From On-Set Screaming Matches to the Role That Almost Went to Britney Spears: 15 Shocking Secrets About The Notebook

Ryan Gosling tried to get Rachel McAdams fired. Britney Spears almost played Allie. You won't believe some of these facts about the iconic movie, which just turned 15

By Tierney Bricker 25 Jun, 2019 10:00 AMTags
Related: "The Notebook": E! News Rewind

It wasn't over, it still isn't over.

15 years later, we're all still swooning over The Notebook.

Released on June 25, 2004, the romantic drama became an instant classic, turning Ryan Gosling into, well, Ryan Gosling, and making Rachel McAdams a star. 

Based on the 1996 novel of the same name, The Notebook was the first of Nicholas Sparks' books to be adapted into his first major motion picture, kicking off an era of love stories designed to make us cry. But none could ever quite match the magic that was the decades-spanning love story of Noah Calhoun (Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (McAdams). 

But did you know that the movie (and celebrity couple history) almost looked completely different, with Britney Spears reading opposite Gosling for the role of Allie before McAdams auditioned, almost depriving the world of that blissful moment in time in the late-aughts when Gosling and McAdams were the IT celebrity couple? (Ah, McGosling will always have a special place in our hearts.)

15 Secrets About The Notebook That Might Make You Weep

While their palpable on-screen chemistry is largely credited for the movie's success—becoming a surprise sleeper hit in the summer of 2014, grossing over $115 million worldwide—things weren't quite so romantic behind-the-scenes, as Gosling, then 23, and McAdams, 25 at the time of filming, actually couldn't stand each other, with one actually trying to get the other star replaced at one point. 

And Noah and Allie...."they didn't agree on much. In fact, they didn't agree on anything. They fought all the time and challenged each other ever day. But despite their differences, they had one important thing in common. They were crazy about each other."

In honor of The Notebook's 15th anniversary, let's look back on all the behind-the-scenes secrets you might not know about the iconic movie...

Based on a True Story

It might be hard to believe, but the book was actually based on a true story—Spark's then-wife Cathy's grandparents, in fact, who were together for over 60 years. 

"But though their story was wonderful, what I most remember from that day is the way they were treating each other. The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her," the best-selling author wrote on his website. "I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after 60 years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after 12 hours. What a wonderful gift they'd given us, I thought, to show us on our first day of marriage that true love can last forever." 

The Original Noah

Can you imagine Tom Cruise as Noah? Well, it almost happened.

After the rights to the novel were snagged by New Line way back in 1996, Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing the movie in 1998. And his pick for his leading man was Cruise. Alas, scheduling conflicts got in the way, as they always do, and the project was left for years before Cassavetes came on. While the director immediately knew he wanted Gosling as his star, the studio needed some convincing. 

"When I told [New Line Cinema] I wanted to hire Ryan for the lead, they kind of looked at me like I was out of my mind," Cassavetes revealed to VH1. Gosling was a little surprised, too, especially after his first meeting with the director.

"The director, Nick Cassavetes, called me to meet him at his house. When I got there, he was standing in his back yard," Gosling told British magazine Company, "and he looked at me and said, 'I want you to play this role because you're not like the other young actors out there in Hollywood. You're not handsome, you're not cool, you're just a regular guy who looks a bit nuts."

McAdams, who had not yet starred in Mean Girls and Wedding Crashers, was a relative unknown who had to audition hard to get the role of Allie. 

"We found Rachel through an audition process and she was wonderful," Cassavetes explained. "A lot of studios wouldn't have had the courage to put two relatively unknown people in a movie like this. But they did and, gosh, weren't they terrific?"

Britney Was Almost Allie

Before McAdams landed the role of Allie, one of Gosling's former co-stars was actually considered for the part: Britney Spears, his Mickey Mouse Club pal and one of the biggest stars in the world. 

In an interview with ET, Gosling revealed he had screen-tested with Spears, saying, "I did...I hadn't seen her really since she was about 12—we were both 12—so she's grown up, but she was really good, actually. She did a really nice job. We were 12, I don't remember much from when I was 12, but yeah, no, she did an excellent job, actually. That was cool."

McAdams wasn't too threatened by the competition, saying, "I'm sure Britney would have done a great job!" And she didn't even find out about the "Toxic" singer being up for the role until after filming ended. 

"I'm sure it would have been a totally different movie, but yeah... I had no idea!" she said. "I was very fortunate. I was sort of at the end of the line, and I know they'd sort of done a cross-country trip—Nick and Ryan together—looking for the girl, and I sort of squeaked in there."

The One That Got Away for Jessica Biel

Another big name who also auditioned (and has a connection to Justin Timberlake) for Allie was Jessica Biel, who revealed to Elle that she considers the movie her one professional opportunity that got away. 

"That's one that I wanted so badly. I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer — covered in blood. [Director] Nick Cassavetes put me through the wringer in an interesting, excitingly creative way. But there's a million that get away. We're gluttons for punishment. It's just rejection."

Other actresses who reportedly auditioned include Reese Witherspoon and Ashley Judd.

The Stars Didn't Get Along

While they went on to date and become one of Hollywood's most beloved couples (even after they later split), Cassavetes actually spilled some major tea in 2014 when he revealed his stars didn't initially get along. And it was so bad that at one point Gosling tried to get McAdams replaced. 

Maybe I'm not supposed to tell this story, but they were really not getting along one day on set. Really not," he told VH1. "And Ryan came to me, and there's 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, 'Nick come here.' And he's doing a scene with Rachel and he says, 'Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?' I said, 'What?' He says, 'I can't. I can't do it with her. I'm just not getting anything from this.'"

So how was it fixed? He let his stars hash their s--t out. 

"We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other. I walked out. At that point I was smoking cigarettes. I smoked a cigarette and everybody came out like, 'All right let's do this.' And it got better after that, you know?" he explained. "They had it out… I think Ryan respected her for standing up for her character and Rachel was happy to get that out in the open. The rest of the film wasn't smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing."

Even McAdams was surprised that they eventually ended up dating later on...

Real-Life Love Story

"We weren't throwing Ming vases at each other, so it wasn't loathing, but our relationship was not what you saw on the screen. I would say that we were both, well, professional," McAdams said in 2013 of the pair's on-set relationship. 

"[Our later relationship] certainly wasn't something that either of us had expected would come out of that filmmaking experience," McAdams would later tell The Times of the couple dating after not exactly getting along during filming, "which goes to show you that you can engineer chemistry on-screen just by telling the audience that these two people love each an actor you don't have to feel it. You don't have to feel anything. Just imagine it."

Of course, fans started shipping Gosling and McAdams just as much as they did Noah and Allie, with their infamous on-stage makeout session when accepting the award for Best Kiss at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards going down in awards show (and pop culture) history. 

"I don't know what happened," Gosling later admitted of how they went from cordial co-workers to boyfriend-girlfriend. "Two years later I saw her in New York and we started getting the idea that maybe we were wrong about each other."

Gosling and McAdams would go on to date for three years, before breaking up for good in 2009. And while neither star ever officially discussed their break-up, Gosling opened up about their epic romance to GQ.

"God bless The Notebook. It introduced me to one of the great loves of my life," he said. "But people do Rachel and me a disservice by assuming we were anything like the people in that movie. Rachel and my love story is a hell of a lot more romantic than that...the only thing I remember is we both went down swingin' and we called it a draw." (Um, can we get this movie?)

And fans were pretty devastated when the couple split for good, with Gosling admitting to the magazine, "Women are mad at meA girl came up to me on the street and she almost smacked me. Like, 'How could you let a girl like that go.' I feel like I want to give people hugs, they seem so sad. Rachel and I should be the ones getting the hugs! Instead, we're consoling everybody else."

Gosling is Just as Dreamy as Noah IRL

You know that infamous moment when Noah asks Allie, "What do you want? What do you want?" Gosling improvised the line, Cassavetes revealed, adding he immediately knew it was going to end up in the movie. 

"It became one of the most iconic things from the film [that] wasn't in the script. He just knew it," Cassavetes said. "I'm a literary guy, I was a lit major in college and I like words, but I also like improvisation, [so] that's fine. But he was so on it. We just let him go."

All in the Family

Cassavetes didn't have to cast a wide net when it came to finding the right star to play the older version of Allie: Legendary actress Gena Rowlands happens to be his mother. His father is the late director John Cassavetes, who actually sort of appears in the film, as the prop photos of Allie and Noah through the years after photos of his parents, just with Garner's face photo-shopped over John's face.

The pictures of an older Allie and Noah through the years are actually the personal photos of Gena Rowlands of her and her husband John Cassavetes with James Garner's face photo shopped in over John's face.

"I have never heard a director say, 'Action, Mom' before," producer Mark Johnson said. "She treated him like her director, but as professional as he was, we were very much aware she was his mother." 

Rowlands admitted to Variety in 2016 that she was surprised by the film's enduring success, saying, "I didn't think it would have that kind of impact. I think it was such a big hit because it was about the realization that love can last your whole life. You don't see it depicted that way a lot. In most films you don't get to see a story like that go from the beginning to the end with the possibility that love can be perhaps eternal."

Gosling Was a Little Method

Throughout the film, Gosling actually covered his baby blues and wore brown contact lenses because James Garner, the celebrated actor who played the older Noah, had brown eyes. While the younger Noah was very interested in continuity, Garner, who  passed away just one month after the film's release in July 2004, really didn't care, according to Cassavetes, revealing Gosling approached the older actor about accents as well...leading to a hilariously awkward conversation. 

"(Ryan] says, 'I was thinking about accents. There's all kinds of South Carolina accents—one's more rural' and this and that. [Garner] goes, 'I don't do accents, kid. They're stupid.' And [Ryan] goes, 'OK. What about eye color? I have blue eyes. You have brown eyes.' He says, 'Everyone knows Jim Garner's got brown eyes. Do what you want, kid.' [Ryan] says, 'OK, I guess I'll wear contacts. What about hair?' And he says, 'Do whatever you want, kid. Nice to meet you. See you later.' Ryan looked at me and said, 'Shut up, don't even say a word.' So that's just an example of two extremely different types of acting styles. Both are wildly successful."

