‘Safe Haven’ Interview Part 1: Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel Talk Preparing for the Film, Teaming up with Lasse Hallstrom and More

safehaveninterview-part1-013013Safe Haven storms its way into theaters this Valentine’s Day and we had the chance to attend a press conference with the movie’s stars Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, director Lasse Hallstrom, author Nicholas Sparks and producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey.

The group chatted with us for about 40 minutes and in this first part of the interview, we learn why Nicholas Sparks’ wanted to team up with Hallstrom again (he previously directed Dear John), how Julianne prepared to play a victim of domestic violence and much more.

As a refresher, Safe Haven is the story of when a mysterious young woman arrives in a small North Carolina town, her reluctance to join the tight knit community raises questions about her past. Slowly, she begins putting down roots, and gains the courage to start a relationship with Alex, a widowed store owner with two young children. But dark secrets intrude on her new life with such terror that she is forced to rediscover the meaning of sacrifice and rely on the power of love in this deeply moving romantic thriller.

PHOTOS: SAFE HAVEN STILLS & BEHIND-THE-SCENES PHOTOS

Lasse Hallstrom returns for his second Nicholas Sparks project and Nicholas elaborated on why he wanted to work with the director again. “Lasse is an actor’s director and by that I mean he tends to draw out fantastic performances from the cast,” he shared. “That is what all directors are supposed to do – everyone has different ways of doing it and some films tend to be very plot driven. These films, however, are very character driven, they’re relationship driven, they’re emotion driven and you need someone who has a really good way of enabling trust in the cast and crew to allow them the confidence to stretch themselves to get the performance that you’re going to need to provide all the emotional ups and downs in the film. Lasse is a master at it…then you add in everything else, the cinematography, his style which is to capture these small moments of life and to weave these threads throughout a film but if you’re looking for just one thing it is that he is an actor’s director.”

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As with all Nicholas Sparks novels, Safe Haven has such a beautiful setting that can even be considered a character itself. This time the story is set in Southport, North Carolina and the film actually shot where it takes place.

“It’s not every day that you get to shoot in the location where the story is set,” Julianne said of filming in Southport. “It’s gorgeous, I love Southport, it’s kind of a hidden gem. I think if I were to go there on vacation it would be just as wonderful. Everything about it was amazing. It was honestly one of the best summers of my life thus far because it was so calm. I think something about the South in general, you have more time in the day and you get to enjoy each moment and not rush to the next.”

Josh Duhamel added, “I had so much fun here. I had two weeks before we ever started shooting and I really became a local. I bought my cabana from Wal Mart, I had my cooler, my boogie board, I had my book. I just hung out. The beaches there are incredible. It’s a sleepy little town but it’s quaint and charming and all those things that you sort of think of when you read about them. We had a lot of fun and the people, not only that lived there but the crew, we all became a family.”

And when Katie moves to town, she ends up living in a little shack way in the woods that is definitely in need of some repairs. Let’s just say, we don’t think we could make it there and neither does Julianne. She told reporters, “I thought I was going to be method and stay in it one night then I was like wow it’s tick infested, I don’t want to get lyme disease!”

Julianne first shot to fame thanks to “Dancing with the Stars” and is also a successful country recording artist. When it comes to acting, she’s best known for lighter projects and musicals like Rock of Ages and Burlesque. So did she have to do anything different to prepare for her first thriller type movie? (Yes, this movie is partly a thriller!) She told us, “I was just blown away and blessed I got this opportunity. My whole life I’ve wanted to just entertain – sing, dance and act – and the fact that I got this opportunity to do that was huge. For me, it was going to an acting coach and getting more training. Also, again Lasse is such an actor’s director so I got to put my trust in him. It was definitely a lot more heartfelt and personal.”

The character Julianne plays, Katie, is also a victim of domestic violence. It was very important to Julianne to get the role right and she told us, “It’s a big responsibility to do it right to where if somebody has gone through that, it feels real and honest to them. I went and talked to women at shelters, I know people, friends, family, my own experiences but at the same time it was such a safe environment to do it in. Dave [Lyons] is one of my closest friends now and with Lasse, he can put you in a vulnerable situation but not feel exposed. It was interesting and hard but it was also comfortable.”

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Julianne really related to the role and when asked what she learned from Katie, who takes the journey through the movie of taking back her power and falling in love, Julianne dished, “I think both Katie and I are fighters. It’s very easy to…people say it’s easy to walk away but it’s sometimes not. It’s sometimes harder to walk away in situations. With this, it was her own journey of setting herself free. Obviously she had the love of Alex and the security there now knowing there’s two people in this together, but I, not to give away the end, I really like the fact that it was Katie that ended the situation between her and Kevin because she didn’t need saving from him. She did it on her own and she became that strong fighter but with having Alex there gave her more strength. I learned the same thing. You have to be able to be on your own and secure with who you are and confident with who you are to move forward. It always helps having great family and friends around but at the end of the day it comes from you.

Something that was new for both actors was the amount of improv they did throughout the movie. Hallstrom encouraged the actors to go off the page and really create scenes that felt real, but it was something that definitely scared both Julianne and Josh, but some of it that made it in was really cute.

“There was a lot of stuff that Lasse and I talked about before. Some of the stuff was the whole door runner because I loved ‘My Life As A Dog’ and I talked to him about trying to find something, a little thread of normal human behavior that doesn’t necessarily have to mean much but is something people can relate to,” Josh told us. “So we talked a lot about that and it just sort of kept going. And he kept it going with my Jeep, the door wouldn’t open and it just sort of kept going. And then it really paid off at the end when David’s character Tierney couldn’t get through that door so it kind of came full circle. All the stuff on the beach he just let us go.”

He continued, “It wasn’t that we didn’t follow the script, we knew what we had to say in the script and from there he trusted us to let it go and find what the scene was really about. For me, it was the most liberating time I’ve ever had shooting a movie, and it was terrifying in the beginning. Like I said, I had two weeks before and she comes back after the first day and she’s like ‘you know what, we improved it was great.’ I’m like what do you mean you improved. Normally I know my lines and I go in. and I say them. It was scary but he really trusted us moreso than anyone I’ve worked with and that was really empowering.”

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Julianne echoed the sentiment adding, “It keeps you on the tip of your toes making sure you’re listening and being as real as possible especially with the kids. The scene when I first meet Lexi, that started out very on script and it moved on. You would do 10 minute scenes and then just find the best of what was there. With kids you never know what they’re going to say anyway in real life so you just have to go along with it. It was scary at first but I’ve never felt so trusted in anything that I’ve done.”

And lastly for the first part of this feature, Josh and Julianne were both asked what their safe haven is and here’s what they said! “For me, it’s easy, it’s home,” Josh said. “It’s either going back to where I’m from, North Dakota, seeing my sisters…it’s always nice to go back there. Now for instance, when we’re traveling promoting the movie, it’s just great to get back home and decompress.”

Julianne’s answer was also home but her main safe haven is a little furrier. “Mine’s my dogs. I like having my dogs. They’re kind of the mascot of every film that I do because at the end of a long maybe emotional maybe exciting day they’re always there to love me and for me to love them and to get a shower by Lexi who kisses my face off. They’re like my safe place.” How sweet is that?

Safe Haven hits theaters on February 14, 2013. Stay tuned for part 2 of our interview when the group talks about the audition process, creating chemistry and following up the success of other Nicholas Sparks’ work like The Notebook.