Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel in SAFE HAVEN, a film directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Photo credit: James Bridges. Picture © 2012 and courtesy of Relativity Media. All rights reserved.
- Dana Stevens
- Gage Lansky
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Safe Haven (2013)
Opened: 02/14/2013 Wide
|Showcase Cinem...||02/14/2013 - 03/28/2013||43 days|
|AMC Loews Meth...||02/14/2013 - 03/28/2013||43 days|
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Genre: Romantic Drama
Rated: PG-13 for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality.
A mysterious young woman arrives in a small North Carolina town and reluctantly finds new love with a lonely widower in Safe Haven, a deeply moving romantic thriller from Nicholas Sparks, the best-selling author whose novels inspired the beloved films The Notebook and Dear John.
Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) arrives in the tiny coastal town of Southport, North Carolina, looking to make a new, quiet life for herself. She rents a rundown cabin and takes a job waiting on tables in the local cafe, hoping to keep a low profile. But despite the almost impenetrable emotional walls she has built to protect herself, she is drawn in by the genuine warmth and caring of the tight-knit community, especially the town's grocery-store owner, Alex (Josh Duhamel), and his two young children.
As Katie gradually learns to trust again, Alex and his little brood teach her to experience the joys of love once more. But nothing is as simple as it seems and her newfound happiness is threatened by the terrifying secrets that still haunt her. When a mysterious stranger arrives in town asking questions about Katie, her past threatens to reclaim her. Although every instinct tells her to run, Katie decides to do whatever she must to protect her new life, as she rediscovers the meaning of sacrifice and commitment in a gripping and suspenseful story of hope, survival, and the power of true love.
Safe Haven stars Josh Duhamel (Transformers, New Year's Eve), Julianne Hough (Rock of Ages, Footloose), Cobie Smulders (The Avengers, "How I Met Your Mother"), David Lyons ("Revolution," Eat, Pray, Love), Noah Lomax (Playing for Keeps) and Mimi Kirkland.
The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Dear John, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). The screenplay is by Dana Stevens (Julie and Julia, Life or Something Like It) based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Dear John). Producers are Marty Bowen ("Revenge", The Twilight Saga, Dear John), Wyck Godfrey ("Revenge", The Twilight Saga, Dear John) and Ryan Kavanaugh (The Fighter, Limitless).
Director of photography is Terry Stacey (50/50, Dear John). Editor is Andrew Mondshein (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Remember Me). Production designer is Kara Lindstrom (10 Years, Dear John). Original song "We Both Know" performed by Colbie Caillat and Gavin Degraw is included on the Safe Haven Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Original music is by Deborah Lurie (Footloose, The Dictator).
Costume designer is Leigh Leverett (Bloodworth, Don't Fade Away). Executive producers are Jason Beckman (Movie 43, Out of the Furnace), Jason Colodne (Movie 43, Out of the Furnace), Tracey Nyberg (Seven Pounds, Hancock), Nicholas Sparks and Tucker Tooley (Act of Valor, The Fighter). Co-producers are Adam Fields (Limitless, Donnie Darko) and Ken Halsband (The Fighter, Dear John).
About the Production
Safe Haven marks the beginning of a new chapter in author Nicholas Sparks' already extraordinary career, which encompasses more than a dozen bestselling novels and a string of hit movie adaptations including Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Lucky One. The story's North Carolina setting and exquisitely wrought romance are classic Sparks, but this time the author has added an element of mystery and action to the mix, producing a tense thriller wrapped around a tender love story.
"It's something a little unexpected," Sparks says. "There are a lot of elements in the film that are new as far as a Nicholas Sparks film goes. Of course, fans will still get the relatable characters and the strong love story that they come to my work looking for. There's a lot of chemistry between the main characters and the relationship evolves in a very natural way. But there are a couple of other threads that are different. It feels like Nicholas Sparks, until it suddenly doesn't."
