Teresa Palmer: ‘It was my dream to have eight children, like my nanna’
As a teenager, Teresa Palmer wrote in her diary that she had two ambitions: to be an actor and a mum. She tells Genevieve Quigley how she achieved her dream.
At just 19 years of age, Teresa Palmer had done what so many hopeful Australian actors only dream about: she’d cracked Hollywood by landing representation with a big-time talent agency, William Morris. But her introduction to her new team would be memorable for an unexpected reason.
“When I walked into this big room to meet the heads of the agency, I was like, ‘Hi, I just want to let everyone know that I’m really happy to be represented by this agency – it’s what I always dreamed about. But first and foremost, I’m going to be a mother,’ ” Teresa recalls via Zoom from Los Angeles, where she’s sitting cross-legged on a bed wearing khaki linen overalls, and true to her statement, cradling her six-month-old baby daughter, Prairie Moon.
Prairie is in fact baby number four for Teresa and her husband, actor and director Mark Webber, and child number five for the family, which also includes Mark’s 14-year-old son, Isaac Love, from a previous relationship.
It was eight years after that announcement before Teresa had her first baby, Bodhi Rain, now 8, followed by Forest Sage, 5, then Poet Lake, 3, and most recently, Prairie.
But what Teresa, now 36, probably didn’t know back then is that while she would make motherhood a priority, it wouldn’t come in the way of her acting ambitions. At the same time she was growing her family, she took on roles in films such as Lights Out (2016), Hacksaw Ridge (2016), and Berlin Syndrome (2017). She also acted in, co-wrote and co-produced the film The Ever After (2014), with husband Mark. From 2018 to 2022, she starred in the supernatural drama series A Discovery of Witches, and portrayed jockey Michelle Payne in the 2019 film Ride Like a Girl.
A key part of this balancing act is having a supportive partner who rightfully values her career, and together they work as an impressive team. “I wouldn’t usually have babies with me, but I’m flying solo with five kids for the next six days,” Teresa says, explaining why Prairie, who turns her head to give an adorable, toothless grin down the Zoom camera, is guest-starring in this interview.
“I think the flow of our life certainly works much better when we sort of tag-team.”
“My husband’s off shooting a TV commercial right now. I’m returning to work in mid-June, then he’ll pass the baton to me. I think the flow of our life certainly works much better when we sort of tag-team. But it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes it’ll cross over and then we just figure it out.”
In those times where they are both committed to jobs, Teresa employs the “it takes a village” approach and relies on close friends to help out. “Luckily I have a lot of girlfriends who are willing to jump on a plane and cover me while I film,” she says. “For the last three projects, I’ve utilised friends to babysit, which was amazing. But I’m down to slim pickings now, because they all want to start having their own kids!”
Teresa and her family have recently returned to LA after spending the summer in Australia. The trip here was mostly to spend downtime together, but there was some work in there too, including this photo shoot for Sunday Life and Teresa’s partnership with R.M. Williams, a brand with which she feels a deep affinity.
“What I love about the R.M. story is that they come from humble beginnings in South Australia, and I feel like there is a parallel story there,” she says, referring to her childhood in the Adelaide Hills.
“I’m still living on that same property I’ve been on since 1991. I grew up with my dad wearing R.M. Williams boots, and I had these little R.M. boots that I’m sure I can find somewhere. So for me, there’s this sort of nostalgia with the brand.”
Teresa is friends with actor Sophia Forrest, whose father, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, took ownership of R.M. Williams in 2020, and she’s excited about the changes he’s looking at making, especially in terms of sustainability. “So when this opportunity landed on my lap, it felt like a good alignment,” she says.
Teresa’s deep love of Australia, especially her native South Australia, shines through within minutes of speaking with her (“I try to sing it from the rooftops how brilliant South Australia is”), but returning to LA is a necessity for work. As much as they can, the family tries to split their time evenly between the two countries.
“It really just works for us because both places are like polar-opposite experiences,” says Teresa. “For our children to have such a different perspective, depending on what country they’re living in, we think that’s really well-rounding for them.
“They’ve got their American friends and American culture, and then we go to Australia and my home town in the Adelaide Hills is beautiful and sleepy. So it’s a very slow, wild kind of lifestyle and it’s just a beautiful contrast to what we experience here in LA.”
The children attend school when in Australia and do a combination of tutors and home-schooling following the Australian curriculum in the US. “Luckily we work with an amazing Adelaide school who just package everything up for us,” she says. “They either put it online, or they send us books and worksheets, and we all go through it together.”
But a significant downside to being in the US is being away from her own mother, Paula, who Teresa is clearly close to. “She’d been with us for the last six months straight, so I was like, ‘Okay Mum, my gift to you this Mother’s Day is a sleep-in!’ It can be chaotic with the grandchildren, but of course she misses us and she’s like, ‘When can I come over?’ ”
Teresa expects Mark will have grand plans for her own Mother’s Day celebrations. “My husband is beautiful about celebrating those kinds of things, so he’ll organise something lovely for all of us to do together.”
Throughout the interview, Teresa simultaneously breastfeeds Prairie, welcomes Poet to sit on her lap, keeps an eye on her older children through a window and still doesn’t miss a beat answering questions. It’s clear that motherhood is second nature to her. Was it always this easy?
“At first I was just sort of fumbling and finding my way, as we all do,” she recalls. “I also had a pretty challenging recovery after birth. My beautiful mum was there and she’d help me up off the couch, and change the bucket of water that I had to wee in, so I could bond with my baby and establish a latch with breastfeeding, and figure out whether I was following a schedule or not.
“Ultimately, I decided to let go of all of that and just follow my instinct, and my baby’s cues, and things shifted. For me it was exactly what I needed to do. My main thing is to meet needs when needs arise – including my own.”
Teresa embraced her new role as a mum so fervidly she was inspired to start a blog with her friend Sarah Wright Olsen called Your Zen Mama, which describes itself as a “cosy community for other mums and families all over the world”. The popularity of the site led to their book, Zen Mamas: Finding Your Path Through Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond.
Now with children aged from six months to 14 years, Teresa has learnt there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. “They’re all so different, and some of them may need a different form of communication. Some of them may want boundaries, and others not.
“What I found is that it’s always changing, depending on how old they are. Now I have a teenager and that’s a new experience. So I’m constantly learning as a mother and figuring out what’s working and what’s not.”
Despite these occasional challenges, Teresa wouldn’t change a thing. “It was my number one dream to have eight children, like my nanna,” she admits. So does that mean there are more babies to come? “I think my husband would be like, ‘Not with me!’ ” she says, laughing. “He’s at his limit. But there’s still a little part of me that thinks maybe I can convince him to go for one more.”