Josh Duhamel: From Soap Opera Hunk To Hollywood Leading Man

In an alternate universe, handsomely hunky actor Josh Duhamel might've ended up reminding you to floss regularly and go easy on the sweets. Instead, he pursued a career in show business and became a fixture of the small and silver screens — a move that clearly worked out well for him. An objectively dashing star with no shortage of charisma, one might assume things clicked into place the second he got his foot in the door. However, that was far from the case. "For forever, I felt like I maybe didn't belong or I was fooling people into thinking I was an actor when I really was just some kid from North Dakota who grew up with a dream," Duhamel admitted to InStyle.

Make no mistake, Duhamel hasn't coasted on his good-looking mug alone. As he said in InStyle, "You really have to understand how much work it takes, especially to stay in the business." The Tinseltown star has earned his stripes, grinding away in TV and film since the late '90s. From dreaming of becoming a dentist to making a splash in the soap opera world to loving life as a father, this is Josh Duhamel's journey to becoming a Hollywood leading man. 

Josh Duhamel originally wanted to be a dentist

Before Josh Duhamel had show business dreams, his career ambitions were rooted in dentistry. According to UND Daily, he had aspired to be a dentist since high school. On why he wanted to be a dentist, he said, "I could make mom proud to be a doctor and I could do something that I loved and be good at." Duhamel started his journey to dentistry at Minot State University, majoring in biology. But he dropped out of school to move to California and put his degree on hold.

He eventually completed his studies and graduated from Minot State in 2005. He told UND Daily about finishing his degree, "I put a lot of work in for that. A biology degree was not easy. It was a lot of stress and a lot of hard work. I would have been disappointed in myself had I not gone back and finished." Minot State University is proud to have Duhamel as an alum. In 2022, the school announced the MSU Summer Theatre amphitheater stage would be named the Josh Duhamel Stage.

The modeling world wasn't for Josh Duhamel

Josh Duhamel first caught eyes for his dashing good looks. He actually participated in an epic male competition that would put Derek Zoolander and Hansel McDonald's walk-off to shame. Before he was famous, Duhamel won the coveted title of Male Model of the Year in 1997. On "Late Night with Seth Meyers" Duhamel competed against another fresh face, Iowan Ashton Kutcher. Both Duhamel and Kutcher strutted their stuff on the runway, moody pouts and all. But only one could take the title and Duhamel out-modeled Kutcher. Duhamel told Harper's Bazaar of the experience, "It was like a real-life 'Zoolander.' It was amazing—and I took it so seriously; I so wanted to win. I felt like Miss America when I won that thing."

Duhamel might have felt on top of the world after winning Male Model of the Year, but it was Kutcher who went on to have modeling success. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Kutcher got a gig with Calvin Klein, but Duhamel never quite took to the profession. He confessed to Harper's Bazaar that his modeling days were brief. He said, "The truth is I only did that for about a year and a half, and I was really unsuccessful at it. I never felt comfortable posing in front of a camera." Luckily for Duhamel, he had more to offer than just really, really, really ridiculously good looking and soon he was off to start his acting career.

All My Children launched Josh Duhamel into stardom

Like many hunky actors, one of Josh Duhamel's first acting gigs was on a daytime soap opera. Duhamel launched his acting career in 1999 on the ABC soap opera stalwart "All My Children." He opened up about his first day of filming "AMC" on "Live with Kelly and Ryan," admitting he was nervous filming the scene. Certainly Duhamel soon worked out his novice jitters, as he appeared in over 50 episodes of "AMC" as con artist Leo du Pres. He was nominated for three Daytime Emmy Awards, securing a win in 2002.

Duhamel shared with Entertainment Weekly that working on "All My Children" was one of the best times of his life and to this day, he remembers his lines from his first scene. He returned to "AMC" as the series wrapped up its decades-long run on ABC in 2011. Sure, his character was seemingly killed off in 2003, but like any soap opera worth its salt, there's always a way for characters to come back. And come back she did: Duhamel's Leo returned for a single episode during a dream sequence. Cue the dramatic soap opera organ music!

