Producer Denise Di Novi marveled at Efron’s transformation: “One of my favorite things about being a producer is watching actors reinvent themselves and that’s what Zac did. He just looks like a different

person in this film. How he walks, how he stands, how he holds himself. It was a thrill to see him become Logan.”

Efron in the opening scene

Co-Producer Kevin McCormick concurred: “Even though he’d never done anything like it before, Zac was really able to bring a very specific and unique take on Logan. We literally saw somebody who’s been so youthful in every other movie legitimately turn into a man in front of our very eyes. That really helped make Nicholas Spark’s character come to life. Apart from looking like a Marine, Zac brought a reservoir of pain and strength in equal measure.”

So, how did he do it? Fortunately, they pulled in some Marines.

“We got lucky in New Orleans,” said Di Novi, “where I met a trainer at the gym I was going to who was an ex-Marine named Aaron. I invited him to the set and he and Zac just clicked immediately. He was the most amazing young man. Zac had done a lot of research before the movie started but it was almost like this guy was sent to us.

“He just sat on the set and had this quiet dignity. Whenever Zac had a question about emotion or how a Marine would handle a situation, he was so helpful and so happy that we were showing what it was really like – what the experience is like for somebody who is quietly struggling internally.

Efron's character struggles to return to everyday life

Efron’s preparation to play a seasoned Marine also included the physical rigors of training several months prior to production with James Dever – a retired sergeant major and 25-year Marine Corps veteran. During filming, Devers and Efron rose every morning at 3:30 to keep Efron in physical shape for the role.

Efron also travelled to Camp Pendleton to talk to active Marines and hear them describe combat.

“It was like stepping into a different world,” he recalled. “They stood with a purpose. They had laser focus, never broke eye contact. This is my generation, on the front lines. They’ve experienced some pretty gruesome things. We sat and talked for several hours and they were the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had with anybody. In terms of research, it was priceless. I can’t thank them enough. The stories and personal feelings they shared became part of the canvas for Logan.”

“The disconnect these veterans feel when they come home is so immense,” said screenwriter Will Fetters. “It takes a while to get back into the rhythm of life. Their once usual surroundings feel alien. Nothing will ever be the same.”

Efron as an intense ex-Marine who falls in love

“We took very seriously what these young guys go through,” said Di Novi. “Zac respected it, absorbed it, really internalized it, and I think you see that on film. He does a great job in honoring those guys’ experiences.”

Rather than scoffing at the idea of a Marine hanging onto a lucky talisman, several Marines pulled out real-life good-luck charms they’d carried into battle. “One sergeant took out the remnants of what was barely recognizable as a playing card,” recalled Hicks, “which he’d taken with him on multiple tours. Once he lost it, which disturbed him deeply, but in the most extraordinary circumstances he found it again, quite by chance. The way he felt about it was very moving.”

“Recently I was coming home on a flight,” recalled Di Novi, “and I was sitting next to a guy who was coming home on leave from Afghanistan and I guess because I was a stranger on a plane, he just started just sharing things that, well, I was shocked at what he was telling me. I think that’s one reason we wanted this film to be real – to show how it really is.”

“I live in New Bern, North Carolina,” said Sparks, “15 minutes from Cherry Point which is the big East Coast Marine base and naval air station. Then 30 minutes to the south is Camp Lejeune. An hour to the west is Fort Bragg, home to the 50,000 guys of the 82nd Army Airborne. Then an hour to the northeast is the Fourth Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.