For four big movies, Australian actress Teresa Palmer has been that girl: the blonde who entrapped Daniel Radcliff in December Boys, obsessed Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories, consumed Jay Baruchel in The Sorcerer's Apprentice and now emboldened Topher Grace as Tori, the homecoming queen-turned-business student in Take Me Home Tonight. Yet while she's cast as the crush—a role most ingenues sleepwalk through—her intelligent, grounded screen presence hints that her admirers are too focused on winning over their dream girl to realize that she's even cooler than they thought. Of her two major roles this month, Palmer's flashiest is her kick-ass turn as Number Six in D.J. Caruso's I Am Number Four. But watch the subtle way she anchors this comedy and you'll see a 25-year-old actress who knows she wants a long-lasting Hollywood career—and who knows how tough you have to be to get one.
What's it like doing press for this movie four years after you made it? Did you have to re-watch it?
We did watch it again. It's just such a huge part of my life, this movie. It really changed my life in many ways and it was the first big American movie that I did after moving to Los Angeles. So I've been very close to the project. Topher is one of my best friends so I went through the whole experience with him over the last few years. It was grueling at times because the movie was pushed. It was held for a bit and it's a hard "R." There were some controversial issues. The cocaine, there's a lot of nudity. It was difficult for a studio to get behind it and really endorse it but we found the right studio who embraced the whole lot and was really excited to release it.
It's interesting that to make an '80s movie today, you have studios who are more timid than they were even in the '80s.
Yeah, it's funny. Hollywood has changed a lot now. I don't think they are quite as excited to take risks because of the way the economy is-and it's really difficult for them to say yes to things that might not work. They read the script, and they obviously green-lit the script, but once it was there it was a scary thing for them to take the plunge. It's unfortunate, though, because in my opinion some of the best films came out of the '80s. I don't think we have those films these days and that's what we wanted to do with our film: make a movie that felt like it was really filmed in the '80s. We celebrate that time as opposed to making fun of it.
What were some of the '80s films you had in mind while you were shooting the film?
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, definitely. Especially for me, Phoebe Cates, I was looking at her character in that. Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. I watched a lot of John Hughes films. Actually Topher and the producing partner Gordon Kaywin, they put together a little '80s package and it consisted of all those '80s films—Flashdance and '80s music, too—because I was born in '86, so I don't know much about the '80s.
So you had to take a crash course.
I really had to take a crash course in the span of a week. But they really bombarded me with '80s stuff-by the end of the movie, I was totally '80s out.
You have an '80s PhD.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I'm an expert in all things '80s.
Is there another decade you'd love to shoot a movie in?
I've shot films set in the '60s, in the '80s and then present day, obviously. I would love to do a period piece like the 1920s, 1930s. I love that time. There's something very romantic about that era. My Nana talks about those times a lot and it just feels so removed from where we're at nowadays, and it would be nice to explore that.
And it's cool because in the '20s and in the '30s, they wrote such awesome roles for women. Women were smart and gorgeous.
And quirky and empowering.
Exactly. That's one of the things I like about your character Tori is that she has brains. It isn't odd that she's so smart. It's just natural.
I wanted to make sure that I didn't do the disservice to Tori of playing her two-dimensional or having her seem like a typical popular girl. She's so much more than that. She has complexities and vulnerabilities, all those things. It was a fine line, though. She had to seem unattainable but then become totally attainable. It was scary to have to portray that. I felt an immense amount of pressure, but it was fun.
How do you feel like your character makes that transition into really seeing who Topher Grace's character is as a person, because she seems really open to him fairly early on-she doesn't seem judgmental.
She isn't judgmental. She's a warm person but I will say the reason she invites him to come to Kyle Masterson's party is because he says, "I work at Goldman Sachs." And she automatically thinks "Wow. We have something in common. This guy seems really lovely. He should come to the party. Wow. I remember him from high school." Then he calls her out on it when he says, "You came to a party with me because you thought I was a banker." And she is forced to take a long hard look at herself and realize that, "Yeah, you're right. You call me out on it. That's true." I think that's very refreshing because most guys would not call her out on that stuff, and that's where it turns for her.
That's true. What I like about '80s films is this class-consciousness; they worry about rich vs. poor. Even though Topher isn't poor, he works at SunCoast Video. They're allowed to let you think that people could be snobs, and then they call them on it.
Yeah, I like that. I also think what she finds so refreshing about his Matt Franklin is when they're on the dance floor and he's quite obviously obsessed with her. He gives her the Heimlich and she's just freaking out and he comes clean and says, "I have hit rock bottom. You're my high school crush." It is so endearing to have a man open his heart like that and risk seeming like a total dork-and again, most guys would be very macho and he's not. It's very attractive to her.
What's it like being a young actress in Hollywood trying to figure out what roles you should do to build a successful career?
