Interview with Nicholas Sparks for the release of his film “The Choice”
By: Shari K. Green
PHOENIX, AZ – Nicholas Sparks, as you know, is the author of books such as, Message in a Bottle, The Notebook and The Best of Me, which have all been turned into big Hollywood money makers, not to mention the fact that these films widened his already immense and devoted audience with each movie; suddenly books had to be seen by his fans and the movies had to be read… pretty good deal for a Carolina Panthers fan. When he came to town for a chat, I had to go there with him. I asked and, yes, he’s for Carolina in the Super Bowl this weekend, of course, and I’m for the Broncos. We’ll see. Anyway, he sat with me and a few others to discuss his most recent offering, The Choice, opening in theaters starting February 5th.
Very bubbly and fun, he walked in the room and gave us a ‘How are ya’ll doin’?’ Then he grabbed himself a Coke, offered everyone else one, as well, before finding a seat and introducing himself. He tells us that he generally has water the rest of the day, but touring means he usually has caffeine ‘til noon and this throws him off his normal healthier schedule, and how can you blame him? This is how he gets through these long days of interviews. His energy was very nice to be around and I find him to be quite warm and genuine; a very kind soul… sincere. He looks you in the eyes when he speaks to you, making sure that not only he is heard and understood, but to be sure to give you the feeling that you are heard and understood. He’s a very easy person to talk to and one I’m glad I had the chance to spend some time with. Here are some of the questions from our time together. Enjoy!!
*FYI There will be SPOILERS
Shari: You are one of the only writers to give us these deep romance stories from the man’s perspective. Do you get stopped on the street and get asked advice on romance all the time?
NS: No. In fact, I don’t know that its ever happened before so how about that. I’m not recognized by men. I’m recognized by women sometimes, but never men. Unless I’m supposed to be in… they know kinda where I’m supposed to be, I’m very seldom recognized at all. Like, for instance if people know I’m in Phoenix doing stuff, they might see me in a hotel lobby and recognize me but had they not seen me on the news that morning, they might not. So, in the history of my career as far as I know outside of my hometown of New Bern, North Carolina, I think I’ve been recognized… less than a dozen. I had a lady sit next to me on a plane, reading my book, staring at my author photo… and she didn’t recognize me. So no; but to answer that question I do, often by journalists, get asked, ‘can you give romantic advice?’ And I say, ‘I don’t think so.’ He laughs.
Shari: So you’re not going to start a column or anything?
NS: Absolutely not. I just try to write the best novels that I can.
Shari: Being that you’re going through some change right now, what advice would you give to students on making a life changing choice?
NS.: In general? I’d say, ‘choose your struggles wisely because it is your struggles that will define the life you live.’ What do I mean by that? If you ask people what they want, if you ask almost anyone what they want, everyone pretty much wants the same thing; they want a job they enjoy and great personal relationships, they want to be close with family and get along with friends, they want to be healthy, right? Everyone… the answer is so common it’s ubiquitous, however, if you ask someone, ‘How do you choose to suffer?’ That’ll tell you a little bit about the person. I choose to write novels. I isolate myself from friends and family for hours on end. The time vanishes when one writes it feels as though you sacrifice a bit of your life. I’m willing to put up with the torture of creation, you know, the struggles of writers’ block, to get to the end, right? That’s one of the struggles that I choose. So, choose your struggles wisely because how you choose to suffer will largely define the life you live.
Shari: Is the suffering worth it?
NS: That’s the question. Most people don’t, I find, get what they want. They really just didn’t want it bad enough ‘cause if you really want something, you really will do what it takes to get there.
Shari: For someone who does spend a lot of time in their room, maybe on the computer or what have you, what would you maybe say to someone who needs to maybe break away from that mold and to kind of get into that “romancesphere”?
NS: I would say that unless that’s what they truly want, they probably never will… and to accept that. And it’s okay… to each his own. (He thinks a moment and speaks again). To… to step out of a box in which you’re very comfortable and put yourself in an uncomfortable position, you have to really want to do that and there are certainly joys and wonders that can come about but there’s also heartbreak and sadness which are also part of the game. You know, everyone wants a wonderful relationship; they pretty much want the view from the top of the mountain but ya gotta be willing to walk up the mountain. Ya gotta be able to do the climb so, if they’re not willing to then have them accept themselves and to make the most of the lives they can with the friends they have and life’s about enjoyment. Life’s not only about work, it’s about enjoyment so as long as they’re good, I’m good.
Shari: Has anyone made a decision that you didn’t like? One that you had no say in; that’s the way it’s going to be?
