He was fazed, however, by a scene in his new film, Safe Haven, that required him to dance — especially because his partner would be co-star Julianne Hough, who got her start as one of the pros on Dancing with the Stars (2007-2009).
"That scene was like my personal Dancing with the Stars audition," the 40-year-old actor says. "Generally I don't like movies where the central couple just spontaneously dance, but I loved this script and it had a dance moment.
"I think it looks more natural because I'm not that good," he says. "It's good because it's not perfect. I guess that's also the theme of this movie."
Set to open in the US on February 8, Safe Haven — directed by Lasse Hallstrom and based on the Nicholas Sparks novel — casts Hough as Katie, a mysterious young woman who shows up unannounced in small-town Southport, North Carolina. Anxious to escape her unknown past, she has no intention of getting involved with anyone, until she meets Alex Wheatley (Duhamel), a widowed storeowner with two young children.
This isn't a story of two people who are made for each other, he continues, but rather of people who have found love, lost it and have to try to get back on their feet with each other's help.
"These are two people who are broken," Duhamel says. "They thought they found their love, but it didn't work out: She had to get out of her relationship, my wife died.
"I think people can relate to the idea of starting all over again in love," he says
There are chances to find somebody else and move forward," Duhamel says. "The movie asks if you should take that chance."
"It was great, because the town really was another character," Duhamel says. "Normally you would have Toronto double for North Carolina. I found that small-town life had such a peaceful, relaxing pace to it. This was one of those towns with a great marina with little restaurants bordering it, sailboats and beautiful, old Colonial houses.
Duhamel grew up with three younger sisters in Minot, New Detroit, where his father worked in advertising sales and his mother is a high-school teacher. He attended Minot State University, where he played football and studied biology.
"My plan was to become a dentist," he says. "You know what they say about plans in life."
Instead he ended up leaving school and working in construction, but his time hauling lumber was brief. A modelling agent spotted him, and soon he was working as a commercial model, often vying for jobs with another youngster nearby Iowa, Ashton Kutcher.
Both men ultimately moved into acting, with Duhamel making his first splash as Leo du Pres on All My Children (1999-2002). He went on to make his big-screen debut in Win a Date — playing the titular movie hunk — and since then has mixed such features as Transformers (2007), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Life as We Know It (2010),
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) and New Year's Eve (2011) with a starring role on the television series Las Vegas (2003-2008).
Since the show ended, however, he's limited his television work to occasional guest appearances.
"I do feel like I've grown up a bit when it comes to looking at my career," Duhamel says. "For so long I was so focused on, 'What's next? What's next? What's next?' I had these aspirations and I was so focused. The problem is, when you're that focused, you never stop, look back and figure out that you're really blessed to have come this far.
"It doesn't seem so long ago that I was back home in North Dakota and just wanted to get out and see the world," he says. "One thing led to another, and I found this career."
"Acting has become a real passion of mine," he says. "Yes, it's been a long, bumpy road, but it has also been exciting. There is a lot of stuff to do. I still want to accomplish a lot in this business."
Duhamel recently wrapped the drama You're Not You, with Hilary Swank and Emmy Rossum. After establishing himself as a star of the action-packed Transformer series, Duhamel wants to prove to the movie industry that he can handle serious drama. 'I was always focused on proving to people that I'm not just this actor who you can put in a box," he says.
"I can do other things. It's been a constant struggle to prove that I'm much more.
Cindy Pearlman/The New York Times News Service