The story of a young woman who has left her home in Boston for a place in which she can lose herself, Safe Haven sets up some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to be conquered by true love and ups the ante with an element of real danger. "Our main character, Katie, is on the run," explains the author, who is also one of the film's producers. "I thought, what if this woman finds what she thinks is a safe haven? What happens next? All of a sudden you're on the edge of your seat wondering exactly how this is going to end. That's what I want in a film: threads of familiarity, then a surprise. Safe Haven puts all of those things together in an absolutely amazing way."
Safe Haven reunites Sparks with director Lasse Hallstrom and producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey for the first time since their successful collaboration on 2010's Dear John. "It was a lot of fun working with them again," he says. "When you work with people more than once, you get to know their strengths and their weaknesses, but most importantly you trust them. They did such a great job with Dear John and I knew that when they got involved they would do a great job with Safe Haven."
Bowen says he and Nyberg were enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with the author again. "Dear John was such a positive experience that we knew we wanted to be in business with Nicholas again," he says. "This story seemed really special because it had all the great drama and romance that speaks to his core audience, as well as a thriller element, which separates this movie from his others.
"Nicholas is almost scarily attuned to the heartbeat of America," Bowen goes on. "He has a deep understanding of pathos and love and pain and hope. Making a film from one of his novels is about delivering something that contains all of what his fans love about his books, plus a twist they can look forward to. They know what's on the page, so they're looking for an interpretation that isn't completely literal. We try to give a little extra something to those readers."
According to producer Tracey Nyberg, adapting Safe Haven presented the filmmakers with a unique opportunity--and a challenge. "Because it's a thriller, we wanted to heighten the suspense as much as possible and that meant keeping things back from the audience. But we know that a large portion of the audience will have already read the book. So we tried to find ways to suspend their disbelief in order to surprise them. I think we've set it up so that you're not sure why Katie is being pursued or just who is chasing her. Everyone goes into a Nicholas Sparks movie expecting the romance and emotion, but the twist should set this one apart."
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom was the logical choice to helm the film given his sensitive handling of Dear John, says Bowen. "Lasse is a special spirit whose soul is reflected in the movies he makes. He's fond of saying he loves sentiment, but abhors sentimentality, and he finds the charm and the awkwardness in moments that people less talented tend to make into cliches. That's real human nature, and he's so attuned to it. Like a Nicholas Sparks novel, a Lasse Hallstrom film is a truly special event."
The story's low-key romance and natural pace gave the director the opportunity to create the kind of authentically intimate film he prefers. "Two people slowly get to know each other and fall in love," Hallstrom explains. "We follow the story as it builds in small increments. The camera seems to be present as sparks fly and two people connect. I want you to feel like you're a peeping Tom, peeking through a keyhole."
Hallstrom helped build that authenticity by asking the actors to throw away the script and improvise key scenes. "Lasse believes that to find real, raw emotion, the actors have to let go of what they have memorized and start simply feeling it," says Bowen. "There were moments in every scene when he told them to just forget about the words on the page and tell him how they felt about the moment. The actors had to stop thinking about artifice and start thinking about their characters in a really special way."
The final film contains both scripted scenes and improvisation, which Hallstrom believes will draw the audience in and make them feel like they are a part of the story. "My interest is to evoke strong emotion," the director says. "I really want to walk that tightrope and move people. It can be dangerous territory. Especially with a love story, the performances must be authentic. Sentimentality occurs when you push too hard for emotion. You avoid that trap by being honest and truthful in the performances and the telling of the story.
"To be able to do that, I needed the actors to improvise and play around with the material," he continues. "Nicholas allowed us that freedom. He allowed us to take some liberties with the story, add certain elements and some more humor. We tweaked the script as we went along, which was great fun."
