For a superhero who can fly around the world in 12 seconds and shoot laser beams from his eyes, Sheldon Sampson is powerless when it comes to communicating with his teenage daughter. And that’s the crux of Jupiter’s Legacy, the new Netflix series starring Josh Duhamel as Sheldon/The Utopian, leader of an aging group of superheroes. He’s tired of the grind, sick of people not appreciating his team’s efforts, and frustrated that his son Brandon may not be superhero material and that his daughter Chloe won’t even try. Plus, the villains out there try to exploit every crack, doubt, and loophole to advance their agenda. And did we mention that the baddies are getting closer to home than Sheldon ever dared imagine? Fatherly recently chatted with Duhamel, who filled us on Jupiter’s Legacy, Sheldon’s lonely plight, and what it’s like, in real life, for his son – with ex, Fergie – to see dad play a superhero…
Do you think Sheldon would say he’s a superhero first or a parent first?
I would say he would say he’s a superhero, and that’s the problem. He has taken his job so seriously. He only had good intentions the whole time. We’ll see the origin story when we cut back and forth to the 1930s, in this series, the amount of work and struggle that it took to get to this place, and the aspirations that they had once that got them to affect change. He took that very seriously, and as a result, 90 years later, he’s starting to feel the repercussions of that. And that’s that he wasn’t able to … He wasn’t really present for his kids.
How much pressure is on Sheldon?
A lot, the weight of the world. We’ve seen crazy, and super-fast, and powerful, and all the different types of superheroes, but have we ever seen a depressed, tired superhero? That’s kind of what he is, even though he’s at the tail end of his career and still has that same sort of belief that they need to change. But he’s starting to question a lot of this stuff. That’s one of the current themes that I think runs through this thing.
He’s a really smart guy. So why does he have such a blind spot? It’s not just his daughter. It’s his dad. He missed all the clues. It’s his brother, who’s obviously going to turn on him. And it’s his kids, especially if Brandon goes over to the other side as well.
I think that it’s naivete. It’s ego. He’s got this very rigid belief that people are looking to him. People are expecting so much from him and that he doesn’t really see what he needs to. He’s more concerned about serving the people than he is about seeing the people that are closest to him. And I think that really is going to come back to haunt him, and you can see it happening.
He almost needs a superhero to save his own world.
Exactly. I find it fascinating that he seeks solace in one of the people that he threw in the max prison, the supermax prison. They have this really interesting friendship, this guy that he would never … that he put there, but also has a really profound respect for at the same time and seeks him out to try to get some of this stuff off his chest and to try to air it out and figure out what he needs to do.
Let’s talk about playing in a couple of timelines, plus acting older and being made up to look far older than you are…
It’s a dream come true, to be honest. I love the fact that I got to play both these guys, or play the same guy in two different periods. They might as well be two different people because back in the 1930s when he was a young man, he was bright-eyed and ambitious and had all these crazy dreams and ideas, and then sort of losing his mind and completely loses it after the death of his father… All that stuff was so much fun to play. That was, for me, so much fun to go from this young bright-eyed guy to this guy who is at the tail end of it all. You put the beard and the prosthetics, and the wig, and the suit, and you immediately feel like you’ve been through hell and back. It does something to you biologically, and it was just truly the most challenging, but also one of the most gratifying jobs I’ve ever had.
Was the costume your friend or your foe?
The suit’s my foe. I like what it does. I’ll walk into rehearsal in the morning dressed like this (in civvies), and nobody really pays any attention. But then you walk through when it’s time to shoot in the whole getup, and people take notice. It’s a very imposing silhouette that this guy casts, and it was interesting for me to see that. I was like, “Wow, I’m the same dude underneath all this, but people, they really sort of …” it’s an imposing sort of thing. I liked that it had that feel. It did make me feel all-powerful. But you take it off at the end of the day, and you’re just back to your same self.
You have a child of your own. Kids tend to look up to their dads, especially when they’re young. What has your son said to you? Does he comprehend what dad does for a living?
I think he’s interested in it all, for sure. He likes to come, and he loves superheroes. This is something I was never that into as a kid. Maybe I was, but I could have taken or left the opportunity because I thought it’d come to pass for me, to be honest. I thought this ship had sailed. But when this came along, it was a perfect opportunity. I was old enough, but I was also young enough to play the two. My son first saw me in this costume and was like … it was amazing to see his eyes just go like, “Holy crap, you’re a superhero.” Then he looks closer, and he’s like, “It’s too white.” “What do you mean it’s too white?” He goes, “Well, it’s just too white.” And so, I looked at it. I go, “You know what? I think he might be right.”
And you went to the producers…
I told the producers, and they agreed because it was just all white with the red thing in the middle. And then they added this gray stuff with this alien sort of calligraphy in it, inside the arms and along the ribs, which broke up the white a little bit. So, I will forever be able to say that he had creative input into the utopian suit. Also, I think that this show has been a cautionary tale for me as a father in real life, too, because it’s easy to get caught up. I’m in a very busy moment. I was just in the Dominican for three months. I did a lot of reflecting, and I was like, “You know what? I can try to achieve all I can in this business, but if I don’t stay connected to my son, similar to what happens to Sheldon in this show, you lose him.” You know? And what’s it all worth in the end? I think that this show taught me something in a weird way that you can try to go accomplish and conquer the world and save mankind, but the most important thing is raising your kids. If you don’t do that right, then you fail.
You’re voicing Harvey Dent in the animated movie, Batman: The Long Halloween. How did you enjoy playing the villain?
I loved it. I especially loved that after he became Two-Face, we found this crazy, weird voice that he had. I love doing that kind of stuff because it’s all audio. There’s no visual stuff there other than what they create somewhere else. So, you can do things that you can’t really get away with on-screen. We did two (movies). One’s coming out soon (in June), and I think the other one (Batman: The Long Halloween, Part II) comes out several months later.
Jupiter’s Legacy is streaming now on Netflix.