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Safe Haven Stars Talk Chemistry and Romance

Feb 06, 2013

By: Lynn Barker

We’re in Beverly Hills talking with the love duo Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel in the new PG-13 film based on a Nicholas Sparks book. Safe Haven follows The Lucky One, The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song in the long line of romantic adaptations to film.

A little different than the other movies based on Sparks books, Safe Haven throws in thriller and danger elements that add excitement to the “mushy moments”. Julianne, who is with Ryan Seacrest and Josh, married to Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas in real life, really hit it off and it shows. Picture Julianne wearing a coral-colored, sleeveless jumpsuit with lowcut bodice by Diane Von Furstenberg and her own label Sole Society shoes. 

Julianne (as Katie) and Josh (as Alex) on the beachJulianne (as Katie) and Josh (as Alex) on the beach

Kidzworld: Julianne, you’ve been doing a few dance films and this was your first thriller/ romance. Did you have to do anything different to prepare for this role?

  • Julianne: Yeah, I left the dancing and the singing outside. (Seriously) I was really just blown away and blessed that I got this opportunity. My whole life, I’ve just wanted to entertain; sing, dance and act and the fact that I got this opportunity was huge. It meant going to an acting coach and getting more training. Also Lasse (Hallstrom) is such an actor’s director so I got to put my trust in him. It was definitely a lot more heartfelt and personal (than my other films).  

Kidzworld: Your character Katie gave up all her power to be with an abusive husband so the movie is kind of her journey to take back that power and fall in love. Did you learn anything from her?

  • Julianne: Yeah. I think both Katie and I are fighters. People say it’s easy to walk out but it’s sometimes harder to walk away. This was her own journey of setting herself free. Obviously she had the love of Alex (Josh’s character) and the security there, knowing there’s now two people in this together. I really liked the fact that Katie was the one who ended the situation between her and Kevin (the abusive husband). She didn’t need saving by Alex. She did it on her own and she became that strong fighter. Having Alex there just gave her more strength. At the end of the day, it has to come from you.

Julianne (Katie) meets Josh (Alex) and daughterJulianne (Katie) meets Josh (Alex) and daughter

Kidzworld: Julianne can you talk about playing a domestic violence victim? Did you research it?

  • Julianne: It’s a big responsibility to do it right so that, if somebody has gone through that, it feels real and honest for them. I talked to women at shelters, I know friends and family, my own experiences but at the same time it was such a safe environment to do it in. Dave (David Lyons who plays the abusive husband) is one of my closest friends now and Lasse can put you in a vulnerable situation but you don’t feel exposed. It was interesting and hard but it also was comforting.

Julianne with David LyonsJulianne with David Lyons

Kidzworld: In the film Alex tells Katie “You’re safe with me”. Where is your safe haven? Where are you personally most comfortable?

  • Josh: For me, it’s easy. It’s home. It’s going back where I’m from, North Dakota, seeing my three sisters. Everyone lives there still so it’s always nice to go back there. Now, for instance, when we’re traveling a lot and promoting the movie, it’s great to get back home and just decompress. It’s not a very exciting answer but it’s home.
  • Julianne: Mine’s my dogs. I like having my dogs. They’re kinda like 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 from Lexi who kisses my face off. They’re like my safe place...and home. They’re Clavier King Charles Spaniels. I have two.

Kidzworld: Awww. Bad chemistry can ruin a film like this and you two have great chemistry. Can you talk about that?

  • Josh: There was something about Julianne that is really relatable and what you see is what you get. I knew it wouldn’t be difficult to get through to her and for her to get through to me. There is something really honest about her. Lasse calls her “Honest Lou”. I think that’s a good description. I probably had very little say in who they cast but I was really happy they made that decision because I knew that it would be an easy thing to make (the relationship) feel real with her. It just felt easy with Julianne.

Josh and Julianne on setJosh and Julianne on set
  • Julianne: I remember my audition for the movie. The first time I went in, Lasse was on Skype and I remember doing the best that I thought I could but when I left I was like ‘Oh man, I wish he could have been in that room’ so he could have felt what we were feeling and our chemistry.
  • I wanted (the part) so bad. This is the greatest opportunity for me to grow and expand. When we went in the second time for the audition I got my wish and it was even better. The more you hang out with somebody and get to know somebody, the chemistry either works or it doesn’t and it just kept working the more we hung out together on set. He’s not bad to look at either.
  • Josh: (grins) Thank you. But, the stuff with her and Dave (David Lyons), even though he was an abusive husband, I thought ‘Wow, those two are really good together’. (Laughter)
  • Julianne: My first day of shooting was with Dave when all that (abuse) went down in the house so it was like ‘Hey, how are ya? BOOM!’ (Laughter) We got to be really close very quickly and we became really good friends.

Kidzworld: Did you need a stunt woman?

