Road trip 

With October Road back on ABC, Cascade's Geoff Stults is back in the spotlight

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You might not know his name. You might not know that he was born and raised in Cascade, or that he went to Manitou Springs High School.

But you recognize Geoff Stults. Trust me.

You recognize the face. You remember him as that guy from the now-defunct WB's 7th Heaven (his older brother George was also a cast member), or from his role as the groom at the Cleary wedding in Wedding Crashers, or from his memorable turn as the guy who spurned a date with Jennifer Aniston to play Madden football with Vince Vaughn in The Break-Up.

Or ... you know him as Eddie Latekka, the brooding ex-high school jock on ABC's October Road, which recently returned for its second season. Earlier this week, we caught up with Stults over the phone between shots on the show's Pasadena, Calif.- area set.

Indy: So congrats on the new season, Geoff. A lot of people weren't so sure October Road would be picked up.

GS: Yeah, it's back on. I found out about mid-May ... But then we still weren't sure where we were going to have the new season. Was it going to be [in Los Angeles]? Was it going to be in Atlanta, where we shot the first season? We were thrilled to get to work at home [in L.A.].

Indy: Yet the show takes place in Knights Ridge, a fictional Massachusetts town ...

GS: Yeah, now we're shooting Pasadena for Atlanta for Massachusetts. Unless you know exactly what to look for you won't know the difference.

Indy: Probably not. But I love the fact that it's the same town name as the one used by your show's executive producer, Scott Rosenberg, when he wrote Beautiful Girls, one of my favorite movies. There are a lot of parallels between that movie and this show ...

GS: You could call them more than just parallels. (Laughs.) Yeah, there's no doubt ... Scott went away, became a writer, and wrote this movie. My interpretation of October Road is that it's Scott's life after the movie came out and ... how these real-life characters reacted to him after Beautiful Girls came out. He still goes every year, and he has a ski trip with the real-life characters. They're still around.

Indy: How's this project compare with others you've been involved with?

GS: I've been very lucky to be on some quality projects and work with a lot of great people [before this show]. And they don't even touch this. We got hired to do something and they, kind of, let us run. And now they're writing for us. They give us all the freedom that we need as actors and (laughs) semi-professionals to make it our own.

They've really started to write more for me and give me more stuff. It's not like I'm typecast as the big, dumb blond or anything. You can get in a situation where you're the best friend or you're the athletic asshole or the halfway-decent looking asshole guy or the jerk. I've done that I've done that a bunch of times, actually. That's kind of the way it was in the pilot. But I've been very lucky in that they've given me an opportunity with all these different storylines. I'm biased, but I think, by far, I have the coolest character, with the most to do, with the most depth and that.

Indy: You sound like you're enjoying this run a lot.

GS: Every experience is a little different, but this is our baby. It's like the Little Show That Could. Before I was even cast, it was the last pilot sold to ABC and honestly, it's because the president of ABC loved Beautiful Girls and he was like, "Eh, let's give it a try." And it was kind of an afterthought, essentially.

We came to find out afterwards that there's a few shows every year that they're like, "If it works, great, if not, who cares, it didn't cost us that much." I say "that much" and it's $6 million, but it's relative. And then that season, it didn't even get picked up. It got put on what was called "a hold." And then we didn't know until late that we got picked up for a midseason replacement.

We had just six episodes last year. And then we were still, this year, one of the last shows to be put on the schedule. We weren't even officially on the fall schedule. And we weren't a midseason replacement this year we were a late add. But we keep, and I say this knocking on wood, showing up, doing our job.

When you have a mega-hit like Grey's Anatomy [which October Road followed on Thursdays last season], when 22 million people tune in to it, there's no way you're going to keep all 22 million of those people. And 10 o'clock is tough for the rest of the world that has real jobs ... they stay up until 11 and have to get up at 5:30 [the next day]. That stuff starts to get a little late.

It's a tough time slot to keep people in, but we did a decent job of holding some of that retention off of our lead-in and kind of showing that we had an audience of our own.

Indy: Sounds like you've paid close attention to all this stuff.

