A chat with Geoff Stults, Geoff Stults interview, Happy Town, October Road, 7th Heaven
Geoff Stults

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If you don’t know Geoff Stults, then you’re just not watching the right shows because the guy’s been keeping pretty busy for the past several years: from 2001 to 2006, he appeared as Ben Kinkirk in almost two dozen episodes of “7th Heaven,” and he moved from there into a full-time gig, playing Eddie Latekka on the ABC drama “October Road.” The latter show only lasted for 19 episodes, but the network must’ve liked him well enough, because he’s now starring in a new ABC series: “Happy Town,” which premieres at 10 PM on Wednesday, April 28. Yes, it’s a show with a feel not so terribly far removed from “Twin Peaks,” but that doesn’t bother Stults, just as long as people notice that there are other points of comparison as well.

Geoff Stults: What’s up, Will? How are you doing?

Bullz-Eye: Pretty good, Geoff. Well, first of all, I don’t know if they told you or not, but you and I actually have a mutual friend: Scott Malchus.

GS: (Laughs) Scott Malchus? He’s the man!

BE: Yeah, he and I are both contributors over at Popdose.com.

GS: Oh, I didn’t know that! Scott Malchus, yeah, man, he got me what was probably… (Hesitates) Yeah, it might’ve been my first job, I think. I did a movie with him called “King’s Highway.” And that was a blast, too. I haven’t talked to him recently, but I get his E-mails about the stuff he writes at Popdose, and we E-mail back and forth a little bit. How’s he doing?

BE: He’s doing well. He told me to tell you that he said “hello.”

GS: Oh, well, tell him to say “hi” to the fam for me!

BE: Will do. Well, I’ve checked out the first three episodes of “Happy Town,” thanks to ABC’s media set…

GS: Oh, you did? What’d you think?

BE: I loved it. I really dig it.

GS: I mean, you’re on the spot here, so I guess you can’t tell me you hated it. (Laughs) But I appreciate it, anyway!

BE: No, seriously, man, I was a “Twin Peaks” fan, I dug “Harper’s Island,” and there’s some “Northern Exposure” there, too.

On describing "Happy Town": "I know a lot of people do automatically try to group it in and say it’s the same thing as something else, and because of the scary nature, they compare it to the most recent scary show out there, which was 'Harper’s Island.' But I feel like it’s not a clear-cut whodunit murder mystery like 'Harper’s Island' was. It’s more than that. That’s why I agree that it’s got elements of 'Northern Exposure' and 'Twin Peaks' thrown in, too. I’d agree that it’s like some kind of combination of all three."

GS: You know, it actually does have elements of all three of those. I know a lot of people do automatically try to group it in and say it’s the same thing as something else, and because of the scary nature, they compare it to the most recent scary show out there, which was “Harper’s Island.” But I feel like it’s not a clear-cut whodunit murder mystery like “Harper’s Island” was. It’s more than that. That’s why I agree that it’s got elements of “Northern Exposure” and “Twin Peaks” thrown in, too. I’d agree that it’s like some kind of combination of all three.

BE: So how did you first come onto the show? Was it just your typical audition?

GS: Well, you know, the long story short is that I’d worked with the creators – Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec, and Scott Rosenberg – before. They’d done a show, “October Road,” that I was on, and they had told me at one point that they were planning on…well, that they had an idea for this show that they wanted to create for me. And I said, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know, because I don’t want to get excited about something that hasn’t and might not happen.” And I also didn’t want them to tell me anything about it until I’d read it myself, so that I could kind of generate my own opinions about it instead of just having some vision of what they were telling me. I think one night over drinks Applebaum kind of pitched me the show, and I…I couldn’t understand a damned thing. (Laughs) I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. I was, like, “No, no, I just want to wait until the script’s read!” So I was very flattered, and I felt very blessed and grateful that these guys cared enough to create a show and a character for me, but then they had to go through convincing the network that I was the right guy. Turns out they were right… (Laughs) …’cause we got picked up.

BE: Well, they definitely seem to be good folks. I talked to Jonathan Murphy when “Life on Mars” was on, and, obviously, he was an “October Road” alumni, too. They like to come back to their favorite actors, I guess.

