Fifteen years ago Wednesday, on January 25, 2002, the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel A Walk To Remember strolled into movie theaters across the country. Starring sweet-as-candy teen pop star Mandy Moore and rising TV and film actor Shane West, the movie was an early entry in a long line of Sparks’ book-to-movie adaptations.
These romances follow a reasonably simple formula: take a heart-wrenching premise, add in some beautiful people and a stunning North Carolina-esque backdrop, be sure to incorporate some inspirational action that overcomes all adversity, and you are on the road to a Sparks success.
A Walk to Remember satisfies all of the above as the small-town love story of two opposites meeting, falling for each other, and becoming better people for it. It works because it doesn’t try to be more than that. It’s a sweet story with a warm message in an age where you had to go to your crush’s house to get in contact and bullying went down in the cafeteria, not online.
And so to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the flick’s release, Entertainment Weekly takes a walk down memory lane with a slightly older, but ever as winsome, Moore and West.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you remember most about the experience and what it meant to you at the time?
MANDY MOORE: I think that it was such an overwhelmingly positive, memorable experience for me because it was my first leading role and it was the first film I worked on away from home. We shot it in Wilmington, North Carolina, and it was the first time I’d ever had that kind of camp-like experience where you come home and cry when it’s over and you’re determined to keep in touch with everyone. It just gives me an all-encompassing warm feeling inside. There are very few times in your career when the memories and the relationship you have to a project match the relationship that an audience has to the project — but this movie is as special to me as it seems to be to people out there in the world. I mean that’s the reason that 15 years later we’re still talking about it.
SHANE WEST: It genuinely was a phenomenal experience. From start to finish, it really was a wonderful experience and that was because of Adam Shankman, the director. He kept everyone invested, together, kept the mood right, especially for some of the dramatic things we had to do, and everyone genuinely loved each other — or liked each other at least. Those types of things can happen often, but then maybe the movie or TV show isn’t very successful and people don’t really get to know about it. In our case, it was a great experience, it was a lot of fun, everyone bonded on set and off, and it happened to turn out to be a success. You couldn’t ask for anything more.
Do you remember auditioning?
SW: I do. Back then, I did audition for it, but I swear to God I only read once. Adam, the director, had a lot of control, and he really liked the idea of Mandy so he was seeing if I could cut it with her. He brought us together in a room and we read a few scenes and chatted mostly, and then all of a sudden it was happening. I didn’t have a million credits at the time so I remember being very thankful for that casting process because it was very rare for it to be that laid back.
MM: I remember first reading the script and I remember going to Warner Brothers to audition for it and I was still so new to the game. The whole process was so unfamiliar to me and weird. I was less scared of it then than I am now — when you’re younger and you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know to be scared yet. I remember that first audition with Adam Shankman and feeling immediately comfortable and I knew that I was in good hands. I loved him so instantaneously and I think that was what I was most excited about; if I had the opportunity to be part of it, I wanted to spend time with this man. I just loved him.
What do you remember about meeting each other?
MM: Shane was so cool. Everything about him – the way he dressed, the little cigarettes that he smoked, and the music he listened to. He was the character to me and there was definitely a part of me that absolutely fell in love with him. I don’t know if I could discern the difference between him and the character at that point in time because, again, it was my first experience doing anything like this and I was a 16-year-old, impressionable girl. I was just so caught up in the moment and the experience. I absolutely walked away from that project so convinced that there would never be a project as special as that. Shane was so wonderful. I didn’t know what I was doing and he’d done movies and he was on a critically acclaimed TV show. He had a lot of respect as an actor and I was just the total newbie. I didn’t even know how to hit a mark, I was so fresh-faced and naïve. I felt incredibly lucky right off the bat that I had someone who was as willing to work with me and who was patient and understanding. He was just the perfect partner for that.
SW: It was kind of perfect the way we came into the project because she was coming from this pop background at that time — she had her song “Candy”, and a role in the Princess Diaries — and for me I was into punk rock and so it was like completely opposites attract, or opposites are forced together to work. It was great for the role because that’s how the characters are put together in the movie. Mandy was really nervous, I remember, in the beginning, but once she committed to it she slipped right into the role effortlessly and it just really fit her. She really grew up on that movie. We all did, but we were all in our 20s apart from her. I might have had a baby face and that’s great, but I believe I was 24. There was someone else – who I’m not going to say right now — whose name was batted around for Mandy’s role. I remember I wasn’t keen on that idea and thankfully it didn’t happen.
