A few years ago, Josh Duhamel discussed his desire to broach darker material. He was promoting Life as We Know It at the time, and there’s a good chance he was referring to a movie like Scenic Route. Duhamel’s career has primarily been comprised of lighter works. There’s nothing wrong with that, but taking on a role like his in Scenic Route could be interpreted as his attempt to prove he’s more than just a romantic leading man.
This is a movie devoid of any of the romance or gloss you’d expect from a movie featuring the actor. He’s playing a real guy with serious problems in a theatrical setting. His character, Mitchell, is stranded in Death Valley with his buddy Carther (Dan Fogler). This is a performance piece, and in addition to falling in love with the script, Duhamel saw the movie as an opportunity to push himself further as an actor.
Here’s what else he had to tell us about the dark dramedy:
Film School Rejects: Since you and Dan Fogler are nearly always on screen together, was there a considerable amount of rehearsal?
Josh Duhamel: There was. When I first read the script I knew it was something I wanted to do and it was just one of those scripts I had been looking for. It’s the kind of script I got into the business for. It was scary, because it was going to take so much work. I try to take these workshops every year from Larry Moss. You go in, get your scene and go off with your scene partner. It’s a one week workshop where you have to do that scene in front of a whole theater of students. He usually gives you Tennessee Williams or whoever, so I asked him if it would be okay to do one of these scenes from Scenic Route. That was my first way to prepare for this movie.
We still hadn’t cast our Carter yet, but we needed someone who was going to approach it like a play. Luckily, we got Dan Fogler coming in, knowing what kind of work it was going to take. We spent a couple of weeks before we left for Death Valley to rehearse in Malibu. Thank God we did, because this movie wouldn’t have worked if we hadn’t.
When you are working with another actor that closely on set, is it important to get to know them beforehand?
I think it is. The more you know, the better. The more comfortable you are with someone and the more you trust them the better off you’ll be. You can take more risks that way. I felt that way with Dan. We knew these scenes inside and out and would rehearse them every night. We’d go look at those insanely bright stars in Death Valley and rehearse. We drove there together and had rooms together, so we felt like we knew each other by the time we started shooting. Rarely do you get that opportunity to get that close to someone.
What movies like Scenic Route peaked your interest in acting?
Oh man, some of my favorite movies are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Glengarry Glen Ross, and… What was the movie with Tom Hanks out on the island by himself?
Cast Away. That movie was so much about behavior. That transformation was a brilliant performance. He literally had to transform from all the elements. We focused on a lot of that.
Glengarry Glen Ross is very apropos — another film about failure. As an actor, how do you define failure?
You know, it’s evolving the longer I’m in the business. I used to be so concerned about what people were going to say, how the movies does and things like that. At the end of the day, all you can control is how much work you put into your performance. After that everything is up to the director, editor and marketing people. You lose control after you do what you do. If I fail as an actor it’s because I didn’t put the time into it and look under every single rock.
I’ve had a lot of failure in my life. What I’ve learned is that it’s okay. Failure is going to happen, so it’s all about how you deal with it. You need to use it as motivation, not dwell on it. In this business, you need to learn that quickly, because if you don’t there’s a lot of traps you can fall into. I try to use those failures as something that makes me better. I mean, it hurts, man. Everyday you suffer a lot of rejection and failure in this business. It’s a battle to get the parts that you want. Unless you’re DiCaprio or Daniel Day-Lewis, you don’t always get what you want. Most of us are always fighting to get great work. On top of that, you get the part and get torn apart by reviewers [Laughs], so you have to let that go too.
[Laughs] Do you pay attention to reviews?
I try not to. Everyone says, “Don’t read them!” You know, you can’t help but to read them. It’s your art, so if you put yourself into it and lay yourself out there wide open, you’re vulnerable to judgment. It hurts when you get beat up on. Going back to making sure I learned everything about that character that I could, then I’m cool. I’m fine with it. I know I did everything that I could.
One job that you had a lot of time to learn about your character on is Las Vegas. What was your biggest takeaway from that show?
Going all the way back to All My Children, which was before I got Vegas, that was a huge learning experience for me. Vegas was too, because it was on a larger platform and my first leading role. I’m proud of that show — for the most part. Some of the episodes were sort of so-so, but a lot of them were really fun. It was an opportunity for me to play some serious stuff and find some humor.
That show would usually handle those shifts well.
It did. Sometimes it was a little ridiculous, but I had fun, you know? I always try to say, “Okay, let’s just go with it.” People were tuning into it because it’s fun. It reminds them of going to Vegas, and that’s what we were doing.
Scenic Route is now playing in limited release.