“The Choice” is about Travis (Benjamin Walker) and Gabby (Teresa Palmer), neighbors who just can’t get along. Travis is a veterinarian who likes playing the field. Gabby is studying to become a doctor and has a steady boyfriend (Tom Welling). Only Travis’s sister (Maggie Grace) knows that Travis is about to fall hard for Gabby. Will Gabby fall equally for Travis?
I had the good fortune to recently interview Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer about “The Choice” which is based on the best-selling Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name. “The Choice” opens this Friday, Feb. 5th nationwide.
Mike: Hi guys, thanks for talking with me.
Benjamin Walker: Hi.
Mike: Talk about filming in North Carolina. It must have been a great place to shoot a movie. It looks just gorgeous in the film.
Benjamin: It’s heaven on earth.
Teresa Palmer: It mean, that’s real (pointing at the movie’s poster)! The background there, that’s all real. That’s a real Wilmington sunset. How do people live like that? It’s crazy that it’s so magical.
Mike: And the scenery is just gorgeous.
Benjamin: It’s an easy place to fall in love. It’s the ideal setting for a love story.
Teresa: It’s a perfect Nicholas Sparks setting. The house that we shot at was just beautiful. I could not believe that people wake up in the morning to start their day, look out their window and see that. What a blessing.
Mike: Did you know that because it’s Nicholas Sparks, you would be taken on an emotional roller coaster?
Benjamin: We knew we were going to be in a rowboat.
Benjamin and Teresa: And kiss in the rain.
Teresa: That there was going to be some conflict and then we are going to get together. I am a huge Nicholas Sparks fan. I have seen all of his movies, and I have seen “The Notebook” maybe thirty or forty times. I owned “The Notebook” stationary. And when I was a teenager I had pictures of Noah and Allie on my wall. As an eighteen-year-old woman, that was everything I wanted in my life, that romantic experience. Now cut to ten years later, I get to live my dream. So it’s pretty special for me to be in this movie.
Mike: So did you read the book beforehand?
Teresa: We both chose not to read the book until after filming was done. Nicholas Sparks wrote a fantastic story and then hired an amazing screenwriter to write the screenplay. And our job was to act as those characters in the screenplay.
Benjamin: What if the guy in the book is so much more charming that I am? What if he says witty stuff and I make it sound stupid? I’m not reading the book! I’ll read it later!
Teresa: Ha ha. Yeah, I did not want to be swayed by what was in the book. But when I read the book, I found that the characters are the same, and that’s what counts.
Benjamin: We are damn close.
Teresa: I agree. The book was funny too. But we did put in a lot of unscripted humor. We wanted to make the film alive and funny.
Mike: What personality traits of your characters inspired or resonated with you?
Benjamin: Well, as actors you always want to play a character that changes. Both of these characters, in the beginning, are so set in their ways. And they both have ideas of where their life is going to go. And it’s only in meeting each other that they learn that none of what they had planned is going to go that way and how much better they are for that. They change because of each other. Those kinds of parts and those type of people are the most interesting to play.
Teresa: I think Nicholas Sparks writes females well. I was very inspired by the character traits of Gabby because she is such a strong, fiercely independent woman. She’s feisty; she knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want. She is in this constant battle between her head and her heart. I loved that because that is how I live my life. It’s a swinging pendulum between being logical about something and being very emotional about something else. I love that we see her start in that place and then see her truly leaning into her intuition. That was my favorite part of this journey.
Mike: One of the important factors in this film and something I fell in love with was the two dogs. I thought they were hilarious.
Benjamin: They did the best acting in the movie.
Mike: That’s my question! Were they like that in real life? Did you guys get along with the dogs?
Benjamin: They were professionals, always on time. It’s torture for a dog to do a food scene. They have to sit there and watch you eat over and over again. My dog in the film just couldn’t stand it anymore, and he decided he was going to have chicken and hot dogs.
Teresa: And the cake.
Mike: So that scene with the dog and the cake was real?
Teresa; Yeah, that was not in the script. You could see by the fourth take; he was silently shaking, just staring at the cake. All of a sudden he just lunged for it.
Benjamin: It was at the end of the day, and that was our last cake. And just said “Mine!”
Mike: How many cakes did you take to the face?
Teresa: I think we did it in two. It worked out pretty well.
Benjamin: We are not as good as the dogs, but we did pretty well.
Teresa: And cake did get stuck up my nose! This is horrendous, “slash,” really fun!
Mike: So, Benjamin, you are from Georgia? How was stepping back into that Southern culture?
Benjamin: Yeah, I was born in Georgia. The best part was just being home. Being in the south with the slower pace was great because I live in New York. Being able to say good morning to someone and they don’t try and punch you. I just loved the feeling of being home.
Teresa: You just are that. You are. That Southern charm and hospitality. He just carries that over from where he was raised. That’s just who he is.
Benjamin: I am a Southern softy.
Teresa: He is, he really is. That’s what’s so beautiful about him. It’s refreshing that he isn’t affected by it all.
Benjamin: I grew up in Cartersville, Georgia.
Mike: What was your favorite scene in the film?
Teresa: Without giving any spoilers, I like the scenes back in South Carolina. Where we meet some more members of my family. There just so much love in those scenes. It’s passionate, crazy and silly. And it’s everything that the film has been leading up to. It’s my favorite scene.
Mike: How hard is it to turn off your accent for a film (Teresa is from Australia)?
Benjamin: She’s a frickin’ pro.
