We don’t need an anniversary to remind us of why we love The Notebook. Ten years later it remains one of the most iconic love stories of the 21st century, cherished by pre-teen girls and celebrities alike. Back in 2004, though, studios and moviegoers weren’t as quick to anoint the Nicholas Sparks adaptation as a success.
Former Mickey Mouse Club and Young Hercules star Ryan Gosling was handpicked by director Nick Cassavetes to play passionate, lovestruck Noah, while newcomer Rachel McAdams arrived via an audition. “When I told [New Line Cinema] I wanted to hire Ryan for the lead, they kind of looked at me like I was out of my mind,” Cassavetes told VH1. “And we found Rachel through an audition process and she was wonderful. A lot of studios wouldn’t have had the courage to put two relatively unknown people in a movie like this. But they did and, gosh, weren’t they terrific?” VH1 spoke with Cassavetes about choosing two emerging stars to helm his project, finding ways to make his actors get along on-set, working with his mother (Gena Rowlands) and more.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of The Notebook, read on for things you may be shocked to learn about the now-classic film, straight from the director himself.
1. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams did not get along.
Contrary to their love story in the film, or their eventual real life romance, Gosling and McAdams were far from friendly while making this movie. In the years since, there have been rumors about an on-set conflict, and Cassavetes revealed that at one point, the show almost didn’t go on:
Maybe I’m not supposed to tell this story, but they were really not getting along one day on set. Really not. And Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, “Nick come here.” And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, “Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?” I said, “What?” He says, “I can’t. I can’t do it with her. I’m just not getting anything from this.”
Luckily, the director’s impromptu therapy session helped save the film:
We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other. I walked out. At that point I was smoking cigarettes. I smoked a cigarette and everybody came out like, “All right let’s do this.” And it got better after that, you know? They had it out… I think Ryan respected her for standing up for her character and Rachel was happy to get that out in the open. The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.
2. The famous bird scene almost didn’t happen.
When Allie spends the afternoon at the Windsor Plantation with Noah, they go for a boat ride — which is really just long, gorgeous foreplay before they spend the night together. Soon enough there’s rain, there’s a kiss and there’s a giant flock of birds swarming out of the sky. If you’re a bird, I’m a bird, but was corraling a flock of birds in a way that represents life-changing romance as easy as it looks? Not at all:
We went into New Line and they were like, “You can’t do the birds. There’s just too much — you’ve got to take the birds out.” We said, “How come?” And they said, “It just doesn’t work. We talked to every animal wrangler — you can’t do it. The birds aren’t trained. You’ve got to take it out.” Well, the producer and I didn’t listen very much. We went down and bought a trailer like the back of one of those semis, talked to some of the animal people down there and bought a bunch of hatchlings and just raised them as chicks and marched them out to the lake every day and fed them out there. By the time the movie was shooting, they were kind of grown, but they had been fed out there every day. So, when the studio came down to see the scene — because they didn’t believe we could do it — the guy marched them out there like the Pied Piper and they went out on the lake. We were happy to do that on a technical level because the birds are so beautiful.
3. Ryan Gosling improvised one of your favorite lines.
Allie and Noah’s fiery relationship is not without its screaming matches, and bearded Noah’s epic “What do you want” finally put grown-up Allie on the spot. Maybe Baby Goose is closer to his onscreen counterpart than you thought. “There was a scene at the end where Ryan improvised, ’What do you want? What do you want?’ And it became one of the most iconic things from the film [that] wasn’t in the script. He just knew it,” Cassavetes said. “I’m a literary guy, I was a lit major in college and I like words, but I also like improvisation, [so] that’s fine. But he was so on it. We just let him go. They deserve all the credit in the world, those guys. They were committed to their characters and both of them are terrific artists in their own right. Really, really top-notch artists. I would love to work with them [again].”
4. The Notebook owes much of its success to Facebook.
The simultaneous release of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and subpar reviews caused the The Notebook to struggle at the box office initially. “So we didn’t do any business and we had no good reviews; it was considered really bad,” Cassavetes recalled. “And there was this little thing I’ll always remember: I was sitting at home and somebody said, ’Do you know that your movie is No. 1 on Facebook?’ And I said, ’What’s Facebook?'” Like Love Actually, Mean Girls and other new classics, The Notebook’s popularity has only continued to grow thanks to word of mouth. “The social media really helped us to get the word around and kind of like Titanic, we never really had a big week of business — we just went forever. I think that people look back on the movie and they forgive it for being sentimental because love is sentimental. We’re all very lucky that people liked it as much as they did,” he said.
5. Ryan Gosling wanted to burn the house down.
In the film’s second chapter, Gosling’s character spends years rebuilding the Windsor Plantation, and it’s the press coverage he receives that help bring Allie to him once again. Not one to shy away from sharing his ideas, Gosling thought it would be appropriate for Noah to burn down what had become his character’s life’s work. “[Ryan] wants to talk to you about what he’s gonna do. He wants to go prepare for it, feel it, live it, explore other options for it,” Cassavetes said. “He’d come to me and say, ’Why can’t I burn the house down?’ I’d say, ’Because I don’t even know what that means.’ And he’d say, ’Cleansing my fire!'” Gosling’s suggestion didn’t make it into the final cut, but Cassavetes insists there was open collaboration throughout filming: “We had a great relationship, because I encourage my actors to talk to me about anything. Sometimes we disagree, and he’s very strong, but we had a great time. It’s a process with Ryan.”
6. James Garner was not that interested in talking shop with his costars.
Working with legendary actors like James Garner and Gena Rowlands seems like any up-and-coming performer’s dream. Because they were playing two different versions of the same character, Gosling was eager to discuss choices and character traits with his esteemed costar. “Jimmy is one of those kind of actors who’s a no-bulls–t actor from a time gone by,” Cassavetes said. “But Ryan finds significance in talking about hairstyles and everything.” So how did they agree on how to bring old and young Noah to life? An important meeting Cassavetes still thinks about fondly:
[Ryan] says, “I was thinking about accents. There’s all kinds of South Carolina accents — one’s more rural” and this and that. [Garner] goes, “I don’t do accents, kid. They’re stupid.” And [Ryan] goes, “Okay. What about eye color? I have blue eyes. You have brown eyes.” He says, “Everyone knows Jim Garner’s got brown eyes. Do what you want, kid.” [Ryan] says, “Okay, I guess I’ll wear contacts. What about hair?” And he says, “Do whatever you want, kid. Nice to meet you. See you later.” Ryan looked at me and said, “Shut up, don’t even say a word.” So that’s just an example of two extremely different types of acting styles. Both are wildly successful.
To prove The Notebook has reached cult status, check out The Fault in Our Stars’ Ansel Elgort describing how much he cried while watching the film. The tear-jerker torch has been passed!