Hallstrom says he is extremely pleased with the finished film. "I had the ambition of creating something that rang truthful and authentic," says Hallstrom. "The thriller elements create a certain pulse, an engine for the story. As always with a Sparks story, there is an emotional twist at the end. I hope that will make people shed a tear or two. To move and entertain--that's all it's about."
Casting SAFE HAVEN
The heroes of Nicholas Sparks' novels tend to be handsome, strong, principled and vulnerable--and Alex, one of Safe Haven's young lovers, is no exception. Josh Duhamel, who plays Alex, was the first performer cast in film.
"We were all thrilled that Josh took on the role," says Bowen. "Alex is an intelligent guy and a very kind, decent man. He married the love of his life, but she passed away a few years earlier. All of a sudden, he found himself being mom and dad to two small children. He veers between being really sad that his wife's gone and being mad that she's gone. We needed someone who could juggle a combination of sadness, love, anger, and concern for his kids. Josh had exactly what we were looking for."
Duhamel decided to dig deep to find the flaws beneath his Alex's shiny exterior in order to fully flesh out the character. "He is a really good guy, but I wanted to find what goes on underneath that facade," he says. "Sometimes with characters you think are going to be simple, the more you explore, the more dynamic they get."
Hallstrom encouraged the actor to find Alex's core. "It was fun working with Lasse to figure out how to make him multi-dimensional," says Duhamel. "Lasse is an artist through and through. He completely trusts his actors and I trusted that he was going to find the best moments."
The challenge in working with Duhamel, according to the director, was to rein in his charm. "Josh is a really winning guy with a great sense of humor," says Hallstrom. "The character is a small town guy who owns a store. We tried to play down the outgoing, urbane side of Josh."
Hallstrom's emphasis on improvisation was intimidating to Duhamel at first. "I'd never worked like that before, but he wanted everything completely authentic and organic," Duhamel says. "We had to know each scene from every angle, which allowed us to find a lot of interesting things that we might not have considered otherwise."
As an example, the actor points to a scene in which Alex discovers some uncomfortable truths that Katie has kept hidden. "There's a lot of confusion, hurt, and anger. We talked for weeks about how to handle that scene. I was probably the most apprehensive about it because I really didn't know what I was going to do. We shot at least seven different versions of the same scene for Lasse to choose from later. It was liberating in many ways, because there was no way to make a mistake. We could experiment knowing that we would get it right."
For the role of Katie, the filmmakers met with a number of prominent actresses before deciding on Julianne Hough. While the actress has played major roles in big-budget movie musicals, including Footloose and Rock of Ages, Safe Haven is her first dramatic part.
"The most important thing we looked for was great chemistry with Josh," says Bowen. "But we also needed someone who could bring complexity to the role, because Katie undergoes such a metamorphosis. Julianne has real grace and depth. She is unafraid to be vulnerable, but there's an underlying strength that girds her character. And of course Josh is one of the most charismatic young actors working today, so it is fun to see the two of them together."
Hough's commitment to getting things right impressed Duhamel. "Julianne jumped in 100 percent," says the actor. "There is a sadness about her, despite that bright light that shines from her, and that was essential to Katie. The motherly part of the character came easily to her, which I don't think people will expect. She surprised everybody."
Hallstrom notes that the role hit close to home for Hough. "Julianne knew this character very well," he explains. "She's had experiences in her life that relate a bit to the story of the character and she used her personal experiences in the performance. I really appreciated that she was willing to share that with us."
The actress acknowledges that she has a connection to the character that goes deep. "I've been in situations where I haven't been able to be myself and the light that's inside of each of us has become dark," she says. "Katie is not who she wants to be and not who she knows she can be. She has to change her situation. That idea of redemption is so appealing."
The fact that Katie has made mistakes and is facing up to them is key to her transformation, says Sparks. "She allowed herself to be sucked into a life she never expected. All she wants is not to be hurt again. Little by little she gets drawn into the town and feels as if she really truly belongs there. And little by little her strength begins to take form."
