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Director Hallstrom Grilled on ‘Dear John,’ Smoking Pot with Hendrix

“I love strong sentiment. But I detest sentimentality. I have an allergy toward it”

You may not guess it, but Lasse Hallstrom was quite the rocker way back when. He began his career shooting pieces for the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and most famously, ABBA, directing nearly all their music videos. This, of course, was Stockholm in the ’60s, long before he became the Oscar-nominated director of such films as “My Life as a Dog” and “The Cider House Rules." 
His latest movie, “Dear John”, is based on the bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks. In it, Channing Tatum plays a soldier called to duty in the wake of 9/11, leaving his sweetheart behind. Amanda Seyfried plays a privileged young woman from Charleston whose brief affair with Tatum touches her for the rest of her life.
Here, Hallstrom talks to TheWrap about meeting the Beatles, smoking pot with Hendrix and the sentimentality in "Dear John."
Melodrama is often considred as pejorative. Is it?
I love strong sentiment. I love stories that are able to transport to different places and brings different emotions to me. But I detest sentimentality. I have an allergy toward it. True performances are a way of avoiding blatant sentimentality.
How do you avoid slipping into sentimentality with a movie like "Dear John"?
I always tried to be real with my actors. I had a documentary approach — I keep rolling that camera forever. I torture actors with reminders this has to be honest, this has to be real, this has to have all the lines. The camera keeps rolling till we get it. And I added some comedic moments to stay away from the melodramatic.
Channing Tatum has said you encouraging the actors to go over the top in finding the right tone …
Yeah, we experimented, and they were really up for it — an unusually wonderful experience with young actors. And if Channing doesn’t get attention — I think this is a definite breakthrough performance for him. It shows his full range as an actor.
The same goes for Amanda. She’s so unpredictable. You need someone with that kind of temperament for this part in order to stay on the right side of this line. 
Can you talk about that period immediately following “My Life as a Dog”?
I was very picky. I only looked at character-driven stories, really. So I did a story called “Once Around” and "Gilbert Grape" after that — they were kind of oddball movies. And then those kind of movies sort of dried up.
This was weird because in Sweden I wrote my own scripts … but I became a filmmaker who started reading scripts. I’ve been enjoying it, but certainly there’s been a lot of change in the way I’ve worked in my career. 
From then on I’ve been experimenting in all kinds of genres: “The Cider House Rules," “The Shipping News" and this one. They’re risky projects in that way.
You once said, “Being connected with ABBA was like being connected to evil."
Sure, yes, I was left wing in the ’60s. I started communist manifests. I was not on the barricades, but I was standing next to them watching, with a camera. But I turned and I did a video with ABBA — which was evil at the time. It’s wonderful to have revenge, that music being revived in the late ’90s. And then I came to America after having done “My Life as a Dog," which was a success here. And I always had my fantasies about becoming an American filmmaker.
How did you meet Hendrix?
I was doing this film segment on a pop program in Stockholm. It was 1967, and he came to Stockholm to be part of that program and I was the director of the clip. So I met him and shook his hand and he was very tired. And we shot two songs on the Swedish Broadcasting Company’s stage.
I met him again in Gothenburg and the only thing I remember is sitting in a hotel with him on a bed smoking pot, just Jimi Hendrix and me — and then I can’t recall the rest. What did we do after that? I have no idea.
Was he loquacious?
He was laid back, very laid back. I saw him perform the same night we shot the film. He was fantastic and he did that thing with the guitar, he was playing with his teeth. He didn’t put it on fire in the live video. But I must have gotten to know him. Why did I end up in Gothenburg smoking pot? I can’t recall. I just have this strong image of the two of us sitting on the bed. You can find that on any Youtube, it’s Jimi Hendrix, Pop Side, 1967. 
What about the Beatles?
And I did a film for “Magical Mystery Tour.” I had the Beatles in the screening room, and they were showing a clip that I made with Traffic, the pop group with Stevie Winwood. And it was based on the song called “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.” Ringo was drawing flowers on his shoes. I thought that was very strange. 
Then I sat with Lennon and McCartney, and they were meditating in front of the screen, waiting for the projector to get started. I wanted to talk to them so badly, but they were just sitting there quietly, so I didn’t dare.
We had a little chat before and then they walked out and I was amazed that they weren’t attacked by people in the street.
But they cut my part out, they never used it. That’s the sad ending to that story.