Josh Duhamel Is Ready To Do It All Again
The actor, who recently turned 50, talks marriage to Audra Mari and going bachelor mode at the lake house with son Axl.
Josh Duhamel was alone in Vancouver on his 50th birthday. This is not a sob story; he was in post-production on a movie and was fine to let the moment pass. “I’ve never been a big birthday-celebrator,” he says. “My wife was like, ‘You have to do something. You’re 50.’ I was like, ‘Could you quit reminding me that I’m 50?’”
His wife, Audra Mari — a former Miss World America — also recently celebrated a milestone birthday. Just kidding, she turned 29. (“I wish she was 30,” Duhamel says. “It wouldn’t make me look like such a predator.”) While Duhamel was indifferent about the half-century mark, he concedes it is a time to reflect, and he’s in a contemplative mood today. Of Hollywood, the North Dakota native says: “I got here half a lifetime ago.” And despite the Transformers franchise and the splashy romantic comedies, there have been moments — very recently, he says — where self-doubt still crept in, and he’d think: “They’re not going to want me at that party; I’m not one of them.”
Duhamel and I meet at a forgettable restaurant in Studio City, the kind of quiet cafe that seems to exist solely for interviews like this one. For the record, he is taller than you’d think, with biceps like two grapefruits plotting their escape. His 2004 pickup truck is parked outside, and it is the perfect accessory for an actor who is frequently asked to play retired pro athletes.
We’re here to talk about his new romantic comedy, Shotgun Wedding, which premieres on Amazon Prime this week, though the conversation is refreshingly off-topic. His wife is “not pregnant right now,” he casually mentions as we order egg whites, adding sincerely: “I don’t think. But we’re trying.” He is also, apparently, on a cleanse, having just spent the holidays with his family, including 9-year-old son, Axl, at his Minnesota lake house. There, Duhamel says he subsisted on a diet of Busch Light, frozen pizza, and cookies. “I’m like, I got to do something to tighten this sh*t up.”
Shotgun Wedding, co-starring Jennifer Lopez, is an action-comedy about a destination wedding party taken hostage by pirates. I could say more, but really here’s all you need to know: Duhamel and J. Lo have very real chemistry, the incomparable Jennifer Coolidge somehow shows up as Duhamel’s mom (LOL), and there may or may not be an escape plan that involves hair extensions. The movie (which is 10 times funnier than it needed to be) caps off a surprising midcareer run for Duhamel, who, after four Transformers films and 106 episodes of the series Las Vegas, has matured into a deft chameleon — a leading man masquerading as a character actor (The Thing About Pam with Renée Zellweger), a PG-13 DILF (the Disney+ series reimagining The Mighty Ducks), and a busy voiceover artist (he plays the villain Two-Face in an animated Batman film).
And yet, Duhamel was not the first choice for Shotgun Wedding. Ryan Reynolds (an executive producer on the movie) dropped out and was replaced by Armie Hammer, who (in the wake of a personal scandal you surely read something about) exited just weeks before filming. If Duhamel had any misgivings about stepping into the role, they weren’t apparent today. He’d crossed paths with Lopez almost 20 years ago, he said, at a New Year’s Eve party in Miami back when he was married to the pop singer Fergie (who is Axl’s mother). The way Duhamel tells it, Lopez picked up the phone, and after one conversation, he took the leap.
“On a movie like this,” Duhamel says, “you can have all the high jinks, but if you don’t have that connection between the two leads, it doesn’t feel believable. I told her that when we first reconnected: ‘If I’m going to do it, we have to be totally vulnerable and try silly things that might look stupid and be terrible. But you have to trust that I’m OK with it.’ That was a big thing.”
