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Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer Talk Filming 'The Choice,' Nicholas Sparks, and Chemistry

Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer Talk Filming 'The Choice,' Nicholas Sparks, and Chemistry

The Choice is Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer's first film together, but seeing them interact with each other you'd think they've been longtime friends. Based on Nicholas Sparks' novel by the same name, the film is explores the choices we all have to make when it comes to relationships. We sat down with both Walker and Palmer together to discuss what it was like working on a Nicholas Sparks film, their chemistry together, and zombies.

 

Shakefire (SF): How was filming in North Carolina? The locations look beautiful.

Benjamin Walker (BW): It’s heaven on Earth.

Teresa Palmer (TP): I mean that’s real [points to poster]. The background there? That’s real. That isn’t photoshop. I mean, this is a little more photoshopped [points to their characters] but the rest of it. That’s a real beautiful Wilmington sunset. How do people actually live like that? It’s crazy. It’s so magical.

 

SF: And the scenery is absolutely gorgeous.

BW: Easy place to fall in love. Like it’s the perfect setting for our love story.

TP: It’s like, “Oh this is a perfect Nicholas Sparks setting.” I just like the house we shot at. I cannot believe that people wake up there every single day, look out their window, and look at that. And that’s incredible! What a blessing.

 

SF: When you signed on for a Nicholas Sparks movie did you know that you would be taken on an emotional rollercoaster basically?

BW: We knew we were going to be in a rowboat. We knew we would be doing a scene in the rain. [laughs]

TP: We knew there was going to be some conflict and then we’re going to get together. Yeah, well I’m a huge Nicholas Sparks fan. I have seen all his movies, and I’ve also seen The Notebook maybe 30/40 times. I owned The Notebook stationery set. And I had pictures of Noah and Allie on my wall. As an 18-year-old woman I was like, “That’s everything I wanted from my life was that romantic experience.” And then cut to 10 years later, and I get to do my own! Yeah, so it’s pretty special for me.

 

 

SF: So had you read the book beforehand?

TP: We both chose not to read the book until after we filmed. Nicholas Sparks wrote an amazing story, but then they hired a screenwriter to write the screenplay. Our job was to act as the characters in the screenplay.

BW: What if the guy in the book is so much more charming than I can be?

TP: I know! Pressure’s on!

BW: What if he say’s witty stuff, and I make it sound stupid? Not reading it! I read it later!

TP: Yeah, I didn’t want to be swayed in any way by Gabby in the book versus Gabby in the script. But then when I read the book after it was like, “Oh, the characters are the same,” and that’s what counted.

BW: We really did them close, I think.

TP: I agree. And the book was pretty funny, too, and it was different.

BW: Not as funny as we are. Don’t tell Nicholas that, I wanna keep working.

TP: But yeah, we definitely threw in a lot of unscripted humor.

 

SF: When reading the script, what personality traits of each of your characters really inspired or resonated with you?

BW: As actors, you always want to play a character that changes. And 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. It’s only in meeting each other that they learn that none of that is going to happen the way they thought it was was gonna and how much better they are for that. They change because of each other. Those kinds of parts and those kinds of people are, in my opinion, the most interesting.

TP: I think Nicholas Sparks writes females really well. I was very inspired by some of the character traits of Gabby because she’s such a strong, fiercely independent woman, and she’s feisty and knows what she wants and she knows exactly what she doesn’t want. She is in this constant battle between her head and her heart. I love that because that is how I live my life. I’m this swinging pendulum between being very logical about something and then also just being really emotional about something else. The fact that we see her start in that place and then end with truly leaning into her intuition, that was my favorite part of this journey.

 

SF: One of the important factors in this film are the two dogs.They’re so great. How were they on set?

BW: The greatest acting in the movie. They were absolute professionals, a part of the time. It’s torture for a dog when you’re doing a food scene and he’s just got to sit there and watch you eat over and over again. Every once in awhile he just couldn’t stand it anymore and he was having fried chicken, he was having hot dogs, and he was eating…

TP: Sausages. And the cake! Oh, by the way, not supposed to be in the script. By the fourth take you could see him silently shaking off to the side and staring, like honing in on the cake. Then all of a sudden he just comes through.

