Best-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) makes his television debut as executive producer of the two-hour Lifetime programming event Deliverance Creek (premiering on September 13th), a revenge drama centering on a widow and mother of three who is determined to protect her family and land at any cost during the Civil War. Two years into the Civil War, Belle Gatlin Barlowe (Lauren Ambrose) faces uncertainty in the life before her as she attempts to defend her family’s land by any means necessary. When the corrupt bank that runs their town pushes Belle into becoming an outlaw, it sets off a chain of events that force her to question whether it’s better to be good or to survive. It also stars Wes Ramsey, Yaani King, Caitlin Custer, Christopher Backus, Riley Smith, Katherine Willis, Christopher Baker, Skeet Ulrich, Barry Tubb and Joel Johnstone.
During this recent interview to promote the premiere of the two-hour film, executive producer Nicholas Sparks talked about how hands-on he was with the project, the biggest challenges in pulling this off, the goal of extending this story as a TV series, how fortunate he feels for his success, how he doesn’t let working on movies interfere with writing books, why he wanted to do a period piece, being on set in Texas, and how they’re very clear on where Belle will go next, while actress Lauren Ambrose talked about why she was attracted to this character, how she prepared for the role, her dream of doing a Western, the biggest challenges of the production, and how she’s all for doing a series. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
NICHOLAS SPARKS: A lot of my work is primarily done on the front-end with script development. I’ve been around film long enough to know that, when you’re working with someone like Lauren, who is a consummate professional, she knows how to do it and my best role is to stand back and let them work together to bring the characters to life because, in the end, it is Lauren who is going to bring Belle to life. So, I’m there, but I generally don’t involve myself in giving the actors some tips on acting. At the same time, I don’t do that with the director. We talked about the themes, the movement, and what the general emotions are that we were trying to build throughout the script. A lot of that work is done upfront, with the writer and the director, and then you sit back and let the actors bring it to life. It’s just something that I have learned, over time, that works. It’s the whole theory of too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth, and I don’t want to be that cook.
What challenges did you encounter, when it came to doing a project for television?
SPARKS: Working on a novel is very solitary and I get to be the boss. I’m the dictator, so I win every battle. So, in that sense, novels are easier because you don’t have to answer to anyone. And then, you go into something like film and there are more cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. You have the studio and you have the director. And television is a little bit more like film. I’ve done a number of films. I’ve been around this. I think the biggest challenge is just getting the script right, the way that you want the script to be. It’s really about capturing the complexity of emotions and creating the kind of characters that people will want to watch every week. And then, of course, the next part is that you have to find actors who have the ability to display a wide range of emotion effectively. That’s so much harder than it seems. That’s why we were so thrilled to get Lauren on board. She showed this fabulous range, whether somewhat angry or in love or sad or in deep mourning or frustrated or angry. She was able to bring all of those emotions to life. So, you try to get the script right, you try to get the director who also shares that vision, and then you try to find the actress. Each one of those parts has their own specific challenge because you deal with different people and they all have different ideas. The challenge is different than writing a novel.
LAUREN AMBROSE: When I read this script, I really couldn’t believe the complexity of the character and what I would get to do, playing this part. She is very flawed. She is very complicated. She is devoted to her family. She can’t quite escape her past. She’s caught between these two lives that she’s living. It’s comparable for any working mother, really. I’m just trying to keep it all together.
The movie really leaves things hanging, so will we see Belle again?
SPARKS: Well, that’s a great question. I’m hopeful that it’s sooner rather than later. We did that purposefully with the script. When I work to develop a script, and I work with writers to develop a script, we want to develop multiple storylines that are strong enough and interesting enough, each on their own separate levels, to have a relatively long run. A lot of work went into the script, early on, to make sure that every character in there has his or her own unique role and purpose. You get it all into the script, and you hope that the audience really appreciate it.
Is what happens next all dependent on the ratings for the movie?
SPARKS: Yes. I would think, in the end, some of it will come down to that, no question. Ratings are certainly a critical part of that. In the end, television is about building an audience who wants to find out what happens to these characters next because they’re drawn in by them. And so, we hope you want to see Belle back. That would be very exciting for me because we put a lot of thought into exactly where the show will go from here.
Lauren, would anything stand in the way of you doing this, as a series?
AMBROSE: No. I can’t imagine what would. I am all for it. I really hope people watch and like it as much as I do. I just absolutely loved playing this character and bringing this fierce, gritty, tough lady, who is flawed and passionate and has a lot on her plate to life. I really hope that we get the chance to go back to Texas and make more. I love playing my character, but I also find that the other characters are so full. And then, there is the whole small town living aspect of it. You have all of the dynamics and the storyline in this small town, which is a little pressure cooker in this era. I can’t wait to find out what happens, and I really hope we get to make more.
AMBROSE: Well, I’m familiar with his work. I’m familiar with his films, and I certainly know the pedigree and the reputation that comes with his work. I’m just so grateful that he wanted to shepherd this project along because I love playing this character.
Nicholas, does it blow your mind to look at the incredible numbers of books that you’ve sold? What were your expectations when you started writing books, and has this met or surpassed that?
