Safe Haven - Josh Duhamel
Safe Haven - Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

In Josh Duhamel’s new movie, Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, opening on February 14th, he portrays Alex, a widower with two young children who runs a grocery store in Southport, a small North Carolina town. After years of sadness, he meets Katie (Julianne Hough), a newcomer to Southport and hopes that their relationship will develop, not realizing her past threatens to destroy their future.

Josh has starred in such diverse movies as the rom-com New Year’s Eve, the horror flick Turistas and the action franchise Transformers and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.

Is there any pressure doing a Nicholas Sparks movie?

Safe Haven - Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough
Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) and Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

There is a lot of pressure to live up to the success of some of his previous movies, but we tried not to think about that. If I tried to do what Ryan Gosling did The Notebook, I’d be pulling my hair out.

Those two (Gosling and Rachel McAdams) were great in that movie. If we tried to replicate that in any way it’s a trap.

We really tried to focus on what this story was between us, what my relationship with these kids were, and not try to force all the romantic, big movie moments.

With Lasse’s help we just tried to play this simple story and trust that it was going to be interesting, emotional, romantic and funny. At the end of the day, this was its own entity apart from all of the other stories in my mind.

Your chemistry with Julianne is very authentic in this. How were you able to create that?

Katie Feldman (Julianne Hough) and Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

The first time [I auditioned] with Julianne there was something really relatable about her. What you see is what you get, and I knew it wouldn’t be difficult to get through to her and for her to get through to me.

There’s something really honest about her. I probably had very little say in who they cast, but I was really happy when they made that decision because I knew that it would be an easy [relationship] to make feel real.

You work with a couple of little kids who are just wonderful because they didn’t seem like Hollywood kids.

Josh (Noah Lomax), Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) and Lexi (Mimi Kirkland) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

For me, a movie without kids on a set is like Christmas without kids. They just make it a little bit more fun. There is no pretension there, they are just there to have fun.

These two were particularly sweet kids by nature, who didn’t have a lot of experience in the business.

We worked with them before [filming started].

For me the relationship with them was as important as the relationship with Julianne in the movie.

Lasse had you doing a lot of improv on set. What was that like?

Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel) ©2012 Safe Haven Productions

It wasn’t that we didn’t follow the script, we knew what we had to say in the script and from there he trusted us to let it go and find what the scene was really about.

For me it was the most liberating time I’ve ever had shooting a movie. It was terrifying in the beginning. Normally I know my lines and I go on and I say them. So it was scary, but he trusted us more so than anybody I’ve worked with and that was really empowering.

Where is your safe haven?

For me it’s home. It’s either going back where I’m from in North Dakota, seeing my three sisters.

Everybody lives there still, so it’s always nice to go back there. But now when we’re traveling, promoting the movie, it’s just great to get back home (he’s married to Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas) and decompress.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane