Having made his mark on both the silver and small screens, as William Lennox from the Transformers movie franchise, and Danny McCoy from the popular TV series, Las Vegas, Josh Duhamel – also the husband of Grammy‑winning singer, Fergie – is undeniably a man of many talents. In his most recent role, the North Dakota native stepped into the cleats of former Expos pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee in his portrayal of the colorful southpaw. We sat down with the 43-year-old actor just a few weeks after a visit to Montreal to discuss everything from his latest flick to his on-ice allegiances.
What was your reaction when you were first offered the role of Bill Lee in Spaceman? Were you already familiar with his story?
JOSH DUHAMEL: Yes, I was actually quite familiar with the story of Bill “Spaceman” Lee since I’ve been a big sports fan my whole life. I used to collect baseball cards and all that kind of stuff growing up. But it wasn’t before I started doing a little bit of research that I really grasped who he was as a person, what he stood for, and what he’s gone through.
Was Bill exactly what you envisioned when you first met him?
JD: I didn’t actually get to meet him until about two weeks into the shooting of the movie and it wasn’t a very long shoot. I’ve read so many stories about who he was, and what he was like in Boston and then in Montreal. He was pretty iconic. To meet the man in person was just amazing. He’s one of those people whose mind is always working. He’s got funny anecdotes and jokes for each and every situation and he’s got some of the best stories you will ever hear. He’s most certainly a man of the people. He would show me how to throw different pitches and would even take batting practice with the team. He was just a regular dude who loves to socialize.
|Josh had the chance to meet the Spaceman, Bill Lee, in person during filming. |
The story of Spaceman starts right after Bill left the Montreal Expos in the early ‘80s. Being a baseball guy, were you aware of Montreal’s rich baseball history before arriving in town?
JD: I thought I knew quite a bit, but I guess I didn’t really appreciate just how big of a baseball city Montreal is. The Expos had some really great teams. It wasn’t the fans’ fault that the team left the way it did. It came down to an ownership issue and money came into play more than anything. It’s really a shame.
You were in town for the games hosted at the Olympic Stadium earlier this season; do you think the Expos could make a comeback one day in Montreal?
JD: After attending one of those games and witnessing for myself just how much Montrealers love their baseball, it gave me hope that they can get a team back. I think the city really deserves an MLB franchise. I honestly think they deserve a team more than a lot of the cities in the U.S. It’s pretty obvious that some of those teams can’t get enough fans to come out to fill those seats. It’s similar to hockey in a sense. I often find myself asking, ‘Why is there a team in Arizona? A lot of people don’t even know much about hockey over there.’ The same thing goes for a lot of the Southern cities in the United States.
What did you think of Montreal in general? Did you have time to visit a little bit during your short stay in April?
JD: I finally got the chance to visit Montreal for the first time in April. I’ve been meaning to visit this beautiful city my whole life. It’s beautiful, literally. I don’t know if you notice since you live here every day. Montreal is one of those cities that everyone talks about, like San Francisco or Paris. Everyone will tell you you’ve got to visit Montreal.
Any plans to come back before the movie comes out in August? Will you bring Fergie the next time?
JD: I don’t know. I hope so. I don’t know what the plan is yet for the premiere of Spaceman. I’d love to get the chance to see it in the summer. It only started to get warm when I was there. I’ll be working on the next Transformers movie in June. We’ll see.
You’re actually from French-Canadian descent, correct? Did people expect you to speak French because of your last name while you were here in Montreal?
JD: My dad’s side is from somewhere right around Quebec City. I don’t know much about our family’s French-Canadian heritage, but neither does my dad. I asked him recently about it and he wasn’t too sure. It feels like we’re a band of misfits since there’s not a lot of history about us. (laughs) Maybe you guys could help me out with finding more about all of this?
You mentioned baseball cards, but we heard you also used to collect hockey cards when you were younger. Are you a big hockey fan as well?
