On Monday, I took you through a day on the set of The Best of Me movie, which opens theaters on October 17. Today I want to share some of the highlights of the five group interviews we conducted with author Nicholas Sparks and starring actors James Marsden, Liana Liberato, Michelle Monaghan, and Luke Bracey.
To help you better understand the interviews, I'll summarize the story for you, even though I provided the studio's synopsis on Monday.
Although Amanda and Dawson were only teenagers and were from different sides of the track, they fell in love with each other. Amanda lived a big house and had all the advantages; Dawson had no emotional or financial support and was trying to move past his family's violent and no-good reputation. When Dawson gets caught up in a situation that he can't get out of, the two part ways and lose contact with each other. Twenty years later, Dawson is single and working on an oil rig off the Louisiana coast, and Amanda is a mother and wife, still living in the Carolina Lowcountry. When they are finally reunited to fulfill a deathbed request of a mutual friend, will love reignite?Our first interview of the day was with author Nicholas Sparks, and most of our questions concerned the process of turning the novel The Best of Me into a movie. Sparks is comfortable with inevitable changes, noting that "some things work better on film than they do in books." He went on to say,
For instance, a car chase always works better on film [and] scenes that have some real emotional intensity, like anger scenes, fight scenes. Yes, I can do it in a book . . . but really, it's seeing [the actors'] faces that really helps to bring [these scenes] to life.Although Sparks has written about violence before (as in Safe Haven), The Best of Me amps up the level. We wanted to know how much of that meanness would be translated to the screen. Sparks responded by complimenting the supporting cast, especially the men who play Dawson's relatives, who are "scary people." He added that, although "Dawson's family situation is a major element of the person that he is and that he eventually becomes," the movie will not be "rated R for violence."
The Best of Me, like other Sparks stories, has a supernatural element to it. When asked about the origin of these aspects to his novels, Sparks told us that he and his wife once stayed in a house that seemed to be haunted by a Native American. Although he never saw a manifestation of the ghost, Sparks and his wife did have firsthand experiences with unexplained events. Later, he added paranormal elements to several of his stories.
Sparks went on to talk about working with his editor, filming other movies, and the inspiration for some of his characters. He also told us how his life has changed since he became a novelist and mentioned that he runs "a foundation to help disadvantaged and at-risk" kids.
Throughout the course of the rest of day we were able to conduct separate group interviews with each of the major actors: James Marsden, Liana Liberato, Michelle Monaghan, and Luke Bracey.
One of the questions we asked all the actors had to do with why they said yes to The Best of Me and how they liked the script.
Michelle Monaghan noted that she is a fan of Sparks's and his previous movies, but The Best of Me "struck a chord . . . because it was really powerful. And it's all about love and loss and second chances."
Luke Bracey told us that while reading the script he became very involved in and attached to the characters and events. He wanted to be part of the movie, saying, "Something that challenged me was [that] Dawson's got such strength and such vulnerability at the same time."
For James Marsden, both the script and the cast appealed to him. He mentioned that he "always wanted to work with Michelle" and thought "Luke and Liana [were] very, very talented young actors."
In addition, Monaghan and Marsden mentioned what a pleasure it was working with director Michael Hoffmann. According to Marsden, Hoffmann provides "a nice safety net. . . . He's an actor's director," who makes the cast "feel comfortable trying things even if they don't work. And he creates that tone and that environment on the set."
Of course we wanted to know how the actors related to the characters and the story. They all agreed that the main characters were easy to connect with and that their situation would have wide appeal.
For example, Monaghan thought her reactions to Amanda and Dawson's relationship were pretty universal, noting that no matter how happy you are in your life, "You still can't help but think, 'What if?' " She felt that "people are really honestly going to relate to [The Best of Me] because" they'll be able to "see the choices and the history" of Amanda and Dawson in themselves.
Marsden and Bracey talked about the issues involved with sharing a role and creating continuity. Bracey said, "We worked on small, physical things, but we also agreed that [Dawson] comes a long way from when I play him to when James [does]. . . . So we just wanted the subtleties to be there, which tied [the performances] together."
Marsden agreed, telling us that "it's more about being on the same page as far as who this guy is and maybe having some mannerisms that are similar. . . . We would ask each other questions [such as], 'In this situation, what do you think [Dawson] would do, how do you think he would behave?' "
We also wanted to know how all four of them prepared for their roles. For example, Liana Liberato played the young Amanda in the early 1990s, in a time period before the actress was even born.
Liberato credited the help of director Hoffmann, saying that he "had us listen to [90s] music, and he would send us articles on stuff that was happening in this area at the time." She also noted that her hairstyle and costume helped immerse her in the time period. But in the end, Liberato found that relating to the past was not that difficult "because my character's just like a normal teenage girl. Instead of listening to her . . . iPod, she's listening to her Walkman."
Bracey embraced his character's hobbies and interests. Commenting on the fact that young Dawson was learning car mechanics, he said, "I think one of the really exciting parts about my job is that I get to learn about a lot of different things from experts in the field. . . . I really tried to delve into [Dawson's] passions. As I said, I tried to learn about cars and . . . to do some work on physics and science and all those things."
Finally, I'll never again watch actors eating in a movie without thinking about what Marsden told us. Here's how he described filming the scene shown in the photograph at the right:
We were eating some crawfish, which is not really my favorite thing. . . . When you're eating in a scene, you eat that [food] all day, because it's take after take after take over here. (Don't ever smoke a cigarette in a scene. You'll smoke, like, two packs just doing the scene.) But that [scene] was fun. I've never had crawfish before. I actually like it now.I want to end this post by saying how incredibly gracious, friendly, funny, and down to earth all four actors are. They immediately put us at ease, asked us questions about ourselves, and kindly posed for individual photographs with each blogger. Thanks so much for making our job easier and for making us feel welcome on the set. And a huge thanks to Relativity Media for inviting me to the movie set and for this incredible opportunity.
Finally, I'm excited to share this special The Best of Me movie feature, introduced by the group Lady Antebellum and featuring their song "I Did with You," from the movie soundtrack.
Don't forget that you can follow all The Best of Me movie news by searching for hashtag #TheBestOfMe on Twitter or by liking and/or following the movie on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.