Josh Duhamel didn't start directing because he felt the need to "prove anything." In fact, when the actor set out to direct the 2019 comedy Buddy Games, he had one simple goal in mind: "I was just trying to make a fun movie that I would want to see," he says.
The one-time soap opera star is best known for starring in action movies (the Transformers franchise) and romantic comedies (Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, Shotgun Wedding). But even after decades onscreen, directing Buddy Games, which Duhamel also wrote and stars in, left him feeling particularly vulnerable.
"I was really afraid after I finished the first film, because it's pretty outrageous and it's pretty hard-hitting," he admits. "I was so relieved when we showed it to people and I got to see them curling over laughing at my stupid sense of humor."
That gave him confidence to take the sequel, Buddy Games: Spring Awakening, to even weirder and more provocative places. "People don't really make movies like this anymore," he says, citing Animal House and Porky's as inspirations. "I wanted it to be unapologetic. I love directors like the Farrelly Brothers, who did things to shock audiences as much as they did things to make them laugh. That's what I wanted to do. I didn't want to hold back."
Below, Duhamel shares with A.frame his five favorite films, as well as the words of wisdom four-time Oscar nominee Todd Phillips shared with him about the secret to directing comedy.
Directed by: Milos Forman | Written by: Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
I always go back to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That film is such a combination of comedy, beautiful character development, amazing acting, and real tragedy. It's one of my all-time favorites. It really moved me when I saw it for the first time, and Jack Nicholson is really in his prime in it. I'm amazed by the performances that Milos Forman was able to get out of all of those actors.
The 1970s, in general, is my favorite decade of movies. The films back then weren't afraid to let something sit in a classical composition. They let things play out. It wasn't cut, cut, cut, cut. They let moments breathe, and I don't think we do that as much anymore, because we're afraid we're gonna lose the audience's attention. I think we have to give people more credit than that, though. People will stay engaged if the moment feels real or provocative in some way.
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick | Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
I love Kubrick. I mean, who doesn't? He's one of the greatest of all time. To me, The Shining is a perfect storm of Kubrick, Nicholson, and Stephen King all perfectly working together. It's beautifully shot, it's terrifying, and it's a story that we can all weirdly relate to now: If you're stuck inside one place by yourself, how long until you lose your mind? I remember seeing the film as a kid when I was just barely old enough, and I remember my dad talking a lot about it. I was afraid to see it, at first, but when I did, I was just captivated by it. I could not turn my eyes away from it. Kubrick was such a visionary, and The Shining, for whatever reason, really sticks out to me.
Directed by: Peter Farrelly | Written by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly and Bennett Yellin
Dumb and Dumber is easily in my top five movies of all time. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there's such a heart to that movie and it’s got such an unapologetically comedic tone to it. Still to this day, I cannot stop watching it every time it's on. It cracks me up. I could recite every line of that movie. The Farrelly Brothers just went there, man, and I love that about them. They really influenced both of the movies I've directed, because I wanted to make things that were going to shock people a little bit and make them say, "Holy sh*t! I can't believe they just did that."
Directed by: Mike Judge | Written by: Mike Judge and Etan Cohen
Idiocracy is a weird one that really sticks with me. It's about these two totally average people who are cryogenically frozen, but the building that they're being held in gets condemned. So 500 years later, they wake up to find out that now they're the two smartest people in the world. The film didn't really do much when it was in theaters, but I think about its subject matter a lot. If you watch that movie now, it's hard not to think, "Oh, I see that happening in the world." It's brilliant. It's all about the dumbing down of society, and I can really see certain things that it was right about happening right now. It was a bit of a visionary movie, in my mind, and I love Mike Judge. I love his irreverence and the simple nature of his storytelling.
Directed by: Todd Phillips | Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Todd Phillips is a director I really admire. When I went to direct the first Buddy Games, I actually called Todd — because our kids went to preschool together — and he called me back. We were in prep on the first movie at the time, and I remember talking to him and the first thing he said was, "Congratulations. It's hard to get a movie made." He couldn't have been more supportive, and I remember he said to me, "You've got a bunch of funny guys in this movie. Don't let them out-funny each other. Make sure that the humor always comes from a grounded place."
I was really appreciative of him taking the time to walk me through that, because I have so much respect for the guy. I love The Hangover. I love Old School. I love all of his movies, because I think he's always really hard-hitting in his comedy, but still grounded. To see him go and do Joker, too, I was like, "How do you go from The Hangover to this?" Well, the truth is, he's just a great filmmaker. He can do it all. And the first Hangover really hit me hard. I laughed out loud several times in that film, but Old School is great, too.
Reporting by Alex Welch