It's quite overwhelming at times and it's certainly not the career that as a teenager you would think it is. I know it's the cliché thing to say, but it's not glamorous. You have to be strategic in the choices that you make. For me, it's all about longevity. I don't want to just burst on the scene and be famous and successful for five minutes. I want to have a good career in this industry for a long time and that's about being smart about what I say yes to and what I say no to, and just continuously challenge myself and keep doing work-work with people who I am inspired by. It's hard. I think about it a lot.
It must be, and you must be getting conflicting advice.
Yeah, you do because you have a team of people around you, and for the most part they're "yes" people. But I have been very lucky in that I have really straight-up and honest people around me and everyone seems to be on the same page. But often, there is conflicting advice. There was one choice recently I had to make where I had one person telling me to do one thing, my agent saying that I should do another thing, my manager saying I should do another thing. It was really my decision at the end of the day. And that's very overwhelming. It's such a gamble in Hollywood.
The very first movie that you made, 2:37, went to Cannes, which must have been amazing. So many actors you through years of waitressing and struggling. Do you feel like you missed the chance to get your skin toughened?
I did in a way, but I have had a lot of disappointment. I really have. For instance, I was attached to The Justice League of America and that fell apart. It was so exciting and I had turned down another film to do it. And then just recently, I don't think I can talk about it, I was offered a really great, dramatic role in something and turned down a big studio film to do this dramatic role and that fell apart. Then I got fired from a movie. Then this film got held for four years. It just felt as though I was just getting hit by disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. Obviously, there's some really amazing things in there and I did some films that I am very proud of, but it felt like whenever those were mentioned, there'd be this big halt. I realized that there's ebbs and flows and peaks and valleys. It's just a part of the industry. And because I was thrown in the deep end like that, I had to instantly get a thick skin-otherwise I would get crushed. You read things on the Internet all the time—awful things that people say about you—and it has to just be water off a duck's back.
You decided to stay in Adelaide rather than move to LA—is that to avoid the different spotlight you could be under living here? I feel like the media likes to tear apart a young actress or be more focused on their life than they are with a young actor.
Yeah, that's true. I don't know what it is-and guys are very fragile, too—but girls are so fragile. And it's hard because Hollywood can be such a scary place as it is, and then on top of it all the media scrutiny-people saying good things, people saying bad things. For me, the most important thing to do is to surround yourself with a tight knit group of people that love you who you totally trust. They know the core of who you are and they're the ones you listen to, and they're the ones who can judge you. You can listen to their advice, but other than that, all of what the other people say is meaningless. For me, ultimately the easiest way to do that is if I live in Adelaide, South Australia. Go off, work, and then come back to my home over there.
How do you react in a situation like when Twitter all of a sudden explodes with, "Oh my God! She's at the screening with Zac Efron!"
It's crazy. He came to support the movie. He's my friend and then all of a sudden I'm getting phone calls from random people about it. You have to realize that when you do this job, there's going to be a level of interest in your personal life as well. That's always quite confronting. Also, you just have to laugh at it because a lot of the time it's totally wrong. It's just bizarre. But again, it's one of those things you just take with a pinch of salt and you just can't care what lots of people on the Internet say about you.
And you've just shot a film with Australian brothers Nash and Joel Edgerton, who did The Square which I loved.
Nash Edgerton is a dear friend of mine. Say Nothing is a brilliant film and it's really exciting. Joel Edgerton is just amazing. He plays this guy who is a little disenfranchised. These two couples go to Cambodia and one of us goes missing and no one knows what happens. Then we go back to Sydney and this drama unravels, this mystery comes out. It's a pretty dark film, but there's heart to it, too. We don't have an exact date but it will be in September. Hopefully it's going to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.
You're working on writing and directing your own project.
I am. I'm doing two projects. A documentary and an actual feature film. A good friend of mine, Tahyna Tozzi—she was in Wolverine—she's a brilliant actress. She's Australian. We live together. We've set up a production company called Avakea Productions. We're writing our first script. It's called Track Town. It's a really interesting film. It's dark. It's set in the early '90s in Adelaide. It's an exploration of these friends, these two girls and the dynamic between them when they have to go on the road because they accidentally kill a 17-year-old boy. They give him some drugs and he overdoses. They find out that he's actually the brother of this underworld figure and they have to deal with the ramifications of that. It's like Thelma and Louise meets The Wackness. It's a lot of hip-hop and just that underground world, what you do in a small town when you're bored. There's a lot of great music in there.
Are you writing a part for yourself that's a girl you'd love to play?
Yes! She's sassy, dark, and reminds me very much of Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted. This film came out of a place where Tahyna and I were discussing the material that we were reading and neither of us was connecting to it. She asked me, "What's your dream role? We should just write that." And I thought, "Oh, I don't know if I could write." We put our minds to it. She wrote her dream character, I wrote mine, we put it in a film and I wrote something about Adelaide, South Australia, which is where I grew up. We just put in everything that we knew.
That's unusual to so directly take a hand and shape what you want to do.
I think you've got to take control. And we have so much down time as an actor that if you don't keep yourself mentally stimulated, then you go crazy.