by Chesley Turner
photography by Baldomero Fernandez
New York has always made an impression on Josh Duhamel. “Ever since I first visited back in ’97 – it was such a giant eye-opener for me, you know, growing up in a place like [Minot, North Dakota], the polar opposite of the city. I still have a feeling of awe every time I come here. It’s just an incredible place.”
His favorite haunt – and a stop for the art savvy – is Robert Dutesco’s gallery on Crosby Street. It’s currently showing the images from this fashion photographer’s trip to Sable Island, about 90 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. The island is a protected natural habitat owned by Canada. “He’s the only person they’ve let out there besides the two scientists that live there. They used to call it shipwreck island back in the day, because ship captains would say once you’ve seen the sandbar, it’s already too late. So over the years, these ships from Spain and other places would wreck there. The humans either died of exposure or drowning, or they were lucky enough to be rescued. But the horses stayed. So this guy went out there and shot photos and a documentary. I highly recommend it. It’s like a fantasy – to know these places actually exist in the world.”
Moves caught up with this month’s cover man on the night before the opening of the much anticipated Safe Haven, the latest Nicholas Sparks novel-turned-movie. It also happened to be Ash Wednesday, the day after the State of the Union Address, and the night before Valentine’s Day. Religion, love, movies, and politics? That’s a lot of ground to cover.
Josh Duhamel and wife Fergie are practicing Catholics, and so he had an interesting and optimistic perspective on the recent announcement that Pope Benedict XVI decided to step down at the end of February. “My first reaction was that he just got INTO office. Pope John Paul II was in for my whole childhood!” The current pontiff has only been in place for eight years. “My take on this is that it is an opportunity for the Catholic religion to young-it-up a bit. There are some great papal candidates – Spanish and African Cardinals and priests – younger leaders from all over the world.” Although, he recognized, that when describing a pope, “young” equates to “early sixties.” “It’s time to evolve a little bit. Part of what I love about the Catholic religion is that it is very rigid, and they don’t really bend – so you can trust that what it is is what it is and it doesn’t really change. But at the same time, I feel that in order to stay current, or relevant, a little conversation is necessary. This might be an opportunity to go with someone a little more modern, I guess.” And then Josh said something that should resonate with people of all religions struggling to live their faith and their lives simultaneously: “You have to understand all angles. It’s not just the Catholics, but I think all religions can afford to be less judgmental and less close-minded. More bloodshed, more wars have been started over things that were never meant to be confrontational. It’s time to open up some of these other doors to some other ways of thinking. Why can’t someone else’s beliefs be just as correct to them as ours are to us? You know, it doesn’t make them bad people. It’s definitely not worth killing them.”
Segueing from the unfortunate separatism of religion to the debilitating extreme bipartisanism of American politics wasn’t such a big jump. “They say 53% of people agree with the President’s State of the Union ideas. That’s about what the election was.” With such precarious support, President Obama has a tall order ahead of him. “At some point, he’s got to bend a little bit and realize the only way to move forward is to make compromises, or nothing’s going to get done. There are so many things that need work, but I think that somebody has to figure out how to bring the two sides closer together, because it’s more bipartisan than I’ve ever seen it. That’s why we’re really not making progress.” And one of the biggest culprits of bipartisan snowball-fighting is the media itself. Josh quickly sites two networks that aren’t helping disparate Americans find a common ground. “I think NBC and Fox could both be a little more responsible. They’re not responsible right now. They’re just brainwashing. They’re just perpetuating the separation, increasing the divide even more. Until people wise up to that, we have a harder road ahead of us.”
Another issue facing the American political system? The indeterminate tenure of Senators. “Once you’re there for more than 8 years, you’ve figured out how the system works. You start to think about what you can do for your constituency rather than what you can do for your country.” It’s a fine line between the two, but the comment bears thinking about. Josh references the email from Warren Buffett that proposes we pass a 28th Amendment to put term limits on the Senate. “These positions weren’t meant to be career jobs. You were meant to come and do your duty and then go back to your profession. But these guys are getting so good at working the system, because many of them will do anything in order to get the money.”
After covering religion and politics, it was time to look at Josh’s upcoming movies. Scenic Route, which will be shown at SXSW 2013 in Austin, is, as he puts it, “A movie about two guys who get stuck on the side of the road and they kind of lose their minds.” The movie was shot on a tiny budget of about $500,000, and he says “the first 25 minutes are like a play. But then it goes off the rails. And it’s cool, because you don’t know what happens in the end.”
And before you roll your eyes at the words “Nicholas Sparks,” Josh was quick to note that Safe Haven isn’t a romantic comedy. “It’s more a romantic thriller than anything. Yes, it’s funny and playful, especially in the developing romance. But there’s also something in Julianne Hough’s character’s past that is coming back to haunt her.”
One of the themes Safe Haven touches on is love after loss, and Josh was determined to bring a truthful representation of that journey. “I did a lot of talking to therapists and people who had lost a loved one and were raising kids on their own. How do you deal with loss, especially when you’re raising kids? I just really tried to get inside the head of this guy.” He learned about the quiet struggles of a widower – the unexpected resentment or blame that children often inadvertently place on the surviving parent. Portraying the intricacies of that struggle was what appealed most to Josh about the movie. “I really wanted to learn about it and not make Alex so perfect. In the book, he was very perfect. He always did and said the right things. He was too sweet for me.” So Josh had pre-filming discussions with both Director Lasse Halstrom and writer Nicholas Sparks. “We started talking about how I could make him more fully dimensional. I wanted him to be a guy who’s trying to figure it out. He’s not a bad guy, by any means. He’s a good guy, but you know, nobody’s perfect. He’s just a father trying to get through each day, until this girl shows up and then how do you deal with that? A new woman in your life who you have feelings for – but how is that going to affect your kids?”
As he delved into his character analysis, it became clear that Josh wanted to use Alex to speak truth to other men in similar situations. He tied parallels to his own parents’ divorce. “I didn’t lose either one. They were both as present as they could be trying to raise us, but the issues between them really had an impact on us.” He thought about a friend’s experience with separation – “The kids are going to love you no matter what, and they’re a lot smarter than you give them credit for. Don’t badmouth your former spouse. Just be steady; be there for them.” And, most poignantly, he thought of a friend’s loss of his own wife. “I have a friend who just went through this. His wife had a rare type of blood cancer, and even after some promising experimental treatments, she passed. Now he’s raising two three-year-old sons, twins, on his own.” And this is the moment where it became clear that Josh is the type of actor, and the type of person, who looks for the opportunities to connect with people. “I invited him to a screening of the movie. I wasn’t sure if it was too soon. But what I like most about this story is that, from Alex’s point of view, it shows that just because you lose somebody doesn’t mean you have to forget them, or ever stop loving them. It doesn’t mean you can’t love again. And if you do love again, it doesn’t mean you have to stop loving the person that you loved before.” The evolution of the character, through loss and fear, through closing down and then finally opening up, is something that resonated with truth for Josh. “It turned out to be a really good movie. You know this movie could have been corny and overly-saccharine. But Laase has this way of taking out the cliche stuff and making it a story about real people.”
The small authenticities of the movie, he says, are what make it relatable and real. “It’s really a good movie. I’m not a huge fan of these movies unless they feel real. I did love The Notebook; not because I’m a big romantic, but because it’s a really good story. They want to label these movies as Chick Flicks, but I think they don’t give guys enough credit sometimes. If it’s corny, we don’t like it; if it’s cool, we do.” And what defines cool? “Cool can be blowing shit up, or it can be finding an interesting way to connect with a woman.”
We all certainly agree with that.