ENLISTED: Geoff Stults Talks the Delicate Balance of a Comedy Portraying Military Life (2014)


Fox’s new comedy series ENLISTED offers a humorous look at life on a military base, showcasing the misadventures of three brothers stationed together stateside.  With the cool casting Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell and Parker Young as brothers that will do anything to help each other out, ENLISTED shines with humor and heart.

In recent press conference call, star Geoff Stults talked about his character Pete, the challenges of portraying military life as a comedy while still honoring those who serve for our country, and whether there may be the seeds of a romance blossoming.

Have you gotten any kind of response from veterans or currently serving military members about the show?
GEOFF: It’s inevitable people don’t like to be made fun of and the military, and there’s a reason that the U.S. Army hasn’t officially endorsed the show — because they’re just not sure exactly what it is yet and they don’t want to be made to look silly.  Hollywood has taken advantage of the military many times before and portrayed them in ways that they would rather not be portrayed.  We’ve been pleasantly surprised.  We have gone out of our way; admittedly, we made some errors when we shot the pilot. The terminology, uniforms, the way we addressed the superiors, just little things that if you’re not in the military, you’d never pay attention to, but if you are, they’re glaring mistakes that annoy the [sh*t] out of you.  Our military advisor gave me an analogy one day, he said he knew I was a former athlete and he said, “You know when you watch a movie, be it baseball or football and they cast an actor to play the quarterback who can’t throw a football more than ten yards, doesn’t that bother you?” And I’m like, “Oh my God, it drives me frigging crazy”; and he goes, “That’s what happens when I see somebody not wearing their patch in the right place.”  I was like, “I get it; I get it.”  So as far as those are simple things, but then just totally being perceived as silly or because it is a comedy, we’ve got a lot of flack for it to start with, but those that have vocalized it to us, we’ve sent more episodes along and their opinion has changed because they saw that we made an effort.  We got squared away.  We really made an effort to change things and you can see the difference between the first episode and the second episode.  It’s noticeable even to somebody that doesn’t know what to look for.  So you’re never going to make everybody happy.  There will be those people that get up and they turn the channel because they feel like we’re making a mockery of the military, but we’re absolutely not.  It’s a workplace comedy set behind-the-scenes at a base in Florida.  And with any real workplace, there are high jinks, particularly one as big as the U.S. Army.

Do you feel more of a responsibility to show that these are real human beings with senses of humor?
GEOFF: Honestly, it’s a combination of both. Then you add the other kind of interesting little dynamic to that, which is we need to do both of those things.  But we also need to do a show that’s funny so 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 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.

As the series goes along, we see that Pete is dealing with some PTSD.  How did you prepared for that and how is it different than what you did with your character Walter on THE FINDER?
GEOFF:  Totally two different characters.  Obviously, it’s a similar through-line.  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.  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 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, like 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 we 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 what we found with our research and our conversations with people, that is sometimes the way it works.  Now 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, he 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.  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. We’re not just 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.

What’s been your biggest challenge on the show so far?
GEOFF:  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 everyday.  So, for me, it’s been a blast with Parker [Young] and Chris [Lowell] and Angelique [Cabral] and Keith David.  Every time I get to work with [Keith], 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 have a favorite scene that you can tell us about from the show so far?
GEOFF: 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. [It] is the finale of the last episode, the last scene of the last episode and 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. 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.

What do you find is so unique about your character, and why do you enjoy portraying him?
GEOFF:  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 he is this is a guy that is for all intents and purposes, he’s a super soldier.  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.  As we find out as the season goes on, 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 with that strange dynamic, there’s just a lot of stuff that I get to play with that makes Pete very interesting for me.

How was boot camp?  Since you’re a little bit older than the average recruit, did they go easy on you?
GEOFF:  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 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 [asses] off just to try to in our smallest, tiniest way to pay some respect to them.

Are you going to have any real life military people guest star on the show?
GEOFF:  We already have.  We have military people on the show every single day.  All of Jill’s squad is former Army.  There are Air Force people on set.  There are former Rangers on set that are background that have speaking roles.  One of our military advisors played a role in it.  We have military on set every day from morning ’til night.

About the Pete and Jill relationship, because of the “no fraternization” policy in the military, you can’t really do a “will they/won’t they” story.  But you and Angelique Cabral’s characters both have so much chemistry together.  Did that just sort of happen?
GEOFF: It just sort of happened.  I think originally when you’re putting a TV show together and you’re pitching it to a network, it’s like, “Here’s all the players and then where’s the love interest and all that kind of stuff, and who’s the lead going to be.”  Then there’s Sergeant Pete and Jill.  They don’t like each other; they like each other; they don’t like each other.  And what we found out was obviously while fraternization kind of doesn’t work that well in the military, technically they would be allowed to since they’re of the same rank. So they’d be allowed to date and that’s kind of the way they categorize things.  We’ve also just realized that, for now in the show, that it’s just not nearly as interesting as other things that we could be doing, them flirting and then not liking each other.  We touch on it just a little bit, but for now we’re going to keep those two things as a little nugget that we’ll get into later on.

To see how Pete and Jill’s light flirtation leads to an epic competition challenge and more of the wonderful adventures the entire unit, be sure to catch all new episodes of ENLISTED air Friday nights at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.

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