Like professional wrestling, the Three Stooges or British actor Hugh Grant, Nicholas Sparks is one of those subjects that drives tear-drenched fans to tissue boxes and sends everyone else out of the room.
Sparks, of course, is the author of romantic fiction often set in the Southeast, starting in 1996 with “The Notebook” and continuing more than 17 novels later with “See Me,” published last fall.
Love or loathe his stuff, his works sell zillions of copies and the film adaptations of them – 11 so far – have made him richer still.
After “The Notebook” landed on the best-seller list, Sparks moved to New Bern, where that breakthrough novel was set. North Carolina has continued to pop up as a Sparks locale; “Nights in Rodanthe,” for example, starts in Rocky Mount and winds up on the Outer Banks. Filming locations often shadow the books; five Sparks-based films have been shot in the Cape Fear area.
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It took close to a decade for “The Choice” to hit the screen; it was filmed in greater Wilmington in October and reached cinemas in February.
Here’s what the author says about that on his website: “Making this film brought me back to my roots here in North Carolina and I love that Ross” – that’s Ross Katz, the director – “treated Wilmington as more than just a backdrop. He made it come alive, almost like a third main character.”
The main characters, by the way, are a young bachelor named Travis who tumbles into a romance with new neighbor Gabby. Ups and downs of the relationship ensue. Decades later, Travis faces a “choice”: He and wife Gabby are in a car accident. She’s in a coma and he has to choose between plug-pulling or long-term care. He opts for the latter and – surprise! – she makes a happy-ending recovery.
The novel and movie are set in Beaufort, N.C., but fans (and non-fans) will want to go to the Wilmington area to see the actual filming locations.
“Choice” attractions include:
The Dockside Restaurant and Bar, on Airlie Road in Wrightsville Beach (www.thedockside.com). It’s where Travis (actor Benjamin Walker) and his pals hang out. It’s a casual place on the water’s edge that has been open for more than 25 years. The eatery is an ever-popular spot for locals and tourists.
Romance is in the air when Travis takes Gabby (Teresa Palmer) out for a fancy French restaurant. They go to Wilmington’s Brasseire du Soleil, on Eastwood Road, which is U.S. 74 before it crosses the Intracoastal Waterway to Wrightsville Beach. Menu and reservations: www.brasseriedusoleil.com.
More filming was done at Wilmington’s famous Airlie Gardens (www.airliegardens.org), a 67-acre tract that can take up to 90 minutes to explore. It opens at 9 a.m. (admission: $9) and closes at 5 p.m.
Downtown, cameras rolled on Princess Street.
To the south, at Kure Beach, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (www.ncparks.gov/fort-fisher-state-recreation-area) appears as a backdrop in “The Choice.”
A big scene for the couple takes place as they paddle. Wrightsville Kayak Co. (www.wrightsvillebeachkayak.com) leases kayaks and paddleboards. Besides life vests, paddles, instruction and such, they’ll provide you with a map and tips on where to see the movie locations. A half-day rental is under $100.
Other scenes were filmed on Masonboro Island, a close-by barrier island with great beaches accessible by boat. Schedule your own voyage there with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours (www.wrightsvillebeachscenictours.com). Take a ferry shuttle to Masonboro for $25 per person. Monday-Saturday, it runs on the hour.
The flick, by the way, clocks in at just under two hours.
John Bordsen: 704-358-5251