Lasse Hallstrom brings Nicholas Sparks’ ‘Safe Haven’ to the big screen

Lasse Hallstrom
Lasse Hallstrom

The upcoming film adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks’ novel Safe Haven is the eighth time the author’s novels has been brought to the big screen.  And while, yes, there is a typical Sparks’ love story at the heart of the book and film, Safe Haven has things that make it different from any of the previous movies.

Each has featured tragic loss of life.  They all feature love stories that are incredibly romantic.  They’re all set in similar locales, for the most part, in and around North Carolina.  But Safe Haven is the first film where one of the main characters is in jeopardy from another character, rather than from disease, disaster or war.

Considering how collaborative the process of making a movie usually is, it isn’t surprising that when asked, the film’s principals say they were on the “same page”.  But when you delve further into the story, you learn that isn’t just lip-service to an ideal.  They really were on the same page.

Take the example of avoiding the crossing of that line that separates the realistic sentimental from the false sentimentality. At a recent press conference in Los Angeles, director Lasse Hallstrom was asked how to do this and he said, “You just make it honest.  It only becomes sentimentality when it is clearly false.”  Author Nicholas Sparks was asked a similar question about how he avoids crossing that line when he writes the novels, and said, “it’s all about being honest.”

Safe Haven is the story of a woman trying to escape something and the man she meets in the small town she flees to.  Southport, North Carolina is a gorgeous spot on the coast and made a perfect backdrop for this story and for movie.  The man she meets there, “Alex Wheatly,” a single dad with two young kids and trying to cope with raising them alone, is played by Josh Duhamel.  His wife died of cancer a few years earlier.  Asked about working with children, something Duhamel hasn’t done a lot of in his films, he said: “Making a movie without kids is like Christmas without kids.”  He praised the authenticity that Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland, relative newcomers to movie-making, brought to the film.

Julianne Hough
Julianne Hough says director Lasse Halstrom is ‘an actor’s director’ and made her feel safe in her first dramatic role

Julianne Hough, best known as the youngest professional dancer to win the coveted mirror-ball trophy twice on Dancing With the Stars, is working in her first truly dramatic role.  She said one of the best things about this film was that “Lasse is an actor’s director.”  Nicholas Sparks said the same thing.  So did Josh Duhamel.  So did the film’s producers.

This was the second collaboration between Sparks, Hallstrom and producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey.  They previously teamed on Dear John and the producers were effusive in their praise of their choice of director for this project.  “We wanted Lasse because we knew from the start he was the best choice for this.”

Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough
Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough

Both Hough and Duhamel made it clear that Hallstrom made them feel safe on-set and trusted him to get the best out of them.   Parts of Hough’s character of “Katie Feldman” involved showing a vulnerability she’d never done before in a movie, and she credits Hallstrom with allowing her to bring forth that aspect of the character.  She also said that she’d wanted to “…go all method and spend a night in the house”, referring to the run-down house out in the woods near Southport where Katie lives; “but it was infested with ticks and I didn’t want to get Lyme disease.”  This is just one example of how committed she was to the role.

Duhamel spent two weeks in Southport prior to the start of filming, to get into character and to soak up the small town vibe and he gushed about how much fun that was.  “You get to know the people, you just hang out at the beach and I really got into what small town living is like.  I wish I could spend weeks before every movie just living where we are going to shoot.”

Safe Haven opens on February 14th, a date probably chosen to take advantage of romantics seeking a “date movie” for Valentine’s Day.

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