North Dakota sure knows how to pick a face.
Special Ops Commander, firefighter, drifter, detective: these are some of the many roles actor Josh Duhamel has played in Hollywood. His latest, however, is different. North Dakota Tourism has announced the actor is the face of its 2016 advertising campaign. “We are thrilled that one of North Dakota’s best-known natives would share his personal experiences and passion for our state as we promote North Dakota as a visitor destination,” said Governor Jack Dalrymple. “Because he grew up here, Josh knows firsthand all of the legendary experiences we have to offer, and that’s why he continues to come home to enjoy North Dakota.” To get the lowdown on his beloved state, we sat down with the star and talked about the best place to get a stiff drink in his hometown, his childhood as ‘Huck Finn,’ and his favorite thing to eat when visiting Mom. Here's the full interview.
What do you love most about North Dakota?
Well, I think it’s one of the least known states in the country. Part of me loves that about it. I love that I’m from a place that people are like, "What? Is that in Canada?” There’s something really mysterious about it, because it’s not on people’s radar, and I noticed that when I left—when I was about 22 years old, to go out and search the world and see what else is out there.
People didn’t know much about it. I’d tell somebody where I’m from and five minutes later, they’d be like, “So what’s it like in South Dakota?” And 20 minutes later they’d say, “You said North Carolina, right?” No. It’s North Dakota, the state right above South Dakota. There’s very little known about it, but it’s all I knew growing up, so it’s surprising to me. When I started doing interviews, I think on Leno and Ellen, they were curious about my home state, and they’d ask “What’s it like there?” I was proud to be from there, so I’d talk about it, and that’s really how this whole thing came about. [I was] asked to do the campaign, and I was truly honored by that, because to think about representing my state as a ten-year-old kid? What’s really an honor.
What was your childhood like?
We had the best time trekking it. My parents divorced when I was a fourth-grader, and we lived out in the country, about ten miles out of town. All I did every day was catch fish, frogs, crayfish—whatever we could find, we’d catch. We were out there searching like Huck Finn. I developed this love for the outdoors, and my youth was all about that. Then we moved into town, to Minot. I wouldn’t give it up for anything—it was a great place to grow up.
Did you ever feel isolated?
No. As you grow older you realize the closest big city is ten hours away. It’s interesting, because Minot is very self-sufficient. We have our own TV station, radio stations, shopping—all this stuff. In fact, people from Canada would come down to Minot to shop because we have really good shopping. So it didn’t ever feel that isolated. We got to drive to Bismarck and Fargo every once in a while, which felt like big cities. But going to Minneapolis for the first time, God—it was incredible. And New York was the polar opposite. I’d moved from North Dakota to Northern California for the first few years, and when I decided I was going to try and be an actor I went to Los Angeles, and about a year after that I got a job in New York, and I barely made it out alive.
Then going back, with all these experiences of leaving—I’d gone to Europe for a little bit and done all of these other things, thinking, “I want to get out of North Dakota, I need to see other things.” But then when I came back it really made me appreciate how much I loved it, and how much a part of me it was. There’s something so calming about when I go back. Driving down those roads with nothing but farms, and the occasional town and beautiful skies as far as you can see—there’s something so peaceful about it. I go back about three or four times a year.
What should every first-time visitor to North Dakota do?
Anybody going for the first time should really just drive across the state. If you’re coming from the West, go through Medora, for sure. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is absolutely beautiful. The Badlands are amazing. Just take those open roads through the state, and you’ll be like, “Wow.” All the stress flies off of you. There are a lot of touristy places you can see along the way, like the Lewis & Clark Trail. You can see the world’s biggest Buffalo in Jamestown (laughs). There are a lot of “world's biggests.” I think we’ve got the most world's biggest things. The world’s largest metal sculpture [the Enchanted Highway], the world’s largest cow …
Where is the first place you go when you return?
The Barley Pop—it’s the local watering hole. No question about it, the Barley Pop. And I have a restaurant there, 10 North Main, so that’s one of the first places I’ll go. I’ll pop in and have dinner.
