By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Josh Duhamel is nothing if not generous. When a publicist on the phone cautions that an interview will be restricted to 10 minutes, the thoughtful actor cuts in and says, “You know what? You get 11.”
That’s just the kind of graciousness one comes to expect when interacting with this Minot, N.D. native. Best known for his heroic role in three “Transformers” movies and dashing leading man roles in films like “When in Rome” and the Nicholas Sparks’ weeper “Safe Haven,” Duhamel, who started out on the soap opera “All My Children,” and subsequently landed leading roles in romantic comedies including “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!” and the “Transformers” franchise, seemed poised for a long and lucrative career in popular yet predictable studio movies. But the actor had something else in mind.
“I made a real decision a couple of years ago about what I wanted to do,” he candidly explains. “I didn’t want to do the same things over and over, even though it’s tempting and a lot of money is thrown at you. You have all these opportunities to do these things, but I was like, ‘Am I going to be really satisfied with myself, with my career, if I don’t take risks, and if I don’t do things that really speak to me?’ So I just drew a line in the sand, and said, ‘No, I want to do things that really speak to me, and that I’m excited about and inspired by.’”
So Duhamel began taking on roles that went against the handsome, leading man stereotype. He also eschewed big-budget studio films for low-budget independent fare. He and Dan Fogler co-starred in the 2013 indie “Scenic Route,” which stars out as a buddy road trip movie, but descends into a horrific psychological thriller. He later co-starred with Oscar winner Hilary Swank (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Million Dollar Baby”) in the heartbreaking drama about a man whose wife is stricken with ALS in big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel “You’re Not You.”
He now co-stars with teen actor Josh Wiggins in “Lost in the Sun,” a road movie playing a not-so-likable drifter who befriends a youngster at the boy’s mother’s funeral and offers to take him from Texas to New Mexico, where the kid’s grandparents live. Initially, the boy is skeptical, but he also is curious about this stranger who appears to know his mother and her family, so he accepts the offer. Duhamel’s John, it turns out, owes some nasty characters some protection money that he promised while in prison. He takes the boy’s entire savings and delivers it to the extortionists but it’s not enough so John and Louis begin robbing banks and convenience stores as they venture west.
Louis is both fearful of John and yet also drawn to him now that he is motherless. John also begins seeing Louis as a human being rather than a tool to achieve his goal. The film is written and directed by Trey Nelson and also stars Lynn Collins (“John Carter”) and Emma Fuhrmann (“Blended”). The film opens in theaters Friday, Nov. 6, the same day it is available on VOD and iTunes.
Married to pop singer Fergie, with whom he has a 2-year-old son, Axl, Duhamel recently starred on the short-lived TV dramedy “Battle Creek,” which was axed after one season on CBS. The actor returns to TV in the upcoming fantasy drama miniseries “11/22/63,” based on the Stephen King novel, in which he plays the foil to James Franco’s time-traveling would-be hero. It is scheduled to air on streaming service Hulu in February 2016.
Q: What was the initial attraction to “Lost in the Sun?” How did it come your way? Why did you want to do it?
Duhamel: This story came to me through my agent, and Trey sent a letter along with it, which was very much like the script. There was something very honest about it. And that’s what this story was. It’s an honest simple but intense and this impending feel of danger that kept building and I just love that it was this road movie about these two guys who didn’t know what they were going to do next. This character I play is pretty despicable. He’s not that way by choice, but I think it was more out of desperation. He didn’t choose to be a criminal. It was just bad decisions and a reckless lifestyle that led him to some serious trouble.
Q: As you began reading the script and you saw that this character, John, is stalking a boy at a funeral, and then he offers to take him to New Mexico, did you wonder where it was going on? Normally, you play pretty nice guys but here you don’t know what this guy is about. Are you trying to figure out what his motive is?
Duhamel: Yeah, and if it keeps me off-balance and is unpredictable then, I know it’s going to be something interesting to watch. I loved doing “Safe Haven.” I had a great time on that. In its own right, it was a lot of fun. I liked that character even though he was good, very good, too good, for my taste. (He chuckles.) But this guy, I didn’t know what he was going to do next.
