Film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’ novels have been coming at us constantly ever since Message in a Bottle was made into a movie with Kevin Costner and Robin Wright. Some have been successful, some haven’t. The latest adaptation is Safe Haven, which, as expected, is the story of two people falling in love.
Julianne Hough stars as Katie Feldman, a mysterious woman who at the movie’s start is leaving her hometown while being pursued by the police. Katie ends up in the small town of Southport, North Carolina where she tries to keep to herself while working as a waitress, but she ends up getting emotionally involved with the recently widowed Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) and his two kids. Eventually though, her past comes back to haunt her and we come to see the truth about why she left her home.
Safe Haven had its press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California last week and the cast and crew talked about the making of the movie and how none of them were looking to redo The Notebook, which remains the best loved adaptation of Sparks’ books. Attending this junket were stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, Nicholas Sparks, the movie’s director Lasse Hallström, and its producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey.
Check out what they had to say below.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS ABOUT THE MOVIE.
We Got This Covered: Nicholas, this is the second time that Lasse Hallström has made a movie out of one of your books (the last one being Dear John). What is it about Lasse that you feel he brings to your stories on the big screen?
Nicholas Sparks: Lasse is an actor’s director, and by that I mean he tends to draw out fantastic performances from the cast. These films are really character driven, they are relationship driven, they are emotionally driven, and you need someone who has a really good way of enabling trust in the cast and crew (and in the cast particularly) to allow them the confidence to stretch themselves to get the performance that you’re going to need to provide all of the emotional ups and downs in the film. Lasse is a master at it, and then you add in everything else like the cinematography and his style, which is to capture the small moments of life and to weave these threads throughout the film. But if you’re looking for just one thing, it is that he is an actor’s director.
Lasse Hallström: That’s an excellent answer (laughs).
We Got This Covered: Julianne, you have done a lot of singing and dancing films but this is your first thriller. Did you have to do anything different to prepare for this role?
Julianne Hough: Yeah, I left the dancing and the singing outside. I was really just blown away and blessed that I got this opportunity because my whole life I wanted to just entertain, sing, dance and act, and the fact that I got this opportunity to do that was huge. For me it was going to an acting coach and getting I guess more training, and Lasse is such an actor’s director so I got to put my trust in him. But it was definitely a lot more heartfelt and personal.
We Got This Covered: Josh, the young actors who play your kids in the movie are just wonderful because they don’t seem like Hollywood kids. Can you tell us more about how you worked with them?
Josh Duhamel: For me, a movie without kids on the set is like Christmas without kids. They just make things a little bit more fun. There’s no pretension there, they’re just there to have fun. These two in particular were very sweet kids by nature and they didn’t have a lot of experience in the business. I met with them before filming and spent some time with them on the beach.
They’ve both been through so much. My character’s already had what he thought was his first love and lost that, and now anything that comes after that depends on how the kids react to that. So any decision that I make going forward has to be okay with them too. So the relationship was very specific, and luckily they were very, very fun kids to work with.
They started working two weeks before I started which at first I was like “really? What am I gonna do for two weeks?” But it was great because I really got to soak in the local environment living in Southport and really think about what I wanted to do in this movie. I wrote a lot, spent as much time with the kids, and by the time we started shooting I felt like I was this dude. I wish that I always had that luxury of getting there that early and just sort of becoming part of the local environment.
We Got This Covered: Julianne, can you talk specifically about playing a domestic violence victim in this, and what it was like to research the role?
Julianne Hough: It’s a big responsibility to do it right to where if somebody has gone through that, it feels real and honest to them. So I went and talked to women in shelters, I know people, friends, family, my own experiences, but at the same time it was such a safe environment to do it in. Dave (Lyons who plays Kevin Tierney) is one of my closest friends now, and with Lasse he can put you in a vulnerable situation but not feel exposed. It was interesting and hard but it was also comforting.
We Got This Covered: Josh and Julianne, Lasse had you to doing a lot of improvisation on set. Was that new to you, and was there a scene that each of you brought that you were proud of and so glad to see make it into the movie?
