20 Behind-The-Scenes Facts You Probably Never Knew About The Notebook As The Hit Film Turns 20

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook New Line/Kobal/Shutterstock

It’s been 20 years since we first fell head over heels for Noah and Allie’s epic (yet devastating) love story in The Notebook.

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams made us laugh, swoon and uncontrollably sob in equal measure, making for a seminal romance that still hits us right in the feels all these years later.

But while that heartbreaking ending may be permanently seared into our memory, you might be surprised just how much went on behind-the-scenes that you weren’t aware of.

Read on for 17 facts you probably never knew about The Notebook…

Director Nick Cassavetes only ever read the script so he could be convincing when he turned it down

Nick Cassavetes almost didn’t direct The Notebook at all.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the project spent seven years in development limbo and was passed between various potential directors, before it eventually landed with him. 

The reason he even bothered to read it? So he could “speak intelligently about it” when he turned it down. It seems the script won him over in the end, though, and he wound up directing it after all, and the rest is cinema history...

Nick Cassavetes at the world premiere of The Notebook in 2004
Nick Cassavetes at the world premiere of The Notebook in 2004 Jon Kopaloff via Getty Images

But Nick Cassavetes wasn’t the only prolific filmmaker who was linked with The Notebook

According to an interview casting director Matthew Barry did withE! News, even Steven Spielberg had expressed interest in the script at one point.

There were some pretty huge actors up for role of Allie, too

Scarlett Johansson, Claire Danes,, Amy Adams and This Is Us star Mandy Moore were just some of the actors who auditioned for the role, as casting director Matthew Barry told the Daily Mail.  

Each with their own impressive resumes and plenty of romantic leading roles throughout their filmography, we’re happy to say that missing out on this one didn’t exactly set their careers back too much.

Rachel McAdams had stiff competition when it came to her role in The Notebook
Rachel McAdams had stiff competition when it came to her role in The Notebook Melissa Moseley/New Line/Kobal/Shutterstock

Jessica Biel also had a particularly memorable audition experience

In a 2011 interview with Elle, Jessica Biel remembered that The Notebook was one role she “wanted so badly”.

It turned out she was willing to go to some pretty serious lengths to be in with a shot at playing Allie. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer – covered in blood,” she shared. 

“Nick Cassavetes put me through the wringer in an interesting, excitingly creative way. But there’s a million that get away.”

Jessica Biel
Jessica Biel Frazer Harrison via Getty Images

And one pop star came very close to landing the role…

It was actually Britney Spears who nearly won the role over Rachel McAdams, with casting director Matthew sharing that the …Baby One More Time singer outperformed all the aforementioned stars. 

“Britney beat out several of the top female actresses at the time,” he told the Daily Mail. “Britney beat out all of them. Everybody who was anybody that year wanted this part.”

Before this point, Britney had already starred in the 2002 teen road trip movie Crossroads, but quit acting soon after.

Britney Spears in 2003
Britney Spears in 2003 KMazur via Getty Images

We even have the audition tape, which is quite an emotional watch

We can see why Britney nearly landed the role, because her audition was amazing – and she even managed to cry on cue.

In her memoir, The Woman in Me, Britney reflected on auditioning for the part.

“Even though it would have been fun to reconnect with Ryan Gosling after our time on the Mickey Mouse Club, I’m glad I didn’t do it,” she wrote.

“If I had, instead of working on my album In the Zone I’d have been acting like a 1940s heiress day and night,” Britney added, referring to the fact that when she made Crossroads, she wound up finding her character hard to shake off.

However, Rachel McAdams’ audition just gave that little bit more

“We were all sort of crying,” Rachel McAdams recalled in a behind-the-scenes video about her audition. 

“Matthew Berry, the casting director, was filming and he had to stop and get a tissue and stuff, it was really nice. And then we did the third scene and it was pretty electric.”

She added that it was “the best audition experience I’ve ever had”.

After Rachel left, Ryan and Nick shared a hug out of relief from having found their Allie.

And the actors who could have been cast as Noah were just as impressive

Tom Cruise and George Clooney were just two of the actors considered for Noah, according to director Nick. But, as he told Entertainment Weekly in a new interview, he didn’t want to see an actor that’s already “fallen in love with 10 other actresses” on screen.

“You get to the point where you’re like, oh, look, it’s Tom Cruise, falling in love with somebody different this time. It doesn’t feel quite as authentic,” he said. 

“And we were lucky to have [Ryan and Rachel] at the beginning of their careers. And you really believed it.”

But there was one Star Wars actor who did not impress at all

Hayden Christensen – otherwise known as Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars prequels – was also considered for the role of Noah, according to an interview casting director Matthew did with E! News.

Unfortunately, though, he failed to make an impact in the audition process.

Hayden Christensen in 2003
Hayden Christensen in 2003 Fotos International via Getty Images

“We lasted probably 20 to 25 minutes and we were like, ‘He cannot act,’” Matthew said.

But the reason for Ryan’s casting wasn’t exactly flattering

In a 2012 interview with Company magazine (via Vanity Fair), Ryan revealed that director Nick chose him for the role because of his looks – but not in the way you might think.

“He called me to meet him at his house,” Ryan said. “When I got there, he was standing in his backyard, 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.’ ”

Have you taken a good look at Ryan’s eyes in the movie?

Ryan Gosling made one subtle change to his appearance for The Notebook
Ryan Gosling made one subtle change to his appearance for The Notebook Moviestore/Shutterstock

Ryan may be a blue-eyed heartthrob in most of his movies, but The Notebook isn’t one of them.

It was a subtle change, but Ryan opted for brown contacts in The Notebook to look more like James Garner, who plays the older Noah.

