It's Still Not Over: Surprising Secrets About The Notebook Revealed

From an on-set feud between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams to the role that almost went to Britney Spears, here are some behind-the-scenes facts about the iconic movie, The Notebook.

By Tierney Bricker Jun 25, 2022 12:00 PMTags
Watch: "The Notebook": E! News Rewind

Nearly two decades later, Noah and Allie's love story is still sweeter than ever.

Back in 2004, The Notebook, based on Nicholas Sparks' best-selling novel, came out of nowhere and not only became a surprise box office hit but also turned Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams into one of Hollywood's most beloved onscreen couples.

But did you know the two actors actually couldn't stand each other while filming the movie? Or that a very famous pop star was brought in to read for Allie before McAdams landed the part? Oh, and way before Gosling nabbed the swoon-worthy role, Tom Cruise was actually attached to star in the movie. (That's a hard one to picture, we know,)

Still, like their characters, McGosling's chemistry was palpable, and, like the movie says, "despite their differences, they had one important thing in common. They were crazy about each other."

And audiences were crazy about them, with The Notebook going on to gross over $115 million worldwide. It was even adapted into a Broadway musical.

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They Dated? Surprising Star Couples

In honor of the film's 18th anniversary, let's look back on all the behind-the-scenes secrets you might not know about the iconic movie...

1. Based on a True Story

It might be hard to believe, but The Notebook was actually based on a true story—at the time, author Nicholas Sparks was married to Cathy Cote, whose grandparents were together for over 60 years.  

2. 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 in 1996, Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing the movie. And his pick for the lead role was the Top Gun star. Alas, scheduling conflicts got in the way and the project was left for years before director Nick Cassavetes came along. While Cassavetes immediately knew he wanted Ryan Gosling as his star, the studio needed some convincing. 

"When I told [New Line Cinema] I wanted to hire Ryan for the lead," Cassavetes revealed to VH1, "they kind of looked at me like I was out of my mind."

Gosling was a little surprised, too, especially after his first meeting with the director.

"Nick Cassavetes called me to meet him at his house. When I got there, he was standing in his backyard," he 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.'"

3. Britney Spears Was Almost Allie

Rachel McAdams, who had not yet starred in Mean Girls or Wedding Crashers, was relatively unknown and had to audition hard to get the role of Allie. "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?"

However, before McAdams landed the role of Allie, one of Gosling's former costars was actually considered: Britney Spears, his Mickey Mouse Club pal and one of the biggest stars in the world. 

"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," Gosling recalled of their chemistry test. "She did a really nice job. We were 12, I don't remember much from when I was 12, but she did an excellent job, actually. That was cool."

McAdams 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," the actress 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."

4. The One That Got Away

Another big name who also auditioned for Allie was Jessica Biel, who revealed she "wanted so badly" to be cast.

"I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood," she recalled to Elle. "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."

5. The Stars Didn't Get Along

While they went on to date and become one of Hollywood's most beloved couples, Gosling and Adams didn't initially get along, according to Cassavetes. And it was so bad that at one point Gosling tried to get McAdams replaced. 

"They were really not getting along one day on set." Cassavetes 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?" Cassavetes explained. "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."

6. Real-Life Love Story

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

Of course, fans started shipping Gosling and McAdams just as much as they did Noah and Allie. Who could forget their infamous on-stage make out while accepting the award for Best Kiss at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards

"I don't know what happened," Gosling later admitted of how they went from cordial coworkers to boyfriend and 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 went on to date for three years, before breaking up for good in 2009. And while neither star ever officially discussed their split, Gosling did open up about their epic romance.

"God bless The Notebook," he told GQ. "It introduced me to one of the great loves of my life. 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."

7. Gosling is Just as Dreamy as Noah IRL

You know that 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."

8. Gosling Was a Little Method

Throughout the film, Gosling covered his baby blues and wore brown contact lenses because James Garner, the celebrated actor who played the older Noah, had brown eyes. While Gosling was very interested in continuity, Garner, who passed away in July 2014, really didn't care. According to Cassavetes, Gosling approached the older thespiam 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,'" Cassavetes said, "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 going a little too far was his suggestion that they burn down Noah's house as a metaphor for his feelings. "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.

9. 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, and his father is the late director John Cassavetes, who actually sort of appears in the film. Photos shown of Allie and Noah through the years are actually the personal photographs of Rowlands and her husband with Garner's face photoshopped in.

"I have never heard a director say, 'Action, Mom' before," producer Mark Johnson recalled. "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. "I didn't think it would have that kind of impact," she said. "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."

10. Hands-On Experience

Gosling, who was just 23 when the movie was made, actually moved to Charleston two months before filming, during which he rowed the Ashley River and made furniture, even apprenticing 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? "We shot a scene where Rachel and I consummate our relationship on a table I made," Gosling 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 South Carolina 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 admitted. "And I went to a few weddings and talked to some debutantes."

The director also wanted her to up her workout regime. "I'd never trained like that. I was even taking protein powder," McAdams said. "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."

11. There Almost Weren't Birds

Arguably one of the most memorable scenes in the movie almost didn't make it into the final cut, 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.

"They were like, 'You can't do the birds. There's just too much—you've got to take the birds out,'" he explained. "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, so much so that he actually raised birds on the set to use when it came time to film. 

"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," he shared. "By the time the movie was shooting, they were kind of grown, but they had been fed out there every day. 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."

12. Opposite of Romantic

While Noah and Allie's passionate kiss in the rain is considered one of the best onscreen embraces 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," McAdams revealed. "That dress was made for the film, but a lot of the stuff I wore was rented and was actually from the 1940s. So much of it was falling apart."

In fact, Allie ended up barefoot in the scene because the shoes McAdams was wearing actually disintegrated.

13. The Sex Scene Was Toned Down

While the intimate moment between Noah and Allie shown in the movie was pretty steamy, it actually had to be toned down ahead of The Notebook's release to score a PG-13 rating. "I don't want children seeing things they shouldn't be seeing," Cassavetes said. "I wanted the excitement of the sexuality between them, but certainly, we don't do 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."

14. 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 a hit.

"I never set out to make a bad movie," he said. "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. I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!"

This story was originally published on Thursday, June 25, 2020 at 12 a.m. PT.