Josh Duhamel on Playing Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee and Keeping Up with Mark Wahlberg
Josh Duhamel is bringing the life and legacy of former Red Sox star Bill Lee to the big screen with his new film Spaceman. The indie comedy chronicles the outspoken and fan-favorite pitcher’s journey after his departure from the Expos and being blackballed by Major League Baseball. Ahead, Duhamel explains what it was like to play “Spaceman,” why Lee reminds the actor of his Las Vegas co-star James Caan, and the challenges of keeping up with Mark Wahlberg on the set of Transformers: The Last Knight.
Since Lee is such a character, was it fun getting the chance to play him?
It was a little intimidating, actually, in the beginning because he is such an original character and such a unique personality. There’s a reason why he was so beloved in Boston and Montreal. That’s just the way he was. You spend a few minutes with the guy and you understand why. He reminds me of James Caan in a way. When I worked with James, he got himself in trouble a lot because he would act before he thought a lot. That’s kind of what Bill did. It got him into trouble and ultimately got him blackballed from baseball. But you know when he felt something, he felt it 100 percent. In his mind, he was standing up for his buddies.
Was getting into the mind of such an eccentric personality the most difficult part of the role?
That was probably the biggest challenge. The pitching part wasn’t as hard because I played sports my whole life as part of my upbringing. So that part wasn’t as difficult as it was really trying to get inside his head, understanding his points of view on things. Even more than that, it was understanding that this particular moment in his life is not something that he looks back on fondly. This is a really rough stretch in his life.
You recently reposted a photo on Instagram of you and “Spaceman,” accompanied by #LeeDuhamel2016. Would you ever run for a political office with Lee?
Oh God no. I have no political aspirations. He does. It’s not the first time that he’s run for office. He does have very strong convictions. He’s probably a little more left than I am. I’m a lot more moderate than he is, I’m right in the middle. But hey, like I said before, the guy has convictions and is not afraid to stand behind them.
As the movie shows, Lee continues to play baseball for the pure love of the sport. Since this is more of an indie film as opposed to the big blockbusters you’ve starred in, did you do Spaceman out of a pure love for acting?
Most of the movies I’ve done, especially in the last five years or so, have been about making conscious efforts to do things for me creatively, to do them for why I got into this business in the first place. This movie, I think I got paid $100 a day or $100 a week. Less than scale, basically for free. I changed clothes in the backseat of my car. It was all for the love of the game. It does reflect sort of Bill’s love of baseball. He doesn’t do things for money, he does things for the love of the game and that’s really what I did this movie for. That’s what most of the decisions I make these days are based on.
How hard is it to go from a less physically demanding role like Lee to having to get shredded for a huge film like Transformers: The Last Knight?
[Transformers movies] are brutal physically. You’re literally going for six months and there’s a lot of running and jumping and falling and carrying heavy equipment, wearing wetsuits in 100 degree weather. You’ve got to stay fit. Especially on this one, where I made a deal with some Navy SEALs like, “You guys want to work out?” They all wanted to do it. Every morning it’s like 6 o’clock or whatever, depending upon on our call time, we go do it. They push me. I wouldn’t work out as hard as I do if I didn’t have those guys pushing me.
Was it rough trying to keep up athletically with your co-star Mark Wahlberg?
He gets up at like 3 in the morning and works out, then goes and plays 18 holes of golf. I don’t love golf that much. I just get up at 6, get a workout in, then go to work.
‘Spaceman’ is playing at the Somerville Theatre and is available via on demand video services.
This interview has been edited and condensed.