Josh Duhamel: There’s a lot of stuff that Lasse and I talked about before. I loved My Life as a Dog and I talked to him about trying to find something, a little thread of just normal human behavior that doesn’t necessarily have to mean much but is something that people relate to. All the stuff on the beach, he just let us go. It wasn’t that we didn’t follow the script, we just knew what we had to say in the script and from there he just trusted us to let it go and find what the scene was really about, whatever scene it was.
For me it was the most liberating time I’ve ever had shooting a movie. It was terrifying in the beginning because Julianne came back after the first day and said “you know what? We improvised, it was great!” And I said “what do you mean you improvised?” Normally I know my lines and I go and say them, so it was scary but he really trusted us more so than anybody I have ever worked with and that was really empowering.
Julianne Hough: It keeps you on the tip of your toes, making sure that you’re listening and being as real as possible. Lasse used to say “oh don’t even look, just say whatever you want to say.” The scene where I first meet Lexi, it started out very much like it was on script and then it moved on and you would do like 10 minutes scenes and then just find the best of what was there, and it was really fun because with kids you don’t know what they’re gonna say anyway in real life so you just have to go along with it. It was scary at first, but I never felt so trusted in anything that I have done so thank you Lasse!
We Got This Covered: Julianne, what does a guy have to do to get your attention and keep it?
Julianne Hough: Oh wow! There’s a list!
Nicholas Sparks: It helps to be an author (laughs).
Julianne Hough: Honestly, the freedom to be me. I think that anybody who I want to keep their attention or they want to keep mine is just to be able to let me be myself and support me and vice versa… Is that a good answer? I don’t know.
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We Got This Covered: Lasse, can you tell us more about your strengths in adapting material like this where you find the balance between sentiment and sentimentality, and allowing your actors to be vulnerable without it lapsing into cliché?
Lasse Hallström: Well I’m drawn to any material that keeps attention to character. Any story that is driven by character, a love story, demands an authenticity and a reality. If you set out to tell the story realistically you have to be awfully real in those performances. There’s no other way of doing it than playing around with the material and improvising, involving everybody on the cast and crew to make it real. To make a movie charming, you really have to be playful in all levels and open to ideas. It was a wonderful adventure and I love performances and I love actors. That was my first interest in life; I’m a frustrated actor myself.
I had a theory that sentimentality is something that happens if you’re not honest and real. If you’re striving for strong emotion and strong sentiment and you’re authentic with it and you’re honest with it, then you’re on the right side of the line. But if you step into sentimentality and there’s a false mood or a false tone or anything falls, it’s really dangerous in this kind of material.
We Got This Covered: Nicholas, how do you navigate the line between drama and melodrama? Also, you have had eight of your books adapted into movies. When you sit down to write, do you already have a movie planned in your eyes as well as a cast?
Nicholas Sparks: I’ll start with the second part of that question first. The process of conceiving a story, because of my history with Hollywood, really breaks down into two parts. You have the conception of the story, which I do keep in mind that there’s a possibility that it could be made into a film, so I try to come up or conceive of the story that is original and yet will have some threads of familiarity with my past work but still feel utterly fresh and original.
For instance, I think you can watch The Notebook and watch Safe Haven and they’re very different films and they have some threads of familiarity, but they’re very different and you can enjoy them both for the same and different reasons and that’s what you set out to do. So that’s the conception process; it’s got to pass this “okay it will be a good original film in the body of my own work and with everyone else’s work.” Then you get to the writing and it’s all about the novel from that point on because there’s no guarantee it will be made into a film.
The line between sentiment and sentimentality, it’s basically Lasse’s version but in the written word you have to strive for honesty and a character’s voice that surprises you. You want to write in such a way that the reader feels the emotion before the emotion is expressed by either character. So if someone is getting afraid, well the readers better have been afraid a couple pages before. It’s almost like when they finally fall in love you’re like “well yeah! I knew that! I knew that five pages ago! What took you so long to get the words out?!” That’s essentially what you’re trying to do.
We Got This Covered: Julianne, what would you say you have learned from playing Katie in this movie?
Julianne Hough: I think both Katie and I are fighters. People say it’s easy to walk away, but it’s sometimes not. Sometimes it’s harder to walk away in situations, but this was her own journey of setting herself free. Obviously she had the love of Alex and the security there, now knowing that there are two people in this together. Not to give away the end, but I really liked the fact that Katie was the one who ended the situation between her and Kevin because she didn’t need saving from him, she did it on her own and she became that strong fighter. But with having Alex there, that just gave her more strength.
