From the award winning novel by critically acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, comes the current box office champ, (breaking Avatar‘s record) Dear John. Following in the footsteps of A Walk to Remember and The Notebook, director Lasse Hallstrom plays off that love lorn history to captivate a new audience. The film stars everyone’s favorite heartthrob, Channing Tatum as a soldier who falls in love with a college student while on leave. The always refreshing Amanda Seyfried plays the object of his affection, and adds a breath of fresh air to this 21st century love story.
Here’s what happened when we got the opportunity to speak with Tatum, Seyfried, and the creator of it all, Nicholas Sparks…
This is the 6th adaptation of one of your novels….
Nicholas Sparks: Time flies. I actually think it’ll be the 5th. Notebook, Message In A Bottle, A Walk To Remember, Nights In Rodanthe, Dear John, and The Last Song in April.
Now that so many of your books have been made into films, has it affected your writing with the anticipation that it could be adapted?
NS: I write novels. I’ve had a very good run of good fortune with the studios. BUT I’m a novelist. In the end it’s for me. The sole, single goal is to write the best novel that I can. Whether or not it gets made or purchased. They don’t necessarily impact WHAT I write, but what I don’t write. I try to make them feel very original. In this world that we live in you have originality in literature, but you also have TV and movies, right? I write love stories. I cold never write a love story based on the Titanic – that was never a novel. If I see an idea that’s been done in film, I try to avoid that.
Amanda and Channing, when you’re playing characters who are based on literary figures, do you read the book first?
Amanda Seyfried: The books not for me until the movie is over. I think there is so much information in a novel, you can’t include it all, and especially with building a character. In a movie, you have to make it a little bit more relatable. I think in the book Savannah was more timid and strong headed about religion. But we still kind of made her strong willed about not drinking, drugs, which is very admirable and a good role model for our audience.
So, did you EVER read it?
Amanda Seyfried: I kind of started to read it because I got sent it with us on the cover. And I was in PA, bored and I was like “Ahh I really wanna read the book. But I can’t be caught reading it for a while!” But that book I could read in, like two days. He’s such a page turner, Nicholas Sparks.
Channing Tatum: I read the book first, I’ve been with the film almost 3 to 4 years. I’d seen The Notebook, and it worked. Every time they pass away in the bed, my wife makes me promise we’re gonna go the same way. So, the books are genius. He’s got a magic wand on the heart strings. It’d be stupid to ignore the book. How do you translate that to a film? Totally different. That’s where it gets convoluted. It can go really easily to melodrama, sometimes you need it, sometimes you need to run away from it. Thank God we have a great director.
With the romance genre it’s tough to draw a line of distinction between drama and melodrama – was this a concern for you as an actor?
AS: We don’t want to manipulate the audience. It’s a lot easier for me because my whole thing is subtlety – sometimes I’m too subtle. I’d have a tough time on stage. I didn’t feel like I had to fight anything – I think Lassam was always pushing me to go further. He wanted it to be ground breaking, real, and as genuine as possible. And Channing and I were like, “yeah, we do too.” So it wasn’t hard to stay away from the melodrama.
CT: Melodrama on a page is almost good. But seeing it in real life, entirely different thing. That’s why I think Lassam’s perfect for this. He has an allergic reaction to melodrama. We’d constantly FIND where the ceiling was just for fun – just go and do the really BAD version of it. And sometimes it wouldn’t be the bad version. It was just playing. It’s kind of nerve racking because he says he’ll “I’m gonna give you the same freedom I gave Leo on Gilbert Grape” – What ? You want me to be mentally challenged?? I don’t know what to do with that. Terrifying, but it makes you work harder. Makes you more prepared. With a plan.
NS: There’s a fine line I have to walk throughout the writing process in a novel. That line between drama and melodrama is a line between evoking genuine emotional power and being manipulative. It’s just about the hardest thing you can do – were talking about stories that are internally conflict driven. They didn’t do that in this film, which is why I think people are responding to it.
Savannah and John fall in love at first sight, do you believe that’s possible in real life?
AS: I don’t know – I believe it. It is, to a lot of people, a fairy tale to fall in love instantly. But it makes sense, because these two characters are at a point in their lives where they AREN’T looking for anything. They have their careers, he’s a solider, she’s a student. And they’re just on break and they meet – but they have nothing holding them back from diving into something.
Amanda, what in particular resonated with you about Savannah?
AS: She was strong, she knew who she was. And at 22 that’s kind of rare, I think. I still don’t really know who I am. I kinda do. But someone who grew up in an affluent kind of structure – I feel like she’s definitely different than a lot of people. She’s open minded and not judgmental, and smart. That’s super sexy. And she fell in love. It’s so attractive to me to play someone who’s falling in love. It’s the reason I’m doing this today. When I saw Claire Danes and Leo DiCaprio fall in love in Romeo And Juliet I just thought, I want that, I want to be able to give that to someone else, I just want to be in love.
Channing, this is your first time dipping into the romance genre. How does it feel!
CT: I don’t know – in all the movies I’m in love with SOMEONE in my head. There’s always love in a film somewhere, it doesn’t matter if its an action movie. This is more of the quiet type of love. A lot of sitting and talking. I went from GI Joe to this. It was such a great change of pace – you’re acting to a tennis ball one minute and then you’re talking on a beach, looking into someone’s eyes. Real emotions, great writing, great directing. It was so easy to make the film – it was energy. Lassam’s this laid back, sweet guy. Looking up YouTube videos for fun between takes!
Some of your most poignant scenes were the ones with Richard Jenkins. How was he to work with?
CT: He’s fantastic. The guy is just – you can tap him for anything. He can come off the bench and do a drama or comedy, and he will knock it out of the park. The scene in the hospital we tried a bunch of different ways. Something about him and the nurturing way that he has with people – not just a young actor. It’s heart breaking. He just wants you to be good, he wants you to be better.
Heightened love stories (arguably, The Notebook) have a tendency to skew the lines of realistic love lives, especially to young audiences. Dear John has a relatively logical ending.
NS: Happy endings are easy – tragic endings are easy. What you have with Dear John is a bitter sweet ending. You can’t hate him, you can’t hate her, they just can’t be together. I was very pleased. It’s not exactly the same as the novel, but the changes they made really improved it as a FILM – I’m OK with that. Films are very different mediums than literature. As long as you capture the spirit of the character or intent of the film and basic journey – I’m OK.
Dear John is currently playing in theaters nationwide.