Lasse Hallstrom discusses his new romantic thriller Safe Haven

Director Lasse Hallstrom discusses his new romantic thriller Safe Haven, in theaters February 14

Director Lasse Hallström has had as long and diverse a career as practically any director working in and out of Hollywood today. He has been nominated for three Oscars, two for his work as a writer and director on My Life as a Dog and another for directing The Cider House Rules. He has also directed beloved films such as What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat, and, more recently, the Nicholas Sparks adaptation Dear John and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The director returns to the world of author Nicholas Sparks for his latest drama Safe Haven, opening in theaters nationwide February 14. I recently had the chance to speak with the filmmaker over the phone about finding such a talented cast (Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders, David Lyons), shooting in the actual North Carolina town of Southport, which the novel is set in, and much more. Take a look at what he had to say.

You were working with Nicholas on Dear John, which was before the Safe Haven book came out. Were you talking about this story while you were making that film?

Lasse Hallström: Oh, I think it was two summers ago. (Producer) Marty Bowen reach out about possibly getting involved in this one. We had worked together, and I had a great working relationship with him, and he wanted to know if I wanted to do something again. It was another excellent opportunity.

I really enjoyed the thriller elements of this, and I wasn't expecting that going in. Can you talk about how much of a balancing act you had to pull off, between the thriller aspects and the romance?

Lasse Hallström: Yeah, it was fun, and it helped create a dramatic force to the story. The romance is very low-key and moves forward in small increments, small observations of life and two people falling in love. To me, it's almost a bit of a documentary, or I wanted it to feel like a documentary about two people falling in love. Then, the thriller element brings a driving force to it. I enjoyed that part. I made two thrillers last year, this one and another called The Hypnotist, which was my first thriller ever. So, I guess I had some experience.

When I spoke with Nicholas, we talked about how he discovered the town of Southport and how the community embraced the project. But were there parts of the town that you had to re-work, or did you shoot the town as is?

Lasse Hallström: We had to build a store, because that burned down. We did some awful things. We shot fireworks for two nights in a row, waking everybody up, but they were very mellow about it, and kind to us. They are very warm and generous in that part of the world, and great people, I must say.

I read that you wanted to shoot during the town's actual 4th of July parade, but it was much bigger than you anticipated.

Lasse Hallström: Yes, it gets too big there, and there was another film crew there (Laughs). We decided not to do our 4th of July then, we did it two days later, with our own group of people and our own extras.

You talked about the 'documentary' aspect of the relationship, but it also seems very true to life in this town as well. It was cool to hear about all these actual things in the town that were mirrored in the film.

Lasse Hallström: Yeah, he really designed the story for this town. He spent a lot of time in that town, and he wanted to write something for it. It's not destroyed by tourists, and it's not commercialized, yet, so it has an authentic feel to it.

I was really impressed with Josh (Duhamel) and Julianne (Hough). To me, Julianne just lights up the screen.

Lasse Hallström: Yeah, I agree. I was really impressed with her audition, showing her range and her charm. She's just very fresh and honest in the way she performs.

We get to see more of her range in the thriller aspects as well. Was it more difficult to get her into character in those darker scenes?

Lasse Hallström: She's matured. I haven't seen this kind of range in her early movies, I must say. This is definitely going to be good with her, and the same goes for Josh. Everyone was encouraged to bring their own ideas and it loosened them up. I think they're showing their best here.

Can you talk about finding the child actors Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax? I really enjoyed their performances as well.

Lasse Hallström: We were very lucky to find local kids with that kind of talent and spontaneity. It took some time, but it also helped that Josh got to hang out with those kids, and got to know them two weeks before we started shooting. They formed a little family and when we started shooting, they knew each other quite well.

Is there anything that you're currently working on right now that you can talk about?

Lasse Hallström: Nothing firm yet. I'm reading and looking, but I don't know for sure yet.

This is your second time working with Nicholas, and he still has a lot of other novels that haven't been adapted yet. Would you be willing to take on another one of his adaptations?

Lasse Hallström: Sure, who knows. It's been fun so far, but there's nothing immediate that is planned. But, I wouldn't rule anything out.

What would you like to say to those who might see the posters or trailers and just see this as a chick flick, about why they should give Safe Haven a chance in theaters?

Lasse Hallström: Our test screenings show that guys like it too. Everybody out there should take a chance on this and go see it. I recommend it to people outside the obvious target group. I hope people will find this film and go see it. It's a bit of a labor of love for me, in the midst of it all.

That's about all I have. Thanks so much. It was great talking to you.

Lasse Hallström: Thank you, thank you.

Lasse Hallström's Safe Haven debuts in theaters February 14.