Prolific Hollywood producer Denise Di Novi has brought many beloved family films to the screen including Little Women, James and the Giant Peach, A Walk to Remember and Ramona and Beezus. She is also a devoted wife and mother of two boys.
Her latest project is The Lucky One, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel about a Marine who finds a photo of a beautiful woman that appears to bring him luck on the battlefield. When he returns from the war, he is determined to discover the woman’s identity and finds an unlikely romance.
I spoke to Denise about her career and how she balances life in Hollywood with faith and family.
Peggy Bowes: The Lucky One is your fourth movie with Nicholas Sparks. Why do you think his stories resonate with audiences?
Denise Di Novi: I think Nick has found a way, seventeen times with seventeen best-sellers, to come up with stories that are about what’s most important in life— the redemptive power of love, family, loyalty, commitment and how to deal with suffering, grief and loss. These are very universal themes, but strangely, there are not that many movies that deal with these things in an inspirational way. I think audiences feel so inspired and comforted by these stories where people suffer loss and unhappiness but they are able to transcend it with the power of love.
Peggy: You’ve produced some of my 13 year-old daughter’s favorite movies– Ramona and Beezus, Monte Carlo, What a Girl Wants, and Little Women. As a mom, I appreciate that these movies are fun and wholesome. Do you plan on producing more like these?
Denise: I feel really called to do films for women, and young girls in particular. Little Women was the first one and so very precious to me. I don’t think enough of these movies are made, and I feel great joy when I make them. I have many of that type [of movie] in development. I think it’s important to make them, and I like making them. It’s very rewarding to hear that these films are beloved by audiences.
Peggy: How do you balance the demands of work and family?
Denise: [Laughs] It’s not easy! I’m not going to lie, it’s very hard. It’s a struggle. I just take one day at a time and try to keep my priorities straight on a daily basis. Sometimes you pull it off, sometimes you don’t. You have to sort of be compassionate with yourself and flexible. I had many years when I beat myself up that I wasn’t doing a good enough job in either category. As I got older and my kids got older, I was a little easier on myself about it. You just do your best. If you have one day when you don’t really pull it off, you try harder the next day. That’s really all you can do.
Peggy: Do you think that you bring a unique perspective to Hollywood as a female producer?
Denise: Oh yeah. Historically, producers were always men. I think that’s part of the reason that many films did not have a female perspective. When there were females in a movie, they were usually cardboard-cutout, one-dimensional characters. They were the girlfriend, the sidekick, the friend. I think that still exists. That’s kind of a natural thing. If I was writing a movie about guys, or was producing an action movie, it might not have the same dimension as if a guy were producing it. So I think over the last 20 years, more women have become producers. You do see a different perspective. I think that when we’re members of the party, so to speak, we voice our opinions and our perspectives, and it does change the films.
Peggy: I read that you describe yourself as a “churchgoer.” How does your faith impact your work?
Denise: It does. I don’t look at film as a medium to convert people or spread the word, so to speak. Some films [I’ve produced] like A Walk to Rememberwere more [faith-based] than other films. I do see it as a way to foster a positive, loving, inspiring message. I feel better about those kinds of movies than I do other films. I feel like it’s important to just kind of put those kinds of values out there.
Peggy: Do you see yourself as a role model for girls who want to work in Hollywood but not necessarily as an actress?
Denise: I don’t know if I’m a role model. I speak to a lot of girls’ classes or things like that and they do say they see me as a role model of someone who’s able to be kind of a regular person, to be married and have kids and everything and work in Hollywood. Hollywood is not this den of evil that people imagine it to be. There are many very religious people in Hollywood actually— Jewish, Catholic, Christian, many faiths. It’s not as bad as people think. But I think that our culture in general, aside from Hollywood, is challenging these days, especially for this generation. In terms of young women in Hollywood, there are now many, many producers or directors. When I started, there were only one or two. I don’t think that young girls really question the opportunity. They think they see enough role models now. I think I’m probably a better role model than Kim Kardashian or some of these other girls that they’re confronted with.
Peggy: What is the movie that you enjoyed working on the most?
Denise: I enjoy all of them in different ways, but Little Women was special to me because it was the book that inspired me when I was a girl to follow my dreams. A Walk to Remember was very special to me because it did have a more overt spiritual and faith-based message. It was very hard to get made. There was a lot of resistance because of that. I think it turned out so well. I always enjoy making the Nick Sparks movies because they’re about love and family and faith.
Peggy: Do you think Christian-themed movies can make money in Hollywood?
Denise: I think they can definitely make money and they have. I think they have to have a very universal kind of storyline and theme. I think they have to be as entertaining as any other movie. People don’t look to the theater experience in the same way they look at going to church on Sunday. You certainly can’t preach in a movie. I think people are hungering for a more spiritual message that’s inspirational. If a film is equally entertaining and has a great storyline, I actually think it’s a plus to have that element because we’re seeing it in many aspects of our media and culture today that people have a hunger for this.
The Lucky One is currently in theaters. The film is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence. It’s classified as A-III (Adults Only) by the Catholic News Service.