‘The Lucky One’ marks the latest adaptation of a tale from the mind of famed romantic drama novelist Nicholas Sparks. The first of which was the Kevin Costner/Robin Wright story of tragic loss ‘Message in a Bottle’ and the most popular of which is the Ryan Gosling/Rachel McAdams tearjerker ‘The Notebook.’

We recently had the opportunity to speak with director Scott Hicks, who takes the helm on this latest endeavor, about working with stars Zac Efron (‘High School Musical’) and Taylor Schilling (televisions ‘Mercy’) in this next phase of their respective careers, the appeal of the Sparks flavor of romance and creating an authentic love story.

Many will know Hicks from the film that introduced Geoffrey Rush’s phenomenal talent to the world: ‘Shine.’ Since directing the 1996 Best Picture Oscar nominee Hicks has gone on to take the director’s chair on romances such as ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ and the Catherine Zeta Jones Aaron Eckhart rom-com ‘No Reservations.’

‘The Lucky One’ follows the story of U.S Marine Sargent Logan Thibault, an Iraq war vet who has come home after three tours of duty with one objective: find the mystery woman in the photograph he credits with saving his life. Thibault discovered the snapshot in the midst of a mass of debris following a violent night raid and his pause to pick it up meant that he was not in range of a bomb that would have otherwise taken his life.

When he does locate Beth, the woman in question, he is unable to clearly explain his connection to her and instead he finds himself working for her family’s dog kennel and beginning a romance that he in some ways feels he has no right to and yet, is unable to walk away from.

“There’s a strong element of wish fulfillment in Nicholas Sparks’s work,” Hicks says of the author’s appeal. “And I think that’s a perfectly valid part of cinema. I mean we have so many movies that are so overpoweringly violent and can be deeply depressing. These are the antidote to that. The market is so much aimed at the creation of young, male, testosterone, aggressively supercharged movies. These are designed in a completely different way for a completely different audience. And I think that’s a great thing for a studio to be doing in the midst of all of these action cartoons.”

Certainly there are those who prefer to escape into a world of beauty rather than one of high-octane action and a crucial element in many a successful romance is a lush location. Cinematographer Alar Kivilo delivers a sense of paradise found in the Southern landscape that the film takes place in. The lion’s share of ‘The Lucky One,’ including the sequences that were set in the midst of the Iraq war, were shot on location in Louisiana.

“I could rave about New Orleans for hours,” Hicks says. “It’s just such a magical place, and I wanted to take advantage and differentiate this film from the other Sparks adaptations which all take place in North Carolina.”

War is also often an element in a Nicholas Sparks novel and although ‘The Lucky One’ is ultimately a romance and not a war story, it was important to Hicks that he handle that aspect of the tale with a measure of respect for the real world events that the story is based in. The director cast Marines to work alongside Efron in the wartime sequences in order to add to the sense of realism and keep the actor grounded in the created world.

“I wanted to try to approach it as authentically as I could,” Hicks says. “You have two characters that have been touched by or damaged by the war in different ways. You have Logan who is suffering some degree of stress from his experiences and Beth who has lost her beloved brother. And ultimately that they find each other is part of the healing process. Nicholas Sparks, in his ability to connect with the large audience that his books do reach, realizes that the social fabric in America has been deeply affected by this war.”

For Hicks, locating the film within the context of tragic events adds an element of texture that takes it beyond the realm of a fantasy where nothing goes wrong and pain is a non-issue.

“It was surprising to audiences who are coming in to see a Nicholas Sparks film that we start in a war,” Hicks recalls. “But it’s important to understand the character of Logan, and why he is the way he is. And why Zac is playing this guy who finds it so hard to communicate, which is so different than Zac Efron is as a person.”

The director was intrigued with the idea of helping to usher Efron into a new era in his career while simultaneously bringing Schilling, who has, to date, remained primarily unknown to general audiences, to the world’s attention.

“I met with Zac and was so impressed with his desire to really take a leap as an actor from the comfort zone that he had created for himself,” Hicks says. “He really put in the work, both the physical work and training as well as getting into the mindset by spending time with Marines. And Taylor Schilling is so equipped as an actress, she has such a remarkable access to her emotions and a feeling of spontaneity in her performance. There was such a good vibe between them and what was happening on the set. That doesn’t necessarily mean that will make the film better, but it doesn’t hurt. And it was immediately apparent that they connected and had an easy, relaxed humor. And you cannot fabricate that, either it happens or it doesn’t. It’s like gold dust as a director.”

‘The Lucky One’ is in theaters now.