Photo Credit, Jennifer Buonantony
Press Pass LA had the opportunity to attend the press day for the new film Safe Haven, based on the novel from Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Dear John), starring John Duhamel and Julianne Hough, opening Valentine’s Day. The event featured a live performance by Gavin DeGraw and Colbie Caillat of their song “We Both Know” from the film’s soundtrack.
The event took place at the Four Seasons, Bevely Hills, and included a panel featuring Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, director Lasse Hallström, producers Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen, and author Nicholas Sparks, who answered audience questions about the film. Here are a few of our favorite quotes from the day!
ON ADAPTING THE NOVEL TO THE SCREEN
Q: Nicholas, how did you feel Lasse brought your story from the page to the screen?
SPARKS: Lasse is an actor’s director. And by that I mean he tends to draw out fantastic performances from the cast. That’s what all directors are supposed to do and everyone has different ways of doing it. Some films are very plot driven but this film is very character driven and relationship driven, emotion driven, really, and you need someone who has a really good way of enabling trust in the cast and crew.Particularly the cast to allow them to stretch themselves to get the performance that you are going to need to provide all of the emotional ups and downs of the film. Lasse is a master at it.
LASSE: That’s an excellent answer! (laughs)…Any material that is driven by character, particularly in a love story- to be there to try to observe two people falling in love- it demands authenticity and reality. If you set out to tell the story realistically you have to be awfully real with those performances and there is no way of doing it but playing around with the material and improvising and involving everybody on all levels to make it real and make it charming. To really make a movie charming, you need to be playful and open an all levels and you need to have an idea on how to do that within the confines of a shooting schedule and how to edit that. It was a fantastic adventure! I love performances and I love actors, that’s my first interest in life. I am a frustrated actor myself (laughs); I love to act.
Q: When you sit down to write a novel like Safe Haven, do you have the film in mind? What is the process?
SPARKS: The process of conceiving a story, because of my history with Hollywood, comes down to two parts. The conception of the story is first, which I do keep in mind that there is a possibility that it could be made into film. So I try to conceive of a story that is original and that will still have threads of familiarity with my past work but still feel fresh and original. For instance, I think you can watch The Notebook and watch Safe Haven and they are very different films. They have some threads of familiarity but they are very different and you can enjoy them for both the same and different reasons. That’s what you set out to do. So that’s the conception process. It has to be a good original film within the body of my own work and the context of everyone else’s work. Then you get to the writing and it’s all about the novel from that point on because there is no guarantee that it will be made into a film.
CHALLENGES FOR THE ACTORS
Q: Julianne and Josh, how is this film different from the other films you have taken on? What challenged you or stood out?
HOUGH: I left the dancing and the singing outside! (laughs) I was blown away and blessed that I got this opportunity. My whole life I have just wanted to entertain- sing, dance, act- and the fact that I got this opportunity was huge. For me it was going to an acting coach and getting more training. Lasse is such an actor’s director so I got to put my trust in him. It (this film) was definitely a lot more heartfelt and personal.
DUHAMEL: For me a movie without kids on the set is like Christmas without kids. They just make it a little bit more fun and there is something really great. There is no pretense and they (his co-stars and onscreen children) were just there to have fun. These two in particular were very sweet kids and by nature didn’t have a lot of experience in the business. We worked with them and met with them before. We spent some time on the beach together. For me, the relationship with them was as important as the relationship with Julianne in the movie. Both characters (his and Julianne’s) have been through so much. My character has been through what he thought was his first love and lost that, now anything that comes after depends on how the kids react to that. So any decision that my character makes going forward had to be okay with the kids too so that relationship was very specific. Luckily they were really, really fun kids to work with. I got to be there (in South Port, where the film was shot) two weeks before I started work on the film. I got to soak in the local environment so by the time we started shooting, I felt like I was this dude. I wish I always had that luxury of getting their early and becoming part of the local environment.
Q: Lasse is known for allowing his actors to improv within the scenes. How much of this the final film was improvised and how did you find working in that style?
DUHAMEL: There’s a lot of stuff that Lasse and I talked about before filming. The whole door runner (a gag in the film where the door to his store keeps sticking) because I loved My Life as a Dog and we discussed similarly finding a small thread of human behavior that doesn’t have to mean much but is something people will relate to. So we talked about that and we kept that gag going with the jeep door and then at the end with David’s character (the climactic scene) it all came full circle.
All the stuff on the beach, you know, he (Lasse) just let us go. It wasn’t that we didn’t follow the script. We just knew what we had to say (the gist from the script) and then Lasse just trusted us to let go and find what the scene was really about, whatever scene we were doing. For me it was the most liberating time I’ve ever had shooting a movie. It was terrifying in the beginning…like I said I had two weeks in South Port before I started shooting and she (Julianne) comes back after the first day of filming and is like “we improved, it was great”. I was like “what do you mean we improved”. Normally I know my lines and I go in and say them (laughs), so it was scary. But he really trusted us more so than anyone I’ve ever worked with and that was empowering.
