Isaac Marion’s “Warm Bodies” Will Change How You See Zombies Forever

Written by  //  April 13, 2012  //  Concerned Interview, The Table  //  1 Comment

The author talks about his incredible first book and the upcoming film adaptation from Summit Hill (3 words: John Fucking Malkovich!)

I first heard about Warm Bodies (the book) last fall, and eagerly awaited its release in November. I haven’t seen a zombie love story since Return of the Living Dead 3, and we all know what a crap-fest that was, Melinda Clarke’s fantastically pierced nipples aside, so I was eager to dive into this story about a zombie yearning for the connection of humanity again.

What I got was quite simply one of the best, most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s poetic, violent, romantic, gore-filled, soul-filled, and just utterly brilliant. He’s taken the tried and true zombie apocalypse formula and spun it into something completely new and different – a feat that many before him have tried and failed to do and many before him simply haven’t even tried to do.

When I found Marion in the Twitterverse last month, I was delighted to see that for one, he’s totally hot, and for two, his debut novel is geared for a film adaptation set to drop next February – starring About a Boy’s Nicholas Hoult as R, Rob Corddry as his zombie-bestie M, and none other than John Malkovich himself as the imposing and totally scary General Grigio. I caught up with Marion as he’s getting ready for his inevitable mega-stardom to talk about his novel, his incredible characters, and the upcoming film.

AA: Okay – first thing I have to get out of the way – I think you may be some kind of freak of nature, because not only am I huge into horror/zombie culture, I’m also a Shakespeare nerd and Sinatra fan – somehow you managed to take three of my loves and spin them into this incredible story – did you originally set out to combine elements of horror, literature and music or did it all sort of fall into place in your head?

IM: It all fell into place pretty organically. All I knew from the beginning was that I wanted to explore a classic horror trope from an unexpected angle, shine a different light on it, turn it and the genre it represents inside out. As the character of R developed, and he started to become this sensitive, curious, almost childlike creature who’s fascinated by the human culture and history that he’s lost, it seemed only natural that he’d have an affinity for all things classic and timeless. The fact that he finds a lot of interests in common with the young humans he meets–who’ve lost their link with civilization as well and are longing for a better world–is a pleasant surprise to him and one of the first connections he forges with humanity.

Keeping with this inspiration theme – walk me through your process for Warm Bodies – did you first come up with the greater story arc, or the characters?

It all started with R, the main character, narrator, and key to the whole central premise. Without R, it’s just another zombie story retracing the standard zombie apocalypse beats yet again. Experiencing this familiar story from inside R’s head is what makes it different and what takes it beyond being just a genre exercise. The plot itself grew out of R’s character and his revolutionary desire to become more than what he is.

Can you describe the “meat” behind R? He’s hands down one of my all-time favorite literary characters – you got into his head so perfectly and (as many of your reviews have stated) eloquently portrayed his thoughts to your readers – how was R born?

The idea initially began with a short story called “I Am a Zombie Filled With Love” in which a zombie describes daily life in the zombie swarm. This zombie was somewhat self-aware, but never questioned his lot. He accepted the brutality and meaninglessness of his existence with a sigh and a shrug. This is the mind-state of most zombies in my world, and this is how R begins the story in Warm Bodies, but he has just slightly more desire than the others, just enough to push him forward those first few steps until he stumbles into larger events that help him transform. I found writing his thoughts to be surprisingly easy and natural. I think everyone has felt like R at some point in their lives. I could very much relate to his dissatisfaction with himself and his world, and the desire to change both, so a lot of his character came from me and my own thoughts, filtered through a dark fantasy lens.

I just can’t stop gushing about this book enough, and considering the subject matter, gushing is probably a good word! Did you imagine when you started how great this story was going to flesh itself out? Okay, sorry, that’s my last pun. I swear… maybe… don’t quote me on that.

To be honest, not at all! I was absorbed by the concept, and I could sense that the zombie apocalypse premise was ripe with metaphor and commentary as well as some delightfully nasty humor, but when I first started putting it together I wasn’t sure if I could build something worthwhile and resonant out of all these tired genre clichés. It surprised me when the story bloomed in my head; it really just exploded into being in a matter of days and I was thinking, oh my God! Where did this come from? I’ve got a real novel here!