GS: Yeah, they go back to the well, for sure. They’re very loyal guys. They’re just solid dudes. In this business, as you know, you spend a lot of time with people. I mean, you spend more time with the people you work with than you do your family, generally, and you want to like the people you work with. That’s the goal: to be able to get up and be excited to go to work with people. Or, at least, it is for me. You want to be excited about the people you get to work with, and these guys…I mean, it’s been four years of my life now, between “October Road” and “Happy Town.” I know these dudes. We work together, we play together, we travel together…they’re quality, and it starts from the top and works its way down. If you’ve got people on top that are quality and treat people good, not only their actors but their crew members…I mean, not only do they go back to the well and stay loyal to the actors, but they continually work with the same production people and crew people. And those people want to work with them, because they know how quality there are. So I’m grateful for that, for sure. Every day. (Pauses) Usually I talk shit about them all the time, though. (Laughs) No, seriously. We throw each other under the bus all the time!

BE: So tell me a little bit about the character of Tommy Conroy on “Happy Town.”

Geoff StultsGS: Well, the thing that kind of drew me to Tommy is that he’s not your typical leading-man hero guy. He’s more of an all-American guy who’s, like, “You go do this,” sometimes acting like a meathead and all that. What I liked about Tommy is that he’s very reluctant. You can call him a reluctant hero, because he is reluctant to take over. He’s very content to be living in his dad’s shadow and having no responsibility in a town with no crime. Being a husband and a father, he loves the small town life. His wife wants to leave, but he loves hanging out with his friends. He’s just your typical simple all-American dude, but as you’ve seen throughout the course of those first three episodes… (Laughs) …that unravels very quickly for him, and he’s forced to kind of grow up and take charge very reluctantly. Sorry, I keep going back to that word!

BE: Yeah, but it’s true: he is the reluctant hero.

GS: And for me, that was a blast to play. There’s something to do every day, instead of always being the tough guy, going, like, “Hey, I’m the tough guy! Let’s go solve the murder!” You kind of go on this ride with Tommy, going from…I mean, everything he’s ever known, as you see in the pilot, just crumbles, and throughout the course of the first season, you see Tommy grow a pair, essentially. (Laughs)

BE: Was it a struggle to figure out how to play that?

GS: No, you know, the good thing for me was that I was thrown into a position with some fantastic actors around me who really played their parts well, so I just kind of…for me, I just kind of try to put myself in the position of the character, and then I use my imagination and the things around me, and you just go and try to figure it out. And after shooting 29 days of that pilot and then getting picked up, you start to…you figure out your character. You have to turn it off and on a little bit, but it becomes a part of you. The good news for me is that these guys wrote this character with me in mind and in my voice, so it wasn’t like I had to take 15 steps back or forward to try to be somebody that I’m not. There are elements of me in Tommy, and there are elements of Tommy in me. (Laughs)

BE: You were talking about the ensemble that surrounds you. To talk of your onscreen wife, you don’t get much cuter than Amy Acker.

GS: Oh, my God, she’s just the cutest, most adorable girl in the world.

BE: Was it pretty easy to find a chemistry with her?

GS: Amy could have chemistry with a stump. (Laughs) She’s just fantastic. I was super grateful. I’d never really worked with children before…or even hung out with children much, since I don’t have any of my own…but I have a daughter in this show, and we spent a lot of time together on set. When I first met Sophia (Ewaniuk), I… (Starts to laugh) …I was, like, “So, uh, what sports do you like?” I mean, I don’t even know how to talk to a kid! But Amy’s got two beautiful kids of her own, and she’s just very maternal and motherly, anyway, so thank God she was around to keep me from just being stupid.

BE: M.C. Gainey, who plays your dad on the show, strikes me as the kind of guy who’d just come right up to you, slap you on the back, and say, “How ya doin’?”

On playing the reluctant hero in "Happy Town": "That was a blast. There’s something to do every day, instead of always being the tough guy, going, like, 'Hey, I’m the tough guy! Let’s go solve the murder!' You kind of go on this ride with Tommy, going from…I mean, everything he’s ever known, as you see in the pilot, just crumbles, and throughout the course of the first season, you see Tommy grow a pair, essentially."