Yes, that's him in the Genie in a Bottle video

Making a career transition in show business is almost never any easy road and Josh Duhamel, like many aspiring entertainers, had to pay his dues as a background performer. He made his transition from model to acting with an appearance in the music video for Christina Aguilera's 1999 breakout song "Genie in a Bottle." He told Harper's Bazaar, "I was basically an extra in that video. If you pause it at just the right time, 1:58, you'll see me. When you're in that stage of your career, you're just trying to get whatever work you can. So, any opportunity I could to do it, I took it."

Indeed, you can barely make Duhamel out as one of the beach party revelers ready to dance it out with Aguilera. While some actors would bury such a cameo deep in their resume, Duhamel wasn't shy about his foray into pop music. Fergie told Yahoo! Music that Josh told her about his music video days on their first date. It might not have been the flex that he thought it was, but apparently it charmed Fergie enough to keep him around. Perhaps Duhamel took inspiration from "Genie in a Bottle" when he proposed to Audra Mari using a message in a bottle

How Josh Duhamel met Fergie

Josh Duhamel and pop singing sensation Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson lived the glamorous life together for years as one of Hollywood's hottest couples and the way they met is straight out of the romantic comedy playbook. On "Anderson Live," Duhamel confirmed that he had a crush on Fergie before he met her. The soap actor said he saw Fergie in The Black Eyed Peas' "Hey Mama" music video and was smitten. Duhamel then suggested The Black Eyed Peas as guests for his NBC show "Las Vegas" and sure enough, the band made a cameo the following year.

Duhamel managed to snag The Black Eyed Peas for his show rather smoothly, but when it came to finally meeting Fergie in person, he was all butterflies. As he recounted on "The Late Late Show with James Corden," "It was a big build up to the one moment when I finally get to talk to her, and all I could say was, 'You're hot.'" While simple, it seems his line ended up working. Duhamel and Fergie were soon an item, getting married in 2009 and welcoming son Axl in 2013. 

Alas, this love story eventually cooled off. Duhamel and Fergie parted ways in 2017 and made their divorce final two years later. A source at People said Duhamel and Fergie are friendly exes. "They both want happiness for the other and cheer each other on still," they stated.

Steven Spielberg has had a hand in his career

If you're going to have a supportive person backing your Hollywood career, you can't get much better than Steven Spielberg. The famed filmmaker is godfather to both Gwyneth Paltrow and Drew Barrymore, has mentored directors like J.J Abrams, and has played a significant role in Duhamel's career trajectory. As Duhamel shared with Entertainment Weekly, Spielberg believed the actor be perfect for the 2004 rom-com "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" and said as much. Duhamel recalled, "The story goes that Steven Spielberg looked at the screen tests and [said], 'If I was making this movie, I'd hire him.'"

Spielberg once again swooped into Duhamel's career auspiciously when he caught Duhamel in the NBC series "Las Vegas." According to HFPA in Conversation, after watching Duhamel, Spielberg recommended him for the role of Captain William Lennox in the 2007 blockbuster movie "Transformers." Duhamel went on to play the character in three other "Transformers" films, making him a bonafide franchise star. Duhamel joked about Spielberg to EW, "He's my guardian angel," but, "He's never hired me for one of his movies, so maybe he's not that big of a fan."

Josh Duhamel is a doting dad

Josh Duhamel sure seems to be a loving being a dad to his son, Axl. He's not shy about sharing special father and son moments publicly. On Instagram, Duhamel has posted precious moments like Father's Day celebrations, cuddly times, and birthday wishes. For Duhamel, it's moments like teaching Axl how to play tee-ball that attracted him to parenting. He told ET of working with Axl on his sporting skills, "This is why I wanted to be a dad. [It's] to be able to have moments like this with him."