I couldn’t help but read this and think what a great movie it would be – and now here you are with a film version in post production – was that your master plan for total lit-film domination?

Ha! Not at all. I was just hoping to get it published anywhere, by anyone, for any price. My hopes didn’t extend much beyond “get a book in print.” I figured I’d still have years of struggle ahead of me before I could become a full-time writer. The movie deal came out of nowhere, in an incredibly short amount of time, before the book was even published. I was absolutely shell-shocked for the first few months.

Having your first novel become your first feature film has to be pretty amazing – how are you handling the impending mega-fame?

Mega-fame is probably stretching it a bit. I might end up on the low end of writer-famous, which might be just slightly higher than poet-famous, slightly lower than city-councilman-famous. To be a famous writer these days you have to either write a series of bestselling YA novels/films or be Stephen King, neither of which I have done. So I’m not too worried about mega-fame.

Touching more on the film version – did you get to work closely with director/screenwriter Jonathan Levine? What was it like transferring your novel to a movie format?

I think I got to work more closely than most authors do. I’ve heard many astonishing stories about big-name, bestselling authors being told to f*** off and let the studio make their damn movie. Summit was really respectful of my role. I met with Levine when he was first hired and discussed his plan and vision for the film, then later I read a couple drafts of his script and gave notes. In the end, of course, it’s his movie and I have to sit back and hope for the best, but what I’ve seen of things so far has made me really optimistic.

Despite not physically matching your vision of M, I have to say that Rob Corddry’s a fantastic casting choice – I can totally see him in the role. Did you have any say in the casting of the leads?

I was consulted in the early stages of the process, and may have helped narrow down the list a little. I’m not sure what would have happened if I seriously objected to any of their casting, but luckily, I didn’t. I love the cast. They paid more attention to the actor’s personalities than their physical appearances, and I think that was the right choice. Personality is what matters in a character, not superficial indicators like height or hairstyle or even skin color, and the personalities of the cast all fit beautifully. Particularly Nicholas Hoult. R is a quiet, subtle character who has to communicate a lot through body language, and I was so worried about how anyone was going to portray him and his shy, awkward, halting attempts at speech. Nicholas absolutely nails it; he brings the character to life in a way I wasn’t sure was possible.

Okay three words – John. Fucking. Malkovich. How crazy is it to have one of the greatest actors of all time in your movie? I think I would wet myself in fear. Just saying.

I wet myself in fear when I arrived on set and someone pointed behind me and said, “Oh hey, there’s John!” and I turned around and shook someone’s hand and then realized exactly which John this was. I think he’ll do really interesting things with his character and it’s great to have a name everyone recognizes in the cast to prove that it’s a REAL movie. It was a big coup to get him onboard.

Can you fill us in on what you’re working on next? Your writing is so unique, and you just write so effing beautifully! I hope you’re working on something else I can devour – okay, now that’s my last zombie pun.

Zombie puns are inevitable when talking about this book. I forgive you. I just recently finished a book of short stories called THE HUNGRY MOUTH which my agent is shopping out to publishers right now. 2/3rds of it is a Warm Bodies prequel novella, so I’m pretty excited about that. Currently I’m working on a spec script, and then…one of the 5 or 6 novel ideas I have queued up waiting impatiently to be written!

There’s still plenty of time to grab your copy of Isaac Marion’s debut novel Warm Bodies before the film is released in February of 2013! Do it! You won’t be disappointed.

Photo Credits:
The only photo I actually have permission to use for this is the one of the author himself, © Tiffany De Mott
Photos of Nicholas Hoult as R are totally cribbed from IMDB: Photos by Jonathan Wenk – © 2012 – Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved
The book cover was nabbed from Amazon.

About the Author

"Two Fingers" Berben

Our illustrious managing editor, Vanessa “2 Fingers” Berben, gets in fights with her friends about how much deeper they should be feeling this episode of TNG. A researcher/curator for Nintendo's i.TV app, you can stalk her around the web at The Huffington Post, Starburst Magazine and FEARnet and in the latest issues of Starburst and Stiff Magazine. Follow her (preferably whilst humming the Imperial March) on twitter , facebook and tumblr.

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