It’s not exactly hard to figure out why women enjoy reading and/or watching Nicholas Sparks stories. The man’s books freely tap into women’s most romantic fantasies where the man walks thousands of miles to be with his love and all passionate kisses must be done outside in the pouring rain. But is the wish fulfillment aspect of Nicholas Sparks’ stories something that filmmakers recognize and implement while crafting their adaptations? Fortunately I recently had the chance to sit down with director Scott Hicks, director of The Lucky One and took the opportunity to ask.

Check out my interview with the director below in which he not only talks about crafting Zac Efron’s character to be the perfect male specimen, but also how gender lines effect romantic dramas, his protagonist’s PTSD, and working with real marines to give his film a more realistic feel.

Take me back to the beginning. What was the element of this story that made you want to direct this film?

I think it was actually the premise of the story that was the hook for me, which was the idea that this marine serving in Iraq would find this picture of a girl in the middle of nowhere, try to find who it belonged to, didn’t succeed, but from the moment he carries it, it seems to bring him luck. It seems to carry him through some dangerous situations and he begins to see it as his talisman. So when he gets back home and he can’t fit in back home and life is very different he decides to go and find this girl, and I thought that was just a fantastic set-up for a romance. It’s not a random meeting of two individuals in the same space, it’s meeting through this talisman, this photograph, I thought that was great.

One thing that’s interesting about Logan’s character is that while we never get to see what he was like before he fought in the war, you do get the sense that he has undergone a personality change and is suffering from PTSD. Can you talk a bit about developing that character and working with Zac Efron?

The war scenes that the movie opens with were very important in my view because we needed to see what it was that affected Logan so that he would be sort of taciturn and sort of a closed off person. Which is really quite difficult to play, it’s quite a challenge for Zac, which I think he manages extremely well. So I really wanted to set that up at the beginning, but the audience would always know why Logan was the way he was. And then, of course, when he gets home you begin to realize that he finds great difficulty connecting with those close to him, his relatives and so on, which, of course, I think is a very natural phenomenon that happens to a lot of service men and women. And this is so much so for Logan that he decides to set off on this quest to find this girl who he believes saved his life. And then, because of that very nature that he’s closed off, he finds it impossible to tell her about it when he does meet her, and thereby sets the ball in motion for a complicated approach to their relationship. And I think each of those stages were really important.

Now, working with Zac on that, it was really crucial that he have contact with serving marines who could share experience with him. So I took him down to Camp Pendleton and we spent time down there with some of the men who were good enough, ultimately, to open up and sort of share their experience, from which both Zac and I drew a lot of benefit in terms of how to stage and how to play those parts of the story. But beyond that, I think it was really Zac drawing on his understanding of life and infusing the character with that.

Did speaking with them also affect the aesthetic of the film?

Oh definitely! Oh definitely, because certain things… there’s a scene early in the film where Zac’s character is in a Humvee and an explosive device goes off, which is quite horrifying, and all of the visualization of that idea came from conversations that I had with marines at that time.

In what sense?

Well, one of them described to me very graphically exactly what it’s like being in that situation, how time feels like it stands still – he felt the oddest of things, which was dirt raining down on his soldiers. I mean, he’s sitting inside this Humvee, and then he felt he was all wet and he thought he’d been hit, but in fact it was his water bottle, which had exploded due to the pressure. So all of those elements are kind of put into that scene. But they were so graphically described to me by this marine.

To talk a bit about the casting of Zac Efron, he’s an actor who made a name for himself as a child actor on the Disney Channel, but obviously this is a much more mature role for him. Can you talk a bit about that choice?

For a start, he’s actually exactly in the right age demographic, because so many of the marines, indeed all of the marines that we met, were in their early 20s. They were sergeants, they had done two or three tours, they were already extremely experienced service people. So Zac was completely right from that point of view. What he needed to do, there were two elements. One was the physical transformation he really had to undergo in which he really had to bulk up, he put on 25 pounds of muscle with an excruciating diet – 6000 calories a day and three hours of workout with ex-Navy SEALs and marines. And he did that for months to put on that body mass. And then he was able to also get into the mindset, and that I think came about through meeting the marines, hanging out with them for a while, talking a lot with other marines that he was able to come in contact with, and eventually I think he identified a part in himself that was able to project that sort of somewhat closed-off nature that Logan has – which is so different than his own. I mean Zac is such a bright, lively, energetic, enthusiastic, personable, charming guy and he has to play this guy who can’t communicate so well with people. He communicates better with dogs, as a matter of fact. That was an effort for him and very, very impressive, I thought.

I do also want to ask about the romance drama genre in general. We have typically seen that these kinds of movies appeal much more to women then to men, but I’m curious if, from your perspective, you see that as being more of a marketing thing, where these movies are exclusively targeted towards women, or if women are simply more attracted to this kind of material.

I think the two elements become pretty interconnected. I’m sure I’m right in saying that Nick [Spark’s] books have a predominantly female audience, the stories are fabricated in a way that appears to have an appeal to women, and then, of course, it’s the job of the marketing to tell them about it, so you do aim squarely at that audience. The fun thing for me was when the first film previewed, the comments from the male members of the audience, who had been kind of dragged along, were kind of, “Hey, this isn’t so bad!” [laughs]. I think the war stuff at the beginning kind of woke them up a bit. “There’s going to be more to this than meets the eye.” So that was encouraging as well.

But there is also a real element of female fantasy in this film. If you look at the character of Logan, he’s kind of brooding, all the children, dogs and grandmothers love him…is that something that’s in the back of your mind when you were making this movie?

I think there’s definitely, and I think that Nicholas Sparks would be the first to agree, that there’s a very powerful element of wish fulfillment in his narratives. So yeah, definitely. I think that’s part of what some people go to the cinema for is that sense of “This could happen to me, this is possible.” And I think it’s a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment. The challenge is to hope to reach that audience while making the best film you possibly can in that genre.

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