It’s interesting that you bring up the thing where he says, “I’ll take you to New Mexico.” That was a big debate that Trey and I had. We went through this thing with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that everything made sense. One of the things I thought was, “This kid would never just get in the car with me.” He’s not a naïve kid. That needs to be the kid’s choice. His idea must be, “This might be fun.” I didn’t want make him do it. I wanted my character to walk away and make (the boy) come to me. That’s what we tried to do in that scene.
My character was supposed to be like, “You don’t want to come? Well, I don’t want to take you. It’s a pain in my ***. It was nice to meet you. You’re mother was a great woman. I’ll see you later.” And the kid is like, “That guy didn’t seem so bad.” Well, little did that kid know he was in for the ride of his life.
Q: Do you get the feeling that the kid may have suspected who that guy is?
Duhamel: Initially, he might. Subconsciously, he might be looking for a father-like figure. I don’t know. About two days into the trip, he’s thinking, “I don’t care who this guy is. I have to get away from him.” Then, he’s in a situation of what’s he going to do and where’s he going to go? He sort of needs me. It’s a pretty despicable character that I chose, but I like that about him. I don’t think he chooses to be that; I think it’s all out of desperation. It’s survival; it’s life or death. He’s got to come up with this money, and if he doesn’t figure out a way to get out of this predicament, he’s going to be in even more trouble. There’s a possibility of him going back to jail. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s really what this is about. At the end of the day, what he’s really looking for is some peace, because he hasn’t had it for a long time.
Q: How was it working with Josh Wiggins? You spent a lot of time together. Do you like working with kids? Does it help to be a dad in real life, playing this flawed role model?
Duhamel: I don’t really consider Wiggins a kid. He’s a pretty advanced young man. He was 14 when we shot this. He’s been through a lot in his life already. He’s a smart kid. He’s got great instincts. I think he does a great job in the movie. So it wasn’t so much a father-son relationship we it. It was more like an older brother type thing, or an uncle. I didn’t take it upon myself to take him under my wing. I just tried to lead by example and do the work and make sure we’re both prepared for the scene, and just go and do it and have fun. I don’t want him to feel like he has to impress me. We’re in it together.
Q: Where and how long ago did you shoot this?
Duhamel: We shot it outside of Austin in March 2014.
Q: The time period is ambiguous. There are no cell phones. You’re driving this old car. The suitcase isn’t on wheels. Yet the film feels contemporary. Was that intentional?
Duhamel: It was supposed to be ambiguous. Trey and I talked about that. We wanted it to feel timeless. That’s the way it is in West Texas. You drive through there and it could be 1977 or 2015. Trey wanted it to feel weathered and worn. He didn’t want it to be specific to a certain time. It is what it is.
Q: Have you finished shooting “11/22/63?”
Duhamel: Yes. I believe they’re done.
Q: Did you enjoy doing that project?
Duhamel: Yeah. It’s not a typical Stephen King (work). It is scary but it’s all based on actual history—mixed with fantasy. It’s also about a guy who’s able to go back through this time hole, this time warp. Every time he goes through this cellar door, he goes back to this same date and time in 1959. When he goes through, he can stay as long as he wants but every time he comes back it’s only two minutes later. So Franco’s character goes back and tries to prevent the Kennedy assassination but he has to live there for four years because he can’t go back right before and stop it so he has to acclimate to the past. The past does not want to change. History doesn’t want to change. I play a pretty awful guy. He’s probably the worst character I’ve ever played. He’s a very bad dude.
Q: Are these the kind of roles you’re looking for? Do you want to shed that nice guy image?
Duhamel: No. I never know whether I’m going to do a project until I read it. I’m not opposed to playing good guys as long as they’re interesting and complex. The problem with good guys is that they’re usually not what they seem. I just want to play guys that are human and have flaws, in whatever capacity that is.
Q: How’s the missus. Are you two going to take Axl out trick-or-treating this Halloween?
Duhamel: Oh yeah. We’ve got big plans for mom and dad, and we also have plans for the kids.
Q: Do you dress up in a costume?
Duhamel: Oh yeah. I’m not going to say what. I’m not entirely sure. My wife’s going to decide that.