Those who know the name Nicholas Sparks most likely think of THE NOTEBOOK first and foremost. As an author his works explore romance and drama, and almost always evoke some pretty extreme emotion. His newest big screen effort is SAFE HAVEN, which he wrote and acted as a producer as the first time. At the end of January, Sparks came through Dallas, joined by the film’s stars Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, as part of a promotional tour for the movie. I had a chance to sit down and talk to them on camera, which you can see below, followed by our own Gary Murray’s written recap of the press junket. SAFE HAVEN opens on Valentine’s Day, and is without a doubt the perfect date movie of 2013. Big, BIG thanks to Grady May for editing these videos while I was under the gun.
The first thing one will notice about Julianne Hough is how small she is person. The young actress of such films as Burlesque, Footloose and Rock of Ages is best known for her dancing. She has been one of the instructors for the very successful show Dancing with the Stars, winning the title twice for her celebrity partner.
She was joined at the media conference with her co-star from Safe Haven. Josh Duhamel was excited not only about being in the Lone Star State but also about a gift in his promotion bag — a “Don’t Mess with Texas” T-shirt. He wore it under his regular clothing and flashed the press with it.
The two were in town promoting the newest Nicholas Sparks film. The story is of a young woman Katie (Julianne Hough) who must escape her life and ends up in a small coastal town. There she meets a local widower (Josh Duhamel) with two kids. The two first bond as friends and eventually as lovers. All the while, the ghosts of her past seem to be drifting in the backwaters of her happiness.
The two performers were very comfortable with each other. “Julianne is a very easy person to connect with, she’s an open book,” said Josh. “I knew this before this started, just having seen her on TV and hearing from people. She was very sweet, very relatable and easy to get along with.”
Though the two had met before, this was to be their first experience working together. Josh said, “When her name came up for this, I really liked the idea. These movies live or die on how well the two people who are supposed to be falling in love connect. Even though she may not have had all the experience that some of the other girls did that came in who were also very good, there was something easy about it. It wasn’t as if we had to work so hard at building chemistry in this movie. We didn’t have to break down any barriers in this movie in order to make it. It was just easy from the beginning.”
Josh, like most of America, knew Julianne from her television dancing performance and assumed that she was this very girly, petite flower. “She’s just the opposite of that,” Josh said, “she’s like a dude.”
Julianne laughed and retorted with, “That is actually a compliment. I like that. My brother is right above me and I was always the one hanging out with the guys anyway. I’m a dude that likes to wear heals and make-up.”
Julianne had nothing but compliments for her co-star. “I was really excited,” she said about working with Josh. “I had only met him at a few events as well but it was the same kind of thing. I’d be lying if I didn’t say he was an attractive person. You see an attractive, gorgeous man and you hope there is more to him than that. He’s super-intelligent and great at what he does. You wish there was something bad about him, but there is not. He’s a good guy.”
The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the man who helmed the films The Cider House Rules and Dear John. Both the actors found a different experience working with the iconic filmmaker.
Due to the schedule, Julianne started working on Safe Haven weeks before Josh. Josh admitted that he took advantage by soaking up the sun on the North Carolina coast. “I was like the veteran,” he said, “and the tables turned because she had been working for two weeks. She was like ‘Don’t even worry about the script – you get to say whatever you want and sort of let it flow’. I was like ‘What do you mean you let it flow?’ I need to follow a script. I’ve always done a little bit of improv and I like to add stuff if they’d let me. You have to really sort of get the blessing from the director but Lasse was all about collaboration and listening to ideas. I had never really had a director who was that trusting of me before.”
After working the first couple of days Josh basically understood what Julianne meant. “Within this sort of loose, freestyle way we describe it,” explained Josh, “it is very specific on what he wants. Lasse is an artist – he’s a poet in my opinion. He’s got this patience about him, this trust in the audience that they are going to understand it and get it.”
Of the improv process to re-shape the script, Josh said, “We are not going to force-feed the audience anything. We don’t need to force-feed the love story. We don’t hit all these big romantic moments just because it is a Nicholas Sparks movie. Throw all that out the window and just focus on whatever the scene is about and don’t push any of it. That’s what I think I like most about the movie at the end of the day because he was right – if we don’t push it and let it get overly romantic. What I focused on was trying to find the humor and playing around all that stuff and developing a real relationship.”