  • Julianne: We had a stunt woman but there’s no way I was gonna let them do that. That is fun to me. It’s like dancing. It’s choreography and I love that active feeling. I did get hurt a little bit but I didn’t tell anybody.

Kidzworld: Do you feel a responsibility to live up to the other popular “Sparks” movies like The Notebook?

  • Josh: There is a lot of pressure to live up to the success of these previous movies but we try not to think about that. If I tried to do what Ryan Gosling did in The Notebook, I’d be pulling my hair out. Those two (Ryan and Rachel McAdams) were great in that movie, they really were. If we try and replicate that in any way, it’s a trap.
  • We really tried to just focus on what this story was between us, what my relationship with these kids was and not try and force all the romantic big movie moments. We really just tried to play the simple story and trust that it was going to be interesting and romantic and funny. At the end of the day, this was its own entity apart from all the other stories.
  • Julianne: I am the demographic of Nicolas Sparks books. I loved ‘The Notebook’ but again this was our version of what this story is. There is pressure to have these big movie moments, and at some point (you have to give) the audience the credit that they deserve that they are intelligent enough to know what a real love story is without having to overdo it.

On a dateOn a date

Kidzworld: Josh, you play a young widower in the movie and you seem to have a great bond with the young actors playing your two kids. Talk about that.  

  • Josh: To me a movie without kids on the set is like Christmas without kids. They just make it a little bit more fun and there’s no pretense there. These two particularly are really sweet kids by nature and didn’t have a lot of experience in the business. We met them and worked with them before (shooting). I spent some time on the beach with Mimi. Noah was in Atlanta so we didn’t get to hang out as much.
  • For me, the relationship with them was as important as the relationship with Julianne in the movie because they’ve both been through so much. My character has already been through what he thought was his first love and lost that. Now any decision that I make going forward has to be ok with the kids too. By the time we started shooting I felt like I was this dad.

Julianne and Josh with kid actors Noah and MimiJulianne and Josh with kid actors Noah and Mimi

Kidzworld: I understand that there was a lot of dialogue both of you made up just on set. Is that a little new for you and is there a something you came up with that you are glad and proud made it into the final film?

  • Josh: There’s a lot of stuff that Lasse and I talked about before like the whole door runner (an always stuck door). I wanted to find something, a little thread of normal human behavior and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean much but is something people will relate to. Then there was something with my Jeep, the door wouldn’t open so that just kept going. It really paid off at the end when Dave’s character Tierney couldn’t get through that door so it came full circle.
  • All the dialogue on the beach, he just let us go. It wasn’t that we didn’t follow the script. He just trusted us to let it go and find what the scene was really about. It was the most liberating time I’ve ever had shooting movies. Terrifying in the beginning because normally, I know my lines and I go in and I say them. It was scary but he really trusted us more so than anyone I’ve worked with and that was really empowering.
  • Julianne: It keeps you on the tips of your toes making sure you’re listening and you’re being as real as possible. Especially with the kids, Lasse used to say  “Don’t even look, just say whatever you want to say.” Especially the scene when I first meet Lexy (Josh’s young daughter in the movie). It started out very on script and then it moved on. You would do like ten minute scenes and then just find the best of what was there. It was really fun.

The PosterThe Poster

Kidzworld:  I hear the town of Southport where you shot was really fun but Julianne, your character has to live in an isolated woodsy cabin. Was it a little too rustic?

  • Julianne: I thought I was gonna be all method and stay in it one night and then I was like ‘Wow, it’s tick-infested and I don’t wanna get Lyme disease’. It’s not every day you get to shoot in the location where the story is set. It’s gorgeous. I love Southport. It’s kind of a hidden gem. We got to hang out with some of the local residents there and the restaurants were amazing, the vibe, going to the beach on the weekends when you have a day off, everything about it was amazing. It was honestly one of the best summers of my life so far because it was so calm. 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: I had so much fun here. I had two weeks before we ever started shooting. I really became a local. I bought my cabana from Walmart, I had my cooler and my boogie board and my book and I just hung out. The beaches (in North Carolina) are incredible. It’s a sleepy little town but it’s very quaint and charming; all these old colonial houses overlooking the sea and the marina, it’s really fantastic. The people that lived there and our crew kind of became a family and that’s one of the things I love about making movies.

Kidzworld: So then you could you imagine yourself living in a small town where everybody knows everybody and where you’re basically part of the community?

  • Josh: I grew up in a state full of little towns like that. Where I’m from is a little bit bigger but North Dakota is sort of similar minus the beach and all the beauty. It does have its own beauty for about two months out of the year and then it gets really cold. It’s sort of in my blood I guess. I grew up in a place like that so I’m more comfortable there than a big city. I love New York but that’s too much for me. That town almost swallowed me up. I lived there for three years. I’d probably prefer a smaller town.