Duhamel divorced Axl's mom, singer Fergie, in 2019, but sits squarely in Duhamel's cheering section. The pair of exes share joint custody of Axl, and when asked about splitting parenting duties with Duhamel, Fergie told ET, "we're all love, we love each other, we're all cool. Just a family. ... I have a good co-parenting partner. We work it out." Duhamel seems to take to fatherhood easily, and he's ready to give it another try. In 2022, he told Us Weekly he and his now-wife Audra Mari plan on having children together. 

He's a dedicated Minnesota Vikings fan

Josh Duhamel is an unabashed super-fan of the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, his interest in the sport goes all the way back to his college days. Per Minot State University, he participated in the school's football program, but he soon left the school to pursue a showbiz career. However, on an appearance on "Skol Stories," Duhamel admitted it was only after leaving his home state of North Dakota for California that his Minnesota Vikings fandom blossomed. Sporting purple and gold connected Duhamel to home and his love of the Vikings has become a very important part of his life. 

Of course, being a Hollywood celebrity has given Duhamel access to the NFL team in ways the average fan can only dream about. The Minnesota Vikings reported on Duhamel dropping by Winter Park, the team's former off-season training facility, and on the "The Dan Patrick Show," Duhamel said he was invited by then-Head Coach Mike Zimmer to attend QB rookie camp. Even though Duhamel has had special celebrity privileges with the Vikings, he keeps his fandom grounded in his everyday life. On Instagram, he's posted photos and videos of himself wearing Vikings merch while vacationing in Thailand, partying outside of U.S Bank Stadium, and like any true Vikings fan, lamenting team losses.

How Josh Duhamel stays grounded

He might be a big-time Hollywood star with dozens of acting credits to his name and star in commercials for brands like Diet Pepsi and Taco Bell, but Josh Duhamel manages to stay grounded in his Midwestern roots. The North Dakota native doesn't just give lip service to Midwestern life, he lives it. According to Men's Journal, he spends time at his rural Minnesota getaway. He told the publication of his retreat, "The place that I got is near his on the lake and out in the deep woods. There is nobody around for miles. I always come back with my spirit feeling lifted."

Duhamel loves his home state so much that he's become an official tourism spokesperson. According to North Dakota tourism, he's been promoting tourism in the state since 2013. He also shares his love of the Midwest with his son, Axl, bringing him to the region to stay connected to his family. He told UND Today, "[Axl] comes back a few times a year with me. ... I want him to have as much of this state [North Dakota] and as much influence on him from the people and from family and friends, getting to see what life is like here because Los Angeles is great, don't get me wrong, but I don't want my kid to be influenced only by Los Angeles."

His real friends inspired the movie Buddy Games

Josh Duhamel made his directorial debut with the 2020 film "Buddy Games" and he didn't need to look far for inspiration. The movie, which he also co-wrote and produced, is based on the fun that he and his real friend have together. In "Buddy Games," Duhamel stars as Bobfather, the host of the titular event, wherein a group of friends gather and bond with each other by competing in zany and wild competitions for a cash prize. Waterslide, motorcycles, eating competitions. It's bros being bros to the extreme. Oh, and a Komodo dragon is involved.

On "Today," Duhamel said the spirit of his friends' real life games are part of the movie. He also included a nod to his ex-wife Fergie in the credits because she was the one who encouraged him to direct the project. "Buddy Games" had a limited theatrical release in 2020 due to pandemic concerns and although "Buddy Games" sits at a tepid 16% on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, a sequel to the film was ordered in 2022. Duhamel told Deadline of making "Buddy Games 2," "I've never had as much fun as I did making the first 'Buddy Games' and honestly feel like 'Buddy Games 2' is shaping up to be every bit as fun as the first."

His entry into the superhero genre surprised him

Josh Duhamel has proven his versatile acting talents by taking roles in many different genres. Over the course of his decades-long Hollywood career, Duhamal has appeared in everything from flashy network television dramas, charming romantic comedies, mega action blockbusters, and poignant family films. By the 2020s, It seemed like there wasn't a genre that Duhamel hadn't tackled, but surprisingly, he had never been a superhero. In 2021, he finally got his chance with a starring role in the Netflix series "Jupiter's Legacy." Based on the comic book series of the same name, the show follows moralistic superhero The Utopian (Duhamel) who leads the Union of Justice, a band of heroes dedicated to serving humanity while following their lofty ideals. But times change, and The Utopian's superhero successors struggle to follow his principles.

