"What does it mean to truly love another?"
That's the question Nicholas Sparks, in his wiley, tear-jerking way, asks in "Dear John," the most recent film adaptation from the author who has become one of the most successful franchises in Hollywood thanks to films like "The Notebook" ("It wasn't over for me. It still isn't over." Smooooch).
"Dear John," the story of John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a Special Forces solider who falls in love with Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) while on leave at home in North Carolina, is about "first love, that one you cannot get right no matter how hard you try." At least that's how Tatum, sporting a goatee and a luxurious black cashmere sweater, explained it after settling into a table at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.
The actor, who deftly exposes a masculine yet vulnerable John Tyree, has been attached to the project since it began development four years ago, long before the studio had a script, a director or a co-star. He says it was the imperfection of the love story that first attracted him to the material.
"You're supposed to not do things right," Tatum smiles. "That's what I loved about reading the book and that's what I love about the movie. It's not a fantastical box of a movie with a bow on top. It's real. It has more edge and darkness to it than some of [Sparks'] novels in the past."
Adding to the realism was the inclusion of Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallstrom ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "The Cider House Rules," "My Life As a Dog"). Whenever anything veered toward the maudlin, the director would revolt. "'It just seems like the worst movie moment. I can see it in the trailer and I just can't have it,'" Tatum, in a soft, spot-on Swedish accent, imitates, chuckling. "He doesn't do things badly. He has a sort of allergic reaction to anything that's cheesy."
It's an interesting affliction for the man who helmed a catalogue of ABBA videos during their prime years, from 1974-1982, including classics for "Dancing Queen" and "Supertrouper." Filled with soft focus, smoke machine haze, star filters and silver leisure suits, those videos made frequent appearances on the "Dear John" set. "He'll show you on his iPod," Tatum laughs. "He'll be like, 'Hey guys, would you like to see my earlier work?'"