s the dark side to fame we usually never see or hear about. “It was a tough transition. I rang my dad bawling my eyes out, saying, ‘I don’t know if this is what I want to do,’ and Dad said, ‘You have our support but keep going because in a few years you’ll look back and you’ll be so happy that you toughed out this period of time’,” she shakes her head at the memory. “I would sit at home in my bed – I think I was pretty depressed – on my computer and I’d read my scripts and go to my auditions and I’d just go back home. I was lonely.”

A chance invite to a dinner party where she met three new friends lifted the pall, however. “They all felt the same about LA, everyone felt lost and they hadn’t found those real connections that you need to make and so we found that within each other. Loneliness is just one of the most horrific feelings and I felt like just giving it all up and moving back to Adelaide and being a schoolteacher. I really had to ask myself ‘Is this really worth it?’.”

But there was another, more substantial hurdle for Palmer to clear first. “I had the terrible experience in 2006 where I was fired from the movie Jumper. I was cast with the brilliant actor Tom Sturridge [of Vanity Fair and Being Julia fame] and we both ended up getting fired and replaced with people more famous than us.” It was Rachel Bilson who replaced her – an actor Palmer genuinely admires and likes, for the record. Sturridge’s role went to Hayden Christensen. But Palmer was devastated. “I thought I’d finally got my big break. I thought it was going to be a really big film for me. And then all of a sudden you get rejected and both you and your co-star get fired. It’s a really tough thing to come back from. I was in such a dark place when that happened. So I retreated and went home for a few months. Finally I was convinced to go back and give it another shot, and I did and I had the time of my life on Kids in America. It was one of the best film experiences I’ve had an it really restored my faith in the movie-making process.” She loved working with co-star Topher Grace and director Michael Dowse (“the support from those guys was incredible”) even though she turned up to set every day shaking and terrified she was going to be sacked again.

This fear endured, even after she was cast in her latest film, Bedtime Stories, with Adam Sandler. The comedian singled her out from an audition tape and met with her, so determined was he to get her into the role. “I play lots of different characters: a princess, a movie star, a medieval damsel in distress, basically Adam Sandler’s love interest,” Palmer explains. It was an exciting time, but “when I got the film, I was like, ‘I’m not going to celebrate until I wrap on this movie, ’cause I know what it’s like to get fired.’ And it wasn’t until the wrap day on Bedtime Stories that I celebrated: I just finished a film with Adam Sandler and I didn’t get fired!”

It was on the set of Bedtime Stories that she met her current boyfriend, British comedian Russell Brand. Brand, 33, appeared in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but has a much larger profile in the UK as a kohl-wearing, ex-drug addict comedian not afraid to push the boundaries of political correctness. It wasn’t love at first site; in fact quite the opposite. “When we first met I didn’t know who he was,” she laughs. “We’d been filming together for four months but it wasn’t until the last week that I really got to know him and realised we had a lot in common: similar tough upbringings. We connected.”

By this, Palmer’s referring to the fact that her mother suffers from manic depression. “Mum is so strong because she’s had to deal with her illness and I’m strong in another way, because I had to half raise myself as well. She was the best mother she could be with her illness, but it was a very different upbringing to any of my friends. I didn’t have the structure like they had, so I had to create that for myself.” She’s since bought her mother a house from the money she earned from Jumper (“because you still get paid if they sack you,”) and flies her mother out to LA regularly, even getting her a walk-on part on Bedtime Stories, “which she just loved”. Brand, too, had a complex upbringing and it seems Palmer is truly in love, describing him as a “gentle, kind, wonderful person.”

So what does the future hold? “I’m going back to LA to hang out and do some more auditions,” she says, adding with considerable more wisdom for her age, “I really want to wait and find a film I’m excited about and if that film doesn’t come up before Bedtime Stories comes out then I’m very happy to wait. I think to have longevity in your career you’ve got to be fairly picky in the early stages. And hopefully I’ll do something other than a comedy. I’d love to go back and do another really dramatic piece like 2:37, or an Australian independent – there’s a lot of things I want to try. I have no boundaries. But my main concern is that I’m working with quality people and a script that I’m passionate about.”

Palmer sounds like someone twice her age, at this point, with her focused determination. And then drops a bombshell – the key piece of information that almost guarantees her future success. “I have incredibly great representation in America, especially my manager, David Seltzer. He has worked with a lot of young actors and actresses and carved out some brilliant careers. He worked with Jack Lemmon throughout his career. He started working with Cameron Diaz when she was my age and he just gave me the advice that he gave Cameron when she was starting out. He said, ‘I really want to see you do quality work,’ and I totally agree with him. I want to make films that I want to see and that I’m passionate about. I don’t want to make films just for the sake of making money right now. I’ve learnt how to live on a small amount of money and now I’m making more than I’ve ever made in my life, but I’m quite happy to keep budgeting and wait until the right film comes by that will open up some more doors.” And there you have Teresa Palmer: beautiful, smart, talented and wise…and with Cameron Diaz’s manager right behind her.