Would that have stopped you taking the role, if it hadn’t been Mandy?
SW: It might have because the believability wasn’t there. It just didn’t feel right. The person just didn’t seem right. When they brought up Mandy, I was like “I don’t know Mandy.” Then we had that meeting where we had an audition and were both in the same room and I was like, “She’s perfect for the role.”
Mandy, your character doesn’t necessarily have the most flattering wardrobe in the movie. What do you remember about the clothes, hair, and makeup?
MM: Well I was blonde then and, for the most part, haven’t gone back since. It was transformative because it came at a time in my life when I was only seen from the pop music landscape and through that lens. There was a real significance to coloring my hair. As silly as it sounds, there was a real significance in the way that people saw me, but also in the way that I carried myself and that I saw myself. It was the last little piece of the puzzle I think in terms of getting into the character. The makeup and wardrobe? I knew what I was signing up for. I’ve never been someone who’s put a tremendous amount of time and effort into that, especially when it comes to playing parts. I don’t really care. I was excited to take on a role like this knowing that I was going to completely step outside of myself and dress in a way and in a manner that was appropriate for this character. I think what they had struggled with initially was having to keep the fact that my character was sick under wraps until a certain point in the project. I remember the first makeup test when they cut my bangs and were doing the first camera test. They made me so ghostly white that it was just a little uncalled for — I’m not dead yet! So they had to recalibrate and figure it now to make me not look the picture of health, but also not like I was on death’s door.
SW: I remember that Mandy was very nervous about dying her hair. It’s amazing how it really changed her life — well the movie changed all of our lives — but hers especially, aesthetically. She kind of went with that look after that — she didn’t go back to the platinum blonde.
What was the most memorable scene to shoot?
SW: I remember a lot from that opening scene by the water — we actually shot in order so it was the first scene we shot in production. We did that so we could bond — me and the guys and girls — minus Mandy. In that scene, we were all supposed to be drinking, but a movie called Save The Last Dance came out and did very well and there was no drinking or cursing in the film so they made an executive decision to drop that the day of shooting the scene. Instead, we all pretended that we might have been drinking to be “out of control dangerous” or whatever is was. But what was really creepy was that that body of water had been sitting there for a long time and was apparently used on Dawson’s Creek. It was giant pool overgrown with leaves and seaweed. They had to put in scuba divers to search for eels so when I had to jump in to rescue Clay (Matt Lutz) we were pretty freaked out by the fact there had been divers in there looking for wild animals. That was really creepy. I remember the rest of them, like Clayne Crawford and Lauren German, just feeling so bad for us. Not only because it was freezing, but if anything touched our legs we would’ve screamed. It was one very long night, but we got through it. Not exactly the way we thought we were going to start it – hey, jump into a creepy eel-infested pool!
MM: I remember that scene too because I came down to watch that be filmed. The most memorable scene for me, though, I would say, is the school play and singing the song (“Only Hope”). I remember putting on that beautiful ice blue, silk dress and everyone fawning all over it. It was the first time that I wasn’t in a ratty sweater and an over-sized housedress. Also, the scene where I tell Landon that I’m sick was very memorable scene because they weren’t sure if I was going to say that I was just sick, or that I had leukemia. They were still trying to figure it out so we had to do several different versions. It was a very hard place to get to emotionally, to be able to tell him that and then to have to say, “I have cancer,” “I have leukemia,” “I’m sick.” We were just trying out all these different options so that once they got in the editing room and had tested the movie, they would have their pick of what would eventually make it into the film. That was a sort of bizarre experience.
Pop quiz time. Both Jamie and Landon have bucket lists in the movie. Mandy, can you list three of Jamie’s goals?
MM: Um, okay, “being in two places at once,” “to witness a miracle,” um something… hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, maybe something about astronomy, something with stars? Like to see a star? Oh! And to get married in the church where my parents were married!
