Mark Webber & Teresa Palmer Discuss The Place of No Words
If you’re looking for a genuinely moving, heartfelt movie experience, check out Mark Webber’s The Place of No Words, a film that toes the line between fantasy and reality as it reflects on life, death and everything in-between. The film is now available to purchase or rent on streaming platforms and to commemorate the occasion, ComingSoon.net sat down with Webber (who also stars in the film) and co-star Teressa Palmer, who discussed the difficulties of the shoot and touched upon the remarkable performance given by their son Bodhi Palmer.
Here’s the official synopsis (via Apple TV): “Where do we go when we die?” A question by three year old Bodhi Palmer sets a real family on an imaginative adventure that explores how we cope with dying and the love, laughter, and pain we can find within it. Bodhi starring alongside his actual mother and father (Mark Webber and Teresa Palmer) and the fairy Esmeralda, played by Nicole Elizabeth Berger, give rare tour-de-force performances. Told through both the eyes of a father and his young son the story moves between the authentic real world and a fantasy realm filled with mythical creatures and remarkable circumstances.
Interview with Mark Webber
ComingSoon.net: Appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with us about The Place of No Words today. I watched the film and that hit home pretty hard. I’ve got two daughters of my own, so that was an emotional rollercoaster.
Mark Webber: Oh man, well, I love hearing that. That’s great.
CS: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Webber: The idea came to me — I think I’m like most people, in a perpetual state of wonder of what happens when you die. You know, and just death. And our journey with that through our lives as human beings is interesting and I think like you said, having children, you know, your own mortality starts to really come into play. Those are things that are happening for me and still happening for me in my life right now. So and that’s kind of permeated a lot of my work as kind of the existential element. I’ve been also spending so much time with my children and working with my family. And so, a lot of the idea came from being around Bodhi, who, the stories he would make up in our play and his adventurous imagination, was also a launching point for me, too. And also, I really kind of wanted to — I love fantasy films from the 80s, really, when I was growing up. And this is really, I think unexpectedly not like those type of films, but there’s elements like the Grumblers and working with Henson Workshop, which also fantasy films of the 80s world that were Henson films, essentially that I loved so much like Labyrinth and Dark Crystal. Those movies are really informative to me when I was younger and made me want to be an actor in the first place. So I guess that answers it. My love for fantasy films and adventure films and trying my version of that, colliding with my never-ending wonder about the afterlife and why we’re here and what does this all mean and being a father, you know?
CS: I’m glad you mentioned Labyrinth because that’s one of the films that came to mind when I was watching The Place of No Words, especially when you talked about the Grumblers; and the bit where the characters are walking through the farting swamp. Obviously that was a very intentional homage, right?
Webber: Yeah, I think in a way, it was. Those films — like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is like one of my favorite movies ever. These films that have these fantastical elements, yeah, Labyrinth, totally, 100 percent love that movie so much. And you know, our farting swamp. That’s really what the movie is, is an attempt to — definitely from an editorial point of view, what I was trying to do is really follow the rhythms of a child’s mind and play with perspective, how the stories we tell each other influence one another within a family, you know?
CS: When you wrote the film, did you envision it moving in an abstract nonlinear way? Where you’re following Bodhi around and just picking up on whatever he does?
Webber: I guess I anticipated there being a lot of interplay. My initial writing of the script didn’t have as much, but as we started to shoot, I quickly knew that that was the main kind of thrust of how I wanted this film to play, going in and out of fantasy and reality states so much that you’re almost confused in a way, how these stories that we tell each other almost becomes indistinguishable from, you know, our full reality. And so, yes, so I wrote that into the script, the setup of that and how I wanted that to be. The reveal of how that happened within the script was a bit different.
But so many of my movies, my script writing process is really developing this blueprint and really honing in on scenes. It’s the dialogue, character, design and setups that all become blocking points because improvisation and harnessing real moments unfolding is a style that I love so much and that ends up being a major part of my work. So yeah, a lot of this — well, for instance, writing, us making this farty swamp, but it’s really chocolate, and it lands off of our faces and there’s the witch, you know? But me and Bodhi really experienced that as well. So Bodhi really experienced so much of this film. We were really on an adventure. I really wanted to capture magic, that lightning in a bottle feeling of it feeling different. I want the audience to — I wanted them to know, like, oh, this is different. This is real. Because you have to do that. It has to be improv, right? You know, because when you’re playing with creating situations to inhabit, to go through, it’s such an extraordinary experience to have the father with my son to do what we did in the film.
And so, for him, it’s like playing a game where you get a toy sword at the house and you play for hours battling enemies and going on this adventure, but then taking that a step further and actually really taking Bodhi and having him pick out a sword and carrying a real sword and really going in the forest and in these mountains. It was really just so incredible to experience with him.