GS: That’s the dude. (Laughs) Doesn’t matter who you are, he just…I keep saying this, but I’ve never worked with anybody who’s more enthusiastic about what he’s doing. You can’t have a bad day around him because he is on set and he’s grateful and he loves his job and…he’s just got this youthful enthusiasm and joy that carries on to everybody else around him. Even if I do have to hear the same damned stories over and over again. (Laughs) My favorite M.C. story is…the gentleman who plays Robert Hobbs – Bob Wisdom – and I and M.C., it was that scene from the pilot where we find what we find in the ice shack. We shot it on that frozen lake all day long, and it was about two hours north of Toronto, so we had a two-hour drive home, and it was three of us in the car. M.C. was sitting up front, and he started telling us his life story…and Bob and I both fell asleep about the time he was nine years old. We didn’t wake up for an hour, and when we woke up, he was only at age ten! (Laughs) And he didn’t even know we fell asleep! He had no idea! For that hour, he just kept on talking, and it wasn’t until he turned around that he saw us sleeping…and he started yelling at us. That’s when we woke up. So that’s one of our favorite stories about him, but he really is fantastic to work with and to be around.

BE: Who in the cast were you most excited to be working with?

GS: Well, I mean, it’s got to be Sam Neil. He’s a legend. And I think the rest of the cast would say the exact same thing: we all liked working with one another, but Sam’s just a legend. And he’s an actor’s actor. He’s forgotten more stuff than I’ll ever know. That kind of thing. I like to remind Sam when he’s giving me a hard time or teasing me that his very first credit on IMDb is before I was born. (Laughs) I remind him that he’s getting up in years.

BE: Yeah, a buddy of mine, John Sloan, worked with him on “The Triangle,” for the Sci-Fi Network, and he said he was great to work with.

GS: There’s no better dude. He’s been there, he’s done that, and there’s no drama. He just shows up, does his job, is excited about it, and when it’s over, it’s over. Then he goes and cooks for us. He’s also the greatest entertainer. I swear…I joke about this, but I swear that I might’ve starved without Sam Neill up in Toronto on location. I worked a lot, I’d come home, and there’d be old cereal and milk in my fridge. And Sam would call me, I’d go across the street, and he’d have a three-course meal made up. Constantly. And not just for me, but for the whole cast. It was great.

BE: So I know you said that when the show was first pitched to you, you had no idea what they were talking about, but when you did finally get to read the script, what were your first thoughts?

GS: Well, when I actually read it, I was, like, “Oh, boy, I hope they pick this up.” (Laughs) Because I knew it was good, but it was different. But I just couldn’t wait to do it. I couldn’t wait.

BE: I’ve heard they’ve had some concerns about how to pitch the show to viewers because it’s such an off-the-beaten-path sort of series. How would you advise that they pitch it?

Geoff StultsGS: Oh, God, see, that’s the one thing that’s kind of hard to say. So I’m just saying, “Just go watch it, and we’ll talk about it afterwards.” (Laughs) Anybody who wants to know about the show, I say, “Watch it because Sam Neill’s in it. That should be good enough.”

BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve worked on, the first being “October Road.” I liked the way they offered an epilogue to the series when they released the DVD set.

GS: Yeah, that was kind of cool, huh? I think the guys just wanted to give the fans a little bit of closure.

BE: And that was definitely a fan-driven show, I think.

GS: Oh, 100% percent.

BE: What were your experiences like on the show? I mean, that was your first full-on series role where you were there from start to finish.

GS: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been around and done lots of stuff, but that was the first time I was in a pilot, we shot it, the series got picked up, and I was there from the very beginning. I felt very lucky. It was a great experience. On “Happy Town,” everybody’s really close, especially because we shot on location, so you spend a lot of time together. But with “October Road,” we shot on location in the first season, and the whole cast was younger. They were all around my age, so nobody was married, nobody had kids, we were all just…morons. (Laughs) So we were just like kids at summer camp, which isn’t completely unlike “Happy Town,” but, y’know, there’s me, there’s Sam Neill, there’s M.C., so there’s a much wider range of ages and people. “October Road” was a show about a bunch of kids who grew up together.

