Q & A: Geoff Stults Talks ‘Enlisted’, Boot Camp and Acting Success
Enlisted, Fox’s new comedy, has been getting some great reviews and after checking it out, I have to agree – the show is really good. I’m not the biggest fan of network comedies but this show is definitely the cream of the crop.
The show stars Geoff Stults as Staff Sergeant Pete Hill, one of three brothers who stay behind to try to keep a Florida Army base in order. Stults and the rest of the cast, including Chris Lowell, Parker Young and Keith David, are hilarious and work perfectly together.
Stults joined in on a conference call where he talked about his career and why he’s been so successful, working on the show and more.
Enlisted airs on Fridays at 9:30pm on Fox
Do you have a favorite scene that you can tell us about from the show so far?
Geoff Stults: That’s tough for me to say, but I think as far as just one quick scene, and it’s not very quick, but the finale scene with my two brothers and Keith David and I is really poignant and this is the finale of the last episode, the last scene of the last episode. It’s really poignant for my character and for the arc that the whole show goes on sort of being sort of seen through my eyes in a way or driven by Sergeant Pete Hill. But on a day in, day out basis or episode by episode basis, my favorite scenes are always the scenes that include the whole platoon because I just am so entertained and I got so much respect for our whole cast of characters, the whole platoon, all the comedians and everybody. So for me it’s just fun to be in those scenes, because I’m like you guys; I’m an audience member when it comes to that watching these guys do their comedy.
Whats been your biggest challenge on the show so far?
Geoff Stults: The biggest challenge has been, gosh, there are so many of them, but I got to tell you I feel so blessed to have just so many—I know this sounds cliché and cheesy, but I’ve never felt more protected on a show before; meaning I’ve just got really good people around me. You can say that my biggest challenge is to show up every day and bring it because there are people that are better than me around me every day. So for me it’s been a blast with Parker and Chris and Angelique and Keith David. Every time I get to work with him, I sit back and watch and then again the rest of those guys, the whole platoon, all these really funny stand-up comedians. So the challenge for me is probably not laughing when I’m supposed to be taking it seriously.
Do you feel more of a responsibility to show that these are real human beings with senses of humor? Or do you feel more of a responsibility to show the heroic military, let’s have that drama, let’s take this seriously at moment’s side that comes obviously to anybody who serves?
Geoff Stults: Honestly, it’s a combination of both and then you add the other kind of interesting little dynamic to that, which is if we don’t—we need to do both of those things, but we also need to do a show that’s funny that the general public watches and continues to watch, so we can stay on the air. If we can’t stay on the air, then we can’t do justice to our service men and women by doing a show about them, so it’s a fine line for us. We have to do a show that’s funny that people can just watch. The U.S. Armed Forces makes up about one percent of our population, so we need more than them to watch the show, you know; and we need more than them to like it.
But at the same time we chose to do a show that’s set in the military, so it’s our obligation to be respectful and to do everything that we can to do right by them and portray them correctly.
In the third episode or maybe the fourth episode, we see that Pete is dealing with some PTSD. How did you prepare for that? Is it the same as when you would prepare for Walter when you did The Finder?
Geoff Stults: Totally two different characters, obviously it’s a similar through line. Pete was a little bit more, I’m sorry, I should say Sergeant Pete Hill from Enlisted is a little bit more grounded in reality. Walter Sherman of The Finder was a little bit more out there if any of you guys watched the show. I got to play with Walter a little bit more and I hesitate to use the word crazy, because that’s not it. He had unorthodox ways of going about things and it was always kind of his excuse or the way he got around it was just like that’s just Walter, Walter being Walter. He was private and he was paranoid and he was a lot of the things that are talked about as symptoms of PTSD Walter had, but we took dramatic license with them and then just sort of figured it out.
What we didn’t have to worry about as much is weren’t doing a show about the military, it was Magnum PI-ish, sort of this guy with a unique ability to find things down in the Florida Keys. So we had a lot of other colorful things around and with Michael Clarke Duncan’s character was such a steady, straight man that I was able to play with the PTSD and Walter and his kind of antics a lot more.
