IAR SET VISIT: 'Safe Haven'

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 09:00 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR SET VISIT: 'Safe Haven'

Are you looking for the perfect date movie for Valentine’s Day?

Then look no further than the new romantic-thriller Safe Haven, which opens in theaters on Thursday February 14th and is from Academy Award-nominated director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), best selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember) and Relativity Media, the same team behind the box office smash Dear John

Safe Haven revolves around a young woman named Kate (Julianne Hough) with a mysterious past. When Kate arrives in the small town of Southport, North Carolina, she bonds with a widower named Alex (Josh Duhamel) with two small children of his own. Reluctant to build any ties in community, Kate and Alex eventually begin a relationship that will be threatened by the dark secrets of her past. In addition to Hough and Duhamel, the film also features performances from Cobie Smulders (The Avengers), David Lyons (NBC’s Revolution), Noah Lomax (Playing for Keeps), and newcomer Mimi Kirkland

Last summer, I had the pleasure of traveling to Wilmington, North Carolina (along with several other members of the press) to visit the set of Safe Haven and talk with some of the cast and crew. While on set, I had a chance to speak with acclaimed director Lasse Hallstrom, and actors Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, as well as witness filming, which included a staged fire and even a complete fireworks show. 

Upon arrival on set, which was actually a small seaside cul de sac in Wilmington, we had a chance to sit down and speak with actor Josh Duhamel, who had just been wrapped for the day. The Transformers star was kind enough to take a few minutes before leaving set to speak to us about his work on the film. 

I began the conversation by asking Duhamel if he was familiar with Nicholas Sparks’ novels before he signed on to the project. “I knew the movies,” he admitted. I think everybody talks about The Notebook whenever they think of one of these, as they should. I think it’s a movie that will stand the test of time. So I think that’s the first movie that I think of when I think of Nicholas Sparks. But he’s done a lot of really good movies and what I liked about this was it wasn’t a typical love story,” Duhamel explained. “I think it’s going to be different than what people typically think of when they think of Nicholas Sparks. So if I was going to do it, I wanted it to be a little bit different and this is because there’s a whole suspense thriller aspect to it, which I think is cool.”

The actor also discussed what he likes about his character, Alex. “When I first read it I passed on it because I just didn’t feel like there was enough to do. But then I’d read another draft many months later and the script just kept getting better. I mean they’re continually rewriting, polishing and making it better. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I love Lasse Hallstrom,” he explained. “I love his movies, I love the sensibility of his movies and they’re unpredictable. He’s going to find something different and unpredictable about every scene.” 

“The more I thought about this character, I thought it seems on the outset like this guy is your typical suburban dad, widowed, kind of boring, lives in a small town, and works in a general store,” Duhamel continued. “But then I started thinking about what he has been going through the last two and a half years. How do you deal with the loss of your wife? How do your kids react to that and there was something in the nuance of what seemed simple. There was a lot of complexity to it. Those are sometimes the hardest characters to play because it’s not always on the page. You have to dig. So I met with therapists and I talked a lot with Lasse, and Nicholas before we started shooting it. I asked Nicholas what was your thinking behind this guy when you wrote him?” 

“So I just did as much as I could to try to understand what it would be like to go though losing a loved one and then having to raise kids on your own after that,” the actor continued. “Is there resentment? Is there guilt? Obviously there’s sadness and loneliness, but I think there’s also some resentment even though (the kids) had nothing to do with the fact that she died. There’s some resentment there like, this isn’t what I signed up for. I didn’t sign up to raise these kids on my own. Then there’s guilt for feeling resentment. There’s a struggle between my son and I, which I think was really interesting and that wasn’t there in the beginning,” Duhamel explained. “That this kid and I don’t get along and that he blames me a lot of the time for her being gone even though he knows I had nothing to do with it.”