Casting shakeups may be a Hollywood trade story. But after 25 years in the industry, Duhamel knows it’s just the gig — a pretty good one, in this case. Shotgun Wedding shot largely in the Dominican Republic in early 2021. Duhamel praises Lopez’s work ethic and kindness (“A good barometer of who a person is how they treat craft services”) and when pressed for a story about Jennifer Coolidge, compares her comedic antics to “Bill Murray or Andy Kaufman.” Shooting the film’s big karaoke scene, Coolidge kept a special flourish up her sleeve: “She just ripped her [wig] off. She had this bald cap underneath and she threw it out on the crowd and everyone’s like, ‘What the f*ck? She didn’t tell anybody she was going to do it.’”
If Duhamel has an appreciation for this and every job, perhaps it’s because he can still remember how hungry he was when he first arrived. He is often referred to as a former model, but he barely worked, he admits. He won a big modeling contest, which did nothing for him but proved to be a launching pad for the runner-up, a lithe model from the Midwest named Ashton Kutcher. “Ashton immediately gets a Calvin Klein campaign, he gets That ’70s Show, and just blows up,” Duhamel says. “Nobody was interested in representing me.”
Duhamel, meanwhile, took a job as a fit model in the back room at Prada. “We’d just sit there all day until buyers came in wanting to see this jacket, those pants.” He appeared in a Christina Aguilera video but struggled to find acting work, sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Beachwood Canyon with four other dudes. He might have quit then — “That’s when I started saying, ‘F*ck this’” — except he didn’t have anywhere to go.
Duhamel’s parents split up when he was about the age Axl is now, and the rupture left a mark. Money had always been tight. And if his father was late dropping Josh and his sisters off at their mom’s house, Duhamel recalls, “We’d be all stressed about it. She’d get pissed.”
“My parents never figured it out,” he says. “And who it hurt was us. Not to bag on my parents, because they’re civil now, but they don’t go out of their way to talk to each other. I’m like, ‘It’s been 40 years. Get your sh*t together.’ But they don’t have the tools. And I’m OK with that.”
Part of the fun of it is trying to prove to people that I’m more than what they think I am.
In some ways, the legacy of that time informed his own divorce from Fergie in 2019. “Fergie, she was very much ‘No matter what, we have to be civil for Axl,’” he explains. And that extended to Duhamel’s dating life. “She was very adamant about not letting him meet people I was dating until we’d been dating for six months or something. Or was it four months? I forget. I dated a couple of girls, and he never got to meet them. Which I’m glad.”
Duhamel and Fergie have never spoken at length about what drove them apart, though he is frank about how her outsize fame sometimes left him feeling on the outside. “It was definitely an insecurity of mine,” he says, taking full responsibility. “That’s my own ego. She was a huge star. And I was not as huge a star. I think that was a sort of thing around town. I don’t know if it hurt my career or not. Everywhere we went, I was always Fergie’s husband. They knew me from being with her.”
There is another thing he was known for. And it is that face of his, graying at the temples but otherwise unchanged from his time on All My Children. On the Life Is Short podcast, Justin Long suggested Duhamel belonged on the “Mount Rushmore of Hunks.” When James Corden had him on his talk show last year, the first thing the host asked about was Duhamel’s skin care regimen.
Says Duhamel: “I was like, ‘Really dude?’ It really actually pissed me off. I’m not shying away from it; certain things got me certain places. But don’t — what’s the word I’m looking for? — distill me down to just that. It’s low-hanging fruit.” It’s hard to feel bad for the guy, but I get it. In the past few years, he’s more than held his own working opposite A-list co-stars Zellweger, Jennifer Garner (Love, Simon), and now Lopez. “I think for me, part of the fun of it is trying to prove to people that I’m more than what they think I am.”
To his co-stars, though, he has nothing to prove. Lopez herself says: “We couldn’t have asked for a better leading man. It’s not just that he is incredibly handsome, he is also an amazing actor. He has a lot of depth, but he can be really funny and silly and doesn’t take himself too seriously, which was exactly right for his role.”