CS: Speaking of Bodhi, what’s his take on this whole thing? Is he very informed of the filmmaking process?
Webber: Yeah, oh, when we made the film, he was just three and a half, but he knew very much everything. The first time I made a movie with my son was a film called The End of Love and I did that with my son Isaac, who’s now 12, but he was two at the time. And you know, for that film he knew, okay, dad is making videos of us. But he didn’t know that he was starring in a film that was going to play Sundance next year. You know, a two year old being a two year old, where Bodhi on this, you know, we were in Wales. Mom was also working on her TV show. He knows mom and dad are actors. He’s grown up on set. So he knew he was in a movie and he knew that we were attempting to make something really special and what was most important was that he was just himself. You know? And it was really remarkable to see kind of his in between of that, because he developed his skills for acting and for knowing where the camera is and knowing that between action and cut, we have these short bursts of time that he’s aware that we’re making something, right?
And so, he started to develop his own little process. And it was so cool and beautiful to see him just feeling free in how he observed how it works and everybody’s different roles. And yeah, and he gives a performance in this film that is really special. And yeah, it feels like an achievement just because of his age, you know? I’m so proud of him.
CS: The film deals with our fear of death and the sadness that comes from it. What do you believe the film ultimately reveals to the audience about death and the hereafter?
Webber: I think for me, my mission was all of my films, but in particular this more so than ever, and also because of the time that we’re in right now. It’s so even more relevant of feeling connected and not alone, you know, experiencing relating to — and that’s been the feedback for me. Going with this film on the festival tour was so remarkable for me to sit with audiences afterwards. And people were incredibly moved. Some people had just recently lost someone, you know and the whole list of experiences that is just so powerful to sit with people and see how it was affecting them. And I think the feeling of feeling seen in some way and feeling like it honors as a child, it honors death and grieving and love and family in a way that feels authentic. And I think because of that, you know, allowed for deeper levels of emotions for people. And I was really looking for that.
For me, the beautiful thing that I love about cinema is when you relate to an element of the story, it makes you not feel so alone. It makes you feel seen. You’re a part of your mind or your psyche or your life is represented on screen in a way that feels authentic. I think it opens people up to have a really interesting, emotional shift that could happen, you know? And so, I’ve seen that. I’ve experienced that with audiences and that was part of my intention, was to make a film about people just really connecting on an emotional level and could reflect on their own grieving experiences, their own experiences of loss. And thankfully, that’s been the feedback so far. It was so powerful. I got so lucky kind of to be able to have done a tour with this before COVID hit, right? So the power of sitting in a theater with people and watching this experience … It just felt like its own form of therapy, in a way, for some folks, and that was special to me.
Interview with Teressa Palmer
ComingSoon.net: What is it like filming with your family? Is the process simpler or more difficult?
Teresa Palmer: Goodness. In some ways it makes the process easier because there’s a sense of familiarity and you know, my husband and I are always here or there. And he’s not too hard on me and you know, the schedule’s pretty flexible, especially when it involves our three year old son. So in some ways, it was quite easy, but then in other ways, it’s challenging because there’s all the family dynamics that are coming into play as you’re trying to make a film. And I was hellbent on Bodhi sticking to his bedtime and having all his mealtimes, even if we’re on the side of the mountain shooting in the snow, I would just call out and say, all right guys. We’re going to go back. He needs to have his meal now. And we’d be right there just about, just against the shot. So we had some moments where I had to relinquish my control from playing the role of Bodhi’s mommy into playing the role of supportive wife to the director, and I’m also participating in the film as an actor. So there were lots of different hats I was wearing. And I did make it quite challenging in some ways. It’s not always easy just showing up to your job and then going home, back to your normal life at the end of the day.
CS: Does your character crossover to your normal life as well?
Palmer: Well, yes. Definitely. I was mostly playing a version of myself. And oftentimes, because the subject matter involving my character was quite heavy, I find myself really being emotional and exhausted at the end of the day — after we have been doing scenes surrounding death and the breakdown of a family. Yeah, there were times where I felt really affected by it. But it was great. Mark has this great way about casting somebody and utilizing their own spirit as the character. And so I got to ad lib a lot. There’s a lot of freedom that I could take with the character. And Mark’s such a beautiful, collaborative director and communicative. And so, we really enjoyed ourselves. It was challenging because I was also shooting A Discovery of Witches at the same time, so I would shoot my TV show and I was on my TV show Monday through Friday, and then Saturday and Sunday; and then I’d get in a car and I would drive five hours up to North Wales on a Friday night right after wrap and I would, you know, get there, shoot Saturday, Sunday, drive five hours back and continue shooting on my show. It was a pretty tedious experience, shooting it, but what an adventure and a once in a lifetime experience for our whole family.
CS: So one of the best aspects of the film I think is the performance by your son Bodhi. Did he surprise you?
Palmer: Yeah. Look, Bodhi’s such a special little soul. He’s so soulful and sensitive and worldly and we’ve always said he’s lived many lives. And like he came out of the womb all-knowing and all-seeing, and I was really proud of him because he just stepped into this role wholeheartedly and he embraced the experience. And he just thought it was like play, that he just has to play and Mark would sort of feed him a line here or there. And one of the times he’d ad lib and he just really enjoyed it. It was beautiful watching him on screen and seeing the way he was really listening and understanding the things that the character was saying to him. And I just was really floored by him. I’m really impressed and he’s really proud. And he’s six now, and anytime on my TV set or let’s say someone stops him and asks for a photo with Mark or myself, he always pipes up and says, “I made a movie. I made The Place with No Words and I’m the star of the movie.” And he’s really proud of it.
CS: Was there any trickery involved with his performance?
Palmer: Yeah, there was a moment when they were in Candyland basically, when they’re walking around with all of these beautiful candies. And Mark would oftentimes not show Bodhi the set so that whenever they were filming there, it was a surprise and he could get his natural reaction to seeing all these lollies. And Bodhi was able to take them off the trees and eat them and he just was in heaven. We were listening to “Hansel and Gretel” recently in the car and Bodhi was like, “That happened to me. Wow. I was in a forest and I just got all these lollies and I was eating them.” And he forgot that that was a part of the movie. And I think that Mark had a few little tricks up his sleeve like that, which really helped. But otherwise, you know, he was with us. And all the crew, he knows really well. So it was a small crew of about five or six people. And they were all really big important players in Bodhi’s life. So one of them was one of his uncles and then you know, Sarah and Eric Olsen, who are some our best family friends. And so, there was a real familiarity around him. Dustin, the producers he sees at our house all the time. And so, it just kind of felt like having these fun days with a bunch of people he knows really well and getting to play make believe. And he keeps asking to do it again. We, of course, had agents calling afterwards, after the first screenings, and I was like, no, no, no, no, no. If he wants to make that decision when he’s older, to pursue a career in the industry, then he may. But not at this stage, unless it’s with my husband, he’s not going to jump into being a child actor at this point.
CS: The film touches on aspects of religion and makes references to God and angels and really leans into the sadness of death. What do you believe the film is ultimately telling us about death overall?
Palmer: Wow, that’s a really good question. I think you know, it’s such a poetic piece. It’s such a piece of art that each and every individual is going to have a different experience while watching it. And so, for me, my personal connection to it is that life is such a celebration. And death is inevitable. It’s coming to all of us. And really, when I see a film like this meditating on mortality, it just helps me to be so present and be grateful for each moment that I have, each day I have. And it helps put things in perspective for me, knowing that time on this earth is so precious and it’s not — so for me, it’s a meditation on the human existence and our experience on this earth is so precious. And death, yeah, death does come for each of us and if we can, you know, I think kind of like sit and meditate on mortality, I feel more comfortable with the idea that each day is such a gift. And none of it is a guarantee. We don’t know how many more days we have left on this earth. And for me, it was about the different perspectives and how the things that feel so overwhelming and big and hard to process get smaller and almost seem inconsequential for me when I think about this life and how none of it is guaranteed. So yeah, I think that’s really what it was for me. And I said to Mark at the screening — just feeling like an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life and the moments I get to spend with the people that I love and how I get to learn from life. And I love it. I really hope that I make the most of my time here on this earth. And that’s what the film is about for me, about family and life and celebration of life. And yeah. And death doesn’t have to be scary. And I think I spent a fair portion of my life being afraid of that unknown time in my life, when we pass on. And now, I think I feel at peace with it in some way.
CS: In this day and age where a new blockbuster is released single week, how important are films like The Place of No Words?
Palmer: They’re incredibly important I think because filmmaking is art and so many of the movies that we see, right, they’re these big blockbusters coming out with huge budgets and money behind them and studios and figureheads and it’s a machine. It’s machine-like. They come out and they’re expected to make a certain amount of money. Whereas the kind of films that filmmakers who have an idea and the idea grows into something and it’s so hard to get independent films made as well, like even just to get financing is such a big challenge in this day and age. To put it out there and hope that audiences show up, you don’t have the kind of budgets for marketing and you’re not a part of the machine of a super hero movie or there’s a big studio behind you. So gosh, you’re fighting against so many things and all you want is to get your voice out there and to have your art seen by the world and hope that it touches people in any way is your goal. And so, that’s how we feel with this film. We want people to see it and connect with it because of the feedback we’re getting. And people are just writing these long letters to us and DMs on Instagram — and we’re seeing tears in people’s eyes and the emotions of having been moved by the film. It’s really nice, that passion for us that this film needs to be seen by people.