You have to be able to be on your own and to be confident and secure in who you are to move forward. It always helps having great friends and family around, but at the end of the day it has to come from you.
We Got This Covered: Nicholas, have you heard that The Notebook is in the top five of the most romantic movies ever made?
Nicholas Sparks: I have heard this (laughs).
We Got This Covered: Where do you go to get that kind of emotion?
Nicholas Sparks: You go to character and you go to character voice. I think if you asked Marty and Wyck also, what they’re looking for are characters that catch your attention within the first 15 pages of the script. It’s the exact same thing with a novel. When you sit down to write Safe Haven, you want Katie to be interesting. You want to be drawn into her in the novel, and I think we have succeeded very well in the film with “who is this person? What is going on with her? I don’t know, but I’ve got to keep watching.” So then here comes Josh playing Alex, and it’s the same kind of thing. You focus in on the characters, give them voices that are original, but people that you also feel like you know and you like them. You’re like “I want to hear more about what this person says,” and of course you counterbalance that with a character that maybe you don’t like so much and you don’t want to get to know them better, and that’s how it starts.
We Got This Covered: Josh and Julianne, once you signed on this and knew you were doing Nicholas’ work, was there any pressure to live up to the other movies like The Notebook?
Josh Duhamel: You’re right, there’s a lot of pressure to live up to the success of some these previous movies, but we tried not to think about that. If I tried to do what Ryan Gosling did in The Notebook, I’d be pulling my hair out. If we try to replicate that in any way, it’s a trap. So we really tried to just focus on what this story was between us, what my relationship with these kids were, and just not try to force all the romantic big movie moments. With Lasse’s help, we really just tried to play the simple story and trust that it was going to be interesting, emotional romantic and funny and all these things that I’d like to see in a movie. So at the end of the day, this was its own entity apart from all of the other stories in my mind.
Julianne Hough: And I second that completely. I am the demographic of Nicholas Sparks’ books. I loved The Notebook, but again this was our version of what this story is. There is pressure to have these big movie moments, and at some point it was like “this should be more dramatic” and it didn’t need to be. We need to give the audience the credit that they deserve as they are intelligent to know what a real love story is without having to overdo it.
Nicholas Sparks: I also wanted to add that, as great as Josh and Julianne were and as great as Lasse was, that also comes from the producers. I think Marty and Wyck had a very clear idea of what they wanted. It’s why they decided to work with Lasse and it’s why these two were cast. You’re looking to make a film that has a real patient, beautiful love story at its core, and then you mingle that with so much else. One of the great things about this film was that everybody at this table was on exactly the same page throughout the entire process. We all knew what we wanted to accomplish by the end, and as Josh said we didn’t want to redo The Notebook. We wanted to do Safe Haven, and we wanted to do Safe Haven as well as we possibly can.
We Got This Covered: Josh and Julianne, could you talk about filming in Southport, North Carolina where the movie takes place. Also, Julianne can you talk about the cabin your character stays in?
Julianne Hough: I thought I was gonna be all method and stay in it one night, and then I was like “wow its tick infested and I don’t want to get Lyme disease!” It was amazing because it’s not every day that you get to shoot in the location where the story is set. It’s gorgeous, I love Southport and it’s kind of a hidden gem. I think that if I would go on vacation there, it would be just as wonderful. But the fact that we got to hang out with some of the local residents there, the restaurants were amazing, the vibe and going to the beach on the weekends when you had a day off, everything about it was amazing. I honestly think it was one of the best summers of my life thus far because it was so calm. There’s something about the South in general in that you get more time in the day and you get to enjoy each moment and not rush to the next.
Josh Duhamel: I concur. I had so much fun here. Like I said before, I had two weeks before we ever started shooting and I really became a local. I bought my cabana from Wal-Mart, I had my cooler, I had my boogie board, I had my book, and I just hung out. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to North Carolina, but the beaches there are incredible. It’s one of those places that’s a sleepy little town but it’s very quaint and charming all those things that you sort of think of when you read about them. All these old colonial houses overlooking the sea and the marina, it’s just really fantastic. We had a lot of fun.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank everyone for participating. Be sure to check out Safe Haven, in theatres this Thursday.Previous