Based on the best-selling novel by author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of two former high school sweethearts, Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart. In their hometown for the funeral of their beloved friend, they are suddenly forced to face the love that they’ve never forgotten, as well as the life that got in their way. The film also stars Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Caroline Goodall, Sebastian Arcelus, Jon Tenney and Gerald McRaney.
At the film’s press day, actor Luke Bracey (who plays the younger version of Dawson) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about sharing his role with James Marsden, his relatively smooth audition process for this role, the easy chemistry he had with Liana Liberato, and how much fun they had shooting the first kiss for their characters. He also talked about simultaneously becoming both a romantic lead (with films like this) and an action hero (with his upcoming role as Johnny Utah in the Point Break remake), what ultimately made him want to sign on for Point Break, and just how different the story and character is. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
LUKE BRACEY: The biggest challenge was to have the connective thread, but also that difference and the growth between the two people. The way the movie is set up, where it goes back and forth, that binding gets tighter and tighter and tighter, throughout the film.
Did you talk to James Marsden about your performances, at all?
BRACEY: Yeah, we had a bit of time to sit down. We talked about wanting it to be really simple connective tissue, like the accent and how to fold his arms, and the likes of that. We wanted to make sure to show that they’re two different people, 20 years later. If you didn’t evolve as a person and change, from when I’m portraying him to when James is portraying him, then we can all go home. So, there were definitely those little bit of connective tissue that we want to keep to bind them together, but at the same time, there was definitely a knowledge that they had to be somewhere different in their lives.
What was the audition process like for this?
BRACEY: I flew in from Australia, and then the next day, I had the chemistry read with Liana [Liberato]. You only get to see one audition. You don’t get to see the other guys with the girl, and see how well they hit it off. You stand out in the room and a guy walks out who looks a little bit like you, and you’re like, “I’m in the right room, I guess.” And then, they call you in. You just don’t know. You go in there and you get along. You make a joke and, hopefully, people like it. If they don’t, you show yourself out. It’s strange. Once you start the scene, you know if it’s fun to work with that person, acting wise. You know if you connect, acting wise. It’s very rare to stare into someone’s eyes and know if they’re telling the truth or not. During the audition process, if you think the other person is telling the truth, you’ve got a good feeling for it. But at the same time, you just never know. You wait for the call, and either you get the call or you don’t get the call. But, I felt really great. The next day, we got a call saying that they loved it. And then, (director) Michael [Hoffman], Liana and I sat down one more time, and that was it. It was quite painless, this one. Normally, there’s a bit of waiting around, and hearing that they’re looking at this guy and that guy. I felt like I swooped in and grabbed this out of nowhere.
I put an audition down in Sydney, which is a bit of a gamble. You never talk to the director. You’ve read the script and you take a bit of a punt on what they want. And then, I got the news that they wanted to see me in a week’s time in L.A. So, it was one of the more painless audition processes for me, and I think that might come through in the movie. The time that Liana and I had making it was very easy and very comfortable. With these intense love stories, you’ve gotta be able to have a bit of a laugh and joke about it, after they say, “Cut!” It was an absolute pleasure, actually. It was a really pleasurable experience to audition, get the movie, rehearse and shoot it. I had a blast.
Did you and Liana have time to get to know each other before shooting?
BRACEY: Yeah, we did. We had a couple of weeks in New Orleans, before we started shooting. We were staying near the French Quarter, and Michael was living in the middle of it. We’d walk through the French Quarter to Michael’s place for rehearsals and back, every day. When you spend time with someone, you just become mates with them. Sometimes it’s forced, but sometimes you just get along with someone. You can sit there and have a joke, and it’s very easy. It was a very natural and organic thing. We were there to serve the movie, first and foremost. It was just great luck that we got on, as well. That serves the movie even better. I felt very fortunate that I got to work with Liana on this. I think she’s a terrific actress. It was a real pleasure to work with her.
Obviously, with these kinds of movies, the first kiss is so important to the story. Were there any funny moments while shooting that?
BRACEY: Oh, totally! That was a really funny first kiss. It was so romantic, but there were bunch of grips standing around, smoking cigarettes, which is really unromantic. It was really funny for me because he’s really bashful and shy and unsure. For him to take that leap is the first time he’s probably done something like that, in such a beautiful manner. Rather than it being just a physical thing for Dawson, I think it was the first time it really, truly meant something to him. It was fun, but they would say, “Cut!,” and Liana and I would have a little giggle at how ridiculously beautiful it was. It’s such a hyper-reality. It isn’t real life, but we get to pretend like it is. It’s one of the perks of the job, for sure.
As an actor, you’re simultaneously becoming a romantic lead and an action hero. Are you drawn more to one than the other, or do you like a balance between the two?
BRACEY: I feel really fortunate that it’s panned out that way. It can look like a conscious effort, but in reality, when you get over here, I’ve just tried to work really hard for the past couple of years. Things just fall in line how they do, and I’ve felt very fortunate that it’s fallen in line how I wanted them to. I don’t know if I willed it that way, or if it just happened. But, I enjoy every different kind of movie. That’s not just one type of movie that I enjoy watching. So, I want to be a part of all different kinds of movies, subsequently. With action movies, that’s just fun stuff for me. That’s me being a kid again. Same with The Best of Me, and these romantic dramas. It’s such a freedom from reality and social constructions. You get to just have fun and play and be in a movie. You learn so much from all these different types of movies. You learn the physical side from the action. In November Man, there was a bit of emotional strain and father issues and what it means to be a man. That was similar, but very different, in The Best of Me, as well. And then, you can take all that you’ve learned to the next film. For me, it’s just about having a well-rounded education in acting, and that comes from all of these different ways to tell a story. I’ve been really lucky to make all of these different stories.
When the idea of a Point Break remake was brought to you, and that you’d be playing a character that’s so identifiable with Keanu Reeves, did you wonder whether you should even consider it?
BRACEY: I’m the world’s biggest fan of the original Point Break, and so there was not necessarily initial apprehension, but the idea of, “Well, if someone is gonna screw it up, it might as well be me.” I love the movie so much that I knew I was gonna give it everything I’ve got. And the movie is different from the original. It’s taking everything that was so great about the original movie and bringing it to 2015, and giving it to the world, more importantly. Point Break is a movie that I and all of my friends grew up loving, watching all the time, quoting, living and being. That’s the same, all around the world. Here in America, with my generation, it’s not as popular as it is around the world. You can go anywhere around the world and ask someone if they’ve seen Point Break, and they go, “I love Point Break!” You can ask a sample group of a hundred 15- to 25-year-olds here in America, and some of them won’t know what the movie is. So for me, the idea of being able to give it to the world and take it to all these different places and have this international cast and really bring in all these different extreme sports was a thrill.
It touches on a lot of different things. The world is a much bigger and smaller place, at the same time, now. Just robbing banks in California doesn’t have the impact on people around the world as say global environmental terrorism against trans-national corporations. That’s got a bit of a punch, these days. That’s affecting more than the corporations. That’s affecting people and animals, in positive and negative ways. I think that moral ground that Point Break always ran, in terms of living free and figuring out the right thing to do, we really touch on that in a really fresh and interesting way this time. But definitely, there was some apprehension involved in taking on that character. Also, there’s the idea that you can make it your own and give people a new Johnny Utah. He is completely different in this one, and the story is completely different. It was more exciting for me. Being such a fan of the original, there’s no way I wanted anyone else to get the movie. I wanted to do this movie, and I felt very fortunate that it came off. We’ve still got about a month to go, but it’s been amazing.
The Best of Me is now playing in theaters.