Nicholas Sparks’ latest flick “Safe Haven,” out in theaters this Valentine’s Day, follows the author’s usual formula: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Tragedy pulls boy and girl apart. But don’t mistake it for “The Notebook,” because this romantic drama has a much darker side.
“Safe Haven” stars Julianne Hough as Katie Feldman, a young woman with a mysterious past who unexpectedly moves to the sleepy beach town of Southport, North Carolina.
Josh Duhamel plays Alex Wheatley, a widower who has remained in Southport with his two young children since the death of his wife two years earlier.
The chemistry between the two leads is palpable both on-screen and off, as I found out during a recent interview with the stars.
After Duhamel plucked a makeup brush hair off Hough’s cheek mid-interview, she asked him to check if there was any residual cheese on her dress from lunch. The pair had dined on sandwiches from Philadelphia’s famous cheesesteak joint Pats.
“My stomach kind of hurts actually,” Hough said.
“My wife [Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie] was very interested in my Philly cheesesteak. I text her about it and I just have to read her response to you. I don’t think I’m giving away anything too personal. It’s just too funny.” Duhamel said. “I sent her a picture of me with my cheesesteak and she said ‘Yayyy! Did you get the kind with the squeezy cheese? Did you get hot and sweet peppers?’ She’s such a foodie.”
As the conversation turned from food to film, Hough, 24, and Duhamel, 40, revealed that seeing Nicholas Sparks’ name attached to “Safe Haven” was not enough to get them onboard.
“The success of the Nicholas Sparks’ movies before is a good thing; you do want to be affiliated with a movie like that. At the same time, I didn’t just want to do it just because of that,” Duhamel said. “I wanted it to be differentiated in some way.”
Hough saw an opportunity to play a darker character. “I liked that this would be a different kind of role and character for me,” the actress explained. “She’s a little bit darker and it’s about second chances for her.”
Hough and Duhamel filmed the movie over the course of a summer, spending most of their time on-location in North Carolina.
“Being out on location, you only are focused on that one thing,” Hough said. “You get to hone in on what you’re doing. When you’re in L.A., there are so many things. It was really fun to just kind of be on summer break for ‘Safe Haven.’”
The pair prepared for their roles in different ways. Duhamel, who doesn’t have any children with his famous wife, really focused on understanding the emotions of a single father.
“There were parts of this character that I really related to. He has kids, and even though I don’t have any kids, I feel like it is easy for me to get on their level. I love playing with them, I love teasing them,” Duhamel said. “The part that I really wanted to understand was what it would be like to raise two kids on your own after losing your wife. I thought a lot about what my relationship with my wife was like.”
In addition, Duhamel spoke to his own therapist and close friends who had dealt with loss.
“A friend of mine unfortunately just lost his wife and is raising two twin boys on his own,” he said. “I really tried to get inside the psychology of what it would be like to go through that.”
Hough, whose character Katie was abused earlier in life, also researched her role extensively.
“I drew from a lot of personal things,” she said. “I went and talked to some women at shelters, drew from my own personal experiences and spoke with family and friends who have gone through similar things.”
Both Hough and Duhamel admitted that their favorite part of filming was working with young actors Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax, who play Duhamel’s on-screen children.
The experience brought out Hough’s maternal side. “First and foremost, I am put on this earth to be a mom. That is all I want to do,” the actress said. “The greatest moments in the day were when little Mimi would run up and give me a hug. I love her.”
As for whether or not Hough, who has been in a relationship with “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest since 2010, sees kids in the near future?
“Absolutely,” Hough said. “Without a doubt.”
The pair joked with each other on whether or not Kirkland and Lomax would be allowed to see the movie due to its PG-13 rating, an issue Hough could easily relate to. “I’m technically still not allowed to go see R-rated movies,” she revealed. “It’s a rule of being Mormon, you’re not supposed to watch R-rated movies.”
“Safe Haven” opens in theaters everywhere on February 14. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.