Lucky One: Zac Efron

Playing the central role in “The Lucky One,” Zac Efron stars as Logan, a Marine who has seemingly defied the odds during three tours of duty in Iraq. The actor responded to the story’s interconnecting ideas of luck, love and destiny. “That’s what you hope love is, destiny,” he remarks. “You want it to be meant to be. It often feels like it is. Why can’t it be? And that’s what’s so intriguing about the story.”

Producer Kevin McCormick agrees. “Nick Sparks beautifully entwined the two themes of love and Fate, and Scott Hicks delivered that in a way that creates feelings of both surprise and inevitability.”

Will Fetters, who was responsible for adapting Sparks’ novel for the film, notes, “I can’t say enough about how collaborative Scott was and how much his input helped me.” The screenwriter adds that the author had given him the best possible foundation. “Before I even picked up the book, I was caught by the idea of this soldier trying to piece together why he’s still here, which brings up the question of whether or not things happen for a reason. The question remains unanswered, but it was woven through the subtext of the script.”

Taylor Schilling plays the woman in the photograph, who becomes a talisman for a man she doesn’t even know exists. “I got a feel for the character right off the page. They’re both living with a duality of tremendous loss and potential joy. Whether it’s their destiny or not, it’s incredibly romantic.”

“I think most people have, at some point in their life, a lucky charm and, whether we truly believe in it or not, there’s something hopeful about it,” says Di Novi.

 

“The Lucky One” opens in Iraq, where Efron’s character, U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault, is on his third tour of duty. Almost immediately, he is thrust into a firefight that changes his life forever.

The role itself changed Efron, who literally had to transform himself physically and emotionally, to look, move and react like a Marine who had served in a war zone and seen far more violence and loss than his family or peers at home could even imagine.

Hicks explains, “When we first see Logan, we need to know what he’s gone through and understand some of the sense of trauma that he carries with him out of this conflict. I was very impressed by Zac’s commitment to not only change his physique but also to get into the mindset of a soldier. He created the slightly stony exterior of someone a little mysterious—a character we don’t know a great deal about at first.”

“Initially I wasn’t convinced I could pull this off,” Efron recalls, “but the more I thought about it, and the more I talked to Scott, I realized if there was ever going to be a chance to play a role so different from what I’ve played before, this was it. I knew I had to put in the work to be able to play Logan, and I felt capable in Scott’s hands.”

Di Novi says, “One of my favorite things about being a producer is watching actors reinvent themselves, and that’s what Zac did. He just looks like a different person in this film. How he walks, how he stands, how he holds himself…it was a thrill to see him become Logan.”

McCormick concurs, “Even though he’d never done anything like it before, Zac was really able to bring a very specific and unique take on Logan. We literally saw somebody who’s been so youthful in every other movie legitimately turn into a man in front of our very eyes. That really helped make Nick Spark’s character come to life. Apart from looking like a Marine, Zac brought a reservoir of pain and strength in equal measure.”

The filmmakers’ own search to find the object of Logan’s quest began and ended with actress Taylor Schilling, who was cast as Beth Green. “Taylor conveys a complexity of emotional expression that is really extraordinary,” Hicks says. “You read in her eyes so much depth and detail.”

When the filmmakers put Schilling and Efron together, their on-screen chemistry sealed the deal. “That’s always the great unknown,” notes Hicks, “the question of what it’s going to be like when you put your stars together. Is there going to be any chemistry? From the first moment, the connection between Zac and Taylor was apparent.”

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Efron’s preparation to play a seasoned Marine included the physical rigors of training several months prior to production with military consultant James Dever, a retired Sergeant Major who spent twenty-five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and rising at 3:30 a.m. during filming to continue the regimen. That and a strict diet added 20 pounds of bulk to the actor. To complete the exterior metamorphosis, Efron buzzed his signature hair.

The internal work was equally, if not more, demanding. In order to get into his character’s psyche, Efron travelled with Hicks to Camp Pendleton to talk to Marines and see combat through their eyes.

Efron recalls, “When I got there it was like stepping into a different world. They stood with a purpose. They had laser focus, never broke eye contact. This is my generation, on the front lines. They’ve experienced some pretty gruesome things. We sat and talked for several hours and they were the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had with anybody. In terms of research, it was priceless. I can’t thank them enough. The stories and personal feelings they shared became part of the canvas for Logan.”

“We took very seriously what these young guys go through serving overseas,” Di Novi remarks. “Zac respected it, absorbed it, really internalized it, and I think you see that on film. He does a great job in honoring those guys’ experiences.”