GS: Everybody has, because it's part of it, but none more so than me. On Friday, I was getting calls from other castmates, asking, "How did we do?" and "What were our numbers?" because they know that I'm a little more in tune to that. I have a production company, so I'm a little more on that side of it, I guess.

One of the big problems with the entertainment industry is that they forget that there's a whole country between L.A. and New York. And those are the people that I grew up with that are sitting around watching TV with their families. They're the ones that keep shows on the air and they're the ones that show up at Best Buy at 4 o'clock in the morning on Black Friday. There's definitely a perspective that a lot of people in the industry are lacking.

Indy: You think that comes from your upbringing around here?

GS: Yeah, I just think I have a better knowledge of that than most people do. Especially young actors who haven't been around for a long time. They're just out here to get famous and rich real quick.

Indy: So how'd you get involved with the show in the first place?

GS: It's funny. I had made a commitment that year. I said that, "You know, I'm not going to do hour-long television any more. I want to do half-hour." I'd done 7th Heaven for a while. I'd done three hour-long pilots that didn't get picked up. And you never know how that's going to work.

I wanted to [do], and I really enjoy, the live format of a sitcom and making people laugh and being a part of that, and I said, "I'm gonna do that. I don't even want to read any scripts that are hour-long."

And my manager called me one day and said, "I know what you said, but just read this one." And I was like, "No, I don't want to," and he said, "Just read this." An hour later, I called him back and I told him to "F' off because he was right and I loved it and I had to go in on it.

They wanted to see me for Nick, for Bryan Greenberg's character. And I said, "I don't want to do that. I think it's great, but I want to read for Eddie." And they said, "Well, just come in for Nick and if you're not right for it, they'll bring you back for Eddie." I kind of knew how that would work out, and I didn't want to waste it, so I grabbed a script and I picked a couple scenes that I liked from Eddie.

I went into this room and I saw all these guys that had worked way more than me and people I recognized from television and I was like, "Oh, boy ... " And I walked in the door and they said, "We're going to do the first two scenes," and I said, "Actually, I'm not going to read for Nick, I'm going to read for Eddie." And Rosenberg was like, "What are you talking about? We don't even have any scenes for Eddie." And I didn't even know who he was at the time he was just the eccentric fellow in the corner of the room as far as I was concerned.

And I said, "Well, actually, I brought my own," and I handed the reader a couple of pages and I did the scenes, and I was the only person they ever saw for Eddie. I took a shot and I knew I wasn't going to be right for Nick and I honestly didn't even want to read for Nick. Like I said, I'm biased, but I like my character so much. I took a shot and it worked out. It could have backfired, for sure. They could have told me to get the hell out of the room, if they wanted to. But thank God they didn't.

Indy: Tell me a little bit about your production company.

GS: It's called Eleven Eleven Films. We just finished a movie with Forest Whitaker and Jessica Biel that we're excited about. We're hoping to get that one into [the] Sundance [Film Festival]. The first one we did was called Unknown, with Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper and Bridget Moynahan. But it's impossible without my two partners, there's no doubt. They handle the day-to-day. I couldn't even pretend to be in that business unless I had those guys to help run it.

Indy: And, to think, not too long ago, you were starring in West Side Story as a junior at Manitou High.

GS: That's probably my best work to this day. Probably, yeah.

The year before West Side Story, my brother came up to me, and he was a year older in school, and he said there was a school play and he wanted to know if I wanted to audition for it. He was a junior and I was a sophomore. I honestly didn't even know we had them, and that's kind of shocking because Manitou is such a small school, you'd think I'd have a clue.

But I was like, "Yeah, whatever," and there was a girl that I had a crush on that I knew was going to be in it, so I was like, "Sure, yeah, whatever, it doesn't matter." First of all, I didn't think I'd get a role. Hello, Dolly! was the show we were doing, and my brother and I both did it and I really enjoyed it, like, "This isn't too bad." It was fun, but it was no big deal.

The next year we did West Side Story. My brother played football and was one of the top wrestlers during his time at school, and I was a football and basketball player and we got a couple of our buddies to do it and it kind of became a little bit, like, instead of something where the drama kids hung out.

Then we did West Side Story and it was a blast, and a bunch of the guys that we were friends with came and did it, and it was a great time. And I was like, "Maybe I should look into doing this somehow."

