Making “The Choice”: An Interview with Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker

Courtesy of Lionsgate
Courtesy of Lionsgate

For some, the name Nicholas Sparks has some serious implications. Relationships have ended and fights have been fought regarding the quality of the author and his films. The general critic population, comprised primarily of men, have written off the author as being manipulative, but the author has his devoted fanbase. The average Northwestern student may not be so keen to admit their enjoyment of Nicholas Sparks, but given the stress of midterms and finals, there are those who may turn to a new release for refuge from coursework.

The latest Nicholas Sparks film, The Choice, opened Friday in theatres nationwide. Starring in the film are Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies). Walker from Georgia and Palmer from Australia, together they play neighbors and eventual lovers in the Nicholas Sparks film The Choice. Speaking with NBN, they discuss preparation, patience and Plato.

NBN: I wanted to talk about the on-screen chemistry between you two. One of the things I noticed that differentiates “The Choice” from other Nicholas Sparks movies is the banter between the two characters, occasionally overlapping and seeming almost improvised. How much of that was scripted? How much of that was you guys having fun on set?

Benjamin Walker: Well I feel like we were having fun on set the whole time. Improvise seems a bit grand because Bryan Sipe [the film’s screenwriter] wrote a great screenplay, but we certainly did ad-lib probably more than what was appropriate. [Both laugh]

Teresa Palmer: Yeah we got into trouble a few times. They’d be like, “Alright you guys, you’re giggling, this isn’t really supposed to be a giggling scene,” and we’d be like, “Sorry, we’re having too much fun!” It was great though. I think the script acted as a leaping-off point for us. It was already all there. It was smart and witty, and we just threw in our own unscripted stuff very organically, and a lot of it made the cut. It’s just who we are and what our relationship is with each other.

NBN: Let’s talk about the title of The Choice, without giving too much away. Through some of the very significant choices, a key theme that was present throughout was the idea of indecision, letting the natural course take its path. Was that part of the process that you were thinking about on set?

Palmer: That’s a good point. I like how you said how things just organically unravel. I had someone tell me once, “Don’t do anything until Simon Says.” I was like, “What do you mean by that?” She was like, “Until Simon Says, ‘break up with that person’. Until Simon Says, ‘quit doing that thing.’ Don’t make a hasty decision until there is no other decision, that’s just the path you’re going to take.” And I kind of like that.

Walker: That’s a great mantra. [Both laugh] It really is. And there’s a difference between – I think a lot of people kind of live unconsciously. They’re kind of “Yeah, whatever…” and there’s a kind of happy medium between being too impulsive and being thoughtful and patient.

Palmer: Yeah, patience is important. And I do love that in our film. Without giving too much away, Gabby has to make a choice too in the middle part of the movie. And even when it seems like her choice should be so obvious when the other person is out of the picture, she is still holding onto this idea of what her life should be. I love that because I think in so many movies you see a couple, and there’s a lot of conflict, maybe there’s another person involved, and once that other person is out of the picture it’s straight-bang-on. But in this one, it’s not that way. And I like it because that’s real life. Decisions aren’t always so black and white, and I can appreciate that Nicholas Sparks writes these characters in these specific worlds as relatable human beings.

NBN: In the preparation for these characters, particularly due to the fact that they were already within a book and already had a set fan base, is there a different sense of preparation to creating a role like that rather than a role no one has seen before or a role you are reprising?

Walker: Yeah, I think that’s a trap for an actor when you start trying to image what people are predicting. It’s like painting yourself into a corner. We both chose not to read the book until we’d done it so that we would not be swayed from the screenplay and from these two very specific people that we wanted to make as true to life as we could. And since reading it, we did pretty damn good!

Palmer: I think so! I mean, the important thing with these films is to really capture the spirit of these characters, and I think we really did that without reading the book. Props to Bryan Sipe, who adapted the book into the screenplay. He’s a genius and managed to perfectly capture the spirits of these two. For me, preparation-wise, I actually made us watch “The Notebook” the weekend before we started shooting, because I just know that these movies live and die by the chemistry. You can put in the most incredible story surrounding two characters but if there’s no chemistry between them, nobody wants to watch that. I think it’s so obvious when people don’t like each other and they have to act opposite of one another. So, we just kind of hung out and got on well, and we had the chemistry, and it was natural and organic.

NBN: Plato once said, “Love is a serious mental disease.”

Walker: I agree with that.

Palmer: Oh god, yeah.

NBN: Why is it important for these characters to give up these surface-level perfect lives for love?

Walker: Well, for Travis in particular because it is a delusion. The fears and the pain of his life is being treated by denial. Because like Plato says, the disease is not only euphoric but extremely painful and frightening. I know for me, there have been times where you cling onto altered realities in your mind. Plato also talks about the ‘Aether,’ things that exist outside of you in their perfect form, these imagined things that aren’t really real. So I think we can cling onto those fantasies so that we don’t have to deal with the things that are obviously right in front of you, and the opportunities that are right in front of you and the opportunities for joy and for passion and for love.

Palmer: That was so eloquent. What he said.

“The Choice” opened nationwide Friday, Feb. 5.

 

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