Duhamel told Men's Health of playing a caped crusader, "I never really know what I want to do until I read it, until something really sort of moves me or speaks to me, and I really loved this story. I thought if I was ever going to do a superhero thing, it would have been 15 years ago." While Duhamel seized the moment to play The Utopian, the role didn't launch his superhero career. "Jupiter's Legacy" was supposed to be Netflix's big foray into superheroes, but it was canceled by the streaming service shortly after its debut. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show was plagued by budgetary issues, changes in executive leadership, and mediocre ratings.

Josh Duhamel's dramatic wedding to Aurdra Mari

Josh Duhamel and former Miss World America and model Audra Mari got hitched in 2022, but their wedding didn't exactly go off without any problems. Duhamel and Mari, both native North Dakotans, married in Fargo in a celebration with a very hometown feel. But it seems that Duhamel felt a little too comfortable letting loose with his nearest and dearest. Mari shared in Vogue Australia that although the ceremony was meticulously planned, the wedding festivities got off to a chaotic start. The night before the wedding, Duhamel got a little too wild with his dancing and ended up slipping a disc. The morning of their big day, he was in the hospital.

Duhamel confirmed the debacle on "The Late Late Show with James Cordon," saying that he thought he was fine after he tweaked his back, but when he woke up on his wedding day, he realized he was not fine at all. Talking with "Smallzy's Surgery," Duhamel said he went to the emergency room and was there just hours before the ceremony. He got a shot, and the nuptials went off without further incident. Unfortunately, the day after the wedding, Duhamel once again couldn't get out of bed. Here's hoping the back injury is an auspicious start to their marriage. 

Josh Duhamel is also a video game star

Josh Duhamel's performance versatility doesn't end with film and television; he's also a video game star. He voiced High Volt in the family-friend "Skylanders: SuperChargers" and when he's not appearing in video games for the kiddie crowd, Duhamel is voicing and serving as the motion-capture model for action-adventure video games that are definitely not for children. The Hollywood star has major roles in the video games "Call of Duty: WWII" and "The Callisto Protocol." But just because he's acting for gaming consoles doesn't mean it's less dramatic or intense than his work in Hollywood. He told Dan Allen Gaming about working in video games, "I approach it like I approach any movie. I really try to be as emotionally invested and committed as I can."

Of the "Call of Duty: WWII" creative process, Duhamel shared with The Hollywood Reporter, "As I really got to learn more about, not only did they pay attention historically, but the writing rivals anything I've ever read as far as movie scripts. Some of the scene work we got to do in this game was amazing. These characters are so well-rounded." As far as the motion-capture work goe, Duhamel said, "Once you get past the tight suit and the little ping pong balls, it feels like you're doing theater." If Duhamel's movie career ever fades, he certainly has a future in the gaming world.

He had a near-death experience while filming a rom-com

Josh Duhamel's career has been filled with some serious action sequences requiring extensive stunt work. For example, in the 2017 film "Transformers: The Last Night," Duhamel shared with Moviefone that he shot action scenes using 10,000 gallons of water, something he admitted was both scary and fun. The actor loves the work so much he's even performed his own stunts. Duhamel told Access Hollywood that while making "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon," "I got to do one [stunt] that was pretty crazy where they tied us to these clips and they yank you straight up in the air as if you're getting pulled up by one of the robots."

So it might come as a surprise that Duhamel had a near-death experience, not while shooting an action blockbuster, but during the making of the modest romantic comedy "Shotgun Wedding." On "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," Duhamel explained that while taking time off from filming the movie in the Dominican Republic, he explored a small coastal cove. When filming the ocean, he was smacked by the water, then dragged by the waves through sharp coral. "It was one of the near-death experiences of my life," he said. Sometimes real life can be scarier than any Hollywood special effect could ever be.