I never thought I would end up doing what I'm doing today. Coming from Manitou, I didn't know anybody in the industry. Nobody else I'd ever known I think maybe one of the directors from our school plays came out here to try to make it as an actor, but it's not easy, man. It's not an easy gig.

I ended up coming to college out here at a small school called Whittier College, and I chose Whittier because, number one, it was small and I wanted to play football somewhere where I wouldn't sit on the bench for five years. That was just inevitable.

I had opportunities all over the country, but I figured, if I was going to fall into acting, I was going to fall into it on the West Coast, as opposed to Michigan or Colorado or wherever else. I was close to going to Western State I took a recruiting trip there. I was going to walk on at [the University of] Michigan. I had a bunch of other opportunities at a bunch of other small Midwest schools. But I focused on a bunch in state and Whittier out here.

And I came out here on a recruiting trip, I saw palm trees and I said, "I'm in, let's do it." And then four years later, my brother transferred out and we graduated together. He was a year older, and he had redshirted at the University of Southern Colorado as a wrestler, so he was already planning on going for five years, so his senior year was my senior year. Then he came out here and we graduated together. And he's the one that got us into this acting business.

George was having lunch with a girlfriend of ours that we grew up with in Manitou, who happened to live out here. And this agent, this Hollywood agent lady, saw him, jumped out of her car, came running over, gave him her card, and that's how we got in the entertainment industry. It was completely luck, or, depending on how you look at it, wrong place at the right time or whatever. (Laughs.)

And she wanted to represent George and wanted nothing to do with me. So I started showing up at his auditions. And that's how that happened. I booked my first job on a show called Everybody Loves Raymond. And the rest is what the hell I've been doing since, strangely enough.

Indy: What's our character Eddie got going on this season?

GS: Some of the big things: At the end of last season, we sort of touched on the relationship between Janet the Planet, the kind of pleasantly plump bartender who's a little atypical of what Eddie normally dated. We explore that relationship a little bit, but the two major storylines are going to be who really is the father of [Laura Prepon's character] Hannah's baby I've got my own opinions about it and then, really, kind of Nick and I picking the pieces up and starting a business together and all the things that happen when two guys who don't know what the heck to do in a business setting are doing.

And one of the big things, obviously, is finding out that our best friend was sleeping with our other best friend's wife, and that really throws a ripple through the dynamic of our group and we essentially have to exile old Ikey. Which I was kind of bummed about because I don't get to work with him that much. I've only had one scene with [Evan Jones, who plays Ikey] this year and he's my favorite character to work with. Hopefully, as time goes on, we get back together, so to speak. He's one of the best actors he's a strange, eccentric fruitcake, don't get me wrong. And he'd probably say the same thing about me. No, he wouldn't say eccentric, he'd probably just call me a meathead. He's one of my favorite actors and one of the most talented actors on the show.

Indy: I loved him as Cheddar Bob in 8 Mile. And that's the thing with a lot of the actors on your show. Even if people don't know all the actors' names, they probably recognize the faces. Like Jay Paulson, who plays Physical Phil, he was great this summer in his recurring role on the show Mad Men.

GS: Jay's actually my other favorite. Jay's excellent. And his stuff on Mad Men was great. He and I were shooting a scene this morning where and I won't tell you why, because it's entertaining but we were both naked, unfortunately. We found each other in our living room, together, naked at the same time, and we weren't too excited about it. So we were walking around set this morning in our bathrobes and nothing else underneath [them], and we walked out to get something to eat and ran into someone who had never seen October Road, but had recognized Jay from Mad Men. And he was like, "Well, great, but tune in to my damn real show. It's on tonight!"

Indy: Has the show been affected by the writers' strike at all?

GS: Everyone's been affected by it. They can't write anything after the deadline. But the initial order for [our show] this season was 13 [episodes]. And, thank God that Scott Rosenberg I hate to give him credit but he got the writing staff together and they wrote all 13 episodes. There's a lot of shows that didn't do that. They were behind the eight ball and they didn't have the organization or whatever it was, so they only had 10 or 11 episodes, and these are shows that even started before us.

