Q & A with The Finder's Star Geoff Stults and Series Creator/Executive Producer Hart Hanson

By , Contributor

Fox Television

Actor Geoff Stults

In “The Finder,” a sixth season episode of the popular FOX procedural TV series Bones, FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth and Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan are assigned a case in Key West, Florida involving the remains of a crooked maritime museum security guard found in the Florida Everglades. To help himself and Brennan piece together the puzzle, Booth turns to Walter Sherman, a former U.S. soldier and Iraq war veteran who has an uncanny knack for locating just about anything.

This episode was, in fact, a backdoor pilot for The Finder TV series, which premieres tonight, January 12 at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on FOX. Joining series leading man Geoff Stults, who reprises his role of Walter Sherman, are Michael Clarke Duncan (Leo Knox), Mercedes Mashon (Deputy U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada), and Maddie Hasson (Willa Monday). In the series opener, “An Orphan Walks into a Bar,” Walter and Leo help a teenage boy (guest star Brett Davern) locate his missing father, a military pilot and war hero whose plane vanished after embarking on an undisclosed mission. The two friends also have their hands full watching over Willa, a teenager on parole who is working at Leo’s bar, The Ends of the Earth, as part of her probation.

Last week, Geoff Stults and series creator/executive producer Hart Hanson joined me and other journalists on a conference call to talk about what is in store for audiences with The Finder. The following is an edited version of our Q &A. Enjoy!

What is it about The Finder that you think will attract viewers?

Geoff Stults: My favorite thing about the show is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s also true of my character Walter, and that allows you, the viewer, just to enjoy the ride. It’s just fun and entertaining and I think that’s what our goal is. We’re just trying to have a nice 43- minute show that people can tune into at any point and during any part of an episode and not only enjoy themselves but also understand what’s going on. How about you, Hart?

Hart Hanson: At the beginning of this season, everyone was trying to figure out the most economic way to make TV. The head of production at 20th Century Fox TV told all the line producers that in order to prioritize what made it to the screen that they should ask their show runner what was first and foremost. Without a doubt I didn’t even have to think about it; it was entertainment. We just want to entertain an audience for an hour once a week.

Geoff, can you tell us a little bit about your character’s background and what you think makes Walter tick?

GS: Walter is a former military policeman who suffered a little brain trauma while serving in Iraq, so that’s what allows us the entry point into the series and also into Walter. We certainly feel it’s very important to take that seriously. In no way are we trying to make light of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and those who actually suffer from it. It’s a very real disease and a very real problem for our troops and other individuals for many different reasons. But it allows us this interesting dramatic license, too, and it’s a focal point for all these various things that Walter does.

One of the ways Walter’s PTSD manifests itself is that he lacks a little bit of social grace. He’s a little paranoid and not very trusting of people. So he isn’t the perfect dinner guest, but he’s fun. Walter never intends to be insulting, but it’s just matter of fact to him. Those kinds of behaviors will get you in trouble, but they’re also really fun to watch if done it in a way that Hart and the rest of the writers have done it, which is lighthearted, entertaining, and fun.

Some of the Bones characters are coming over to The Finder, so will we see some Finder characters back on Bones when it returns from hiatus?

HH: Oh, man, that would a high class idea for that to happen. We really didn’t consider it this season, though, because we don’t know how The Finder is going to do (ratings-wise). However, that’s a good idea. Geoff, do you want to be on Bones again?

GS: Hey, buddy, anything I can do to get to work with you. That was a politically correct answer, ladies and gentlemen [he jokes].

The Finder also affords you a great opportunity to have a lot of fun guest stars. Can you talk about some of the names we’ll be seeing?

HH: Sure. With Bones we never have a chance to have many guest-stars because of the way the show is structured. There’s a dead body and then we try and figure out who killed that person and everybody is a suspect. The Finder is a little different. A client comes through the door, so there are opportunities to have all these great guest-stars come onto the show and we’ve been really pleased with who we’ve had on so far.

John Fogerty, the singer/songwriter from Credence, is in the first episode, and Eric Roberts. Then there’s Michael Des Barress, who plays Ice Pick, and 50 Cent - Curtis Jackson - came in to play a hip hop mogul. Let’s see, who else? Amy Aquino plays Willa’s probation officer, and we’ve had Jodi Lyn O’Keefe as well as Jamie Murray on the show. Greg Evigan and Mario Van Peebles are also playing a version of a well-known Miami cop TV duo from the '80s.

I wanted to ask Geoff about the back story of getting this part. Was it just a straight audition? How did it come about for you?