Hough admits that being a longtime Nicholas Sparks fan made her especially keen to take on the role. "I read all of his books," she says. "A Walk to Remember was my favorite when I was growing up. I must have read it seven times and then watched the movie over and over and over. Nicholas really speaks to women. He understands that we want compassion and love, safety and security."
But Safe Haven will appeal to men as well, she points out. "It's a very suspenseful movie and I think that guys are going to enjoy the action. I also think there are some sexy scenes between Josh and me that are definitely for men and women."
The acting challenge in playing Katie was in the character's transformation, Hough says. "Katie is almost two different people. She goes go from being super guarded to falling completely in love with somebody she just met. I was able to find the balance because Lasse gave me the time to explore."
During Katie and Alex's love scene, the director asked Hough to share something from her own experience. "It is completely improvised," he says. "We just rolled two cameras and she told a story and there was no script."
It was uncharted territory for Hough, who had never done improv before. "We used the script as a guideline, but then we just went with it," she says. "Honestly, some days Josh and I wished we could just have a script, but it kept us on our toes."
Sparks began writing Safe Haven with a lengthy profile of the character that is the biggest departure for him, Katie's pursuer, Kevin Tierney. "It was fun living in his voice without worrying about anything other than making him a little bit off and scary, while still making him feel very real," Sparks says. "Kevin is a police officer from the Boston area. He's a very good detective, but he's a little bit paranoid and he's got a major drinking problem. When those two things come together, it comes out in a nasty violent streak."
According to Hallstrom, the character was fully realized on the book's pages. "He's an absolute badass. We shaded him a little bit to keep him from becoming an outright villain. And David Lyons' performance brought him to life vividly. He even helped us write a scene or two."
Lyons, an Australian import who has recently received praise for his role as Sebastien Monroe on the NBC drama "Revolution," found his character believable and even sympathetic in some ways. "Lasse has created a film that is grounded very much in reality, and therefore words like 'villain' and 'evil' don't really apply," he says. "If you judge this character by his actions, he's not a very nice guy. But working with Lasse, I tried to hold on to whatever threads of humanity he has."
The actor found Hallstrom's approach to filmmaking and character liberating. "In an effort to find real moments, he throws a lot of curve balls, but in such a caring and loving way that you always feel like you're supported."
The darker aspects of the story pleasantly surprised Lyons. "It's not your typical Nicholas Sparks novel," he says. "You get a look at some of the uglier side of humanity, and, for me, that's what makes it really fascinating. I was able to make some adjustments in order to feel like I'm playing him truthfully, but there was incredible insight there in the book and talking to Nicholas gave me more of that."
Katie's first friend when she settles in Southport is another young woman who lives alone, Jo, played by Cobie Smulders. Sparks says that character's candor and verve made her a pleasure to write.
"Jo is an interesting character in many ways," he says. "She becomes Katie's friend even though Katie doesn't want to befriend anybody. She has an aura about her that says, 'This is your life. Make the best of it!' And Katie realizes that she's right. She can become part of this town, even become part of Alex's life."
Hallstrom praises Smulders' humor and intelligence, as well as her beauty and talent. "Cobie is a very smart lady," he says. "There's a soulfulness to her that I really enjoyed spending time with."
Both young women are at a crossroads in their lives and both seem lost at the beginning of the film. "Katie and Jo build a bond that grows deeper over time," says Smulders. "Katie is very hesitant to talk to anybody about anything, but Jo is great at gently prying the truth out of her."
The actress counts herself as a genuine fan of Nicholas Sparks. "He has an amazing ability to transport you to another world," she says. "The Notebook was huge for me. I remember sitting in the theater with about seven of my best girlfriends. I was sobbing hysterically at the end. When the lights came up, I saw that they were all sobbing, too."
The experience of making Safe Haven was an unforgettable one for Smulders, who has always wanted to work with Hallstrom. "One of the main reasons to do this was to work with Lasse," she says. "I think he's a genius. Lasse is so patient, sweet and Swedish! His eyes twinkle."