JD: I grew up in North Dakota and it’s all about hockey up there. I played a lot when I was younger. I got tall and skinny around grade 8, though, and I had to make a decision between hockey and basketball, and I ultimately chose basketball.
You’ve attended a few Kings games; should we assume that’s your team?
JD: I root for both the Kings and the Wild. I miss the Minnesota North Stars, but at least we’ve got the Wild now. Minnesota without hockey doesn’t feel right.
Any chance we can convert you? We already have a few Hollywood personalities in our fan club…
JD: (laughs) Well, I can definitely appreciate the history of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s one of the best dynasties in the history of sports.
|Residing in Los Angeles for many years, Josh has often attended Kings games at the STAPLES Center. |
Fans in L.A. have been spoiled the last few years with two Stanley Cup parades in their backyard. Did you celebrate the Kings’ victories accordingly?
JD: Of course. Those were fun teams to watch. It sort of goes against my theory, but hockey is important to people in L.A. Maybe I’ve just been living here for too long, but [Wayne] Gretzky put hockey on the map in L.A. and made it visible. There’s a large contingent of Kings fans in the city, and they really love their hockey. It was an incredible experience to witness the Kings win the Cup, but it doesn’t compare to what it’s like in Canada. I was in Vancouver a few years ago when the Canucks made it to the Cup Finals and it was on a totally different level. It doesn’t even compare.
Having starred a few years ago in the series Las Vegas, which was filmed in Nevada, do you think hockey will be a hit in Sin City?
JD: It baffles me that the NHL goes so far south. I just don’t get it. I think the popularity of the sport would increase if they kept it to cities where people love hockey. For whatever reason, they don’t seem to take that into consideration when they’re trying to expand the game. It makes me wonder why a state like Wisconsin doesn’t have a hockey team. It would be a great market for an expansion team, and more importantly, the cherry on top is that we can name the team the Green Bay Puckers! (laughs)
It was just announced that you’ll reprise your role of Lieutenant Colonel Lennox in the next installment of the Transformers series, after appearing in the first three movies. Are you planning to show Mark Wahlberg, who played the leading role in the fourth movie, who’s the man in charge back on set?
JD: (laughs) I was anxious to get back at it in Transformers. I’ve known Mark for a number of years and he’s a really humble and cool dude. I have nothing to prove to him. He’s Wahlberg, man. Yeah, I’ve done a couple of these movies before him, but I look forward to mixing it up with him and having fun. You couldn’t ask for a better, more regular guy to spend the summer with and make a movie.
How much did you enjoy taking part in Spaceman? We’ve been used to seeing you in much bigger Hollywood productions over the years like Transformers.
JD: When you compare shooting a movie like Spaceman to a film franchise like Transformers, you are talking about two completely different animals. In Transformers you have giant budgets, the latest technology, cooperation with the U.S. military and all this amazing stuff going on around you. Whereas with Spaceman, we had a really confined budget, there were no dressing rooms, and I was changing in the back seat of my car. (laughs) But there’s something I love about the small movie experience because it really becomes a passion project. You really have that mentality where you say: “We don’t have much, but we’re going to make the most of this.” I’m so proud of this movie and what [director] Brett Rapkin did with what was available to us. I just think that people are really going to enjoy the movie and I was really happy to hear that Bill loved the movie. I got texts after the screening that Bill had tears in his eyes after the movie and that was the greatest compliment I could have ever received, especially when you’re playing a guy with so much charisma and so much personality. He’s got that stigma of being a crazy man. He got the nickname “Spaceman” for a reason, but he’s actually a brilliant, brilliant dude. He’s a truly unique individual who isn’t afraid to fight the system. My goal with the movie was to really try to humanize him as much as I could and still keep him as sort of upbeat and quirky as he is in real life, without making him a caricature. I think we accomplished just that. I’m really proud of the movie.
Catch Josh in Spaceman, which hits theatres on August 19, and keep up to date on all of his upcoming projects on imdb.com. For real-time updates from the man himself, follow him on Twitter, @joshduhamel.
This article, written by Hugo Fontaine, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 30 No. 5.