What’s your favorite thing to eat when you're home?
Meatballs, mashed potatoes, and gravy. My mom makes that—it’s so good. In fact, every time she comes out to visit in LA, since she never knows what to get me for my birthday, she makes a giant thing of mashed potatoes, meatballs, and gravy, and we just freeze them.
Are there any souvenirs you always bring back?
There’s a company called Dakota Pride—that’s what I’ll send for gifts. They have the best chocolates and snacks. And Chipperz, which are chocolate-covered potato chips. They’re amazing. I’ll send gift baskets, and chocolate covered sunflower seeds.
What should go on your packing list if you're visiting?
It depends on what you’re going to do there. If you’re going to go hunting and fishing, you should probably bring your hunting rifle and your fishing rod. It depends on the time of year. It gets pretty cold in the winter, but its beautiful now. Summers are 75, 80 degrees. If you’re hiking through the Badlands, you’ll want to bring some good shoes. There's really great fishing, really great fishing. It's a great place for outdoor lovers and people who just want a little bit of peace.
Do you bring the family [wife Fergie and son Axl] when you go?
Sometimes. It depends; we usually go for one of the holidays, Easter or Thanksgiving, and then go back for something else, usually in the summer. Usually I’ll take my son and wife to Lake Metigoshe, because my sister has a cabin there, so everybody goes to visit.
It’s probably a great place to take your son, since it’s so different from LA.
Definitely. I want to make sure he knows his cousins, because a lot of them live there, and he loves them. He loves going to hang out with them, so it’s important I keep doing that, because I want him to have that root.
Where in North Dakota should every traveler visit?
Medora, man. Medora is amazing.
Do you rough it when you go there?
No. I stay at a nice hotel [laughs], like Rough Riders.
Besides your own, do you have any other favorite restaurants in your town?
There’s this place called the Vardon—it’s the old country club. It’s actually an old golf course that got flooded out, because we got flooded really badly a few years ago—a third of the city was under water, and so the course got flooded. Now they’ve redone it and they’ve built a great clubhouse. It’s where I spent a lot of my youth, too. When I was 'Huck Finn,' Robinwood Estates is where I grew up and it was all very country, but next to it was this country club, and I could never go play the course—we didn’t have any money. So, we would wait until the sun went down and we’d sneak over to hole fourteen and start playing. And we played like three holes until we’d see a car coming.
Is there a big golf scene in North Dakota?
There are three or four amazing golf courses there—like, world class. There’s the Links of North Dakota, the Hawktree in Bismarck, the Bully Pulpit in Medora, which is spectacular. You’re shooting from these sort of plateaus, and there’s great scenic shots. And Fargo Country Club. There’s a lot of really great golf.
What’s ahead for you in 2016? Any exciting projects?
There’s a movie coming out next week called Misconduct, with Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins. And Hulu’s doing an eight-part series on a Stephen King book called 11/22/63, with James Franco and Chris Cooper—it’s very good. It’s based on this guy who goes back in time to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination. Also, a movie called Spaceman, which is based on the real life of a guy called Bill Spaceman Lee. Then I just finished one in December called This Is Your Death, which is probably the strangest, darkest, most shocking thing that I’ve done. My agent and manager were like, “I don’t think this is a good idea.” But when I read about it, I was like, “I’m doing it.”
It’s about this guy, and he's a reality show host, and this tragic thing happens—the finale of the show he’s been doing forever, called Married to a Millionaire—one of the girls who doesn’t get picked murders the guy and then shoots herself in the head on national TV, and it causes this national uproar. He ends up getting asked to do this show where people come on and commit physician-assisted suicide on live TV. He does it sort of as an “eff you” to the media at large, because he feels like, “What are we showing people, and what are we consuming?” And he does this show that becomes this highly controversial phenomenon. He does it for what he thinks are the right reasons in the beginning, and then sort of becomes a monster and a victim of his own power and ratings and money. He becomes the thing he loathed the most.
Adeline Duff is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @adelineduff.