But what he is, in her eyes, is a master director. "He exists on a different plane than the rest of us. He's always happy and seems not to get flustered by anything. He creates such a safe environment and lets the actors be a big part of the creative process, as opposed to just showing up and just saying words that need to be said."
The two youngest actors in Safe Haven captivated their co-workers with their enthusiasm and professionalism. Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland brought a youthful energy and honesty to the roles of Alex's children, Josh and Lexi.
"A movie without kids is like Christmas without kids," says Duhamel. "They lighten the mood. A lot of care was taken in choosing real kids that had real spirit. They're very soulful, both of them. And they can both improvise which was a little scary sometimes."
One of the director's favorite scenes is early in the film as Katie and Lexi meet and become friends. "There is something really fresh and genuine about Mimi Kirkland," he says. "When we did the scene the first time, it was obvious that someone had been working hard with her on the lines. She was very 'actressy' and affected. Then I told her that we just wanted her to be herself in that moment. We started again and she soared. She's very real and I'm proud to have been around for her debut as an actress."
Creating a SAFE HAVEN
Over the course of 20 years and 17 published novels, Nicholas Sparks has become inextricably linked with the Carolinas, especially North Carolina. "People always ask if I'm from North Carolina," he says. "I say no, but I got there as fast as I could. It is home to me. I came in 1992, as a pharmaceutical rep for the eastern part of North Carolina and a big chunk of my job was spent driving from little town to little town."
It was then that he fell in love with the villages that line the North Carolina coast. "North Carolina is different from a lot of other places, because the big cities are all well inland," he says. "Almost the entire eastern part of the state is small towns. Southport is one of the gems of the North Carolina coast. I first came here when we were filming A Walk To Remember and I thought, this is going to be the setting for one of my novels someday. I waited for a long time to get just the perfect story. Katie is looking for a safe haven, so she gets on a bus and rides to the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden, she's in paradise."
The town, with its clapboard cottages, small-boat marina and live-oak-lined streets provides an atmospheric backdrop for Safe Haven. "The live oaks give it a unique look," the author says. "The boughs of the trees branch out and become distinctively gnarled, which is a function of the heat and the humidity in this area. Those branches seem to drip over the historic homes with their great porches. It's right at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and the wind blows in off the water. All of that comes together to really create a magical setting."
It seems like the perfect sanctuary for a young woman on the run. "Katie thinks she's found the end of the earth," says Sparks. "People are friendly, but they're not going to pry. Little by little, she realizes that it's the place she was meant to be."
Producer Marty Bowen notes that it is extremely unusual for him to shoot in the place a story is actually set in. "It was truly unique to be a part of this beautiful, semi-undiscovered town," says Bowen. "It's spectacular and relatively untouched by tourism. The people there really embraced us. It's probably the nicest place I've ever been in my life. It doesn't take five minutes before someone says hello and asks you about your day. Because it was so special, we wanted to weave together the fabric of this town with the tapestry of our film."
The filmmakers tried to work in as many of the locale's unique attributes as they could, including an unusual technique used by fishermen there. "Gigging is a local custom that we incorporate in the movie," says Nyberg. "People go out at night and spear the fish from a boat with these crazy, big, green lights. We wanted to honor the tradition when we discovered it in our research. We just couldn't pass up that image."
They also included Southport's best-known tradition, the annual Fourth of July Parade, in the narrative. "It is an incredible event," says Bowen. "We recreated it, including several nights' worth of fireworks, brought to us by my favorite firework company, Black Cat. The neighbors were very patient when we were shooting off the fireworks at around four o'clock in the morning, but who doesn't love fireworks?"
The original plan was to shoot the actual Southport Fourth of July Parade, which is famous throughout the region, regularly drawing crowds as large as 100,000 people. "The partying is legendarily wild and the crowds are huge," says Hallstrom.
