Unlike most Hollywood screenwriters, Nicholas Sparks lives in Eastern North Carolina, which gives him a perspective hard to find in Los Angeles. “There’s a lot of active military duty in my little town,” he told me when we spoke by phone.
Because he was familiar with soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sparks wrote the main character of his novel The Lucky One as a soldier adjusting to life back in the United States. Starring Zac Efron, the movie adaptation opens Friday.
Sparks used to coach a local high school track team and many of his players went on to military service. “When they come home, they come see me, you know… ‘Hey, Coach.’ I get to see what they’re going through coming back to the States.”
“The soldiers I know, they were great at their jobs. They were great soldiers. You know what being a great soldier means. It means killing people and blowing up things. They come home and they’re not doing that.”
“Some soldiers need more help than others,” Sparks said, noting that some just need a shot at a job while others need ongoing medical and emotional care. He added that he gives veterans “extra points” when making hiring decisions. He doesn’t stop there, however. Always known as a supporter of charity, he’s adding military groups to his list. In fact, he’s organizing a fundraising weekend in North Carolina for opening weekend, proceeds going in part to The Wounded Warrior Project.
He says it’s the least he can do.
Efron plays Logan, a Marine who finds himself jumpy and unfocused after returning home from Iraq. He sets out to find the woman whose picture he uncovered in rubble in Baghdad, a happenstance that saved his life when a bomb struck just feet away as he picked it up. He finds her in a sunlit paradise of a farm serving as a doggie hotel and the rest, well, it unfolds as only a Nicholas Sparks romance can do.
The Lucky One is a story about “how love can help you move on,” said Sparks, but he also wants it to be a tribute to the men and women who answered the call and served the country, including the men and women he knows personally.