Josh Duhamel on ‘Safe Haven’ co-star Julianne Hough: ‘I think she’s going to be a big star’

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Nicholas Sparks has given us plenty of couples to fall in love with over the years: Noah and Allie, John and Savannah … and now, Alex and Katie. They are the latest to heat up the screen in a film adaptation of Sparks’ book, “Safe Haven,” starring Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough – and omg! has two exclusive shots from the movie, which will hit theaters on February 8. In it, Duhamel plays a widower with two young children who is struggling to raise them on his own, while the former “Dancing With the Stars” pro portrays a young women who moves to a small North Carolina town with a dark secret. Naturally, the two fall in love.

But “Safe Haven” is not your typical romance flick. Duhamel, 39, tells omg! the characters are both pretty complicated, which was a real challenge to him as an actor. “When I first read the script and the book, I thought ‘What am I going to do with this guy? He’s too perfect,’” he explains. “And so we really just worked hard on making him feel human. He’s a guy who makes mistakes and he doesn’t always do the right thing … So when this girl shows up in town out of nowhere, he doesn’t really know what to make of it at first. He doesn’t realize he likes her as much as he does because it hasn’t even crossed his mind. It was one of the more difficult things to play because I had to really find complexity in the guy. He’s a guy who really has his hands full and when he meets this girl, it sort of turns his world upside down.”

Duhamel credits one of Sparks’ classics, 2004’s “The Notebook” starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, as his inspiration to make Alex and Katie just as beloved by fans. “To me, those were the best characters,” he says of Noah and Allie. “Those two were amazing in that movie. That movie will stand the test of time, and it’s because of the relationship and the authenticity of it. And that’s really what I had to do in this one. Julianne and I both had to find what it was that drew these two together and it’s not this young love, it’s not this loss of innocence. These two have both been through a lot already. It’s about finding love again, and it’s about taking the risks from two people are pretty damaged.”

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Working with 24-year-old Hough, who has had very little acting experience outside of “Rock of Ages” and “Footloose” which required singing and dancing, was much easier than you would think considering her sparse resume. “She’s incredible,” raves Duhamel. “She’s a sweetheart. She’s very bright. She’s a very instinctive actress. She’s got a lot of talent, and I believe in her. I think she’s going to be a big star. This is the first time that she’s really had the chance to do a movie where she’s carrying it and it’s not based on dancing or singing. It’s a real role and it’s a difficult role.”

Going into filming, Duhamel reveals the two co-stars talked a lot about the process and how they were going to bring to life the passion between their characters, while also respecting their own significant others (he’s married to Fergie; she’s been dating Ryan Seacrest since April 2010). “You know, we’re both in high-profile relationships, and we just put that aside. My wife and her boyfriend are both understanding in that way. When those cameras are rolling, this is real. It’s got to be real. And that’s what we both wanted to do and that’s why this works. And she was all in. “

“Safe Haven,” which also stars “How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders, hits theaters February 8.

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