NS: Has anyone made a decision I didn’t like. Sure! We can start with my children. (Laughs) Of course, you know? And… I suppose it goes to the nature of the question that was up to require the decision, right? Most of the time I try to live my life by simple words that my mom taught me, ‘If someone says something you don’t like, or you disagree with, say, (And this is true though) it’s your life you can do with it what you want… you can.’ Now how I deal with that, that’s up to me, but you can do whatever you want. My children hate when I tell them that. They hate it with a passion, like, ‘Put all the burden on me!’ But it’s very true. I don’t know how successful you’ve been at running someone else’s life, but I already found that it’s not very successful so I try not to give advice.
Shari: What are their age ranges?
NS: Fourteen to Twenty-Four. But it’s not just them, it’s siblings and people you work with. People are going to do what they’re going to do and the only thing you can control is how you respond to it.
Shari: Religion became a part of the narrative of the story, subtly and not so subtly; where Travis pulled away from his faith. Do you think that after the story ended, that Travis would go back to his faith?
NS: My opinion is that it would be difficult for Travis not to go back to his faith. That would be my thought on that subject but, of course, that’s just my opinion on the matter. And that was not an element that was within the novel. That was an element that came about in the film… and so, I suppose an even better person to ask would be Ben Walker for his version of the character and the director (Ross Katz).
Shari: How did you bring Gabby (Teresa Palmer) and Travis (Benjamin Walker) together?! They had such great onscreen chemistry.
NS: First we cast people who we thought were immensely talented and then throughout the casting process, we look for chemistry. How do they seem to get along, do they seem to be friends… and Teresa has one of these personalities that draws everyone in, and so does Ben, in fact. And so, what they had was just magnetic, even in the read, so, when we put them on screen, when you get them in the big picture, it comes across as being incredible. But it’s something that we definitely look for.
Shari: The brother/sister relationship that you had occur… is there something in your personal life that you drew from because the sister is very likeable. Her character brought a lot to the film.
NS: The sister in the novel was an even broader character. I’ve been asked numerous times to write a story about the sister cuz she had it all together and she really did. She was as comfortable as he was, with herself and I find that a wonderful element to someone’s personality… just the comfort with who they are. So, yeah, I was very close to my siblings growing up and I’m still incredibly close to my brother; we actually took a trip around the world and I wrote a non-fiction book about that called “Three Weeks with My Brother”. And, I’d say I’m close to my sister, too, but she passed away. She passed away from a brain tumor about sixteen years ago… so… yeah, the relationship between Ben and his sister was very much inspired by the relationship that I have with my siblings. I had parents that really stressed the fact that your siblings will always be around. Your friends will come and go but your family’s there forever. In many ways, they are the people that you can tell anything to and they still keep coming back… right?
Travis Shaw (Ben Walker) and Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) in THE CHOICE. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley
Shari: Up to the accident, you have your love story… and then the accident happened and I’m in tears; multiple times throughout. What about trauma do you think makes the story that much better?
NS: Well, I write in a very distinct genre… it’s really called a love story as distinguished from a romance novel; a romance novel is really about romantic fantasy and it’s really supposed to be able to allow the reader to escape into a world and you go through conflicts but you pretty much know that the couple is going to get together in the end. That’s what it’s about and that’s why you read them and it’s certainly a very valid, you know, it’s a wonderful genre; Cinderella. I mean, it works every time. This is a love story and a love story is not necessarily romantic fantasy, although there are romantic elements. The purpose of that is to move the reader or the viewer through all of the emotions of life; to make it feelreal so you might call it romantic realism versus romantic fantasy. And that realism requires the reader or the viewer feel all of the emotions of life, cuz otherwise something’s missing… you know that; and the simple fact of life is that everyone goes through tragedy. There’s not one of us that will escape scot-free. So, we have characters that feel real then they go through emotions that feel real… and they allow you, the viewer or reader to live someone else’s but to feel like it was a full life; like you got it all even though it was just a snippet… a point in time.
Shari: You have romance down, for sure, have you ever, even if you did it under a pseudonym or something, considered writing maybe a horror novel ala Stephen King; try a different genre?