Now with Sergeant Pete Hill and Enlisted, this is a guy that is a current active American Army soldier. He is a sergeant in the Army. What we were trying to play with was the sincerity and the realness that he comes back and there’s nothing wrong with him. He just knows that he’s different. He sees things differently. He feels things differently. He doesn’t know how to describe it. He doesn’t know what it is and that’s with our research and our conversations with people, that is sometimes the way it works.
Now there’s originally everybody was just thrown into one box. You just had PTSD and what they realized is there are just different versions of that and people suffer differently from it; so I did as much as I could to be honest about that. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately my best friend is in the Marine Corps, he served four tours and he suffers from PTSD and he’s got symptoms that are very similar to what Sergeant Pete Hill has because I get to talk to him on the phone.
This is important to me to do right by that and it’s very important to Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce and the rest of the writers and I that we’re not addressing this and shoving it down the viewer’s face and it’s not the hot topic in every episode. It’s just you start to see little traces that something is different in Pete and he’s not sure exactly what it is; and throughout the course of the season, we see how he goes from unwilling to accept that there’s anything wrong, to accepting it, to seeking help, to thinking he’s got it under control, to finding out that maybe he doesn’t quite have it totally under control.
Kevin Biegel, who is the creator of Enlisted, talked about the influence the movie Mr. Roberts may have on your character, being the person who was sort of at home base, but itching to get back into the throes of battle. Was Mr. Roberts was an influence on the character and the way you play him?
Geoff Stults: Me personally, no, and I don’t know if you heard me talking about my best friend. I’ve kind of over the course of the years as an actor, you draw from different experiences. I’m trying to play my big brother when it comes to the dynamic between my little brothers Parker and Chris. There are elements of the way that my brother is with me; and then when it comes to the PTSD and all that, it really comes from my conversations and my research and my need to get it right to do right by my friend, Vick. So the Mr. Roberts thing, really that was very secondary.
Kevin also suggested that a lot of the writing on the show is based on his own sibling rivalry here. How has your sibling rivalry meshed in your portrayal?
Geoff Stults: They all do. Number one, his brothers are around, so we know, so I’m technically playing Kevin; Parker is playing his youngest brother, and Chris is playing his middle brother. We see those ties and we feel like we have to do right by them. But the coincidence is that Parker has a brother and Chris has a brother and I have a brother, so we all kind of knew how to be brothers and interact with one another. The only switch for me is I’ve always been a little brother and for the first time in my life … I felt like a big brother with these two guys.
You come from a family of talented people. Did you bring any of that brotherly love in the forming of that dynamic with Chris Lowell and Parker?
Geoff Stults: Yes, you know you try to bring that in there and then you—I just really feel like I really lucked out with those guys. I lucked out, but I also was very active in voicing my opinion that they were the two guys I thought were the best for the job. I’ve done this long enough to know that we’re casting my brothers; they cast me first. I’m the lead of the show, so for good and for bad I’m going to voice my opinion, for better or for worse, anyway. We read a lot of guys and instantly it was very clear to me that Chris Lowell is the best actor, so that was easy. Then Parker, he just really fit that part and it felt very thoroughly honest. It felt like he was my little brother, so it worked really well. And then we just lucked out that we liked each other and it worked and we enjoyed being around one another, so I really feel like I hit the lottery with that.
What do you find unique about your character, and why do you enjoy portraying him?
Geoff Stults: I would say there aren’t a lot of—I could get in trouble for saying this, and I can tell you that my publicist with Fox is afraid of what I’m going to say right now. There aren’t a lot of men’s men on television right now. What I think Pete is, he’s a man’s man. He loves his country. He loves his family. He’s devoted to his job. He’s willing to die for his country and he’s willing to die for his brothers. He’s very devoted to them and devoted to his job. He wants to go back overseas and be in theatre as they refer to it with his brothers in arms.
What I think is unique about him is this is a guy that is for all intents and purposes, he’s a soldier of fortune. He’s perfect. He’s strong. He’s strong. He’s referred to as the strongest guy that many people had ever seen, physically, mentally, all those reasons; but we find out that there are chinks in his armor, too. What I like about that was not only did we find out that there were chinks in his armor and that he needed help, but he got to a point where he realized it was okay to ask for help and he dealt with that. We as we find out as the season goes on, that he may not be quite—he feels like he fixed himself and everything was all good, but he may not have fixed himself quite as much as he thinks he did.