Great job. Some of the others include: Befriend someone that you don’t like, get a tattoo, do a year in the Peace Corps, and make a medical discovery – a very lofty goal. Shane, Landon only has three, can you name any of them?
SW: Oh, no. Um, um, um, oh man.
What if I say one was a career goal…
SW: Oh, one was what he ended up doing at the end, his career, what he ended up being.
SW: Um, oh my God! I don’t know…
I’ll give you a clue; you also had this job on ER.
SW: Oh! Doctor. Wow. Man, that’s amazing. Was one to get married?
Nope, that’s Jamie’s.
SW: I’m remembering all of her stuff: two places at once… See that’s the whole thing: The reason I can’t even remember it is because it’s all about her – which is a telling story about men and women (laughs). It was about making her happy and honestly, a lot of the Landon storylines — when I wasn’t with Daryl Hannah, his mom — I don’t even remember. It was just like, “alright let’s get back to the Mandy story” and there I was doing something romantic for her again. I have no clue what the others are.
The first one is to examine a moon rock.
SW: Oh, my… what? How? I don’t remember that at all. You’re lying. That’s like you could’ve just made that up right now.
You’ll have to go back and watch the movie to find out.
SW: Oh, my Lord. I’m going to complain to Nicholas Sparks about that one. Sounds like that was from the novel. I can’t imagine the scriptwriter having put that in.
Do you remember the handshake between Landon and Eric? Could you still do it?
SW: Of course I remember… Oh, if I had to actually do it? Al Thompson, who played Eric, he created it on his own. He wanted something that could help us stand apart. We were trying to have it be as edgy as possible and at the very end of the handshake, it looked like we might have been smoking a joint and we put it out on each other or whatever the heck that is. I remember Adam was like, “It’s fine, it doesn’t mean anything, they’re high school kids and they grew up together. I’m fine with it if the studio’s fine with it.” The studio never said anything so we did it and then we were reminding ourselves for the rest of the shoot that we needed to do it again, it couldn’t just be one. When we did it again towards the end of the film, it obviously wasn’t scripted. We knew it’d be more potent if we added it in again. I remember when the film came out a few people came up to me and actually brought up that moment and I was like “That’s all Al Thompson, he deserves all the credit.”
Is there one line in the movie that you’ll always remember?
SW: Besides the classic ones, I remember being on the bus and saying, “You don’t care what people think about you?” I always liked that one because the scene was very real. It was almost like we really believed what we were saying and we were just talking. Sometimes that’s how you get your best performances, when you’re just being and that’s kind of how it was. Once again, Adam put the camera up and let it run. We had the dialogue, we weren’t improvising, but he just kind of kept going. I just remember seeing her cute little face and cute little smile and being so affirmative about her beliefs. It was part of the storyline, but it was also when I, myself, started to believe in her. So that’s always a line that stood out to me.
What if I give you a line from Mandy, do you think you can remember yours? Like if I say, “You have to promise not to fall in love with me.”
SW: “That’s not a problem.” That one I know because that one was me — the sarcasm was all Shane. It was very easy for me to say, “That’s not a problem.”
Great delivery. Mandy, if I say one of Shane’s lines do you think you can remember yours?
MM: Probably not, but let’s try it!
Okay, “I might kiss you.”
MM: “I might be bad at it.”
Yes! Then there’s a bit of apparent ad-lib in the scene that follows their first play rehearsal that always makes me laugh. Jamie exits the school and the kid who wrote the play says to her, “Don’t even pretend like you’re not going to be great. You’re so pretty.” Then she completely blows him off. Do you remember what you said?
MM: “Okay, bye” or something?
Yes! It’s like, “Okay, see you tomorrow.”
MM: That’s so dismissive! (Laughs.) Cool, byeeeeee. That’s awesome.
What is the most memorable walk you’ve ever been on in your life?
SW: That would be Machu Picchu. I was two and a half months in Peru shooting a film called El Dorado. We were in Cusco where Machu Picchu is and we got to spend the day there. We all kind of took off and did our own walks to remember so to speak, and it was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life and probably for most people who have been — I’m glad I was able to give an answer to that one!
MM: Oh, I don’t know that’s a hard one. If I’d been to Machu Picchu I’d say that too. I climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge that’s pretty memorable, right? The views are incredible.