HOUGH: I absolutely agree. It keeps you on the tip of your toes and makes sure that you are listening and being as real as possible especially with the kids. The scene when I first meet Lexie (Josh Duhamel’s onscreen daughter played by Mimi Kirkland) started out on script and then it moved to improv. It was great because you never know what kids are going to say anyway in real life….Lasse trusted us more than any director I’ve worked with so thank you Lasse!
ON THE FILM’S MESSAGE
Q: Julianne, what was it like bringing the reality of domestic violence to the screen and how did you prepare for this role?
JULIANNE: It’s a big responsibility to do that and if someone has gone through that (domestic abuse) it feels real and honest to them. So I went and I talked to women at shelters and I used friends, family, and my own experiences. At the same time, it was such a safe environment to do it in. Dave (David Lyons her co-star who plays Tierney her abuser) is one of my closest friends now, and with Lasse, he can put you in a vulnerable situation and make you not feel exposed. It was interesting and hard but it was also comforting to portray this role.
Q: What did you learn from your character?
HOUGH: I really liked the fact that Katie was the one who ended the situation between her and Tierney (her abuser)…
DUHAMEL: (jumping in) I didn’t, I wanted to do it!
HOUGH: She didn’t need saving from him. She did it on her own and she became that strong fighter and having Alex (Josh Duhamel’s character) there only made her stronger. I learned that you have to be able to be on your own and secure with who you are and confident 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.
ON FILMING IN SOUTH PORT, NORTH CAROLINA
Q: You actually shot this film in the town where the novel takes place. What was that like?
HOUGH: It was amazing. It’s not every day that you get to shoot in the location where the story is set. It’s gorgeous. I love South Port; it’s kind of a hidden gem! I think if i were to go there on vacation it would be just as wonderful. But I think the fact that we got to hang out with some of the local residents there, the restaurants were amazing, the overall vibe was great, the going to the beach on the weekends when you had a day off… everything about it was amazing. I think it was honestly one of the best summers of my life thus far because it was so calm. It’s something about the South in general, you have more time in the day and you get to enjoy each moment and not rush to the next.
DUHAMEL: I concur; I had so much fun. Like I said before, I had two weeks before we starting shooting, and I really became a local. I bought my cabana from Walmart, 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 been to North Carolina but the beaches there are just incredible and it’s one of those places that it’s a sleepy little town and it’s sort of quaint and charming and 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 and the people, not only that lived there but thew crew, all became a family. It’s one of the things I love about making movie, that you really get close with the crew and the people that you are working with in such a short amount of time. This set in particular was a really special place.
ON BEING COMPARED TO “THE NOTEBOOK”
Q: Was there a lot of pressure to live up to the previous success of The Notebook or other Nicholas Sparks novels turned films?
UHAMEL: There is a certain pressure to live up to the success of some of these previous movies, but we try not to think about that. We looked at this for the story that it was. If I try to do what Ryan Gosling did in The Notebook, I’d be pulling my hair out. I mean those two (Gosling and Rachel McAdams) were great in that movie, they really were so if we try to replicate that in any way it’s a trap. We tried to just focus on what this story was between us and what my relationship was with the kids. We tried not to force all the romantic big movie moments. With Lasse’s help, we tried to just play this simple story and trust that it was going to be interesting and emotional and romantic and funny- all these things that I like to see in a movie. So at the end of the day, this is its own entity apart from all the other stories in my mind.
HOUGH: And I second that completely. I mean I am the demographic of Nicholas Sparks books. I loved The Notebook but again this was our version of what this story is. It was great having Lasse to bring us down when we needed it, because there is pressure to have these big movie moments. At one point we (motioning to Duhamel) were like ” this should be more dramatic” and it wasn’t and it didn’t need to be. Lasse reminded us to give the audience the credit that they deserve that they are intelligent enough to know what a real love story is without having to overdue it.
WHERE IS YOUR SAFE HAVEN?
DUHAMEL: For me that’s easy! It’s home, either going to where I am from in South Dakota and seeing my three sisters (actually not any more, one is in college now) but everybody still lives there so it’s always nice to go back there. But you know now for instance, when we are traveling around a lot promoting the movie, it’s just great to get back home and sort of decompress.
HOUGH: Mine’s my dogs! I like having my dogs, they are kind of like the mascot of every film that I do because at the end of a long, maybe emotional, maybe exciting day, they are always there to love me and for me to love them… and to get a shower by Lexie (her cavalier King Charles Spaniel) who kisses my face off! They are my home, my safe place, and also my actual home.
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