Josh Duhamel has shown he is just as capable of doing romantic films like the romantic comedy-drama Life As We Know It, along with action films like the Transformers series. Now the 40 year-old hopes to continue to prove his flair for romantic films with the romantic drama Safe Haven.
The film deals with the arrival of Katie, a young woman, played by Julianne Hough, in the small North Carolina town of Southport, who falls in love with Duhamel’s character Alex Wheatley, a widowed grocery store owner and father of two children, while struggling with a dark secret from her past. The film’s running theme is how love is one’s safe haven. The actor talks about what, for him, is his.
“For me, it’s easy,” Josh believes, “It’s home. It’s either going back where I’m from, North Dakota, seeing my three sisters, one’s in college now, but everyone lives there still, so it’s always nice to go back there.”
“Now, for instance, when we’re traveling a lot and promoting the movie, it’s great to get back home and just decompress,” he adds, “It’s not a very exciting answer, but it’s home.
Josh talks about what it was like to work with Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax, who play Alex’s two young children Lexi and Josh in the film.
“For me, me a movie without kids on the set is like Christmas without kids,” Duhamel says of there, “They just make it a little bit more fun and there’s something really. There’s no pretension there. They’re just there to have fun. These two particularly are really sweet kids by nature, didn’t have a lot of experience in the business. We worked with them before and met with them before. Spent some time on the beach with Mimi. Noah was in Atlanta so we didn’t get to hang out as much.”
“For me, the relationship with them was as important as the relationship with Julianne in the movie,” he adds, “Because so much of this is about finding, they’ve both been there so much. My character has already been through what he thought was his first love and lost that. Now anything that comes after that depends on how the kids react to that. Any decision that I make going forward has to be ok with them too. So that relationship was really specific and luckily they were really, really fun kids to work with.
Asked of Duhamel was whether it was two weeks or more to get to know the children.
“Well they started working two weeks before I started which at first I was like, really, what am I gonna do for two weeks? Josh says, “But it was great because I really got to soak in the local environment, live in Southport. Really think about what I want to do in this movie, wrote a lot, spent a lot of time with the kids and by the time we started shooting I felt like I was this dude. I wish that I always had the luxury of getting there that early and just sort of becoming part of the local environment.”
Safe Haven was directed by Swede Lasse Hallström, who is best known for directing the music videos of the legendary Swedish pop group ABBA, as well as My Life As A Dog and The Cider House Rules and had the actors do a lot of improvisation on set. Josh was asked what improv he did that made the film that he is really proud of.
“There’s a lot of stuff that Lasse and I talked about before,” he says, “Some of the stuff was the whole door runner. I loved My Life As A Dog and I wanted to find something, a little thread of normal human behavior and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean much but is something people will relate to. So we talked a lot about that and we kind of kept it going and then there was something with my Jeep, the door wouldn’t open, and that just kept going. It paid off at the end when Dave [Lyons]’s character Tierney couldn’t get through that door so it came full circle. All the stuff on the beach, he just let us go.”
“It wasn’t that we didn’t follow the script,” Duhamel continues, “We knew what we had to say in the script, he just trusted us to let it go and find what the scene was really about, whatever scene it was. For me, it was the most liberating time I’ve ever had ever shooting movies. Terrifying in the beginning because like I said I had two weeks before and she comes up and says, ‘You know what? We improv’d,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean you improv’d?’ Normally, I know my lines and I go in and I say them. It was scary, but he really trusted us more so than anyone I’ve worked with and that was really empowering.
Safe Haven originally was a novel written by Nicholas Sparks, whose previous film adaptations, The Notebook and A Walk To Remember, have gone on to be beloved. Duhamel talks about what it was like to tackle a film based on one of Sparks’ novels.
“There is a lot of pressure to live up to the success of these previous movies, but we try not to think about that,” Josh says, “We really just wanted this to be, and we looked at this for the story that it was, if I tried to do what Ryan Gosling did in The Notebook, I’d be pulling my hair out. Those two were great in that movie, they really were. If we try and replicate that in any way, it’s a trap.”
“We really tried to just focus on what this story was between us, what my relationship with these kids were and not try and force all the romantic big movie moments, he adds, “And with Lasse’s help, we really just tried to play the simple story and trust that it was going to be interesting and romantic and funny and all these things that I like to see in a movie. At the end of the day, this was its own entity apart from all the other stories.”
Josh talks about what it was like actually shooting Safe Haven in Southport.
“I had so much fun here,” Duhamel says, “Like I said before, I had two weeks before we ever started shooting. I really became a local. I bought my cabana from Walmart, I had my cooler and my boogie board and my book and I just hung out, and I don’t know if you’ve been to North Carolina but the beaches there are amazing. It’s one of those places that’s a sleepy little town, but it’s very quaint and charming that you sort of think of when you read about them.”
“All these old colonial houses overlooking the sea and the marina, it’s really fantastic,” he continues, “We had a lot of fun. The people not only that lived there but the crew kind of became a family and that’s one of the things I love about making movies, is you really get close with this crew and with the people that you’re working with for this short amount of time. In this case in particular it was a really special place.
Asked of Josh was whether he could imagine himself living in a small town where everybody knows everybody, or if he finds living in the big city more preferential.
“I grew up in a state full of little towns like that,” he says, “Where I’m from is a little bit bigger but North Dakota is sort of similar minus the beach and all the beauty. It does have it’s own beauty for about two months out of the year and then it gets really cold. It’s sort of in my blood, I guess.”
“I grew up in a place like this, so I would be more akin to live in a place like this than a big city,” Duhamel continues, “I love New York, but that’s too much for me. That town just swallowed me up, I’d live there for three years. I’d probably prefer a smaller town, like Los Angeles. It’s a whole bunch of little villages just next to each other.”