BW: And it was the end of shooting that scene because that was our last cake. And the dog was like, “mine.”

 

SF: So did you have to get four cakes to the face?

BW: I think we did it twice?

TP: We did two. It worked out pretty well.

BW: Yeah. We’re not as good as the dogs, but we’re pretty good actors.

TP: And it really was in the scene it’s like, “It’s up my nostrils.” Like it was stuffed all the way up. I was like, “Oh my god, this is horrendous/really fun.”

 

 

SF: Benjamin, you’re actually from Georgia. How was it stepping back into the whole Southern hospitality role?

BW: The best part was just being home and being in the South. I live in New York and having the pace slowed down. Being able to say good morning to someone and them not trying to punch you. Just feeling nice to be home.

TP: You just are that though.

BW: What?

TP: You are. The southern charm. The hospitality. He just carries that over from where he was raised and now he lives in New York. That’s just who he is.

BW: No, I’m a hard New Yorker. Not really. I’m a freakin Southern softie. I’ll admit it.

TP: Yeah, he really is. That’s what’s so beautiful about him. It’s so refreshing. He’s very unaffected by it all.

BW: You’re making me blush.

TP: Good! I was trying to.

 

SF: What was your favorite scene that you filmed?

TP: I liked, without spoiling it, back in South Carolina where we meet up and you meet some more members of my family and there’s some conflict and there’s just so much love there. And it’s passionate and crazy and silly. I think everything in the film has been leading up to this moment. I think everyone loves that scene.

 

SF: Teresa, how hard is it to turn off your accent for the film?

BW: She’s a freakin pro.

TP: Well, I wasn’t supposed to be Southern, I mean, I come obviously from the South. But we said that Gabby has travelled a lot and doesn’t have as thick of an accent. I actually love doing Southern accents, and I was really excited to come in and play a Southern gal. But they wanted the film to feel like a universal story so like, “Let’s do more of a standard American accent.” And I was happy to do that. I’ve worked with a dialect coach for many years so I can do that relatively easy. But by the end of it I noticed that I’m like standard American but also so many of my words are starting to go Southern in the film because I was getting this [motions to Walker] rubbed off on me so yeah, it works

BW: I’ll take it [laughs]. You’re welcome. Also I’m sorry.

TP: No, it’s good. I mean, it’s believable.

 

SF: Did you at all work with Nicholas Sparks or was it mainly though the director and screenwriter?

BW: We had a brilliant director. This is what’s brilliant about Nicholas Sparks is that he...

TP: He’s brilliant.

BW: He’s brilliant. Done. Print. But he trusts what he writes and he does it so well, and he writes his characters so specifically and so densely that can then hire a screenwriter like Bryan Sipe and a director like Ross Katz and us and allow us freedom within the structure that he’s created to make these people as alive as we can. The best part about it is that he encourages us to do what we do and gave us the freedom to do it within the parameters of this story that he believes in and that, because of him, we also believe in.

 

SF: There’s a lot of humor in this film. Did you do a lot of ad libbing in the film?

BW: Yeah, we did. It’s kinda a version between improvising and ad libbing where you have the freedom within that structure.

TP: Like a playground.

BW: Oh yeah, yeah.

TP: He has this great way of describing it.

BW: As a Southern man I love a metaphor. Say everything with saying nothing at the same time, haha. It’s like they build a playground for you. Within it they say, “Okay, you can play on the slide. You can play on the swings.” And you can do anything you want on the slide and the swings, but stay on the slide and the swings. And because one of the first things that we found out about each other is that we had a very similar sense of humor and we laughed a lot together. So it was kinda inevitable. Even if they told us no ad libbing whatsoever we were probably going to do it because we just have so much fun working together and we make each other laugh.

 

SF: How important is it to display these complex relationships in film? It’s not just two people fall in love and happy ending.

BW: Boooorrring.

