Fans of the movies based on best-selling author Nicholas Sparks' works -- whether it be "The Notebook," "Dear John" or "The Last Song" -- know for certain going in that they're going to see a story of romance. But for his latest big-screen adaptation, "The Lucky One," Sparks said there's something here that sets the film apart from the previous ones.
"This time we have really attractive people in the roles," Sparks told me, laughing, in a recent interview.
Sparks knows, of course, that all of his films feature really attractive people, whether it be Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in "The Notebook," or Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in "Dear John."
For "The Lucky One," it's former teen heartthrob Zac Efron and a stunning relative newcomer with Taylor Schilling. And while having gorgeous leads in his films generally poses an advantage, Sparks noted the fact that behind these flawless faces are people who can act.
"The thing about Zac is, he's such of an amazingly underrated performer," Sparks said. "Some will see him in 'High School Musical' and think, 'This is all he can do.' But he's been in this business since he was 11 years old and he knows how to prepare for roles. He's got tremendous range."
Opening in theaters Friday, "The Lucky One" stars Efron as Logan Thibault, a Marine sergeant who returns home from his third tour of duty in Iraq with a heavy heart. Haunted by the loss of his friends in the war, the only thing that keeps Logan going is a photo a woman he found on the battlefield that belonged to another soldier -- a photo by certain twists of fate that helped keep him alive.
Longing to meet the woman in the photo, Logan ventures from his home in Colorado and eventually finds her when he lands of the doorstep of Beth Green (Schilling), who with her young son (Riley Stewart) and grandmother (Blythe Danner) run a dog kennel in Louisiana.
Unable to reveal the true reason he is there, Logan takes a job at the kennel and immediately forms a unique bond with Beth and her family. A romance between Logan and Beth soon develops, but complicating things are her jealous ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson) and a recent family tragedy that Beth is seeking the answers to.
With Beth coming into his life, the two might have a chance to find a resolution together, Sparks said.
"Logan's alive because of this photograph, but when he arrives home, he has no idea where he should start with his life after the war," Sparks explained. "All he knows is that where he is, it's not working. All he knows is that the picture has something to do with how he is going to heal."
Sparks said that Logan's personal dilemma in "The Lucky One" marks a huge departure for one of the lead characters in his stories.
"Logan is a damaged character. I've had characters suffer loss or I've had characters feeling guilty about the things that have happened -- like Richard Gere's character in 'Nights in Rodanthe,' who knows he made some mistakes. But his character didn't really have tragedy in his life. Logan has both," Sparks said. "Besides losing all his friends in the war, he survived."
As a resident of North Carolina, Sparks said he's often encountered the likes of Logan, which is why he made the character a Marine veteran and set the start of "The Lucky One" in the Iraq war.
"It's a profoundly military area where I live -- you see how deployments change these young men who go and they all come back different," Spark observed. "When their friends die they change even more so … I live there and see what the soldiers are like, and unless you're an officer who went to college all four years, if you're in the military and your age is 18 to 25, you're being deployed."
Matter Of Luck Or Destiny?
"The Lucky One" certainly explores the idea of destiny, and Sparks said he believes that events are fated because otherwise, he wouldn't be able to imagine such events and ultimately write about them.
Still, he said, you don't know for sure about those "destined" moments because you're living them and playing a part in the circumstances that surround them.
"Destiny or fate is only that in retrospect, because you don't know it at the time. When you meet it, it's only a coincidence, a random event or a chance meeting," Sparks observed. "At that time, you make a series of decisions, consciously and unconsciously. Only when you look back, it's fate. But I believe fate and destiny absolutely is real."
In the case of "The Lucky One," Logan's fate was dictated by his actions, Sparks said.
"When something's right, you tend to take more conscious direction in your decisions," Sparks noted. "It was fate that Logan found this photograph of the woman, but it was a decision of his to go and find her."
"Once he found her, it was up to him to consciously or even subconsciously keep moving forward," Sparks added. "It was fate that he found the photograph, but a destiny that he also helped control. We are a little bit, at least, in control of our own lives as well."