It had already been done six times before over the last 13 years, but two-time Academy Award-nominated director/writer Scott Hicks (“Shine”) wanted to do something different with a film adapted from a novel written by Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook,” “Dear John”). He wanted to create a new experience for moviegoers.
“Part of my job as director is to stay a step ahead of the audience and to keep them intrigued,” Hicks, 59, told me during a phone interview last month. “I think there are a lot of elements that will really distinguish ‘The Lucky One’ from the other Nicholas Sparks-based films.”
In “The Lucky One,” U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) searches for a woman he credits for keeping him alive during his tours in Iraq.
During our interview, Hicks, who also directed “The Boys are Back” starring Clive Owen and “Hearts in Atlantis” starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, talked more about his role as a director in adapting a novel written by someone as popular as Sparks, and what he thinks about The Lucky One being considered a “date movie.”
Was it a goal of yours to try and make this film different from other Nicholas Sparks adaptations? There have, of course, been a number of them over the last few years.
Well, yes, because you don’t want the audience to feel like they’re going down the same road they have before. At the same time, the film does fall under the genre of a Nicholas Sparks romance. As a filmmaker, you want to tell the story in a different fashion. Among those [different] elements in [‘The Lucky One’] is the war setting, which is quite hard hitting at the beginning of the movie. Then there are the love scenes, which I really wanted to do in a way that was fresh.
How did you confront a film adapted from someone with such a huge fanbase as Nicholas Sparks?
Well, there was already a very receptive audience that came along with the film. Nicholas Sparks has a huge following as a writer. The movies that have been made from his books have also been very successful. As a director, I’m making something for a very eager audience. My task was to make sure I got the feel and the emotion and the core of the novel onto the screen.
In past interviews, Sparks has said he sometimes likes being on the set of movies that are being adapted from his work. Was he on the set for “The Lucky One?” How receptive are you to writers who want to be close to the action?
In this instance he wasn’t a presence. He certainly did come and visit us, which was fun. He keeps in close contact with one of the producers. He has a great relationship there that goes back a number years. I think he felt like his book was in good hands. As a director, you’re making a different creation. You’re using the words, obviously, but it’s its own animal.
Over the past few years, it seems like actor Zac Efron has been trying to distance himself from his days as a tween heartthrob in the “High School Musical” series by taking on more serious roles like in “Me and Orsen Wells” and “Charlie St. Cloud.” What did you see in him that led you to believe he could accomplish that here?
When I met with Zac I was really impressed with his energy and enthusiasm. I think that eagerness is really something you look for as a director. We talked a lot about how this was going to involve a lot of work for him. Zac is not a Marine, so I needed him to give the effort to gain that physique, which he was totally prepared to do. He turned out to be a very hardworking actor who was focused on his craft.
Was it important to you as a director to make the details of war and combat as authentic as possible?
Very much so. Regardless what one’s attitude is to the war from a political aspect, you’re making a film and it has to look and feel believable. I think you have to do this to respect the sacrifice of all those involved. I’ve been very appreciative of the comments I’ve received from Marines who have seen the film. They’ve felt the characters and experiences have been portrayed authentically. I tried to do that by taking Zac down to Camp Pendleton to hang out with Marines so he could get a sense of their lives. In addition to the physical work he was doing, I wanted him to get a sense of the mindset of people involved in that world.
As a director who has made a number of different films in different genres, are you comfortable with the term “date movie,” which might be the way this film is categorized by some people?
I’m quite comfortable with that. This is a movie where the most appreciative audiences are likely to be women. But at the same time, women take their men to the cinema with them. The response that I’ve gotten from guys is, “Wow, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” (Laughs) Yes, it’s a chick flick, but it’s also a chick flick for guys. The success of a film like “The Notebook,” for example, was in part because guys surprised themselves in finding they really enjoyed the movie. Hopefully, “The Lucky One” will strike that same chord.
After your success in 1996 with the film “Shine,” have you ever felt any pressure to get back to that level of filmmaking again in the last 16 years?
Not really. To me, it was such an extraordinary journey with “Shine.” It was a little film made for very little, but went as far as films can go in this business. It changed my life. Far from any pressure, it put me into a whole new landscape. It gave me new access to material and talent and resources in a way I didn’t have before. Of course, one is always looking for ideas and hoping things can really connect with audiences, but I’ve never really looked at it as a pressure – more of a privilege.