Like most people, Josh Gad thought of sex addiction as a joke. He'd read headlines about the debauched exploits of such celebrities as David Duchovny, Tiger Woods and Russell Brand — all of whom went to rehab to treat the behavioral disorder — but questioned the severity of their problems.
Then, in 2011, he signed on to "Thanks for Sharing," a dramatic comedy in which he'd play a sex addict who spends his days compulsively masturbating, touching strangers inappropriately and secretly filming upskirt footage of his female co-workers. Needless to say, Gad initially had trouble connecting with the character — so he decided to attend a few Sexaholics Anonymous meetings.
"I listened to stories involving people losing their loved ones, going bankrupt, landing in prison, getting life-changing diseases that are debilitating," he recalled, his voice grave. "It is one of the most disastrous addictions you can possibly imagine going through. And I think a movie like this is important because it humanizes it."
"Thanks for Sharing," out Sept. 20, follows three men (Gad, Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins) who are trying to hold onto their careers, families and significant others as they battle the addiction. Gad's character falls a little lower than the others. He loses his job after one upskirt incident too many and he only pretends to work the steps of recovery. But he begins to make a healthy turnaround after befriending a newcomer to the meetings — a role played by Alecia Moore, a.k.a. pop star Pink.
"I think what's so beautiful about the character and the way it's written is the redemption. I love a challenge, and this is a very unlikable character when you first meet him. You hate him. You really need to go a long way to win the audience back over. That's what I responded to. It's why I did a role like Steve Wozniak," he adds of his summer release, "Jobs."
So did Pink ask for acting advice for her film debut? "Sure, here and there," Gad said of the musician-turned-actress. "But she really didn't need any. It was so unbelievably organic to her that I remember Mark, Tim and I all watching her do one scene and just going, 'Damn it, we're all gonna get shown up by this novice.'"
Indeed, many might consider Gad a seasoned Hollywood veteran at just 32. He all but burst onto the Broadway scene in productions of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "Book of Mormon." He took supporting film roles and had a brief TV stint on the NBC comedy "1600 Penn" (which he created), though the program was canceled after one season. This summer his name suddenly began to appear on industry trade websites weekly with news of upcoming projects like the biopic in which he'll star as the late comic Sam Kinison and "The Comedians," an FX comedy pilot in which he'll play opposite Billy Crystal.
And he has several productions in the works, including a buddy comedy costarring Kevin Hart. Oh, and he just handed in a draft of "Triplets," his take on a sequel to 1988's "Twins" that is set to feature Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito and Eddie Murphy.
"This is the most relaxed I have felt in a while," he said last month, sitting in a lounge at the office of his publicist, who delivered the heavy-set actor a healthful lunch midinterview because he is following a nutritionist-designed diet. "But I've been very lucky. Every day I have breakfast with my daughter, dinner with my daughter and I get to put her to sleep at night and wake up with her. The second that is ever compromised, then I guarantee you will stop seeing my name come up in the trades."
Seeing his 2-year-old smile when she recognizes her father or his voice on screen, Gad says, has been particularly rewarding.
"We saw the preview for [the animated] 'Frozen' and she looks at it, and looks at me with this big smile on her face and goes: 'More Dada.'"