'Safe Haven' director Lasse Hallstrom chats about adapting Nicholas Sparks novels

Lasse Hallstrom

Lasse Hallstrom (Credit: Lasse Hallstrom (Getty Images))

Hollywood loves Nicholas Sparks, the master of the romance novel, as it loves few other modern authors. "Safe Haven," opening in theaters Thursday, is the eighth Sparks adaptation to hit the big screen since 1999.

And Lasse Hallström, the Academy Award-nominated director of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "The Cider House Rules," is making a play for the title of go-to Sparks adapter. "Safe Haven" is Hallström's second crack at a Sparks property after 2010's "Dear John."

We spoke with Hallström about "Safe Haven," which stars Julianne Hough as a woman on the run from a dark past and Josh Duhamel as the handsome single father who falls for her.

What drew you back to the world of Nicholas Sparks? The fact that I was approached by the same producer after "Dear John," a guy that I really like to worth with, to start with, and the fact that he had a story that was focusing on one character, and was a story about real people. Those stories always inspire me.

Why are Sparks' novels so cinematic? He's got great instincts for story, for building a story, those things that I envy, because I have an eye for detail, for the smaller moments. He has a great eye for structure. I think it's just well-crafted stories.

How closely did you stick to the novel in this adaptation? I've been taking liberties with the novel and doing my own kind of thing … in terms of the tone of it all. It's more of a romance comedy than a straight earnest romance.

Why is the comedy important? For me, you need to add a sense of humor to it because earnest romances tend to be a little maudlin on screen, or at least that's where it's sort of heading automatically. You need to counter with whatever you can, with the reality of a situation and the reality of a feeling and the reality of what happens between two people as opposed to a somewhat stylized idea that you can accept on the page of a novel.

We've only seen Julianne Hough in musically-inclined films and "Dancing with the Stars"? Was there any trepidation in casting her? I was not scared, but I'd only seen those two films of her and some "Dancing with the Stars." [They] couldn't really tell me if she had a range or not. … But I could certainly see, as I met her and talked to her and saw [her] in the audition, that she was an ambitious actress, that she had a different side to her.

Do you think guys will like "Safe Haven"? I like this one. I don't think it's a typical chick flick. Chick flick implies sentimentality that guys can't take. I don't see this film as sentimental enough to scare guys away. I would take a male friend to go see it and enjoy it. I can imagine guys enjoying it and certainly the [advance] screenings show that guys like it.


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