TP: And also that’s not grounded in reality. I think it’s fantastic because life isn’t black and white. Life is many different shades, and the way these guys fall for each other is really messy and chaotic. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘falling in love’ because you trip and you mess up and it’s not smooth sailing. And I loved that because it showed this human element to these characters and to what it’s like to passionately have such strong emotions for another person. Then it was great because it explores this beautiful relationship, but then like any relationship, after a few years you start being the very best version of yourself and maybe get a little lazy and you don’t always show up for your partner as much as you used to in the beginning. I think there’s a real commentary on that too about keeping that love sustainable and alive and fresh. I loved it because it feels human. I think that’s why [Nicholas Sparks] has had such great success because we feel connected to this characters. They’re not so unobtainable. They could be us; they could be our best friend.

BW: If you watch a superhero movie and you go, “I’m probably never going to fly.” But everybody has either fallen in love or hopes to do so.

 

 

SF: You guys have such great chemistry together. Is that something you just have instantly or did you have to work on it?

TP: We just acted it. We had to act the whole thing!

BW: [whispers] She can’t stand me. As soon as you leave, the beatings will begin again.

TP: I know.

BW: I mean, chemistry, you’ve either got it or you don’t. You can fake it to some degree, but…

TP: It can’t totally be fabricated. You see it behind the eyes.

BW: We just didn’t have that problem. We were lucky that we just kinda sparked right.

TP: It was so organic. And that’s the perfect word because we met each other and I had put a huge amount of pressure on myself and maybe us to have this chemistry because I was a huge fan of The Notebook and I think the thing that really made that film work was this chemistry between Ryan and Rachael. I was like, “I hope the chemistry’s there” and it was just such an organic thing because we are pretty similar in lots of ways and find all the same things funny. And that was it. That’s all it took, really.

 

SF: Did you screen test with each other before?

BW: Nope. We were like on the day, “This is it!”

TP: Me too. I was like, “Oh my god this is so scary.” But it worked.

 

SF: What was the first scene you shot? Sometimes your first scene ends up being two-thirds into the film.

BW, TP: We did!

TP: Third day in.

BW: One of the biggest scenes in the movie we did where we confront each other about where the relationship is going.

TP: Yes, that was a very deeply emotional scene. And we didn’t know each other that well, but luckily we had already connected and were feeling good with each other. I found that challenging just because it was the third day and we were thrown in the deep end. But it was brilliant. I’m so glad we were thrown in the deep end like that.

BW: And it enriched the rest of the movie. If we can do heavy lifting on day three with each other, we’re going to be great with puppies! And some of it’s just blind luck, really. I know for me I just got insanely lucky to be able to work with Teresa.

TP: And also we should give some props to Ross Katz. Our director Skyped with him. No, you met in person, then Skyped with me. So he was the one who was like, “Alright this is Ben’s way. This is his energy. This is the person he is. This is who Teresa is. Alright, I think these two are going to get on well.”

BW: It’s quite a gamble.

TP: And he made that choice and it was a smart one.

BW: And what he did that was also important was the set that he created and the crew that he commanded was such a safe and wonderful environment that as awkward and uncomfortable as anything you might be doing might be you were, like again it felt like a playground, where you were safe and there was mutual respect.

TP: We actually got in trouble sometimes because we would be in the middle of a scene and we would be cracking up laughing. It would be more of a serious scene and we just couldn’t stop laughing. We know we’re wasting money and we had to get our stuff together. It was great.

 

SF: Do you think the world will ever be ready for Nicholas Sparks and Zombies?

TP: Hell yeah!

BW: I’d see that movie!

TP: By the way, wasn’t Warm Bodies Nicholas Sparks and Zombies? I’m pretty sure it was!

BW: What you’re saying is I think they want to do a movie with actually Nicholas Sparks. He’s like at his computer, writing away a love story and hears this scratching on his window. “Oh, it’s nothing.” Then slowly a zombie comes. I’m telling ya, I’m writing this!

TP: What a fun movie that would be.

BW: And all the characters from his books come alive to rescue him. No, all the characters from his books ARE the zombies!

TP: We should do a Funny Or Die skit if the studios are like, “Ummm, we don’t buy this.” We don’t care.

BW: Nicholas Sparks and Zombies.

 

The Choice opens in theaters on Friday, February 5, 2016.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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