By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough are the latest Hollywood pairing in a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book. They join such illustrious star-crossed onscreen lovers as Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling (“The Lucky One”), Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum (“Dear John”), Richard Gere and Diane Lane (“Nights in Rodanthe”) and Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, who co-starred in the weeper of all weepers, “The Notebook.” (Seven of Sparks’ books have been adapted so far.)
Duhamel, 40, and Hough, 24, recently spoke about their experience filming “Safe Haven,” a story about Katie, a battered wife (Hough), who takes refuge in a small town where she meets Alex, a handsome young widower (Duhamel) with two children. The Lasse Hallstrom-directed romantic drama was shot on location in Southport, N.C, a quaint coastal town south of Wilmington, where the book also is set.
Q: Julianne, after appearing in a lot of musicals and dance-focused films, this is your first thriller-romance. Did you have to do anything different to prepare for this role?
Hough: Yeah, I left the dancing and the singing outside. I was really just blown away and blessed that I got this opportunity. My whole life, I’ve just wanted to entertain, and the fact that I got this opportunity to do that was huge. For me, it was going to an acting coach and getting more training. Lasse’s such an actor’s director; I got to put my trust in him. It was definitely a lot more heartfelt and personal.
Q: Julianne, did you research domestic violence for this role?
Hough: It’s a big responsibility to do it right. If somebody has gone through that, it feels real and honest for them. I talked to women at shelters. I know friends of family and my own experiences, but at the same time it was such a safe environment to do it in. Lasse he can put you in a vulnerable situation but you do not feel exposed. It was interesting and hard, but it also was comforting.
Q: Lasse had you doing a lot of improv on set. Is that a little new for both of you and is there a particular scene you remember something you both brought to that you were glad made it in there and were proud of that?
Duhamel: There’s a lot of stuff that Lasse and I talked about before, like the sticky door. I wanted to find something, a little thread of normal human behavior and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean much but is something people will relate to. So we talked a lot about that and we kind of kept it going and then there was something with my Jeep. The door wouldn’t open, and that just kept going. It paid off at the end when Dave (Lyon’s) character (the abusive husband) couldn’t get through that door so it came full circle. All the stuff on the beach, he just let us go. It wasn’t that we didn’t follow the script. We knew what we had to say. He just trusted us to let it go and find what the scene was really about, whatever scene it was. For me, it was the most liberating time I’ve ever had ever shooting movies.
Hough: It keeps you on the tip of your toes making sure you’re listening and you’re being as real as possible, especially with the kids. Lasse used to say, “Don’t even look (at the script), just say whatever you want to say.” Especially the scene when I first meet Lexi. It started out very on script and then it moved on. You would do like 10-minute scenes and then just find the best of what was there. It was really fun because with kids you don’t know what they’re going to say anyway in real life so you kind of just have to go along with it. It was scary at first, but I’ve never felt so trusted in anything I’ve done.
Q: Julianne, what does a guy have to do to get your attention and keep it?
Hough: There’s a list. (Laughter) No. Honestly, the freedom to be me. Anyone who I want to keep their attention or they want to keep mine just has to let me be myself and support me and vice versa. Is that a good answer? Be hot? (She laughs again.) I don’t know.
Q: In the film Alex tells Katie, “You’re safe with me.” Where is your safe haven?
Duhamel: For me, it’s easy. It’s home. It’s either going back where I’m from, North Dakota. Seeing my three sisters— one’s in college now—but everyone lives there still so it’s always nice to go back there. Now, for instance, when we’re traveling a lot and promoting the movie, it’s great to get back home and just decompress. It’s not a very exciting answer but it’s home.
Hough: Mine’s with my dogs. I like having my dogs. They’re kind of like the mascot of ever film that I do because at the end of a long, maybe emotional, maybe exciting day, they’re always there to love me and for me to love them and to get a shower from Lexi who kisses my face off. They’re like my safe place, and home. They’re Clavier King Charles Spaniels. I have two.
Q: Once you signed onto the project and you knew you were bringing a Nicholas Sparks story to the screen, was there any kind of reaction where you had to follow up?
Duhamel: There is a lot of pressure to live up to the success of the previous movies (based on Sparks’ books) but we try not to think about that. We looked at this for the story that it was. If I tried to do what Ryan Gosling did in “The Notebook,” I’d be pulling my hair out. Those two (Gosling and Rachel McAdams) were great in that movie. If we try and replicate that in any way, it’s a trap. So we really tried to focus on what this story was between us and what my relationship with these kids were and not try and force all the romantic big movie moments. With Lasse’s help, we really just tried to play the simple story and trust that it was going to be interesting and romantic and funny and all these things that I like to see in a movie.
Hough: I second that completely. I am the demographic of Nicholas Sparks’ books. I loved “The Notebook” but again this was our version of what this story is. There is pressure to have these big movie moments, and at some point it was like, “Should this be more dramatic?” and it wasn’t and it didn’t need to be. The audience is intelligent enough to know what real love is without having us having to overdo it.
Q: Josh, could you imagine yourself living in a small town where everybody knows everybody and where your basically part of the community or are you more of a big city guy?
Duhamel: I grew up in a state full of little towns like that. Where I’m from is a little bit bigger but North Dakota is sort of similar minus the beach and all the beauty. It does have it’s own beauty for about two months out of the year and then it gets really cold. It’s sort of in my blood I guess. I grew up in a place like this so I would be more akin to live in a place like this than a big city. I love New York but that’s too much for me. That town just swallowed me up. I lived there for three years. I’d probably prefer a smaller town like Los Angeles.
Q: Both of you worked with two very naturalistic child actors in this. What was that experience like for you?
Duhamel: For me, a movie without kids on the set is like Christmas without kids. They just make it a little bit more fun. There’s no pretension. They’re just there to have fun. These two (Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax) are really sweet kids by nature. They didn’t have a lot of experience in the (movie) business. We worked with them and met with them before. I spent some time on the beach with Mimi. Noah was in Atlanta, so we didn’t get to hang out as much. For me, the relationship with them was as important as the relationship with Julianne in the movie. My character has already been through what he thought was his first love and lost that. Now anyone who comes after will depend on how the kids react to her. Any decision I make going forward has to be OK with them too. So that relationship was really specific and luckily they were really, really fun kids to work with.
Q: How long did you get to know them?
Duhamel: They started working two weeks before I started which at first I was like, “Really? What am I going to do for two weeks?” But it was great because I really got to soak in the local environment, and live in Southport. I got to really think about what I want to do in this movie. I wrote a lot and spent a lot of time with the kids, and by the time we started shooting I felt like I was this dude. I wish that I always had the luxury of getting there that early and just sort of become part of the local environment.