Adds production designer Kara Lindstrom: "The parade is a huge deal in North Carolina. It was fantastic, but the scale was too big. It wasn't quite Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it was clear that we would have no control and we would have to shoot it like a documentary, which was fine, except that we wanted to do dramatic scenes within it."
So the filmmakers decided to stage a Fourth of July parade a week later. The production company ran a contest for locals to design parade floats and gave the winners a budget to create them. "First prize was a donation to a nonprofit of their choice," says Lindstrom. "In addition to the floats, we also had a marching band, a drum line and an antique fire truck. In the evening, we had a community dance to take advantage of the beautiful light at dusk."
The production designer describes the overall atmosphere of the film as "alt Southern." "There's a sort of washed-out quality because of the sun. Everything has an organic feel: the colors are blues, worn whites, marine gray that's faded. It is all tied together with weathered wood."
Whatever design decisions she was making, Lindstrom always kept the notion of a "safe haven" in mind. "We made a world where public and private, exterior and interior, are not so distinct," she says. "Alex's house is right across from the store and the little street that separates it is like their front hall."
The general store was designed to fit in with the local architecture. "It's clapboard, with a pop-up on top, often, to get a little bit more height," Lindstrom says. "Because it's really hot there, the whole building is basically screened with sliding doors and windows. It is the anchor for the movie because it's where Alex works, it's where his kids are all day, doing their homework and playing games."
Alex's store was built for the film, but when ground was broken, the crew made an astonishing discovery. "We built the general store on the exact same foundation as a general store that had existed there 150 years ago," says Hallstrom. "It was a magical coincidence. There were a lot of those magical coincidences that hinted that this was becoming a special film."
Katie's cabin in the woods stands in stark contrast to the elegant hominess of Alex's cottage. "It was horrid," says Lindstrom. "And I'm so proud of it. We based it on a tiny shack that we found out on Highway 87, which was perfect, but too close to a big road. The one we built was in the middle of nowhere, on a swampy, bug-infested, but beautiful piece of property. It's kind of nestled back, so there's a magical, enchanted cottage feel to it, but it's also vaguely threatening."
Julianne Hough was initially charmed by her character's new home, but learned quickly that shooting there was going to be an ordeal. "At first I thought, oh this is really cool. After two hours, it was the worst location ever. The trees, the bugs, the ticks, the alligators--somebody even saw a brown bear. It was hot and sticky and just nasty!"
Cobie Smulders, who shot several scenes in the cabin, describes it as straight out of a horror movie. "And then Lasse became obsessed with Lyme disease," she remembers. "Every time we were out in the cabin, he was bringing up ticks, which made me so paranoid. But at least I didn't run into any alligators."
Leigh Leverett, the costume designer, has a home in Southport and based her designs on what she sees people there wearing every day. "The clothing reflects the town," she says. "It's relaxed, beachy, a little worn and totally comfortable. Lasse wanted everybody to look like they actually lived and worked here, so we had a lot of flip flops, shorts and t-shirts, things that keep you as cool as possible, in lighter washed-out colors.
"That was one of the big changes in Katie's look after she arrives," the designer continues. "In Boston, she wears darker more formal clothing. When she comes to Southport, she starts wearing lighter colors like creams and light blues. We had some shorts made for her in all different colors by a local seamstress and she wears them all the time."
Leverett tried to allow the actors to make some decisions about their costumes, as well. "For Alex, Josh really wanted a bucket hat for some reason. So we got him one."
Filming in Southport was a memorable experience for everyone involved. The film company still thinks of the town as their own Safe Haven. "We had a wonderful summer working on something collaboratively in an absolutely beautiful place," says Hallstrom. "All thanks go to Nicholas Sparks who wrote this story for Southport, created these wonderful characters and then allowed us to expand and elaborate on it all in a movie that I hope audiences will treasure."