Josh Duhamel drinks Coors Light, eats red meat and likes to throw a football around. He's simply not the kind of guy you imagine sitting on a beach and writing in a journal, or reading a Nicholas Sparks novel. And yet…
"I'm a big fan. All of his stories will stand the test of time," Duhamel says of Sparks, author of "The Notebook," "Dear John," "The Last Song" and "The Lucky One." He's on the phone from the L.A. home he shares with his wife Fergie, singer for The Black Eyed Peas.
With this month's Safe Haven, Duhamel becomes the latest square-jawed actor cast as the leading man in an adaptation of a Sparks novel, a list that includes the stars of the abovementioned movies Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Liam Hemsworth and Zac Efron.
"I didn't want to do something that was going to be compared to a long line of other movies. I didn't want to do just a predictable…this is not a ‘paint by numbers’ romantic love story," he insists, even though this film does share certain details with other Sparks movies, including kissing on the beach, in a canoe and in the rain.
Duhamel plays Alex, a widower with two children who owns a general store in a small North Carolina town. He falls for a mysterious woman (Julianne Hough) who just moved to the area, but there are complications. A dark secret from her past makes her reluctant to get involved; and he's wary of how a relationship will affect his young children.
"Every single parent who is starting a new relationship would have to consider what is going to happen with his kids first. That, for me, is what made it an interesting love story."
The actor arrived in North Carolina two weeks before the shoot. He had a lot of free time, so started to write about his character. "I was on the beach with a pencil and paper and a little journal," he recalls. "I wanted to make very clear what my relationship was with my wife, the one that passed away, even though I didn't have any scenes with her in the movie. It was important that I knew our history before I ever got into anything else with any of the characters. So I did a lot of writing about how we met."
Such an intensive process was a first for Duhamel, who says he's enjoying acting more then ever. The North Dakota native has fantasized about being a star for most of his life. "When I was a kid, I dreamed about fame, you know, how cool would it be to be in a movie and to be on TV," he says. "I thought about certain movie roles or certain lines from movies by myself in the shower and thought I could do that someday, but I never really believed that I ever had a chance to do it."
Back then, Duhamel was set on being a dentist. But after finishing one credit short of getting his biology degree he headed to California, where he worked in the stockroom at a Gap. Everything changed in 1997 when, just for fun, he entered the Male Model of the Year competition organized by the International Modeling and Talent Association in New York. He won, beating Ashton Kutcher, who finished second. On YouTube, the 26-year-old winner describes the achievement as "probably the happiest moment of my life."
"I was a kid who was just literally straight out of the middle of nowhere," he remembers. "Here I am, in New York City, winning this thing. I thought it was the coolest thing of all time. I can look back and see it was a real-life Zoolander.
"Happiest moment of my life? Maybe that's wrong at this point."
Because things only got better. After a few modelling contracts, Duhamel started working on something he cared a lot more about — acting. He was on "All My Children" for three years and eventually landed the lead role in 2004's Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! But one of his biggest gigs to date is playing Major Lennox in the Transformers trilogy.
Paramount has already announced that a Transformers 4 is in the works, but without any of the original principal actors. "They are reinventing the brand," confirms Duhamel. "I wish them the best of luck. Being a part of the first three changed my life; it was something I'm always going to be grateful for. It was time for me to move on."
|Duhamel and Hough at the beach, post-trainer, in Safe Haven (Photo Credit: James Bridges)|
Duhamel turned 40 a few months ago, and says it might be time for him to start a new chapter in his career. "Time eludes no one, everybody grows up, and everybody gets older. It's the cycle of life and it is just part of it. I feel better now than I did when I was 32 or 33 years old…. I am trying to be the best version of 40 I can be, I guess."
And the best version of Duhamel doesn't include white hair. At least not in Safe Haven. In the book, the first thing you learn about Alex is that he has "scarcely a single black hair left."
"The movie producers wanted me to keep my hair brown to make me feel a little younger," he explains. "Maybe appeal to the teenage girl mafia."
The producers not only had a vision for Duhamel's hair, they also wanted to see muscles. "They told me before the movie, 'There's going to be a couple of shirtless scenes on the beach and we are going to offer you a trainer.' I guess I took that as a hint that I better get in shape for those."
He took the task seriously, including a diet of fresh fruit and juice in the morning, something he learned from wife Fergie. They married in 2009 but have been together for a decade, and Duhamel says the secret to their longevity is simple.
"You have to like the person that you are with, not just love them, but actually really like them. I really do like my wife a lot. She's funny, she's fun, she's very kind, very generous and thoughtful, all those things that you hope for. I think that we both grew up with similar backgrounds, believe it or not. Our parents are both former teachers, Catholic. We didn't have a lot growing up. I don't think either one of us takes our lives, our blessings, for granted."
Mathieu Chantelois is the editor of Le magazine Cineplex.