SPARKS: I’ll be the first to say that I have had a very fortunate run. I don’t know that you can set out to have a specific expectation of the number of books sold, when you first start out. At the same time, I don’t know that I ever really think about it, except when I’m asked about it. The general rule is that my life is focused on the present, and very little on the past. If anything, I’m a little bit more focused toward the future. So right now, for instance, I’m writing another novel, and the only thing that matters is that particular novel that I’m working on, and Deliverance Creek. That’s really all I’m thinking about. Ideally, we want to get some wonderful scripts written for Deliverance Creek, in the hopes that Lifetime does pick it up. I was just hoping to somehow make a living writing novels, and I’ve just been very fortunate.
SPARKS: Not at all. I tend to be pretty efficient with my time. I work on a novel for four to five hours a day, and then the rest of my day is spent doing other things, whether it’s spending time with my family, or going through and making notes on the script for Deliverance Creek, or working on the marketing for Deliverance Creek. It’s just a matter of scheduling. I can say that I don’t have a lot of leisure time, just sitting around doing absolutely nothing, but that’s okay.
You’ve written some great love stories over the years. Do you think our culture has become more self-absorbed, in recent years, because of social media?
SPARKS: No. I think when it comes down to it, is that emotions change much less quickly than the world at large, if they change at all. In other words, when Belle loses her son in Deliverance Creek, her anguish is real. The pain she would feel today is the same pain she would feel in 1863. The emotion itself hasn’t changed. The emotion of love hasn’t changed. Granted, the way people communicate may have changed. Without question, people are self-absorbed. I think that the mass ability of communication now probably allows individuals to meet more self-absorbed individuals. It has certainly changed the way that people meet. And yet, Belle was in love. It’s the same as Noah and Allie in love. It’s the same as when my wife and I fell in love. It’s love. The emotion is what it is. It feels the same for everybody, and it has for a long time.
AMBROSE: I read about the awesome outlaw lady who this character is maybe a little bit based on, in some ways. I learned how to ride a horse. In fact, they even sent a cowboy to my house to teach me how to ride western a little bit. That was amazing. I live in New England, and he showed up with a belt buckle the size of a plasma screen TV and an enormous hat, and he was like, “Let’s do this!” So, I learned from him. We had amazing animals and cowboys working with us on this movie. It was so much fun. It was just such a dream to make a Western. We’re in the Civil War era, but it was so sexy and fun. There is nothing dated about it, other than the era, which was really super fun to play in. Plus, I live out in the woods and I have pioneer’s spirit, so I drew up on that.
What drew you guys to doing a period piece?
SPARKS: People who are familiar with my work know that most of my stories take place in North Carolina. They’re coastal and they tend to be from at least the 1950s on, for the most part, with a couple of small exceptions. But, those aren’t the only kind of stories that I like to write, and they’re not the only kind of stories that I like to read about. Like many people who live in the South, I’m drawn to the history of the Civil War. Little by little, this story of Deliverance Creek came together, and it was very exciting for me because, in some ways, it was new. It was different. It was a different period. It was of a historical period, and whenever you’re trying to do a film in a genuine historical period, you do have to make sure that you get as much historically accurate as you possibly can because there are thousands of people who are wildly interested in the Civil War in this country. If we get anything wrong, there is no doubt that we’re going to hear from them. So, I just wanted to make sure that we got everything as accurate as we possibly could, and all of those elements made it interesting. I was able to explore a lot of different themes, everything from betrayal and love to frustration and revenge, which are elements that don’t typically take place in my novels. It was just a wonderful experience to expand the various themes and to expand the period. It keeps the process of storytelling interesting.
AMBROSE: It’s been my dream to be in a Western, and to be able to wear the clothes, have a big gun, wear a big hat, have a big horse, and be a take-no-prisoners lady in the Civil War era. When I read that script, I was just blown away by this character and by the art of the story, and I wanted to know what happens next. It’s a super fun character to inhabit, and there are so many opportunities for big emotions and really fun scenes to play in great costumes.
SPARKS: Yes. As a general rule, I am not on set as much as other executive producers are, while filming is going on. Much of my work is done prior, which is simply due to lack of time. Some producers love numbers and budgets. I don’t want to be on the phone talking numbers and budget. I want to be creating a world. I want to come up with Belle’s new storyline. That is why I got involved, in the first place. I want to find a great director. I want to get the perfect cast. I want to make sure that everyone is on the same page. I want to know where we want to go from here. And then, as you’re getting the show into the editing room, I become involved with that.
Lauren, what were some of the challenges of doing a Western?
AMBROSE: Well, when you have animals and stunts, all that stuff takes time. I happen to love doing that because I just haven’t had a lot of opportunities to explore that kind of work in my career. This is a new experience, for me to do a Western. We were in Texas and it was extremely hot, and then it was freezing. I would be freezing and doing a love scene in the hay when it was 20 degrees, but I love Texas. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved being there.
Nicholas, where would you like to see Belle go from here?
SPARKS: We’re pretty clear on where Belle’s character goes. It will be filled with a lot of twists and turns, weekly, that people will not likely expect.
As far as the future of this project, are you looking to do future movies, or would you like it to be a TV series?
SPARKS: I would prefer a really well done series of 10 to 12 really high quality episodes per year. Of course, we’d work with Lifetime on what they think is best, as well. But this was originally designed to go forward as a series.
Deliverance Creek airs on Lifetime on September 13th.