Josh Duhamel: Dream Boy

"For about two years, I did modeling," says Josh Duhamel. It should come as no surprise, considering his prepossessing looks. "I didn't make a lot of money doing it, and I figured, why not try to make a little bit more money doing commercials and stuff? I took commercial workshops; then I started taking acting classes—just to be sent out more. It was just a way to make more money."

Duhamel had just moved to L.A. from his home state of North Dakota when he met Jim Vytlacil, who was working in the mailroom at the Don Buchwald and Associates Talent Agency. Vytlacil asked him whether he wanted to earn some extra money distributing photos with him at the agency. "I did it, and one day one of the agents asked me if I wanted to be an actor. I said yes, thinking it's got to be easy and not realizing how much work it actually took. So they started sending me out."

Duhamel admits that he wasn't very good at auditions, having had virtually no experience. "They sent me out right in the middle of pilot season," he recalls. "I had, like, two or three auditions a day. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I remember Jim came home from work one day and asked how my auditions went. I knew I had stunk up the room but I said [apprehensively], 'Pretty good.' He told me, 'Apparently it didn't go too well. They said you were cute and everything, but you were the least talented one they saw. If you don't start doing well, they're probably not going to send you out anymore.' I felt like crawling underneath the couch. That was the moment when I became really serious about acting. It made me understand that I have to really work on this. I almost became obsessed with studying acting. I remember on my next auditions I got two callbacks, which was enough for them to keep sending me out. Eventually I got better and better responses."

He soon landed the role of Leo du Pres on All My Children, earning three consecutive Daytime Emmy Award nominations and winning in 2002. "I think soaps get a bad rap," he says. "I think it's the best place to learn. I mean, people can talk whatever trash they want about it, but I used it as a tool to learn. It was the best three years that I could have used for acting. It was the best learning experience that I've had. Those three years are the reason why I'm here. You're in front of the camera every single day. You learn where the cameras are; you learn blocking, tons of dialogue, how to deal with press and fans. It's on a much smaller scale, but nevertheless you still learn. It was great. I am totally grateful to those people for giving me the opportunity."

After his three-year stint on Children, Duhamel moved back to L.A. to advance his career. "I told myself, three [years] is it, because there are certain things that I want to try to do," he recalls. He returned during pilot season. "This was my first pilot season since I'd been back," he says. "I read the script for [NBC's] Las Vegas, and I loved it. It just seemed like such a fun show. So we really went after it. I ended up getting it. It was one of those situations where you audition, then you audition again, then you screen test, then you wait two weeks to find out. By the time you get the phone call [telling you] that you got the part, it's not so much excitement as it is exasperation or just relief. You just want to crawl up with a pillow and take a nap. That's what I felt like doing. But I am really happy with where the show is going now. I think we're finding a good mix of comedy and drama. It's an hour [during which] people can just sort of have fun."

Duhamel also auditioned for Dreamworks' Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, which opens Jan. 23. "I had auditioned for Tad Hamilton when I first got back from New York, and nothing happened," he relates. "I auditioned, never heard anything, forgot about it, and moved on. I remember my New York acting coach called me up three separate times after I auditioned and said, 'It was like a thorn in my side; I felt you were right for that movie. I can't believe nothing ever went any further.'"

After getting cast in Las Vegas—which is produced by Dreamworks Television—there was a renewed interested in Duhamel for the title role in Tad Hamilton. "I went back in and met with the casting director," he says. "From there I went to meet [director] Robert Luketic for a screen test—they screen-tested, like, seven of us. Again, two weeks later I was still waiting to hear something. I kept asking my agent, 'Did we get the call?' And when we [finally] did, he asked, 'Are you excited?' I was like, yeah—but again, I just wanted to take another nap."

Duhamel makes his feature-film debut in Tad Hamilton, starring in title role beside Topher Grace, Kate Bosworth, Nathan Lane, and Sean Hayes.

Duhamel finds that the experience of gaining wider recognition was made easier because of his work on the soap. "Again, the experience sort of prepares you for it," he says. "Still, this is so much for me to take in. I feel like I am living a dream right now. Like this isn't real. It happened really quickly. It's like, be careful what you wish for, because if it happens, [you had] better be ready."