We are in the middle of our 11th episode right now, and we've got two and a half left, really. And those are all done and all written, really. It kind of pissed off the other writers in town, because they felt like, "Shut down, don't stockpile scripts." It's a way to kind of stick it to the studio. But the way that our guys looked at it, and I respect them for it, is they look at it as the 160 crew members we have on our show that would have been out of work before Thanksgiving and now have a job through the holidays.

And that's the other thing: I've never been on another set where the crew is as happy as they are on this set. It's not like we're shooting Alias or something that has, day after day, a 15-, 18-hour day I mean, we put in 13, 14, 15 regularly, and we can even longer on a Friday, but there's no fight scenes and special effects but the crew, they work the hardest.

I work every day, but I may only have two or three scenes a day, or one scene a day, and then I go home. But the crew's there when I get there at 6 a.m. or 6:30. The actors come and go, but the crew's there. They make less money, they have mortgages, they have families, they have Christmas presents to buy, and they're the ones that get affected the most by a strike like this.

They're grateful, obviously, but I am, too, because I want a job and I want a paycheck as well, but if you don't shoot an episode, you don't get paid for it. So thank God our writers wrote the show so we can stay in business until January.

Indy: What else have you got going on right now?

GS: I've got a film coming out next year called The Express. I was in Chicago this summer working on it. It's just a brutal movie. We were shooting two units: one through the acting and one for the football. And I was playing a football player, so if I wasn't working on it as an actor that day, I was working on it as a football player. I'd never done a movie where you just continually work. The only days we didn't work were Sundays, and a lot of times, we worked Sundays anyway. It was a blast, it was a fun job, but it was the actual work of it.

Ninety percent of the movie, I had a helmet on. I didn't do hair and makeup, I didn't do any of that crap. I just played football, and I was with 90 guys that were real football players. Since we shot in the Midwest, a lot of these guys were Big Ten guys that had just finished at Illinois or Ohio State or Iowa. Three of the guys that were on our team, our fake little fictional team, were called up to NFL teams. They were real athletes.

Indy: Did your experience from football in high school and college help you get cast?

GS: Well, I was a quarterback in high school, and a receiver in college, and in this movie, I played a linebacker. Sixty years ago, at 200 pounds, I could be a linebacker. Today, I'd get killed.

But it definitely had something to do with it. I had to go read, I had to go through football camp. I did a lot of my own stunts. I definitely had a stunt guy who took some hits for me, but because we were wearing those old two-bar facemasks, if it's a close shot, you can't really hide it. But it was a blast. It felt like I was back in high school playing with my buddies. That's truly what it felt like.

The movie, by the way, is going through test screenings and it's testing as good as any movie in recent history has tested at Universal. The first screening, it tested at a 93 [out of 100], the second at a 94. It's doing really well.

When it comes down to it, who cares about testing, but the director, Gary Fleder, who also directed the pilot of October Road and that had something to do with me getting involved in it, too he's as proud of this movie as any movie he's ever done. And he and I are talking about trying to bring the movie over to Iraq for screenings. George and I, our roommate in college is overseas in the Army in his second stint.

Indy: That'd be awesome of you guys. Thanks for your time, Geoff. But before I let you go, is there anything else you want to say to our readers?

GS: With October Road, the thing that I'm most proud of about is and it was pretty obvious to me that most of our viewers were going to be mostly female, especially coming after Grey's Anatomy and it being kind of a soapy show is how many times I have been out and about, especially when I was in Chicago over the summer working, and I would have men come up to me and say, "By the way, dude, I love your show."

There's more guys in the cast than anything else. It's about a bunch of dudes in a blue-collar town that are just living, and the everyday stuff they go through, and it's really relatable. With a lot of television, like you tune in because it's a good show, but it's really about the storylines and the people and the characters. But not everybody can relate to being a doctor.

In our show, there's somebody in our show that's relatable to anyone out there that watches it. And particular, for me, I love the fact that with guys, their girlfriends or wives force them to watch it, but then they end up liking it because they see a bunch of dudes that are kind of like them and their friends. I love that.

pete@csindy.com Capsule:

October Road

Mondays at 9 p.m. on ABC



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