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams bickered on set

Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling got off to a shaky start on the set of The Notebook
Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling got off to a shaky start on the set of The Notebook Melissa Moseley/New Line/Kobal/Shutterstock

When you watch their on-screen chemistry, it’s hard to believe that things were actually a little bit frosty between the leading stars behind-the scenes.

In an interview with VH1, director Nick Cassavetes revealed things got so bad between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, at one point that the future Barbie star actually wanted his co-star replaced.

“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?’,” Nick recalled. “I said, ‘What?’ He says, ‘I can’t. I can’t do it with her. I’m just not getting anything from this.’”

Not unlike their on-screen counterparts, apparently they managed to resolve things after a bit of a shouting match.

“We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other,” the director recalled. 

“I smoked a cigarette and everybody came out like, “All right let’s do this.” 

Apparently things improved from there, with Nick suspecting that Ryan respected Rachel for “standing up for her character”.

“The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing,” he said.

However, Nick has since admitted that he regrets dropping that bombshell, telling Entertainment Weekly this year: “I regretted it. Everyone’s like, why are you telling that? I’m like, I don’t know. It caught me on a bad day, but if they are around, I apologise to you guys. I shouldn’t have spilled the beans.”

Despite getting off to a rough start, Ryan and Rachel actually went on to date in real life

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams at the SAG Awards in 2007
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams at the SAG Awards in 2007 via Associated Press

The two actors clearly worked things out in the end, because they went on the date for real in 2005, about one year after the film came out (you might remember their iconic MTV Movie & TV Awards kiss). But they broke up in 2007, with Ryan opening up about the split in 2011.

“Show business is the bad guy,” he told The Timesof their breakup. “When both people are in show business, it’s too much show business. It takes all of the light, so nothing else can grow.” 

Nick Cassavetes’s real-life (Oscar-nominated) mum plays older Allie

Nick Cassavetes with his mum, Gena Rowlands, who plays the older Allie in The Notebook
Nick Cassavetes with his mum, Gena Rowlands, who plays the older Allie in The Notebook Klein Bruno/ABACA/Shutterstock

If the older Allie looked familiar in The Notebook, that’s because she’s the Academy Award-winning actor Gena Rowlands, known for her collaborations with her late husband John Cassavetes in films like A Woman Under the Influence and Gloria, both of which landed her leading actress Oscar nominations. She later received an honorary Oscar in recognition of her career in 2016.

Nick recently revealed that his mother is sadly now living with Alzheimer’s disease, just like the character she played in the film.

“I got my mom to play older Allie, and we spent a lot of time talking about Alzheimer’s and wanting to be authentic with it, and now, for the last five years, she’s had Alzheimer’s,” he told Entertainment Weekly.

And Gena Rowlands was seriously unimpressed when her son asked her for reshoots

James Garner and Gena Rowlands on the set of The Notebook
James Garner and Gena Rowlands on the set of The Notebook Melissa Moseley/New Line/Kobal/Shutterstock

The film studio behind The Notebook felt the final scene could have been a bit more emotional, and asked for the climax to be redone with more tears from Gena’s character.

“Let me get this straight. We’re reshooting because of my performance?” Nick recalled his incredulous mum asking at the time.

He continued: “We go to reshoots, and now it’s one of those things where mama’s pissed and I had asked her, ‘Can you do it, mom?’ She goes, ‘I can do anything’.”

“It’s the one time I was in trouble on set,” he added, revealing his mum nailed her crying scene on the first take of reshoots..

One of the most iconic lines in the film was totally improvised

Rachel and Ryan's hit romance turns 20 this year
Rachel and Ryan's hit romance turns 20 this year Melissa Moseley/New Line/Kobal/Shutterstock

It’s one of the most famous lines of dialogue from the film, but Ryan’s iconic “what do you want?” line wasn’t actually in the script.

“There was a scene at the end where Ryan improvised,’ What do you want? What do you want?’ And it became one of the most iconic things from the film [that] wasn’t in the script,” director Nick told VH1.

“He just knew it. 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. They deserve all the credit in the world, those guys.”

And another famous scene almost didn’t happen at all

Remember the scene where Noah and Allie row a boat through an impossibly perfect flock of white geese? That nearly didn’t make it into the movie, but director Nick fought to make it happen. 

“We went into New Line and they were like, ‘You can’t do the birds. There’s just too much – you’ve got to take the birds out’,” Nick shared in an interview with VH1 (viaCheat Sheet).

“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’.”

Allie and Noah's rowboat scene is one of The Notebook's most iconic sequences
Allie and Noah's rowboat scene is one of The Notebook's most iconic sequences New Line/Kobal/Shutterstock

Thankfully, Nick didn’t listen, and the team actually went to some pretty crazy lengths to make it happen.

“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,” the filmmaker said.

He added: “By the time the movie was shooting, they were kind of grown, but they had been fed out there every day.”

But Ryan wasn’t convinced by another bird moment in the film 

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams dated in real life after completing work on The Notebook
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams dated in real life after completing work on The Notebook Melissa Moseley/New Line/Kobal/Shutterstock

Be honest, you know you’ve recited it before: “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.”

In an interview with MTV News, Ryan admitted that he wasn’t entirely sure on the now-iconic dialogue when he first read it.

Joking that he went to the “Marie Kondo school of acting”, meaning he prefers to cut dialogue that doesn’t “spark joy”, the actor explained: “That line, I did not think was going to spark joy. It didn’t spark joy in me. I said it and somehow… but it did. You don’t know. You think you do, but you don’t know.”

Oh, and did you know The Notebook is now a musical?

The stage musical based on The Notebook opened on Broadway earlier this year, even scooping three nominations at the recent Tonys.

Ingrid Michaelson handled the show’s original songs, having previously worked on TV shows like Little Fires Everywhere and Tiny Beautiful Things.