NS: No. I don’t. I’m very happy writing the kind of novels I write. One of the wonderful things about the genre in which I work, is that I’m able to pull elements from all sorts of genres and build them into my novels. For instance, “See Me”, is my latest novel; it’s a love story; these two opposite characters meet, it’s my first Hispanic character and she’s a lawyer and this guy is a reformed bad-boy and, okay, they’re going to make it work… overcome these obstacles. And somewhere around the halfway point the novel starts devolving into a very twisty mystery thriller. Something like my attempt at what Harlen Coben would do. And I’m not saying I did it but it was my attempt to do what he does so expertly well… and part of the fun of that novel is, the tension is increasing and you’re not even sure what’s going on. The reader is as confused as the characters in the novel. You can just feel the tension growing and growing. So, I can put elements of mystery into my novels. I put elements of the supernatural in “Safe Haven”… take that for what it’s worth… it’s very light. Uhh… Epic. I’ve done epic sweeping stories like “The Longest Ride”. So, all of these elements that are particular to various genres, I’ve been able to put into mine.
Shari: Have you ever or are you now, writing with a specific actor in mind?
NS: No. The only time I did that was for “The Last Song”. If the movie got made it would be for Miley Cyrus and that’s because I worked with Disney on the project.
NS: No. No. (Laughs) I never… never… no. (Laughs again)
Shari:. I love the cast, especially the side characters, Tom Wilkinson and Tom Welling are terrific… umm… were there any jokes on the set or how was Ben feeling about stealing Superman’s girlfriend?
NS: There weren’t any particular jokes about that. It was a very familial set because we asked all of those characters to have arcs; even the father had an arc, you know, the sister had an arc. So, because they all had arcs, we all asked them to do various things emotionally and… we wanted them to be very comfortable, really experimenting… pressing themselves, going out on a limb, really (allowing) them to evoke these emotions in the viewer in a real way and we did that by having it become a family setting. When they’re filming the backyard for the bbq, things like that, it was like we were at a backyard bbq. The dogs were running around, the kids were over there… the sun, it’s beautiful, it’s warm, you’re in your shorts, you’re cooking on the grill; it was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re working.’ It was more like that.
Shari: What’s it like seeing your novels come to life from a producer’s point of view?
NS: It’s a lot of thought. I love the fact that viewers are going to see a new way to hear the story that I conceived. I have my chance to tell the story the way I did in the novel… but let’s see how someone else does with my story, you know? What kind of colors, who are we going to cast, how are we going to frame this… what elements do we keep, what elements do we change to capture the whole spirit of the story and the characters. For me it’s a wonderful way to experience the story in a different medium.
Shari: Have you ever thought of just skipping the whole novel thing and just writing the screenplay and producing films yourself?
NS: Sure I have and I’ve chosen to do that in television not as far as film. Television is a bit more like a novel so you have a longer opportunity to tell a specific story. I’m currently, for instance, writing a pilot for HBO but that’ll give me ten episodes to tell a full story.
Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) and Travis Shaw (Ben Walker) in THE CHOICE. Photo Credit: Dana Hawley
Shari: The big ending, whether she lives or dies… what was the deciding factor for you? Was there a deciding factor?
NS: Well, it was during the course of the novel and, of course, that’s what happens in the novel is what I’m trying to say there; and I knew all along that she would come out. I knew. I didn’t… I didn’t want to… uhhh, I just knew but it was to bring the reader through all the emotions on the way to get there because… because sometimes these things happen; sometimes they don’t. When they do, there’s a really magical and wondrous feeling with it.
Shari: The husband in a film called 45 Years that just came out, says “All of the big decisions that we make, we do when we’re young; big decisions /choices”. And he had a real defeatist attitude which I don’t agree with. What is your take on that? I think we can make life changing choices every day.
NS: Of course. And at the same time, there’s some validity (in it), when you’re young is usually when you choose your career, you might choose a partner or a spouse to be with; you might choose whether or not to have children and there are certain points in time when some of those are no longer valid. If you’re a woman and all of the sudden you’re fifty and you never had children… you can’t bear them. You might be able to adopt, but you can’t bear them. So, some choices, just by the nature of time itself… yeah, they come and go and they’re focus is more when you’re young. However, there’s always major choices that one can make because there’s always the kind of life that you want to live and the new strugglesor the new sufferingsthat you’re willing to experience to get there; right? You want to go climb Mount Everest? Sure. Someone’s done that in their seventies. Alright… you’re willing to do that suffering; all the training… are you willing? Do you really want to climb Everest? That would be one example, but sure it’s possible.
I know what else is possible… you running to the theater this weekend and checking out Lionsgate presenting a Nicholas Sparks / Safran Company / POW! Production of The Choice starring Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, Brett Rice, and Tom Wilkinson. Don’t forget to come back and let me know what you think of it!!! Have fun and Go Broncos! *Although, I have a feeling Sparks will win this one… just like his film will. Bring a tissue!