Since so many of the movies that have been based on Nicholas Sparks books have become iconic, such as The Notebook and Dear John, Duhamel was asked if he feels pressure to deliver a great performance for Sparks’ fans. “Yeah I do. I guess all I can do is go moment to moment, scene by scene, do as much research and work as I can on what this character’s going through, what the scene is about and just do my best,” he answered. “I also think that I can’t compare my performance to anybody else because even though they’re all love stories, they’re all different. This character is different than what Channing (Tatum) played in Dear John, or what Zac (Efron) played in The Lucky One, or what Ryan (Gosling) did in The Notebook. They’re all different, and they’re all different kinds of love stories. These are two people that have been through a lot of loss. So it’s not like a first love. It’s more about two people that have been really damaged and are able to find love again.”

Since Duhamel had mentioned the thriller aspect of the film, I asked him if he thought that component gives this project an edge with the male audience that is used to seeing him in the Transformer films, who might not usually be the target audience for a Nicholas Sparks film. “Well I mean there is a stigma that goes with these. These are chick flicks,” Duhamel admitted. “But you’re right. I think that there is an aspect to this that guys will like too. David Lyons has a great part in this movie, and actually, I think he has the best part. I wanted to play his part, but they wouldn’t let me. He’s a really capable actor, dense, but sympathetic in some weird way and that’s what this character was in the book. So the challenge for me was to try to find as many dimensions as I could with this guy and it’s not just about the girl, it’s also about my relationship with my kids. You can’t just jump into a relationship when you’ve had your kids who are nine and seven without making sure that they’re all cool with each other.”

Finally, before Duhamel left the set, he was kind enough to pose for individual photos with each of the reporters. Most of the journalists visiting the set that day were female, and more than happy to have their photo taken with the Hollywood hunk. However, being one of the few male reporters on set, the actor seemed strangely more excited to have his picture taken with me for some odd reason. Duhamel and I got a bit silly for our photo and the actor even jumped into my arms for an embrace and a goofy face, which I think made some of my female colleagues a bit green with envy. 

On the day of our visit, the crew was preparing for a night shoot and once the sun went down, we had a chance to watch iconic director Lasse Hallstrom shoot what would turnout to be a complicated scene. The shot involved the aforementioned fireworks going off in the sky as Duhamel and Noah Lomax’s characters are watching from a small boat out at sea. Simultaneously, a fire breaks out at Alex’s store where Kate is running from her past, and Alex’s daughter Kristen could possibly be trapped inside. 

When Hallstrom took a break from shooting, we had the rare pleasure of speaking with the acclaimed filmmaker. I began the interview by asking Hallstrom, after making Dear John, what drew him back to the world of Nicholas Sparks. “The idea of working on this particular project was different from anything else I’ve done before. It’s a thriller-romance, it has that challenge, and working with the same group of people at Relativity was definitely an attraction.”

The director has a reputation of casting actors for his films not only based on their previous film work but also from watching interviews they have done promoting their projects. Hallstrom was asked if that was how he came to cast Hough in the movie. “I watch bits and pieces of films,” he answered. “I watch them all and I check how they deal with being in the lime light on a talk show for example. I think it’s very telling to see how they function. It’s important to be able to handle stress well, and you kind of see how they handle stress because it’s stressful doing those talk shows,” Hallstrom explained. “While I checked out Julianne and her interviews, I also watched her in Footloose and in Rock of Ages, as well as watching bits and pieces of a film (Untitled Diablo Cody Project) that hasn’t come out yet where she plays a rebellious Christian girl. So I saw a couple of scenes from that movie between her and Russell Brand.”

Hallstrom is also known for letting his actors improvise on set, so I asked the director how much improvising he uses on a project like this, which is of course based on a book written by a best selling author. “I want to make it as real as it possibly can be to counter any sentimentalism. I want strong sentiment, but I really shy away from sentimentality,” he explained. 