GS: The long story short is that I was a little apprehensive after coming off of a couple of dramas. You live there when you’re the lead of the show, and I’d made a decision that I was only going to do a half hour series. So when this script was sent my way, I didn’t read it. It got sent my way again and the casting director, who’s been a fan of mine and has been helpful to me in my career, asked me to read it as a favor to him. He said, “If you like this at all, just do me a favor and sit down with Hart Hanson.”

So I read it and I was like, “Oh, man, I like this. All right, I’ll at least meet with him.” I purposely grew out a beard and tried to look as rough as I could because my goal was to walk in there and have Hart think, “This isn’t the guy.” However, everything I did “backfired” on me. I probably need to take that approach more often in my career. It’s just like that episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza realizes that every decision he makes is wrong, so he starts going with the exact opposite of his gut reactions. That’s kind of what happened here and before I knew it, Hart and I were doing a TV show together.

Geoff, you’ve acted with your brother George before and I know you guys are close. Any chance we’ll see your brother on this show or any chance you guys will be onscreen together any time soon?

HH: There’s a very, very, very good chance.

GS: I’m very lucky to have a brother who also happens to be actor and, as a codependent adult, we sometimes live together. So, yes, we get along and to work together again would be a blast.

I was wondering what you guys did with the Saffron Burrows character (Ike Latulippe) and how you phased her out after the pilot.

HH: Well, we really didn’t. If we’d done a typical pilot, then we would looked at it and decided what changes we were going to make and do a bunch of re-shoots. The world would never have then known about any change or it would have been a byline that we’d made casting changes. You’ve seen that many times. In our case everything we did was out in the open and we had no time because our “pilot,” was actually a special episode of Bones. So those types of decisions were made after the spin-off/crossover “pilot” aired.

So poor Saffron was in the unenviable position of viewers seeing her and who are now going to wonder where her character went, and it’s a good question. Ultimately, the decision was made on various levels to go in a different direction and to expand the show with two characters instead of the one character. So we made the change, but never explain the change in our series. We never say what happened to that woman who used to be here. We just move on, so it’s just one of the costs of doing things the way we did them.

Whose brilliant idea was it to cast Michael Clarke Duncan on the series?

HH: The original character of Leo Knox was Sam Sheppard, an elderly, skinny white cowboy. I believe that the person who first asked me, “Is there a role for Michael Clarke Duncan on the show?” was the head of casting, Sharon Klein, at the studio. I believe that’s where it came from. Whoever it was, I don’t think she finished her question before I said, “Yes, there’s a role for him,” and I just totally rewrote the Leo character. If you have a chance to get someone like Michael Clarke Duncan, you don’t stop and say, “Does that really match the character?” You write one to match him. He has his aura as well as charisma and this whole being, you know? So that’s what we did, and you can thank the studio.

Hart, can you describe the origins of this series creatively and why did you cast Geoff?

HH: 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 by saying that I was too busy with Bones. However, 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? Why 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 clean way into a network series with a guy who can find anything. Everyone is always looking for a way to do a P.I. series and no one wants to do a P.I. series, and I just jumped at the chance.

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, and someone not as voluble and who wasn’t 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. He came in to just 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.

The first thing I thought was, "Oh, man, I already cast Leo. This guy would have been perfect.” This just sounds like I’m kissing Geoff’s butt, but 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 find that number three, a leading man who can act, then you’d do anything to get them.

The third element was that Geoff is a very good looking guy and he could just get along on that. However, he’s also self-deprecating, funny and goofy when he wants to be. Five minutes into our meeting I turned to Dan Sackheim, our director/producer on the show, who was sitting next to me. I think grabbed his knee and started squeezing because we’d been casting for a long time and it’s a very difficult process. I just thought, "This guy [Geoff] is a TV star. He’ll be funny, too.” I honestly thought he was a mix between Tom Selleck and Timothy Olyphant and I really wanted him to play Walter. 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?

GS; Do you mean my twin brother? I’ve known Mike for a long time. He was coming off a giant project and at that point D.E.B.S. was my biggest job yet. I didn’t even really know, for example, where to stand or what a DOP [director of photography] or a grip 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. The director separated the two of us, and we got yelled at for not being able to stop laughing. Mike has a great sense of humor and likes to laugh. He’s a goof ball and it’s the easiest thing in the world to get him going. Mike likes to tease people and I mess with him and annoy him like he is my big brother. It’s like we grew up together, so we have a lot of fun.

In a network drama, the [work] days get long and you have to be able to get along with the people you work with. For me, it’s just very important to laugh and have fun. I want it to be an enjoyable experience for everyone on the crew up to and including our Hart Hanson. We all have fun and I try to set that tone and Mike is right there with me.

Please note, all photos/images above copyright of FOX Television.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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