BE: You’re also a member of MTV’s “Undressed” fraternity.

GS: You’re damned right! (Laughs) I think everybody in Hollywood is.

BE: It does seem like everybody did an episode or two in their early days.

GS: Yeah, ‘cause in the early days, you work when you can work! (Laughs) And you’re grateful for that work, whatever it is!

BE: More recently, you turned up in “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.”

GS: You bet. And what an experience that was.

BE: Yeah, I was wondering what you thought about the whole fratboy style of comedy.

"I’m not saying that ('Happy Town') is going to take the place of “Lost,” because that’s a tall order, but this is something that could help fill the void for viewers of that kind of mystery-type show. I think it’s something that if people got behind it and enjoyed it...I mean, if they watch the pilot, I really feel like they’re going to come back for the second episode. And if they watch the second episode, then they’ll be hooked for the whole season."

GS: Well, I was never in a frat myself, but I certainly have some frathouse-like friends… (Laughs) …in my life, and I went to college in southern California, and the bulk of the guys who I’ve continued to hang out with and be around are from college. So, yeah, we’ve definitely gone over into the world of overindulgence on occasion. (Laughs)

BE: It’s ironic, then, that your very first film credit should be for a movie called “Thank You, Good Night,” in which you play…a frat boy.

GS: Hey, look, it’s like I said: you work when you can work. (Laughs)

BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

GS: You know, man, “October Road” might be that one. We did get a second season, but…I still think it’s “October Road,” if only because I enjoyed the experience so much. I don’t miss working on the show or even the show itself as much as I miss the people. We still stay in contact, but, like anything, if you’re not working with people, then your lives go in different directions, so we don’t see each other all the time. But just the other day, I talked to Rebecca Field, the girl who was my love interest on there, and I still continually am in contact with Bryan Greenberg. And Jay Paulson, who was in “October Road,” is also in “Happy Town,” so, again, there’s another callback from the guys as they go back to the well. But, yeah, that show’s one of my favorites, and it’s one that I think could’ve lasted a little bit longer…and we would’ve had fun if it had.

BE: I’ll go ahead and wrap up by bringing it back to “Happy Town.” What are your hopes for the series? I mean, it’s mid-season, which is always a tough market for new shows, but I have to think that it’s going to be particularly rough on one as eccentric as this.

GS: Yeah, you know, I think…I mean, you never know how the public is going to react, but I think we’re primed. I think viewers are looking forward to this. They’re sick of another law show or another cop show or another hospital show. Every year, the networks keep continuing to roll those different versions of those out. This is different, and I think this is something that can…well, I’m not saying that it’s going to take the place of “Lost,” because that’s a tall order, but this is something that could help fill the void for viewers of that kind of mystery-type show. I think it’s something that if people got behind it and enjoyed it, they’re really going to…I mean, if they watch the pilot, I really feel like they’re going to come back for the second episode. And if they watch the second episode, then they’ll be hooked for the whole season. I think people are going to want to know who this Magic Man is, and they’re going to want to go on this ride and see what happens. I just hope that…I mean, I don’t even know what to hope. I’m just grateful that ABC and Steve McPherson had the balls to put this on the air, and the one thing that I’m super grateful for, to take it to another level, is that they have allowed us the opportunity to succeed or fail based on what we originally set out to be. They’re letting the show do what we originally set out to do, and that’s this dark mystery. They didn’t try to round anything off, and they didn’t shy away from that. Once they went for it, I was surprised every week that they kept letting us do what we got to do and didn’t tone it down and try to make it into something that was a mish-mosh of 15 different shows. Hopefully, people will enjoy it. I hope they will. And if not…? Well, I’ll just have to go around killing people. (Laughs) No, I don’t know what I’ll do.

BE: Hey, you might just have a reality show on your hands.

GS: Yeah, there you go, that’ll be my new show: “The Scott Rosenberg / Geoff Stults Murder Spree.” (Laughs) No, you know, I think we’re going to be all right. I have this interesting feeling that people are primed, viewers are primed for something like this.

BE: Fingers crossed, man. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

GS: Hey, I appreciate it. Now get the word out there to your peeps to check out this show! (Laughs) Thanks a lot, brother!

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