In all of Nicholas Sparks’ books and their film adaptations, location plays a very important part. We asked the director to discuss the movie’s location and how it’s almost like another character in the film. “Nicholas told me that he came here ten years ago and loved the place and started to think what he could write for this town. So that was interesting to hear,” Hallstrom said. “I love this area, I love the people here, and they are so friendly. It must be the friendliest tribe I’ve ever met, and it’s kind of a wild mix of the big mainstream living so close to this very picturesque and quaint fishing village. There is something magical about the fact that we built the store exactly where an old store stood almost one hundred and fifty years ago. It’s exactly the same shape and they actually found the corner stones from that old store. So that’s a good sign.”

After Hallstrom went back to set to continue shooting, and before we had to leave, we were able to finish our evening off by speaking briefly to the beautiful Julianne Hough. Safe Haven is a departure for Hough, who was first discovered on Dancing with the Stars, and up to this point has been mostly featured in musical based films such as Burlesque, Footloose, and Rock of Ages

I began the interview by asking the talented actress if she took the role in Safe Haven in order to show off her acting skills and prove to people that she can do more than just sing and dance. “The main reason I did this film, of course except for Josh and everybody, was because of Lasse,” she explained. “I really wanted to work with a director that was so prestigious in what he does and has made an impact in all sorts ways. This was an interesting process for me because everything I've done before has been so scripted on the page, and this is almost like you have no script. I mean you do have a script, but every take Lasse says, ‘Make it your own, say whatever you want!’ So we were kind of improving most of this.”

We followed up by asking the actress if she likes working in that way. “I do because it's so much more real. It's so real because I do relate so much to her and it's coming a from me and what I would say. It's not a lot of talking. It's a lot of feeling and looking into each other's eyes and saying it that way.”

The actress also discussed first reading Nicholas Sparks’ books and her love for the films adapted from his work. “I read his books before I obviously saw any of his movies. I was in London actually when I read A Walk To Remember and it was my favorite movie from a book ever. Then when the DVD came out I watched the commentary with Adam Shankman and Mandy Moore like seventeen times,” she admitted. “And who doesn’t love The Notebook? It’s like the perfect I’m-going-to-get-a-pint-of-ice-cream-and-sob-my-eyes-out kind of movie,” Hough added. “I think that it’s what people want to see. It’s a triumph in so many ways.” 

Next, we asked the actress what attracted her to the character of Kate. “To be honest I've been through certain things in my life that I think a lot of people have actually been through where maybe it's not physical abuse, but there's definitely some kind of abuse somebody has gone through whether it's bullying, or anything else,” Hough explained. “So to me, I definitely related personally to her and just how guarded she is. She's very guarded and doesn't open herself up a lot to people because she's been hurt. I think that's typical of a lot of people after they've been burned and I'm very similar, you can ask my friends,” she joked.

I also had a chance to ask Hough about working with her co-star Josh Duhamel. “He's very easy to work with,” she said. “I mean he is Alex! He's the nice guy who's been through things that shape who he is, but he's that safe person in real life too. He's very open to people and wanting to be their friend. He's just got that light about him where you feel safe around him. When I'm around him when we're working together there's a safety, and a comfort with him.”

Finally, I was able to ask the actress if she feels that she has learned a lot from working with director Lasse Hallstrom on this film that she’ll be able to take with her on to her next project. “Absolutely,” she replied enthusiastically. “I feel so much more confident as an actress. But I've also been put in a situation where I am safe to do anything and I can be confident in the choices that I'm making. I don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong because there's no one saying that I actually need to do it a certain way.”

Safe Haven opens in theaters on Valentine’s Day, Thursday February 14th.

Relativity is teaming up with Fathom Events to present, “A Night with Nicholas SparksSafe Haven: Filmmakers, Author and Stars Bring the Book to Life.” Get a VIP first-look at your favorite scenes from the book translated on the big screen for only one night, on Thursday January 17th! Moderated by Maria Menounos with best selling author Nicholas Sparks, director Lasse Hallstrom, stars Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, and producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey - the event will be broadcasting live to select theaters nationwide. Buy your tickets now and enjoy heart-warming, funny stories directly from the stars and filmmakers about the eagerly- awaited film. 

Full Disclosure: Safe Haven was produced by Relativity Media, iamROGUE’s parent company. 

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