When Duhamel joined Disney+’s The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers in Season 2, co-star Lauren Graham already knew and “loved” his work as an actor. “Josh is smart, enthusiastic, and a true collaborator — perfect for a show about good sportsmanship and being a team player,” she says. “He’s a natural leader, an excellent scene partner, and just plain fun to be around.”
If she wants to see fun, she should see him in Minnesota, where he feels the most like himself. Duhamel’s lake house is a 54-acre man cave writ large, with snowmobiles and Jet Skis and a custom beach volleyball court. The cabin is seriously remote; it’s 40 minutes to the nearest grocery store, provided Duhamel can plow the 2-mile driveway first. On New Year’s Eve, he likes to use a chainsaw to cut through the frozen lake so he and his buddies can take an ice bath. The house is many things — a symbol of his success, an escape — but it’s also a place where he and his son can get their hands dirty together.
My son’s not going to be auditioning or getting an agent or anything until he can do it on his own. I want him to be a kid.
“My son brings so much joy to my life, it’s crazy,” he says proudly. “He’s down for whatever. We’ll play catch in the backyard. We made [my wife] a giant birthday card. He loves art. He’s 9, but his imagination is still huge.” Duhamel smiles, adding: “He and I are like a couple of bachelors. And then she comes around, and she brings so much structure to the house. Dinner, we sit here, guys” — indicating a table. “There’s actually candles lit around the house… They have the most beautiful relationship.”
On whether he’d encourage his son to be an actor, he’s not saying no — he’s just saying not yet. “He probably will be,” Duhamel says. “He loves it. He’s in his little theater class; he likes to do it. He can do whatever he wants when he’s old enough. But he’s not going to be a child actor. He’s not going to be auditioning or getting an agent or anything until he can do it on his own. I want him to be a kid.”
Duhamel seems at peace. His marriage to a decades-younger beauty queen sounds like a Hollywood punchline, but he’s in on the joke. For Halloween last year, the couple dressed up as the late tabloid staple Anna Nicole Smith and her octogenarian husband, J. Howard Marshall II. It’s an oddly dated reference — Smith and Marshall married the year Mari was born — but the couple committed to the bit, with Duhamel in makeup and prosthetics that turned him into basically the old guy from the Six Flags commercials.
And yet, age isn’t just a number. The night before their wedding, Duhamel threw his back out on a party bus and needed to be shot up with a steroid to walk down the aisle, which proved to be a temporary fix. The morning after, his wife had to put her new husband in a wheelchair and take him to the ER. “She was actually very funny about it,” he says. “But she had to be thinking, like, ‘Oh no.’”
Still, he says, “when you see us together, we don’t feel that much difference. Because I’m highly immature, and she’s very, very mature for her age.”
OK. But what’s life like with a 29-year-old? “My wife is a huge Swifty,” he says. “Taylor Swift is always on.” And he tells me, despite the odds, she somehow scored tickets to Swift’s upcoming Eras tour. “I tried to use my connections,” Duhamel says. “They said ‘nope.’ She sat there for nine hours on the website and waited until time, and she was able to get in and grab three tickets — front row. Isn’t that crazy?”
It is. And I think that’s it. But as we’re leaving, he casually reveals a much deeper truth about what makes their relationship work. His wife may be 21 years his junior, but she grew up on a lake just 55 miles from his own home. And he says that if she has a superpower, it’s that she sees the wounded kid in him, the Midwest boy who had to succeed, because he had no home to go home to.
“It’s like the Taylor Swift song,” Duhamel says, quoting a lyric from Midnights: “‘You’re on your own kid, you always have been.’ My wife says that song’s for me. ‘You’re on your own kid, you always have been.’”
Top Image Credits: Vince jacket, Buck Mason T-shirt, Daniel Patrick pants, Bombas socks, Birkenstock shoes
Photographer: Eric Ray Davidson
Stylist: Jason Rembert
Set Designer: Danielle Von Braun
Grooming: Natalia Bruschi
Talent Bookings: Special Projects
Production: Camp Productions
Video: Samuel Schultz, Samuel Miron
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert