Why family is first for Teresa Palmer


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Teresa Palmer’s agent still dines out on the story of when he flew the fledgling teenage actor over from Adelaide to meet some heavyweight talent managers in LA. Just 18, she gave a short spiel about herself and then said: “I think I should make an announcement. First and foremost I want to be a mother and I want to have at least six children and my career comes second to that.”

It was classic Teresa. Now 31, the star of movies like Berlin Syndrome and Warm Bodies is unashamedly candid and completely un-selfconscious.

From the moment the Sunday Life team arrive at her hideaway in the Adelaide Hills, when she emerges barefoot in jeans and a black sloppy joe with eight-month-old Forrest on her hip and a welcoming smile on her face, Teresa is refreshingly normal – right down to the rings around her eyes from sleep deprivation.

As we chat in her vast, cathedral-like living space, its floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out to native bush, she reclines with her legs hooked over the back of the couch and her top rides up to reveal her tummy. She laughingly points out the sprouting greys amid her tousled, honey-coloured hair, although with her bright aquamarine eyes, unblemished olive skin and tiny frame, she looks barely out of her teens.

When Teresa’s star first began to rise in her early 20s, she tried to conform to PR edicts about how an actor should present themselves to the media. “I’m really a goofball. I’m a dork at heart and I’m really playful and bubbly. But when I did some media training, I had to be a lot more reserved, quieter and answer questions a certain way.”

Conforming came at a price. “It started feeling a little bit empty. I realised that I wanted to be myself. I’m naturally a very open person. I’ve always been that way.”

Teresa’s incorrigible honesty makes her incredibly endearing, and her decision to stop trying to filter herself also proved to be a winning strategy. She began landing the plum character roles she coveted, met the man who would become her husband, and had the children she had longed for all her life.

“Once I actually started getting closer to who I was, that’s when the world kind of opened up for me in many ways,” she reflects. “I met my husband, work started coming easier and I got to experience the things I’ve always wanted – being pregnant and becoming a mother.”

Now she faces her biggest challenge: being the most present mother possible while still pursuing her acting career and providing for her family.

Teresa says she dreamt of being a mother even as a little girl pushing around her eight dolls in a pram from the Salvos. “I’ve always been incredibly maternal,” she says. “It was just me and Mum growing up, [so] I filled my time being a little nurturer.”

After her parents split when she was three years old, she continued to see her father but lived primarily in public housing in Adelaide with her mother, who suffers from mental illness.

While some children would struggle with this instability, Teresa appears unscathed. “It was all I knew,” she shrugs. “My mum was so fun. She’d turn off all the lights and me and my girlfriends would hide and she’d run through the house and scare us. She’d take me to concerts, and let me dress her up, and be in my plays.

“She was like having a best friend; she gave me a lot of freedom. Even though as an adult I can look back and think, ‘Oh, that was a pretty different experience,’ I’m so grateful for every aspect of it.”

Despite her positive view of her childhood, Teresa admits she was drawn to acting partly because of the escapism it offered.

Her life took a radical turn at 18, when she was cast in the high school suicide drama 2.37. The film received a standing ovation at its Cannes premiere and her performance was nominated for an AFI Best Actress award.

She went on to appear in a string of movies including December Boys with Daniel Radcliffe, Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and Wish You Were Here with Joel Edgerton. But it was stop-start for a while, with just as many flops and cancelled projects as successes. Teresa assumed she’d eventually give up acting to become a drama teacher, midwife or paramedic.

Then came the 2013 zombie hit Warm Bodies, which confirmed her as an actor, both in the public’s mind and her own. “I started doing more than one movie a year, I started gaining momentum. That’s when I realised, ‘Oh, I guess I don’t get to go back to Adelaide and have that life.’ “

Top and skirt by Louis Vuitton.

Top and skirt by Louis Vuitton. Photo: Corrie Bond

That same year, she married American independent filmmaker Mark Webber (they met via Twitter), on a beach in Mexico. Australian actor Phoebe Tonkin was her bridesmaid (other famous gal pals include Megan Gale, Lara Bingle and Bella Heathcote).

Bodhi Rain was born in 2014 and Forrest Sage arrived last December (her sons’ names are inscribed on a gold plate which hangs around her neck). She also has a stepson, Isaac Love, from Mark’s first marriage. She’d like at least two more children, possibly three, and has just assembled a “manifest board” covered with pictures of girls. “It’s my favourite thing in the world to just be with my children and learn from them every day,” she says.

