Author Nicholas Sparks discusses his new adaptation Safe Haven

Author Nicholas Sparks takes us inside his latest adaptation Safe Haven, arriving in theaters on Valentine's Day

Since 1996, Nicholas Sparks has become a publishing sensation, authoring 16 widely-successful romance novels (and one non-fiction book), eight of which have been adapted into movies, including hits such as A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Dear John, and last year's The Lucky One. The latest of those adaptations is director Lasse Hallström's Safe Haven, opening in theaters, fittingly, on Valentine's Day. However, fans looking for another typical Nicholas Sparks-style romance will be in for a bit of a surprise with this hybrid of a tender love story and a gripping thriller.

The story centers on Katie (Julianne Hough), a troubled Boston woman who leaves town in a hurry, catching a southbound bus down the Atlantic coast before the police close in. Katie discovers the sleepy town of Southport, North Carolina, where she decides to make a fresh start, with the help of a local widower (Josh Duhamel) and a friendly neighbor (Cobie Smulders). However, just as Katie begins to forget her mysterious past, it comes back to haunt her. I was recently able to chat with Nicholas Sparks, who also serves as an executive producer on the adaptation, about his latest romantic tale, which is both set in and shot in the real-life town of Southport. Here's what he had to say.

I read that you wrote The Notebook in only six months, which is rather amazing to me. I was wondering if you could talk about how your writing process has evolved since then, and if there was something in particular that lead you to create this story?

Nicholas Sparks: The writing process has probably evolved less than you think. The novels still take five to six months to write. If there's any evolution, it's that they tend to be a little bit longer, and a little bit more complex, and yet, they're the same lessons I set out from the very beginning, to create characters who people will want to get to know. I focus heavily on voice, and tell an interesting story that makes it difficult to stop reading, or stop watching. I've had those lessons from the very beginning, and I've tried to keep those the same.

I was quite pleasantly surprised about the thriller aspects of this. Do you find yourself being more drawn to those aspects in general, or was there something about this story that made you want to add more of those elements?

Nicholas Sparks: I had done a danger element early on in my career, in a novel entitled The Guardian, which was never adapted into film. I had done it, and I had a big learning curve on doing it the first time, because the challenge with doing a romantic thriller is, the moment the thriller elements get too heavy, it overshadows the romantic elements. It's pacing, and timing, and unwinding the story. I had done that before, and I just thought it was a nice change. There are these threads of familiarity, but you want everything else to be different, to walk out of there saying, 'I love The Notebook, and Dear John, and Safe Haven,' even though they were all entirely different.

I read about your history in coming to North Carolina, and falling in love with these small communities. Does part of Katie's journey mirror your own, when you first moved to North Carolina?

Nicholas Sparks: Without question. I remember the first time I ever rolled into Southport. We were filming A Walk to Remember, and I went down there and I just walked around and thinking very clearly, 'I'm going to write a novel based here, one day.' It was this little jewel, literally, at the end of a road. You're like, 'How can this still be so small? Is there any prettier place in the whole wide world?' And yet, it is still small.

This is also your first film as an executive producer. After so many previous adaptations, was there anything specific that made you want to hop on as a producer this time around?

Nicholas Sparks: It's a natural evolution. I've been very involved with all of them, to be quite frank. It just wasn't credited, and it didn't really matter to me, because what I look for is just to make the highest quality film possible. It's a natural evolution to title me.

I've always found Julianne Hough to have this radiant quality on the screen. She's obviously beautiful, but there's this intangible thing about her when you see her on the screen.

Nicholas Sparks: Like a young Meg Ryan.

I have to imagine that was a big part of the draw for her to play Katie.

Nicholas Sparks: It was, it was. The other part was her natural chemistry with Josh (Duhamel), when they first got together, well before the film started getting made, when we were still making casting decisions. You're looking for chemistry, you're looking for someone who can light up on screen, and you're looking for someone who can act, and someone who can bring depth to the character. Julianne met all three, and it was a pretty clear choice that she was the one who was right for this role.

Lasse Hallström also directed Dear John and I believe the Safe Haven book came after that film came out. Were you discussing this with him while you were working Dear John?

Nicholas Sparks: Working with Lasse is great, and what I knew he'd have to do in this particular film, and so did the other producers and the studio, that this was going to be a patient, grown-up love story, that evolves naturally, with as much passion as The Notebook, but played out differently. They're two wounded, guarded people when they meet, and when they finally fall for each other, you believe it was as real as it was in The Notebook as well. Lasse has a wonderful ability to draw out those kinds of performances from the actors and actresses in his films. He makes the world he creates seem authentic and believable.

That's one of the things I enjoyed, the pacing of the relationship. It moved forward at a more realistic pace. It seemed like a very realistic and natural progression of the relationship.

Nicholas Sparks: That's one of the reasons why it works so well. It feels very real, and the real way it feels, helps to draw the viewer in. These are characters they feel they could know, in a place they feel like they've been before, a small town. It just makes it all feel very real and, because it feels so real, you root for the characters, because they're going through some of the same things other people are. Different formats, but if you're Alex, the character played by Josh (Duhamel), he's someone with a big wound in his past, big regrets. He's living a life he never expected. This is very familiar to many, many people, and it's the same thing with her.

You actually shot in Southport, I believe. Since you said this is an undiscovered jewel before, I imagine they weren't terribly familiar with film crews and things like that. Can you talk about how the community responded to this project?

Nicholas Sparks: Oh, the community loved it. Southport is very near Wilmington, so it actually has quite a few good crews. Most of the crew would drive down from Wilmington where they live. Actually, they were filming Iron Man 3 at the same time we were filming. It is a great place to film movies, but the town itself was very welcoming. We had to do some things that were very inconvenient at times. For instance, when we were shooting fireworks, that is exciting, that is thrilling, but it goes all the way until 5 AM for two days in a row (Laughs). There are all these booms, and they're supposed to be on vacation for their summer getaway, and there are summer fireworks booming all night long. They were great. We were given keys to the city, and we supported a lot of local charities that benefit reading and some other charities that are important in that area.

I doubt you have any control over this, but would you prefer this to be marketed as a traditional Nicholas Sparks romance, and then have viewers be more surprised by the thriller elements like I was, or would you be more inclined to showcase some of these suspenseful elements in the marketing, to maybe draw in a different crowd?

Nicholas Sparks: You sound like you're in our marketing meetings for the past four months. It's a great question. I think, because we're opening on Valentine's Day, you go with the traditional way. I think it's going to get terrific word-of-mouth, and I think it's a film that, the more word-of-mouth gets out, the more guys will be going in anyway to see it.

Is there anything you can say about any upcoming adaptations? Is there a particular book of yours you'd like to see adapted next?

Nicholas Sparks: I think The Best of Me is on tap next, and hopefully, we'll begin filming that within the next three months or so. Then, there's one I can't talk about that will probably start filming in the next few months. Then I have another novel that is going to be offered to Hollywood in the next month or so. There's always something going on.

What would you like to say to any fans of yours, and even viewers who might not be as inclined to see this about why they should give Safe Haven a chance?

Nicholas Sparks: If you think you know what to expect in Safe Haven, you're probably right, and you're exactly wrong.

That's a perfect way to put it. That's my time. Thanks so much.

Nicholas Sparks: Thank you very much.

Nicholas Sparks' adaptation Safe Haven debuts in theaters nationwide February 14.