Lasse Hallstrom chats ‘Safe Haven’ and ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’

The perfect pairing: Nicholas Sparks, left, and Lasse Hallstrom, right, meet on the set of their film "Safe Haven," which hit theaters on February 14th. Credit: James Bridges
The perfect pairing: Nicholas Sparks, left, and Lasse Hallstrom, right, meet on the set of their film “Safe Haven,” which hit theaters on February 14th.
Credit: James Bridges

The romantic thriller “Safe Haven” marks Swedish director Lasse Halstrom’s second go at bringing a Nicholas Sparks novel to the screen, and this time around he felt much freer with the source material — which is just how he likes it.

How did your second go at directing a Nicholas Sparks adaptation differ from “Dear John”?
It happens to be built on another Nicholas Sparks novel, but this time we were free to mess with the material. It was pretty much the backbone of the story, and then we were free to improvise around it and come up with our own ideas. Now that film is gone, we can roll those cameras for 40 minutes and there’s not a cost involved apart from time. You can’t tell the difference between film and digital anymore. So I take advantage of that new technique. I roll those two cameras forever and ever. I just keep rolling during the direction and the commenting, and it creates sort of a free atmosphere and it liberates the actors, I think.

Do you worry about Sparks’ devoted readership being unhappy with changes from the book?
I can’t be concerned about that, and I don’t think there will be a fan base that will be upset over the fact that we added some very small twists and turns, observations that may not be in the novel. I don’t think that’s a worry.

With these technological advancements, do you ever feel a sense of jealousy of filmmakers starting out now?
I never had that, not that kind of jealousy, because I shot this way anyway. I just had to change cassettes quickly, after 10 minutes. (laughs) And I shot on 16mm a lot to lower the costs of footage. But here in the United States it didn’t seem to be too much of a worry if I kept rolling that camera, so I’ve been pretty much using this technique for decades now. It depends on the film and the scene, but if there’s a chance to improvise or keep the camera rolling, I keep doing it. It’s almost always the second-to-the-last or the last take that I use.

Have you thought about writing more? You haven’t really done a screenplay since “My Life as a Dog.”
Yes, I am. I’m desperately wanting to carve out time to write my own story. I am actually going to see if I can get time now — like tomorrow — to get back to writing, to do something maybe in Swedish next. Something set in the ’50s, my own “My Life as a Dog” story. I’m planning to do two hours each morning. In Sweden I had to write my own material because there wasn’t at least the capacity of a screenplay writer. Directors wrote their own stuff. But here, it’s a different system, so I got caught up in that. But I’ve been kind of ghostwriting. Even on this film there’s a script, but I’ve been doing my own outline of the story. So I go out with my outline, and the rest of the crew is holding onto a script that I’m not worried too much about. I’m doing my thing based on my outline.

And Nicholas Sparks doesn’t mind?
He doesn’t mind. He’s not there. He’s busy promoting.

How did you feel about the unexpected nod “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” got from the Golden Globes?
Oh, I really appreciated that. I must say, I think the jury there made a good point in selecting it. (laughs) I think they got some reminders that the film had come out, but I don’t think there was a campaign. So I really appreciated that, and it was great to be back in that awards circuit. I’ve been away from it for nine or 10 years, and it gave me a taste for more of that. It kept you busy between December and February, pretty much. (laughs)

Have you seen much change in the campaigning in that time?
I haven’t been close to it, but I can sense it’s probably as intense now as it was with Harvey Weinstein. He’s still there, of course. Ten years ago, we did weird things like touring retirement homes here in Los Angeles to get a vote or two from people there. It was a great fun time to ride in a car with John Irving, we had a memorable time. And sitting at dinner tables at the Directors Guild and Writers Guild and all those things, never being called up on stage was… lovely. (laughs)

You got your start directing Abba’s music videos, so do you have a favorite song of theirs?
I do. It’s called “Under Attack.” For some reason I like that the best. I haven’t done a video for it, maybe that’s why. Almost all the other songs I’ve done videos for in those days.


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