Unique, I’m sure there have been other people on TV, but I feel like the dynamic between him being a soldier, him suffering from PTSD, him being his brother’s boss during the day and just a big brother at night trying to work that fine line and that strange dynamic, there’s just a lot of stuff that I get to play with that makes Pete very interesting for me.
What, to your knowledge, what kind of notes or comments did the network come back to you with? Were there any scenes that they wanted to have taken out or jokes or references or things just because either they thought they might be offensive to somebody?
Geoff Stults: Probably a better answer, a better question for the writers, but I will say this, that we’d never done anything at all that could be considered offensive. When I say you can’t please everybody, I meant like both sides. It’s like you got to at a certain point you just got to try to do the best show you can, be as respectful as you can to a group of people that deserve respect and then also just try to be as funny as you can.
The network, their priorities are it’s formulaic. You need to do a show that makes sense and is funny and heartfelt and all that. They want to pull at the heartstrings and they want the funny and they want the big stuff; and they want the blue skies.
And as far as military, when I said like we didn’t want to offend people, I wasn’t specific and I should be more clear. We just want to get the little things right, just the little things, so they’re not glaring in the mind. We walk right. We address people right. We stand right. We wear our uniforms right. We talk right. If we can get all of that right, then we can get into—if we’re just portraying our characters the way that they’re actually supposed to be portrayed, then we get into the show and it seems like we’re fine.
You’ve always seemed to find steady work and you’ve always seemed to find a new show and landed on your feet when things didn’t work out. What’s the secret to that success? Like how does an actor today keep it going? Have you ever thought about that?
Geoff Stults: I think about it all the time and I can tell you one thing. I have no idea—I shouldn’t say it that way. I should say what I’ve learned over the years is way less about what to do than what not to do. I think the secret to my success is I’ve worked hard and I’ve just never been a …. I think it’s really easy for people to get caught up in themselves and caught up in the moment. I’ve got two parents that would kill me if I didn’t. My mom works with children that have been physically and sexually abused. My dad his whole life fixed washers and dryers and worked his … off.
So for me I feel like every day on set is easier and more fun than the day before. I’m just lucky to have the jobs. I love my job, I really do, so it’s funny to think about being interviewed by somebody since Seventh Heaven. I haven’t had one huge, giant, turn into the biggest hit in the world, but I’ve continued to work and I’ve done some great stuff. All of those jobs beget the next job because you try to do a good job and you try to be a good guy, because at the end of the day, we’re working 15 hour days with people, the writers, the crew, the producers see me more than they see their own families, so they want to know that the people that they’re putting their children’s college tuition on the back of somebody is a good guy, too. I don’t know. I think the secret is just not to be a jerk.
You mentioned you went to boot camp. How was that? You’re a little bit older than the average recruit. Did they go easy on you?
Geoff Stults: How dare you? How dare you? I think they still accept, up until 42 I think they accept general enlistees. Now I couldn’t go be Special Forces or something like that, thank God, because I’d have to work out more.
It was awesome. It was awesome and nerve wracking and scary. We got a chance to really kind of dive in and for a tiny, tiny bit of time live like a little bit like an Army soldier. It was scary meaning like just like the not knowing, but I had a great time. It was a great, great time.
It wasn’t easy, sleep deprivation and waking up in the middle of the night having to work out and forced to memorize things and recite them in front of people that were very intimidating with guns; nothing easy about it. There’s nothing easy about something you haven’t done before. But we all felt like it was very important for us to do and try as hard as we could even if we failed because the people around us had done it and continue to do it for those that were there before us and those that will be there after us. We’re actors and we got to leave at the end of the week and they were still there. They were supportive of us and welcoming and encouraging, so we worked our … off just to try to in our smallest, tiniest way pay some respect to them.
You have great comedic timing and it shows well in Enlisted. Is it something that was natural to you, or did you work at it in some way?
Geoff Stults: I certainly worked on it as an actor, but the comedic timing is something that I feel like you just sort of develop as the younger brother trying to get a word in, or try to hang with my older brother’s friends. I don’t know. I don’t really know. I’m glad that you said that. I really appreciate it and feel free to tell everybody you know, but it just makes me happy to do it, so I get a kick out of it.