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Josh Duhamel on improvising, dancing in 'Safe Haven'

Josh Duhamel arrives at the premiere of Relativity

Josh Duhamel arrives at the premiere of Relativity Media's "Safe Haven" at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. (Feb. 5, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

It would be easy to hate Josh Duhamel, what with the perfect body, the acting career, the superstar wife -- Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas.

But talk to the guy... and he seems as laid-back and un-Hollywood as anybody you might meet in, well, Minot, N.D. Duhamel, 40, was born there, and played backup quarterback for the Minot State University football team. His plan was to become a dentist. Yeah, right.

A move to California changed all that. He became a model, then an extra in music videos (Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle"). Then came the big screen, (the three "Transformers" movies) and small (NBC's "Las Vegas," with James Caan).

This Thursday, he hits theaters again in Nicholas Sparks' latest romancer, "Safe Haven." Duhamel plays Alex Wheatley, a widower with two kids who runs a general store in a sleepy seaside town. Enter Katie (Julianne Hough), who arrives by bus with few belongings and a mysterious past.

He recently spoke with us.

So.... North Dakota, huh? My grandfather lived there as a kid, and legend has it he lost part of his ear lobe to frostbite. That's crazy cold.

Wow. I believe it. My last winter there -- I kid you not -- it was 60 degrees below zero. I was soft. I moved.

Had you read any Sparks novels before doing this film?

No. I'm not a huge romantic-movie watcher, either. But I really enjoyed "The Notebook."

This one flashes back and forth between a tranquil seaside town and a criminal investigation in Boston -- two very different worlds.

There's this sweet love story on the one hand, and this ever-impending doom constantly creeping in. You know something's gonna happen, but you're not sure what. People will be surprised -- this is not your typical Nicholas Sparks movie.

I heard your director at times told you to toss the script and improvise.

I saw Julianne after one of her shoots and she said, "You know what? We just improvised." I was like -- what do you mean? It sorta freaked me out at first. I thought, "What am I gonna do?" It forced me to be more prepared, to really analyze each scene, so whatever came at me, I was ready. Most of the scenes on the beach, and in my store -- we improvised.

Hmm... improvising scenes with Julianne Hough, on the beach. There are worse things...

Yeah. Julianne is really special in a lot of ways. There's something disarming about her. It's hard to have honest moments in film. But I trusted her, she trusted me. It was just a really liberating and empowering way to make a movie.

What's it like playing a dad?

It was imperative these kids felt... comfortable around me. And they learned early on that I was just like them. I mean, anybody'll tell ya -- I'm just a big kid. We spent a day at the beach, making sand castles and stuff. It all paid off because they were very comfortable when it came to shooting scenes.

You have a little dancing moment in the film -- did your wife offer any pointers?

It's funny because I didn't want to do that scene. Who just... breaks into a dance? I thought this could play badly. So... I didn't go to Fergie... I kinda hoped we wouldn't do it. But... it works. Look -- I was never meant to be a dancer. If Fergie had been there, I think she'd have been proud. She knows it's not my forte.

As for other projects, it looks like you and half of Hollywood are in "Movie 43."

I'd like to apologize now for my behavior in that movie. I play a guy whose girlfriend has just moved into his apartment. And my cat, this animated cat, like Garfield, doesn't like her at all. He's actually kind of in love with me. It gets interesting.

Then there's "Scenic Route."

That's definitely a departure. Cool story, about these guys stuck on the side of the road in the desert. And they almost kill each other. We shot it in Death Valley.

And "You're Not You" sounds... dark.

Hilary Swank plays my wife suffering from ALS. It's about people finding strength they never thought they had. I'm her caregiver. It's hard, what happens to a relationship like that.

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