When actor Josh Duhamel and his wife, Fergie, lead singer of the Black Eyed Peas, need a break from life in Los Angeles, they head to a place not known for attracting a lot of celebrity jet-setters: North Dakota.
And now Duhamel, a native of North Dakota, is serving as ambassador for the state, starring in TV and print ads due out later this year promoting tourism there.
"Whenever people tell me, 'I've been to 49 states,' I say, 'Let me guess. You haven't been to North Dakota,'" Duhamel said in a phone interview. "We're always the last state. I am trying to change that! We may be the 50th most-visited state, but we only have one way to go: up."
Duhamel, who appeared in "Transformers" movies and the TV show "Las Vegas," is from Minot, North Dakota, and gets back a few times a year. "We love to take road trips, me and my wife and my sister and her husband," he said. "We'll drive from Minot to Fargo, stop in random towns, population 20, go in and grab a beer."
Do they get recognized? "A lot of these guys are old farmers," he said. "They're not big Black Eyed Peas fans, or 'Las Vegas' or 'Transformers' fans. They don't really care. They treat us like we're regular people."
It's a welcome change from L.A. "Every time I go back to North Dakota, the stress level just goes down," he said. "There's just so much open road. You can go 100 miles with nothing but little farmhouses. Something about the way people approach life is refreshing."
Duhamel spent eight days making the ads last summer with his son, Axl, now 2, in tow. "We traveled from Medora in the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, all the way east through Bismarck to the Lewis and Clark Trail and Devils Lake and ended up in Fargo," he said. "We made it a whole sort of road trip."
The ads' irreverent tone plays on the idea that Duhamel is just a regular guy back home. One shows Duhamel meeting a couple while hiking. They ask for a photo. He assumes they want a photo of him, but instead they want him to shoot them.
Duhamel's top recommendations for destinations in his home state include Theodore Roosevelt National Park ("truly the best-kept secret, so beautiful") and Fort Mandan. The fort was built by the Lewis and Clark expedition in the winter of 1804-05, and it was during their stay there that the explorers met the Native American woman who served as their guide, Sacagawea.
"I've seen a lot of the rest of the world now," Duhamel said, "but there's something about going back to North Dakota that's just so peaceful."
A TV ad buy of nearly $900,000 will run in May and early June in Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with print ads in regional and national magazines. Duhamel was paid $475,000.
And just for the record, according to a 2014 U.S. Travel Association's report, North Dakota isn't the 50th state when it comes to the impact of travel on state economics. It's 44th.