1. The story will be set in North Carolina, as has been the case with all nine film adaptations of his books.
2. The film will have been shot in North Carolina, as six of those nine films have been.
3. Two people will fall in love, and Kleenex will be necessary by the end.
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Well, guess what? Done, done and done.
“The Longest Ride,” in theaters Friday, centers on a Wake Forest University art history major named Sophia who develops two relationships: a romance with a professional bull-riding star, and a companionship with a 91-year-old North Carolina man grieving the death of his wife.
To add extra Carolina flavor to the mix, Sophia is played by Britt Robertson, who was born in Charlotte and raised an hour south, in Chester, S.C. Home-schooled, she moved from south Carolina to Los Angeles at age 14 to pursue acting, but still considers this area her home.
“I’m very much a Carolina girl,” says Robertson, 24, whose family remains within North or South Carolina state lines. “For Christmas, I get T-shirts and necklaces that say ‘Carolina Girl,’ so I’m constantly being reminded of it.”
And over the past couple of years, work has given the actress multiple excuses to come back.
In late winter/early spring of both 2013 and 2014, Robertson was in Wilmington for CBS’ sci-fi drama “Under the Dome,” in which she played waitress Angie McAlister. Then last summer, she was back in North Carolina to shoot “The Longest Ride.”
Shooting locations included Wilmington, Jacksonville and Caswell Beach on the coast, Wallace in the east, Dobson and Eden in the northern part of the state and Winston-Salem. (One key scene late in the movie appears to take place at an art gallery in Charlotte, although it was filmed at Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington.)
“My family has been happy to see me in Carolina shooting, and then also using it as an opportunity to take a vacation,” Robertson says, laughing. “They’ve gotten to go to the beaches of Wilmington and enjoy themselves, and see me at the same time. Win-win.”
“The Longest Ride” marks her first starring role in a major film, after smaller parts in movies such as 2014’s “Cake” (with Jennifer Aniston), 2013’s “Delivery Man” (with Vince Vaughn) and 2011’s “Scream 4.”
Nicholas Sparks, who lives in New Bern, says casting Robertson opposite Scott Eastwood (Clint’s son) was an easy call.
“When she walked in, she looked like the college girl we wanted – the girl next door – and yet there was a real depth,” says the author, who published the romance novel in 2013. To prepare, Sparks says, “Britt spent a lot of time trying to learn about art, so she could discuss it intelligently, despite knowing there weren’t major discussions about art in the film. She just wanted to be that person.”
The next person she’ll be is Casey Newton, a teen who finds a bridge between two worlds in Disney’s “Tomorrowland,” a sci-fi-adventure also starring George Clooney (out May 22); and later this year, Warner Bros. is scheduled to release the drama “Cook,” in which she stars as a girl who inherits a cook played by Eddie Murphy.
Neither of those films is set in North Carolina, but there’s a serendipitous wink at us in “Cook,” thanks to her character’s name: Charlotte.
‘The Longest Ride’
The movie presents two love stories – one set in the present, and one in the past.
Present: Wake Forest student Sophia (Charlotte-born Britt Robertson) attends a bull-riding event in which Luke (Scott Eastwood) is competing. They meet and fall in love, but she is being pulled toward an art-gallery internship in New York while he refuses to give up the sport that almost killed him.
Past: In North Carolina pre- and post-World War II, Ira (Jack Huston) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin) bond over a love of art after a visit to Black Mountain College inspires them to collect paintings. But their marriage is on the rocks.
How they’re connected: On Sophia and Luke’s first date, they discover a car wreck involving the 91-year-old Ira (Alan Alda). Luke pulls Ira from the burning car, Sophia saves a box of letters Ira wrote to his late wife; as he recovers, she visits and begins reading them to him.