Introduced on an episode of Bones last season, the show stars Geoff Stults as Walter Sherman, an Iraqi war veteran who gained a reputation as being the go-to guy for tracking down insurgents, deserters and improvised explosive devices. Except for that one time when he missed that IED and it exploded in front of him, resulting in severe brain damage that gave him lasting side effect: transforming him into a finder.
I joined Stults (7th Heaven, October Road, Happy Town) and creator Hart Hanson on a conference call where they talked about how he was cast in the role, the show and working with Co-Star, Michael Clarke Duncan.
The Finder airs on Thursdays at 9/8c on FOX
Geoff, can you talk a little bit about your character’s background and what you think makes him tick?
Geoff Stults: Well, at the root of Walter, he’s a former military policeman who suffered a little brain trauma when he was serving in Iraq, so that’s what allows us the entry point into the series and also into Walter. We certainly think it’s very important to hardenize it and in no way are we trying to make light of PTSD and those people that actually suffer from it because it’s a very real disease and a very real problem for our troops and other people for many other reasons. But it allows us this really interesting dramatic license too, it’s like the focal point for all these different things that Walter does.
And his PTSD, it manifests itself into a little bit of a, he lacks social grace. He’s a little paranoid. He’s not very trusting of people. And he isn’t the perfect dinner guest, but he’s fun. If he’s thinking in terms of what he may say, he never intends to be insulting, but it’s just matter of fact to him. And those kind of behaviors will get you in trouble, but they’re also really fun to watch if we do it in a way that we’ve done it, that Hart has done it and the rest of the writers, which is in a way that is light-hearted and entertaining and fun.
How did you get the part? Was it just a regular audition?
Geoff Stults: It turns out that Hart has had this long-time man crush on me that none of us knew about. And it’s just like the weirdest thing when I finally went in the room, he threw himself at me, and it was awkward, so I felt bad and I was like all right, I’ll do this.
The way it really happened was—
Hart Hanson: I like that version. I think we should go with that.
Geoff Stults: It was a great version. I had met with Hart. The long story short is that I was a little apprehensive after coming off of a couple of dramas that it’s just an interesting lifestyle. It’s definitely, you live there when you’re the lead of the show. And I made a decision that I was only going to do a half hour. So when this got sent my way, I didn’t read it and it got sent my way again and the casting director had been a fan of mine and had been helpful to me in my career and asked me to read it as a favor to him. He just said, “If you like this at all, just do me the favor and sit down with Hart Hanson.” I was like. “Who the F is Hart Hanson?”
So I read it and I was like, ah, man, I like this. All right I’ll at least meet with him. I purposely grew out a beard. I didn’t shave. I tried to look as rough as I could because my goal was to walk in there and have Hart be like “this isn’t the guy.” And everything I did backfired on me.
I need to probably take that technique into more of my career, just like that episode in Seinfeld when George Castanza realizes that every decision he makes is wrong, so he has to start going with the exact opposite of his gut reactions, so that’s kind of what happened. And the next thing you know we’re doing a show together.
What happened with the Saffron Burrows character and how you did you phase her out after the pilot?
Hart Hanson: Well, we really didn’t. If it was a normal pilot, if we’d done the show as a normal pilot, then what we would have done is looked at it and decided what changes we were going to make and do a bunch of re-shoots; and the world would never have known or it would have been a byline that we’ve made casting changes. You’ve seen that many times. In our case everything we did was out in public and we had no time because our, I’m hooking my fingers…, “pilot,” was a special episode of Bones. So there was just no chance of that happening, and the decisions were made after the pilot aired, the spin-off crossover pilot aired.
So poor Saffron was in the unenviable position of everyone seeing her and then now we’re going to wonder where she was and it’s a good question. The reasons decisions are made are spread over a studio and network, lots of arguing and lots of fighting that I’m not really too interested in getting into.
But in the end the decision was made to go in a different direction to expand the show with two characters instead of the one character, Ike, and we made the change. We never explained the change in our series. We never say what ever happened to that woman who used to be here. We just move on, so it’s just one of the costs of doing the show the way we did it. Did that answer your question?
How does The Finder stand on its own?
Geoff Stults: It’s a little quirkier I would say. The actors on Bones are smarter than the actors on The Finder. We couldn’t even say the words that the actors on Bones do, so we have to have a lot more action to fill in for the lack of intelligence …. So there’s one difference there and it only begins there.
Hart, actually can you describe the origins of this series creatively and why did you cast Geoff?
Geoff Stults: It’s a great question.
