Love was in the air at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Tuesday night in Downtown L.A. as some of Hollywood’s finest walked down the red carpet for the premiere of Nicholas Sparks‘ latest film, The Best of Me. The cast — including James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Gerald McRaney and Liana Liberato — discussed what working on set was like and how this movie separates itself from the rest of Sparks’ films.
“It’s about more than romantic love. There are all dimensions of love throughout this movie that happen: son to mother, father to son, and in my case, an adoptive father to a son,” McRaney, who plays Bracey’s caretaker, told The Hollywood Reporter. “We are social creatures, and we need love in our lives. And I think that is one thing that separates Nicholas from other movie makers; he’s not afraid of that word in all of its many meanings. He also understands that love isn’t just a noun — it is a verb, and it has to be practiced, and he’s good at showing us how.”
The film focuses on a story of rekindled love after 20 years of separation. High school sweethearts Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) reconnect through the death of a close friend and quickly learn they never truly fell out of love with each other.
“What really attracted me to this project was the notion of the road untraveled, almost like the Robert Frost poem. I think it’s really an American concern — that thing we didn’t choose,” director Michael Hoffman explained. “But also, the thing that really inspired me is when I first went to see [Franco] Zeffirelli‘s Romeo and Juliet. I’ve always wanted to do something about ill-fated young love. I was really drawn to the young love story and tried to find ways to build it up and make it truthful.”
Liberato and Bracey shared how they went about making the young love appear effortless and truthful onscreen despite some awkward moments here and there.
“After spending time together, we actually became great friends,” said Bracey. “And it makes those kind of crazy, romantic, quasi-awkward moments much more bearable if you can have a laugh about the fact that my leg is kind of in a really uncomfortable position right now, or ‘Are you all right? Did I just accidentally head-butt you?’ ”
“It was actually pretty organic. We weren’t pushed to bond. It just kind of happened and went very naturally. Bracey and I get along really well. We had a couple weeks before shooting where we were able to walk around the streets of New Orleans together and get to know each other,” said Liberato. “You have to have that trust and connection with someone in order to do some of those awkward, intimate moments. But did it ever get awkward at all? Absolutely. I’d say the majority of the time it was awkward, but that’s what’s great about working with Bracey — it’s really not that awkward because you’re comfortable with the person.”
The film switches back and forth from flashbacks of young Dawson and Amanda to present day, showing the evolvement of their characters and the development of their relationship. The actors detailed what it was like working with a younger and older cast who play the same character over an extended time period.
“We definitely wanted to show a difference between the two because you meet our characters in completely different mind-sets. We wanted a 360 in our character,” Liberato explained of how she and Monaghan both played Amanda. “You meet my character in this very driven, passionate state of mind, and slowly you kind of watch my character evolve into the state of mind you meet Michelle in later. And toward the end of the movie, hopefully you see a bit of a circle where Michelle comes back into her youth and who she was when she was younger.”
The cast continued to share the love while explaining how much they enjoyed being on location in New Orleans and being a part of the Nicholas Sparks phenomena.
“I’ve never done a love story before, and these kinds of adult romance dramas are very few and far between. I thought why not go down that road with Nicholas Sparks,” said Monaghan. “It’s emotional. It’s a complex, conflicted character. Those are the roles I’m drawn to, and I got to be more emotional this time around.”
Bracey also recounted his experience on set and his appreciation for the opportunity to be involved in the project.
“With this movie, maybe the scene that day is kissing in the rain or fighting with your father — doing all these really hyper-romantic things in amazingly beautiful locations. So every day you go to work you are really reminded of how much you are in a movie. You kind of pinch yourself,” he said. “You don’t get to do these things in real life — what happens in a Nicholas Sparks movie — and I think to be able to bring that to life is a real privilege. “
Along with the Hollywood A-listers, country music band Lady Antebellum walked the red carpet in celebration of their two new songs “I Did With You” and “Falling for You” to be featured on the film’s soundtrack.
“We love writing love songs, and this was the first time we had the opportunity to read a script and have to write a song for it specifically,” said Charles Kelley, lead vocalist and guitarist. “Hopefully this will open up some doors to be able to do it again.”
The band joined the cast and crew for an afterparty across the street from the theater at Club Nokia, where they performed the songs from the soundtrack along with hits such as “Downtown” and “American Honey.”
The Best of Me is set to hit theaters Friday, Oct. 17.