Teresa: Well, I wasn’t supposed to be Southern. We said that Gabby is from the South, but she has traveled a lot and so doesn’t have as thick of an accent. I love doing a Southern accent and was looking forward to doing one. But they wanted the film to feel more like a universe story. So we did more of a standard American accent. I was happy to do that, having worked with a dialect coach for many years; I can do that relatively easy. But I re-watched the movie the other day, and I noticed that some of my words were starting to go Southern. It was because I was getting this (pointing at Benjamin) rubbed off on me.
Benjamin: You’re welcome. Also, I’m sorry.
Teresa: No it was good. It makes it believable. She would have a little bit of Southern accent.
Mike: Did you get to work with Nicholas Sparks or did you just deal with the director of the film?
Benjamin: We had a brilliant director in Ross Katz. This is what’s so brilliant about Nicholas Sparks.
Teresa: It’s that he’s brilliant.
Benjamin: Brilliant. Done!
Teresa: Ha ha.
Benjamin: He trusts what he writes. He writes so well, and he writes his characters so densely and specifically that he then can hire a screenwriter like Bryan Sipe and a director like Ross, and us, and us freedom within the structure that he has created to make these characters alive as we can. The best part about working with him is that he encourages to do what we do and gives us the freedom to do it within the parameters of the story he has created.
Mike: So there is a lot of humor in the film. It sounds like you did a lot of ad-libbing on the set.
Benjamin: We did.
Teresa: He has a great way of describing this.
Benjamin: The Southern man with a metaphor, say everything while saying nothing. It’s like when they build a playground for you and within the playground, they say you can slide down the slide, play on the swings. You can do anything you want on the slide and swing, just stay on it. The first thing we found out about each other is that we had a similar sense of humor. We laughed at the same things. So it was kind of inevitable. There wasn’t a way we weren’t going to ad-lib something. We just had so much fun working together and we make each other laugh.
Mike: How important is it to display complex relationships in a film because it’s never just two people falling in love getting a happy ending?
Teresa: That’s also not ground in reality. I think it’s fantastic because life isn’t in black and white, life is many different shades. The way these guys in the film fall for each other is really messy and chaotic. There is a reason it’s called “falling in love,” because it not smooth sailing. I loved that we showed that human element to these two characters. The film shows what it’s like to have such strong emotions for another person. The film is great because it explores this beautiful relationship, but then like any relationship; it’s hard to make it work. The film has a nice commentary on keeping that love sustained and fresh. I loved it because it feels human. We felt connected to these characters. They could be our best friends or even us.
Benjamin: You watch a superhero movie and go I probably am never going to fly, but everyone falls in love or hopes to do so.
Mike: Talk about working with Tom Wilkinson.
Benjamin: He is such a professional. There would be days I would be thinking about what I was going to have for lunch; and then I would look him in his eyes and go “He’s playing my father!” He does it with such an ease and grace to it. He is one of the greats, and it was an honor to work with him.
Teresa: I couldn’t believe it when I heard he was cast. Immediately by mind was blown. The story was so great and the script so strong that having Tom Wilkinson will elevate this material. We were so lucky. It was incredible, like being in an acting school.
Mike: You guys have such great chemistry up and the screen, in fact, you can see it here in this interview. Is that something that developed as the film went on?
Teresa: We just acted it. Ha ha.
Benjamin: She can’t stand me.
Mike: So your acting right now?
Benjamin: Yeah. No, chemistry is something that you either have or you don’t. You can fake it to some degree.
Teresa: But you really can’t fabricate it.
Benjamin: No, you can’t. We were lucky that we didn’t have that problem. It sparked right away.
Teresa: It was so organic. We met it each other, and I had put a huge amount of pressure on myself and us to have chemistry. I think what made “The Notebook” work was that great chemistry between Ryan and Rachel. I was like “I hope the chemistry is there.” But it was such an organic thing because we are pretty similar in lots of ways and find the same things funny. That’s all it took.
Mike: Did you have a heavy story line to shoot early on in the film? That’s always fascinating to learn because with a romantic movie you have to have chemistry to work, and you may be shooting a scene early that is two-thirds into the film.
Teresa: We did. The third day in.
Benjamin: One of the biggest scenes in the film was shot on the third day.
Teresa: It was a huge, emotional scene. We didn’t know each other well but luckily we had already connected and feeling good with each other. I did find that challenging because it was the third day. We were thrown into the deep end. But it turned out brilliantly, and I am glad we were thrown into the deep end.
Benjamin: It enriched the rest of the movie, because if we can do the heavy lifting on day three of the film, we are going to be great with puppies.
Mike: So do you think the world will ever be ready for a Nicholas Sparks and Zombies film?
Teresa: Hell yes!
Benjamin: I would see that movie.
Teresa: By the way, wasn’t “Warm Bodies” that movie?
Benjamin: Or how about a movie with the actual Nicholas Sparks. He is writing a love story, and there is scratching at the window. Slowly a zombie come into the room!
Teresa: That’s brilliant!
Benjamin: Nicholas Sparks and Zombies! And all his characters from the books are the zombies! Nola, Travis, Gabby. He could crack them on the head with his laptop.
Teresa: And zombies could be making out in the rain!
Benjamin: The tagline could be “Love never dies.” That’s brilliant!
Teresa: That is so great! We have to make that movie! “Love never dies!”
Mike: On that note, thank you so much.
“The Choice” opens Friday, Feb. 5th nationwide.
For more of Mike’s interviews and reviews click here