Josh Duhamel talks friendship and fun that motivates ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’

Buddy Games Spring Awakening
Pictured are (from left) Nick Swardson as Bender, Dan Bakkedahl as Shelly, Kevin Dillon as Doc, Josh Duhamel as Bobfather and Dylan Playfair as Larry Lampshade in ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’.
Paramount Global Content Distribution Group

The 2019 film Buddy Games was inspired by actor Josh Duhamel’s real life annual meet up with his group of friends, which involves “an insane competition filled with absurd physical and mental challenges.” In the feature we see this group (including Kevin Dillon, Dax Shepard, James Roday and Nick Swardson) attempt what the film’s director and writer Duhamel called outrageous circumstances. And that formula worked for audiences, who tuned in to watch the self-deprecating and outlandish humor. So much so, that the franchise now has a sequel ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’ and a reality competition series coming out on CBS.

The sequel brings back all of the original players (minus Shepard) and puts the group of friends on a new journey, a new set of games, and a new set of brazen circumstances. To discuss it all, Duhamel sat down to discuss the inception, reputation and continuously growing fan-base of ‘Buddy Games’.

Buddy Games Spring Awakening
Pictured are (from left) Dan Bakkedahl as Shelly, Nick Swardson as Bender, Josh Duhamel as Bobfather and Kevin Dillon as Doc in ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’.Paramount Global Content Distribution Group

You have a big hand in the first movie—writing, producing, directing, and starring in it. How does it feel now to get the chance to make a sequel to it?

I was kind of terrified to show anybody the first one because it was so outrageous. But to see the reaction that people had to it, it was so gratifying because I was like, oh, people do have the same stupid sense of humor that I [do.] We wanted it to be unapologetic, we wanted it to be hard-hitting and we wanted it to be about friendship. That’s really what these movies are about. This all came from something that my buddies and I have done for the last 20, 25 years, every third weekend in August, we get together for a weekend of games. 

At first, it was mostly about the competition, and it still is, but it’s become more than that. It’s become more of this brotherhood that we have and this lifelong bond that we have with each other. I think that none of us take it for granted anymore, so we came up with the idea. We wrote the first movie, and it did really well, so we get to do it again. 

And what is ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’ about?

This one is about commemorating a lost brother and they go on this crazy journey that none of them saw coming. We also have some fun with the current sort of environment and we poke fun at ourselves. But we also poke fun at some of the craziness that’s out there in the world right now. 

The first film was also your directorial debut. Did you feel any different going in to direct this one?

I felt a little bit more confident, I’m not gonna lie. The first time around I was like, can I do this? Do I know everything I need to know? And what I learned was that I knew enough to know that I didn’t have to know everything. I had to surround myself with really talented people and I had to be a good leader. I had to give people full freedom to do what they do best. When you give people the opportunity just to go do what you hired them to do, it becomes an all-hands-on-deck collaboration. 

I think that was empowering. It’s amazing to see this inception of an idea grow into a movie that people reacted really well to and then get to do it again—and to have a TV show coming out as well, a reality competitive version on CBS, which I still can’t even believe it. I mean, this stupid thing my buddies and I do every year has turned into two movies and a TV show. 

Buddy Games Spring Awakening
Josh Duhamel as Bobfather and Nick Swardson as Bender in ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’.Paramount Global Content Distribution Group.

These films to me are even a bit nostalgic to early 2000’s comedies. Since you mentioned you were surprised by the response, what is it about ‘Buddy Games’ that has people so tuned in?

I love that you said that because when we made this, I thought that it actually scored better with women than it did with men. And I couldn’t believe that. I think that it’s fun and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is meant to be outrageous, even if you’re laughing in private at it, it’s really funny. We poke fun at ourselves and we’re poking fun at some of the stuff that’s happening out there in the world now—but we do it in a way that’s not mean-spirited. 

I never wanted to be mean-spirited with this. I wanted it to be fun and I want it to feel relatable, as outrageous as this whole thing is. 

Since you mentioned the TV show before, what can people expect on that front?

It’s about these six groups of friends from all over the country: Chicago, Oklahoma, Oregon, California, and Philadelphia. They compete against these other teams and they all live in this giant cabin. So it has a ‘Big Brother’, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Wipeout’ feel, but at the end of the day, it’s really about friendship. We’re not ‘American Ninja Warriors’ here, these are normal people who still have that competitive spirit. And I think that when people see it, I’m not even kidding, every group of friends out there is going to say, we should do that.

Lastly, any moments from filming ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’ that stand out to you?

Part of the reason why I love this whole theme is because it is meant to be fun. Whether it be having Dan Bakkedahl holding this big slimy toad, or when I got to go on that big inflatable obstacle course, or beach volleyball. It’s all meant just to be fun. This is one of the most fun movie-making experiences I’ve had. I think that that’s why the guys in the cast love it so much, because they don’t have to take themselves so seriously and just go have fun. 

Buddy Games Spring Awakening
Pictured are (from left) Dan Bakkedahl as Shelly, Nick Swardson as Bender, Josh Duhamel as Bobfather, and
Kevin Dillon as Doc in ‘Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’.
Paramount Global Content Distribution Group.

Buddy Games: Spring Awakening’ is now in theaters and will be available On Digital June 2.