Movie producer Todd Lieberman knew at an early age he had to be in the business of telling stories. "I like to make people feel something," he said in our exclusive interview. Lieberman is chatting his latest film, Warm Bodies, a work that joins an astounding and varied list of projects. In just the last several years, he has produced the Oscar-winning The Fighter, the blockbuster comedy The Proposal and The Muppets. As shown in the Warm Bodies trailer, his latest film combines all genres and tells a story not told before.
"I knew I loved it because there was something unique about it. It was something I’d never seen before: A zombie movie told from the point of view of the zombie.. that turns into a legitimate love story. Based on that log-line, it could sound ludicrous -- but for some reason, it worked. That’s because there was an interesting tonal balance. It didn’t take itself too seriously and has awareness of its own genre," he said.
The film begins with a narration by "R," a zombie in search of more out of his time on the planet beyond just dragging his feet around looking for, well... brains.
"His inner monologue is so unique. It was a zombie movie, but it’s a comedy, romance -- there’s action in it. All those mixed together would be an incredible challenge and one I was really excited to take on," Lieberman said. There was also something more that he felt would speak to audiences, regardless of sex or demographic.
"There’s universality to it. Every young boy -- or frankly old man -- who falls in love with someone, how they act in front of that person, what they say in their mind probably sounds ridiculous when it’s coming out of their mouth. This is taking that idea to the extreme. This character 'R,' who meets a girl and wants to impress her, but cannot speak -- he’s just grunting. In his mind he feels he looks like an absolute idiot. I think that’s how a lot of guys feel when they fall in love. I know I certainly did."
The film's writer-director, Jonathan Levine, Lieberman felt was absolutely the person to bring Warm Bodies to life in full. His history surely proved that.
"You look at a movie like 50/50 and you look at it on its own merits – it’s a cancer comedy – it sounds like a really challenging idea. But he was so effortlessly able to balance the humor with the seriousness without pandering," Lieberman said.
"He’s got some right touch that is a unique skill set. He makes you feel that you are engaged in a story that’s being dealt with in a true and real fashion. It’s not a spoof. It’s not a parody, but at the same time, it’s light enough that you don’t take it too seriously."
Lieberman and Levine work with one amazing cast, including supporting players John Malkovich and Rob Corddry. But, the movie is what it is because of the chemistry of Teresa Palmer as Julie and Nicholas Hoult as “R.” This movie would not work as well as it does without the priceless spark between these two. Evidence of that is clear in this Warm Bodies clip.
"They both had challenging roles. Nick has to play someone who is dead," Lieberman said and laughed. "He’s not able to communicate in a way that an actor could normally communicate. He’s communicating through facial expressions and grunts and body movement. That is really difficult," Lieberman said.
"To be able to do that convincingly and portray a character who is compassionate and feels like he’s missing something in his own life, or death, and the fact that he’s falling for someone, is a feat that not many people can pull off."
Palmer had her own unique set of hurdles for this supernatural Romeo and Juliet. "Teresa has the challenging role of someone whose boyfriend was just killed. She has to make that immediate turn from being petrified and scared into acceptance of the situation and slowly falling in love herself with a zombie. I can’t stress enough that it wouldn’t have worked without those two actors. If you don’t believe it, that these two individuals are establishing a romance, the movie doesn’t work at all."
With Lieberman's career, there is vast variety. But if you look closely, all his films share one common thread… they move audiences. His philosophy is that if they emotionally trigger something in him, he knows they will with the audience as well.
"I want to make them laugh. I want to make them cry. I want to inspire them. I want them to come out of the experience wanting to be better people. When someone leaves one of my films that I’ve been involved in, I want them moved in some emotional way. I always ask, 'Could I spend the years to battle to get this made?' The answer is always, 'If I am moved emotionally.'"
Want to know what Lieberman had to say concerning the upcoming The Muppets sequel? Check out what he said about Muppets...Again!