Julianne didn’t know Safe Haven was a Nicholas Sparks presentation when first approached for the role. “The story and the characters are what drew me and the fact that Lasse Hallstrom was directing. I knew that this was going to be my first role stepping outside the musical-based films that I had done. I knew that I wanted to work with a director that I could learn and grow from. I knew that he would push me in ways that I had never been pushed before. I had never done improv before. I’ve done live television, I’ve done concerts and competitions were everything is well-rehearsed. You do your thing and you pre-record for a musical. Working with Lasse was really, really nerve-wracking and super scary. They hired me as an actress on this one and I hope I can keep up. I actual felt more comfortable working with Lasse than I’ve even felt working on a musical where I had my crutch.”
Julianne did adore the character that came from the novel. “The one thing I love about Katie is that even though she has been through some things, she very strong and she’s guarded and she’s a fighter. But most of the time fighters tend to be a little bit broken and have gone through things to make them that way. I definitely relate to that because a perception of who I am is kind of like happy and positive,” she said of the role.
One of the big moments in Safe Haven is an abusive fight between Julianne Hough and her cinematic husband played by David Lyons. “That was a hard scene to shoot because of the issue at hand but it was kind of fun,” said Julianne. “I love action and I love the choreography. It was the first two weeks but I had not met David before.”
When they first met, Julianne was taken aback by David. She laughed at the encounter, saying, “It was like ‘Hey, I’m your husband and I’m gonna beat the shit out of you.’ It was a fear that worked well because I didn’t know who he was.” But now, she said, they are the best of friends, even though she did get slightly hurt shooting the scene. She also had a refrigerator fall over her in a scene where she is crawling around the kitchen.
Josh had a different experience during the filming. “This movie wasn’t very demanding physically for me,” he said, “but it was more about figuring out the psychology of this guy who could have easily been just a boring suburban dad. When I read the book the interesting characters to me were the character David Lyons played. Mine was pretty flat in the book. He was too nice, he was too perfect and he didn’t really have any flaws.”
This milquetoast character bothered Josh. “I wanted to give him some more depth, some more complexities. So I talked a lot with Lasse and told them what my ideas were.”
“Obviously” he said, “by the end of the movie he does do the right things and he is a good guy but it is how you get there, how you get to those moments. In finding a conflict with his son, it was having a real issue about her lying. It was about struggling with my wife and the grief and not having dealt with that and as a result it is reflecting on my kids and my relationship with my son. There was a lot more that what I saw originally. It was a lot more fun than I ever expected it to be. I liked the story but the biggest hurtle was to make this character more interesting.”
They shot 3 months in Southport. Josh took an apartment on the beach. “It was like a beach-bum, summer-surf condo that I had. It was nothing fancy but I loved it because I literally looked over the ocean and went there almost every day.”
The film featured two novice actors as Josh’s children. Julianne was in love with them both. “I want them to be to my kids,” she gushed. “I told their mom’s everyday that if my kids don’t turn out like yours, I’m taking your kids. We’ll swap. That’s what I love so much about these kids was that one was from Atlanta and one was from Raleigh, North Carolina. They weren’t child actor stars, they were real kids. They had so much fun making the movie and that’s what is so cool—seeing them have so much joy playing make-believe which is what we are all doing. We’re like jaded adults and they enjoyed it.”
Both had high praises for the location. “The community in Southport was really cool. We would go to the beach and there would be families. Sons would be out in the shallow water fishing for minnows. The town was so small and quaint. One woman would make food for us and another would make batches of cookies for the entire crew. Everybody would talk to us about your day was going and how we liked the town. It was good people.”
Some of the scenes take place in a very small cabin that was an actual location and not something just built for the production. The cabin was forty minutes from the town and it was on this big plantation. Julianne stayed in the cabin but for only one night. She said, “It was set deep in there and there were alligators. There were ticks and snakes and all sorts of beautiful creatures. The cabin was really cute. I could have lived there if it were closer to town and not so scary at night. Most people were men on the shoot and it was like 102 degrees, with humidity and no breeze. There was a lot of B.O happening. It was not so pleasant but it was beautiful on camera and it should stay that way.”