'We Lived It, She Acted It, And Now It's On Us:' The Notebook's Nick Cassavetes Opens Up About Gena Rowlands Having Alzheimer's And How It Mirrors Their Movie

 Noah and Allie walking around senior home in The Notebook (played by James Garner and Gena Rowlands) .
Credit: New Line Cinema

Twenty years ago, one of the best movies of the 2000s and greatest love stories, The Notebook, hit theaters. In the adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks bestseller, director Nick Cassavetes cast his own mother, Gena Rowlands, as the older version of Rachel McAdams’ Allie alongside James Garner, who played an older version of Ryan Gosling’s Noah. As Cassavetes recently reflected on the milestone anniversary, he also shared how Rowlands’ character mirrors her own life right now.

The Notebook, which can currently be streamed with an Amazon Prime subscription, follows the sprawling epic love story of two people from opposite sides of the tracks. Allie is an heiress, whose family disapproves of her romance with Noah, a lumber mill worker. The story is told through the lens of Garner’s older Noah telling the story to an older Allie, who suffers from dementia and doesn’t realize until late in the movie he is telling her their romance. As Cassavetes shared with Entertainment Weekly amidst the movie turning 20:

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. She's in full dementia. And it's so crazy — we lived it, she acted it, and now it's on us.

Gena Rowlands, who is 94 years old, is now dealing with Alzheimer’s disease herself after playing the famous The Notebook character. As Nick Cassavetes spoke about, the award-winning actress has been dealing with dementia for five years now.

Prior to Rowlands dealing with the disease, her mother and fellow Lady Rowlands also had Alzheimer’s. Back in 2004, Gena Rowlands’ shared that The Notebook role was personal to her and “particularly hard” to play for that reason. In her words to O Magazine at the time:

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.

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Along with The Notebook hitting different (and much closer to home) 20 years after its release to its director, Nick Cassavetes said he still thinks the romance “holds up pretty good” two decades later. It certainly still remains one Ryan Gosling’s best movies. And who can forget the iconic kiss in the rain between Noah and Allie? The movie’s production even inspired its two leads to start dating in real life for some time.

Gena Rowlands' acting career dates back to the 1950s when the actress made her Broadway debut in The Seven Year Itch. She went on to become a movie and TV star in the 1950s and 1960s. She notably collaborated with her husband John Cassavetes (who she married in 1954) on ten films between the '60s and '80s including A Woman Under The Influence and Gloria – both of which earned the actress Best Actress Oscar nominations.

When she made The Notebook, she continued to be directed by her family. Rowlands is an incredible talent with a career that spans decades of cinema and her role in her son’s movie is set to remain a classic for many generations to come.