Interestingly, a number of the Marines with whom Efron and Hicks met had a variety of good luck charms that they had carried with them into battle. Hicks describes, “One sergeant took out the remnants of what was barely recognizable as a playing card, which he’d taken with him on multiple tours. Once he’d lost it, which disturbed him deeply, but in the most extraordinary circumstances he found it again, quite by chance. The way he felt about it was very moving.”

Central to the film is Logan’s connection to what he comes to perceive as his own good luck charm—a photograph of a stranger he finds in the middle of the war zone.

Efron offers, “Just the act of finding the picture directly saved his life. He was in the right place at the right time and after that he seems to survive situations he shouldn’t be surviving, while others around him aren’t as lucky, so it takes on special meaning.”

Returning to the States, Logan is unable to fit back in with his own family. Will Fetters says many of his friends who served echo that sentiment. “The disconnect these veterans feel when they come home is so immense. It takes a while to get back into the rhythm of life. Their once usual surroundings feel alien. Nothing will ever be the same.”

Logan is also unable to shake his curiosity about the woman in the photo, who inadvertently saved his life. Deciding he must try to locate her, he scours the internet to identify the lighthouse in the background, and finds the match. Soon he embarks on a trek from Colorado to Louisiana, with his dog Zeus at his side.

The filmmakers’ own search to find the object of Logan’s quest began and ended with actress Taylor Schilling, who was cast as Beth Green. “Taylor conveys a complexity of emotional expression that is really extraordinary,” Hicks says. “You read in her eyes so much depth and detail.”

When the filmmakers put Schilling and Efron together, their on-screen chemistry sealed the deal. “That’s always the great unknown,” notes Hicks, “the question of what it’s going to be like when you put your stars together. Is there going to be any chemistry? From the first moment, the connection between Zac and Taylor was apparent.”

However, when Beth meets Logan, there’s immediate distrust. “They’re both broken in a way,” Efron acknowledges. “She’s guarded and he can’t tell her the real reason he’s there.”

In the photo, Beth is smiling, but the woman Logan first encounters “has obviously experienced tremendous loss,” says Schilling. “She can’t help but bring all of her baggage to the table: her grief, her defensiveness, her pain, her vulnerability. Whether she’s ready or not, Logan shows up and presents an opportunity for her to heal. I so admire in Beth the courage and strength to go for it, even though it’s scary.”

Di Novi adds, “Beth is a divorced single mother who put her dreams on hold until Logan comes into the picture and she begins to realize that maybe she does have a right to be happy and have love in her life again.”

Beth lives at her family home, where she runs a dog kennel and training business with her grandmother. Veteran actress Blythe Danner plays Ellie, who, upon observing Logan’s command over Zeus, hires him to help at the kennel, despite Beth’s objections. Hicks comments that Ellie might also have ulterior motives. “Ellie observes a spark between Logan and Beth and sees the possibility of a relationship between them. Blythe brought her consummate talent and wit to this atypical grandmother role.”

“I enjoyed being involved in ‘The Lucky One,'” Danner shares. “It’s full of heart. Ellie discreetly observes everything, though she stays in the background. She’s a protector, fervently loves her granddaughter and great-grandson, loves having them in her home, and they, along with her business, give her a zest for living. Although I don’t believe in Fate, it was nice to play a character that does and take that journey because she has no doubt this is Logan’s destiny—to become a part of their lives.”

McCormick observes, “Ellie has a huge heart and is open to life, whatever it holds for her. Blythe played her with so much humor. She lights up her scenes.”

Another person who welcomes Logan’s arrival is Beth’s seven-year-old son, Ben, played by Riley Thomas Stewart. The filmmakers auditioned hundreds of children to find the right fit for Ben and, says Di Novi, “We hit the jackpot with Riley.”

Logan becomes fast friends with Ben, who delights in beating him in chess and showing off his magic tricks. Logan also not only accepts but encourages Ben’s playing of the violin, something his own father dismisses. Stewart took violin lessons in order to play his solo. “Learning to play the violin was difficult; I had to start right with the hard stuff,” Stewart recalls. “But my favorite thing was the magic. I got to learn a whole routine.”

Schilling remarks, “In between takes, Riley wanted to play tag and race cars, but when the cameras rolled he could flip that switch. He was just remarkable.”

Hicks adds, “Finding Riley was an absolute gift. He has such a sweet natural charm and exuberance. He’s just like bottled energy, which we channeled into his character.”