Gena Rowlands

She acted the part, now she lives the part. Gena Rowlands, who played the older Allie in The Notebook, now has Allie’s disease too. She developed dementia five years ago, said her son, Nick Cassavetes , who directed her in the film based on the Nicholas Sparks love story.

He revealed this in an interview posted on the Entertainment Weekly website on June 27, marking 20 years since Sparks wrote The Notebook.

Cassavettes, the son of Gena Rowlands and actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes, directed the film, released in 2004.The film’s star-crossed lovers Noah and Allie were played by Ryan Goslin and Rachel McAdams, who played the young sweethearts, and James Garner and Gena Rowlands, who played the old couple, after Allie had lost her memory.

Why Gena Rowlands didn’t want to play the role

Gena didn’t want to play the role. It hit too close to the bone. Her mother, actress Lady Rowlands, also had dementia. But she couldn’t say no to her son.

In a 2004 interview with O magazine following the movie’s release, she said,” This last one — The Notebook, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks — was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer’s.

“I went through that with my mother, and if Nick hadn’t directed the film, I don’t think I would have gone for it — it’s just too hard. It was a tough but wonderful movie,” she added

“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,” Cassavetes told Entertainment Weekly. “She’s in full dementia. And it’s so crazy — we lived it, she acted it, and now it’s on us.”

She touched millions of hearts: Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook author, said: “I’m truly honored to have worked with such a talented artist,” Nicholas Sparks noted. “I will always cherish her legacy in film and her impact on The Notebook.”

“Her performance touched millions of hearts,” he added.

While Rowlands and Garner were poignant as the elderly couple, Gosling and McAdams were memorable too as the young lovers.

It was a “moderately successful film”when it was released; but “now you look back, and it’s iconic”, Sparks told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s probably one of the most remembered films from that year. It still stands the test of time.”

The Notebook was Sparks’ first published novel written over six months in 1994. He received a $1 million advance for the book from the Time Warner Book Group. It was published in 1996.

The couple who inspired the novel

Sparks was inspired to write the novel after seeing his then-wife Cathy Cote’s grandparents, who shared their love story with him and his wife.

He noted on his website:

“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. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after sixty years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after twelve 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.”

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