Another example of Gosling's method acting method going a little too far was his suggestion that they burn down Noah's house as a metaphor for his feelings. Or something.

"He'd come to me and say, 'Why can't I burn the house down?'" Cassavetes revealed, "I'd say, 'Because I don't even know what that means.' And he'd say, 'Cleansing my fire!'" Gosling's idea didn't make the final cut, and the gorgeous house is still standing in Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. 

Gosling also gained weight and grew a beard for the scenes in the movie featuring Noah and Allie when they're six years older, which were filmed first. 

Hands-On Experience

As you know by now, Gosling, who was just 23 when the movie was made, was pretty method when it came to Noah. The actor moved to Charleston two months before filming, during which he rowed the Ashley River and made furniture and even apprenticed with a cabinet-maker in town.

"We made all the Adirondack chairs in front of the house," Gosling told People. "We sat in them a lot."

Oh, and that dining room table in the house Noah builds Allie? It was made by Gosling. 

"We shot a scene where Rachel and I consummate our relationship on a table I made," he revealed. "But I couldn't keep it. We used a special wood, and the deal was [the cabinetmaker] got the table. But he doesn't know what happened on it."

McAdams also spent time months living in Charleston prior to filming, taking dialect lessons to nail her Southern accent and immersing herself in the culture.

 "[Cassavetes] had me take ballet and etiquette classes," she revealed. "And I went to a few weddings and talked to some debutantes." The director also wanted her to up her workout regime, with McAdams saying, "I'd never trained like that. I was even taking protein powder. It got to the point where I turned to my trainer, pointed to my bicep, and said, 'This doesn't look 1940s anymore, it's gone even beyond pin-up girl.' So we had to tone it down."

There Almost Weren't Birds

Arguably one of the most memorable scenes in the movie almost didn't make it into the film, as Cassevetes revealed the studio didn't think they'd be able to film Noah and Allie's boat ride with all of the birds surrounding them ahead of their iconic kiss in the rain. 

"They were like, 'You can't do the birds. There's just too much—you've got to take the birds out.' We said, 'How come?' And they said, 'It just doesn't work. We talked to every animal wrangler—you can't do it. The birds aren't trained. You've got to take it out.'"

But Cassavetes fought for the scene to stay in the movie, so much so that he actually raised birds on the set to use when it came time to film the scene. 

"We went down and bought a trailer like the back of one of those semis, talked to some of the animal people down there and bought a bunch of hatchlings and just raised them as chicks and marched them out to the lake every day and fed them out there. By the time the movie was shooting, they were kind of grown, but they had been fed out there every day," he revealed. "So, when the studio came down to see the scene—because they didn't believe we could do it—the guy marched them out there like the Pied Piper and they went out on the lake. We were happy to do that on a technical level because the birds are so beautiful."

Talk about dedication to your art. 

Opposite of Romantic

While Noah and Allie's passionate kiss in the rain is considered one of the best onscreen kisses in movie history, it wasn't exactly a fun experience for the stars. 

"We just wanted to get out of the rain. It was very cold. That dress was made for the film, but a lot of the stuff I wore was rented and was actually from the 1940s," McAdams revealed to Life & Style. "So much of it was falling apart."

In fact, Allie ended up barefoot in the scene because shoes McAdams was wearing actually disintegrated, with the star revealing, "I think there's a scene in the movie where I'm running in bare feet, and it's only because [after] the first few takes I did, the shoes disintegrated off my feet."


The Sex Scene Was Toned Down

While the intimate moment between Noah and Allie shown in the movie was pretty steamy, it actually was toned down ahead of The Notebook's release. 

"This version is toned down in steaminess than it was originally to get a PG-13 rating," Cassavetes told Christian Answers ahead of its release. "I don't want children seeing things they shouldn't be seeing. I wanted the excitement of the sexuality between them, but certainly, we don't do no dirty stuff."

He went on to call himself "a prude," adding, "I'm modest. I don't believe in exposing people's private parts. It's not even so much a moral thing for me, as I get embarrassed. That's the way I am. But the complication is that sexuality is not the totality between man and woman, but it's certainly a big part of it. And you have to show it. There's a carnality that's involved."

One Star Didn't Think It Would Do Well

Maybe he was a little bitter because his character Lon Hammond Jr. didn't end up getting the girl, but James Marsden once admitted to Out magazine that he didn't think the movie was going to be as successful as it was. 

"I never set out to make a bad movie. Some movies just turn out bad, and I want to scream, 'Why did you pick that take?!' There are some movies that I've been in that I was sure people would laugh at, that have become huge," he said. "I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!"

Heading to Broadway

In January 2019, singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson revealed she's writing the music for The Notebook's stage adaptation, with This Is Us writer Bekah Brunstetter is writing the book for the show. So yeah, prepare to cry. 

During an interview on Today, she revealed she'd already been working on the music for over a year, explaining, "It's so different when you're writing for a character. It's been really different and really interesting for me to write from these perspectives and just the idea of this undying love and of loss and memory—I can't stop writing them. I'm gonna have too many."