Hart Hanson: I have an overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV. I owe them a pilot each year. I was actually thinking this year of trying to weasel out of it; I’m busy on Bones and everything. One of the executives at 20th Century Fox, Lisa Katz, brought me a novel called The Locator by Richard Greener and they sucked me in. First she said, “Do you think this would make a good series? How do you think it would make a good series? Why don’t you just write the pilot? How about you just produce the pilot? How about you just get the series up and running?” I thought it was a very, very clean way into a network series that a guy who can find anything. Everyone is always looking for a way to do a PI series and no one wants to do a PI series, and I just jumped at the chance to do that.
Casting Geoff was in a way very much like casting Michael Clarke Duncan. I had a darker, quieter more internal character in mind when I first wrote the piece, just someone not as voluble, not someone who was as accessible. Geoff came in for his meeting and I don’t know if you’ve seen Geoff Stults in person, but he’s very tall and ridiculously good looking. And he came through the door—
Geoff Stults: Go on, go on.
Hart Hanson: He came in to meet with us. He wasn’t going to read. He was going to meet with us and he had his beard. He looked like Mountain Man. And the first thing I thought was, oh, man, I already cast Leo. This guy would have been perfect. About 30 seconds in—this just sounds like I’m kissing Geoff’s butt, you know when you’re with a leading man. I’m an old fart in this business and there are actors and there are leading men and there are leading men who are actors. If you get that number three, you know what, you jump at number two. You get a leading man who can’t act, you jump at that guy. You get a leading man who can act and you’d do anything to get them.
And then the third element was that Geoff, he’s a very good looking guy, he could just get along on that. He’s self-deprecating. He’s funny and he’s goofy when he wants to be. And all of a sudden I started right in that meeting five minutes in I think I grabbed Dan Sackheim, our directing producer on the show, was sitting next to me. I think I grabbed his knee and started squeezing because we’d been casting for a long time and it’s a very difficult process. And I just thought this guy is a TV star. He will be funny. I honestly thought he was a mix between Tom Selleck and Timothy Olyphant and what TV guy would not run at him.
So Geoff is right, hearts came out of my eyes and I really wanted him to come and be Walter. And if The Finder doesn’t work and Geoff is out of work, I heartily recommend that someone else immediately make him a star. He’s a big TV star.
Geoff, I know you worked with Michael Clarke Duncan before in D.E.B.S. Can you describe briefly the chemistry between you guys?
Geoff Stults: You mean my twin brother? I’ve known Mike for a long time. We did D.E.B.S. together. He was coming off of a giant thing and I was at that point D.E.B.S. was my biggest job yet. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t even know of really like where to stand or what a DP, I didn’t know what a grip was. I didn’t know what a DP was. I just knew that there were four hot girls in that movie and I wanted to do it.
So Mike showed me the ropes a little bit. All we did the whole time was laugh like junior high kids; we got separated by the director. We got yelled at for not being able to stop laughing. And once I figured out that I could get him laughing, because he is a …, he is a giant kid. He has a giant sense of humor and he likes to laugh. He’s a goof ball and it’s the easiest thing in the world to just get him going. And he likes to tease people and I mess with him like he is my big brother. I like to annoy him. It’s like we grew up together and he gets mad and he laughs, so we have a lot of fun.
In a network drama, the days get long and you have to be able to get along with people you work with. And for me, it’s just very important for me to laugh and have fun and I want it to be an enjoyable experience from the lowliest day … crew member on up to our senior Hart Hanson, and we all have fun and I try to set that tone and he’s right there with me. He ….
How do you find the right mix of light and dark to make the show fun, but at the same time keep the stakes seeming real?
Hart Hanson: You just put your thumb on the gaping open wound of our everyday existence on The Finder. It’s a juggling. It’s a tough go and we have tons of debate about almost every scene at every level. Is this working? If you raise the stakes too much, does it make this scene not funny anymore? How much lightheartedness can you get away with before the story becomes too light to sustain over 43 minutes? All I can tell you is it’s what we wrestle with on The Finder.
We always had the equivalent on Bones, too. For example, we found out in the first season of Bones, that if the remains were of a child, you weren’t going to have a very funny episode and in The Finder there are certain moments.
And you’ll tell us at the end of 13 episodes if we were successful in juggling a sentimental and melancholy or dramatic scenes with the lightheartedness of our characters trying to find things. But if we do this right, and I hope we are in every episode, people find things they don’t want to find, and that’s the world Walter lives in. And that’s why he’s a bit callous about it. People think they want something, but they don’t. They want something else and he’s always blundering into that. He’s very literal.