Meanwhile, her career has flourished, with roles in films such as the remake of Point Break, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and most recently, the critically acclaimed Berlin Syndrome.

But beneath her chilled-out demeanour today, Teresa is feeling conflicted. After a year as a stay-at-home mum, she’s about to re-enter the workforce.

The family is moving to Cardiff, in Wales, where she will be filming a TV series for six months of the year. While she’s excited abut the change, and appreciative of the steady income television work brings, she’s anxious about relinquishing her cherished role as primary carer and handing those duties over to her husband and mother.

“I’ve just come off a year of not working and it’s been lovely because I’m the person who’s with them from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep. Now I’m having to wrap my head around the idea of sharing those responsibilities. I want to be there for all of the moments.”

She’s relished being back in her home town, where she’s just a regular mum doing the school run and organising play dates. She bought the four-hectare Adelaide Hills property from her father a few years ago, and the family has been splitting their time between it and their home in LA, with Bodhi and Isaac attending schools in both places.

“When I’m here I don’t have to do work, I don’t talk about work, I get to fly under the radar mostly and just be a mum. It’s completely refreshing, a nice escape from LA.” 

A happy sense of calm permeates the house. Stepmum Kaaren is making pizza in the farmhouse kitchen, Mark brings Bodhi and Isaac home from their Montessori school, and Teresa’s mother Paula tends to Forrest when he’s not being breastfed. Paula is clearly a vital support for Teresa, yet despite their close relationship, mother and daughter don’t see eye-to-eye on everything.

Paula is a devout Catholic who attends Latin Mass every day; she named her daughter after Mother Teresa and sent her to a Catholic school. When Teresa was in her mid-20s, Paula sat her daughter down to talk about her faith, which now leans towards a New Age spirituality.

“She would have loved it if I had become a nun,” Teresa explains. “I said, ‘I have my own version of church and I still pray, it just looks a little bit different from what yours does.’

“I let her know how grateful I was that she instilled such beautiful morals in me. But to me, the wonderful thing about the way I was brought up is that it really revolved around love and that’s what I have held on to. It’s about being the most loving person you can be.”

As a vegan, co-sleeping mother who breastfeeds on demand and is into crystals and star signs, Teresa could easily be pigeon holed as a hippie earth mother, particularly when she talks about being “in harmony” with her kids, “collective consciousness” and “manifesting your dreams”. She runs a wellness blog, Your Zen Life, and a parenting blog, Your Zen Mama, where, among other things, you can read detailed descriptions of her sons’ births.

But, as her affable husband says, all human beings are contradictions of themselves. Teresa admits her default personality is Type A – at odds with her desire to be “in flow” with her kids and life in general, and a source of conflict with Mark, the pair often butting heads when she’s too controlling.

“It is my tendency to want to organise and arrange and sort and have a plan,” she says. “Any time I feel myself doing that, I always just try and observe that I’m in that mindset and rein it back in.”

Boss by Hugo Boss knit and skirt; Louis Vuitton boots.

Boss by Hugo Boss knit and skirt; Louis Vuitton boots. Photo: Corrie Bond

Confirming her A-list status, Teresa is to be announced as the newest Audi Ambassador at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week at the island’s luxury resort, Qualia. She joins Hugh Jackman and Chris Hemsworth in representing the brand, and follows in the footsteps of Asher Keddie and Naomi Watts.

Teresa laughs that the appointment is particularly apt because her waters broke in an Audi as Mark was driving her to the hospital for Forrest’s birth. “It’s the funny story in our family – I almost gave birth in an Audi. Had to get that one cleaned!” she jokes. More seriously, Teresa says she’s pleased to be associated with a company that strongly supports women in the creative arts.

A dozen years after she laid down the law with those Hollywood talent managers, Teresa no longer sees her life as a battle between the competing roles of actor and mother – it’s more an exercise in uniting them.

“It will be nice to get back to doing things for myself but I’m nervous about getting into the schedule of working so much and I’m nervous about having to navigate my feelings about not being the one to pick Bodhi up from school,” she admits.

But then her positivity shines through. “It’s so good for my boys to see me working and thriving creatively that I’ll just deal with my own feelings of missing out, because I know they’re going to be fine.”

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week runs until August 26. 

Photography, Corrie Bond. Fashion Editor, Penny McCarthy. Hair and Make-up, Filomena Natoli.

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