A scene from Dear John
Dear John brings two rising Hollywood stars, Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, together in a tumultuous love affair between an overseas soldier and an idealistic, selfless college student. Through a continuous stream of letters, their love blossoms and a love story unfolds, but with each letter their devotion to one another is tested.
Read on as Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried discuss the making of Dear John.
Q: Amanda, you knew director Lasse Hallstrom before starring in this film. How did you meet him and was he the one to convince you to take on the project?
Seyfried: We had lunch in Stockholm before the premier of Mama Mia. He's charming, quiet, Swedish, and that's where our love affair began. We had a good time and connected, which is part of the reason why I got the role, I think. He's so focused. He listens to and sees everything that happens. And he's European. [Laughs] There's something about those Swedish people. But, he wanted me to do it and I just had to fight for it. Because even though the director wants you, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get the role.
Q: Tell us about your character Savannah.
Seyfried: I saw her as a girl who knew herself pretty well at a young age. She had a strict upbringing, she's very wealthy, yet she doesn't have any of those airs. She's cool; she's special, really smart and strong. She's a good role model for young women. And she's a romantic, which is why she and John click so well. In the beginning of the movie, she's so clear of issues, she doesn't have anything weighing her down, and that's so nice to play, especially when you have this turn and you can see someone who is so level-headed, balanced, and open go through something so devastating. That was the challenge. It's always hard to play characters who have deep-rooted issues.
Q: Channing, you were the first one to be signed. You've played a couple of roles as a soldier, what made this film stand out to you?
Tatum: When you're growing up, you imagine yourself running around shooting and jumping from buildings. There aren't that many amazing love stories seen through the guy's point of view, so I thought this was a really interesting opportunity. Nicholas Sparks' work is very beautiful, but this story also had an edge to it that some of the other books didn't have. I figured it would be a lot of fun to do something a little softer, a little more quiet – just sitting and acting for once.
Q: Channing, you play a soft-spoken Special Forces soldier. What can you tell us about your character, and how did your past performances help you prepare for the role?
Tatum: He's always been a sort of loner. In a way, he joined the Army to get away from everything he knew growing up – maybe even to get away from his father. I had the unique opportunity to work on an earlier army movie, G.I. Joe, and I got to know many soldiers. So many of them are just normal guys. They have a sort of quietness about them – there's always some stillness in their eyes.
Q: There was a lot of chemistry between both of you. Was that hard to achieve?
Seyfried: It was amazing. I think it came from the respect we had for each other. We like to have as much fun as we possibly can. As soon as the camera stopped rolling, we were fooling around and making trouble. It was great, it was a family affair. Channing's girlfriend Jenna and my boyfriend were on set.
Tatum: I just think Amanda's amazing and beautiful and brilliant. She came in and performed the audition differently – her work almost threw me because she brought in a sense of irony and humor that no one else did. And she's nuts, she's absolutely out of her mind, which I love. [Laughs]
Q: Were you both challenged by this project?
Seyfried: I've always been subtle to a fault and I like to be more thoughtful. I've found that some of the script can get in the way, sometimes, depending how things are written. This was a good script. Lasse is very thoughtful and he wants to be very realistic. Melodrama wasn't something we were scared of slipping into. I think the moments that are overly sentimental are OK. It's balanced out.
Tatum: It's definitely my favorite role. I really feel like I did something different. I tried to be still in the movie and that's something that I haven't really done in a film—most of my characters have been sort of kinetic and very physical. I don't know if it was harder; it was just different. Lasse gives you the freedom to try anything.
Q: Amanda, you serenade Channing in the film…did you write that song?
Seyfried: I did. I had a piano in my house. I stayed in Charleston, which is such a beautiful city. I had an old piano, violin, and guitar. That's my wind down method. I was writing this song, I don't know what it means, but at the end of the shoot, Lasse wanted me to bring my guitar and do a freestyle song for a montage. I'm like, alright, I'm gonna sing a song, because I'm not a songwriter, really, at all. I've written a few in my life but I decided to sing a song my ex-boyfriend wrote and when I got on set I forgot the lyrics. [Laughs]. So I was forced to sing my own song.
Q: In the film, you can't help but feel bad for John when he gets his final letter, but Savannah must have been going through her own turmoil.
Seyfried: I don't think she's ever been in love before she meets this guy, and she immediately begins to feel like she completely knows him, which is really beautiful. Unfortunately, she has to then deal with the transition from seeing him every day for two weeks to not seeing him at all, feeling completely alone without him and dealing with the fact that he's a soldier in danger. She falls in love pretty hard right away – it's a big deal.
Q: There is a pivotal scene in the film where you read a letter to your father. It's implied throughout the movie that he suffers from autism, resulting in a physical estrangement between father and son. How did you prepare for that scene with Richard Jenkins?
Tatum: I've seen a lot of his films. There is nothing he can't do…He really helped me in that scene. I probably owe the scene to him. You sit there, you have a plan, but you never know how it's going to go. We did it a bunch of different ways and I tried once to just strictly read it and I couldn't actually even look at him. I [tried focusing] on just reading it and as I'm reading his hand comes up and touches me and that took me apart. I get emotional now just thinking about it. It ripped me open. I owe that scene to him.
Q: Did you talk to any soldiers about the existence of a Dear John letter?
Tatum: I asked a couple of times but I don't really think I got a yes. But there is a part that I'm not sure if it's in the movie, but he starts to freak out that she's going to leave him for someone else, and that's more what they talk about. That's more of the paranoia than getting an "I'm going to break up with you" letter.
Q: What do you hope audiences get out of this film?
Seyfried: I hope audiences get completely lost in the story, and are just overwhelmed with how much people can love each other and what people will do for that.
Tatum: For me this movie is about John feeling and finding that it's possible to love. I don't know if he ever really felt love before, and to me this movie is just about the ability to open up and find love. And then to fight for it. And if you lose it, it's what you do afterwards that defines you.
Q: What's next?
Tatum: I'm going to do a Soderbergh film, Knockout. It's a small flashy role. I play an assassin. I can't believe I get to work with someone who moves from different genres, scope, and size. He's a genius. I've always wanted to work with him and I can't believe I get to do it.
After that I get to do another Dito [Montiel] film [Son of No One]. This movie will be over the top, a cop-psycho-drama. I think Robert De Niro will have a small part, Terrence Howard might be in it, Ray Liotta will have a big part, it's going to be nuts. I'm just going to take the back seat and do whatever he wants me to do. I think Dito is one of the most interesting young filmmakers out there.
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