For comedian Rob Riggle, his role in the film “12 Strong” is a return to his roots.
The war film, out Friday, is based on Doug Stanton’s book “The Horse Soldiers,” a true, declassified story about a unit sent to Afghanistan on the heels of 9/11. The 12 horse soldiers were one of the first units sent to the country after the attacks.
Riggle, a Marine veteran known for appearances in “21 Jump Street,” “The Hangover” and “The Daily Show,” had a personal connection to the mission as he played Lt. Col. Max Bowers, a man who he served under while stationed in Afghanistan in 2001.
amNewYork spoke to Rob Riggle about his 20 years serving in the Marine Corps and playing his old boss in “12 Strong.”
How was the experience of playing your boss, Colonel Bowers?
It was fun. I liked Colonel Bowers, so it was an honor to play him. I knew members of that unit. When I arrived, they were already in Mazar-i-Sharif, [Afghanistan]. There was still a lot of things going on, but I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with that unit, so it was an honor.
I imagine you didn’t have to audition for the role?
I didn’t. I had seen the script many years ago. I liked it, read the book and was a big fan of it because I was familiar with some of the people involved and that was an area in the country where I served in, so it was interesting to me. Then, nothing ever came of it. But then, all of a sudden, I got a call and they said, “We’re making it and we want you to play Colonel Bowers.” And I said, “Count me in!”
Did you get to interact with him on a daily basis while you were in Afghanistan?
Yes, every single day I reported to him. I had to give situation reports and keep him posted on what was going on in my area of responsibility when I was there, so yeah I had a lot of interaction with the man.
Have you heard what he thinks about the film?
No, sadly I haven’t talked to Colonel Bowers since Afghanistan, so hopefully he’ll be at the premiere and I’ll get a chance to catch up.
This is a different film for you. With your service in mind, did you ever see yourself jumping into a war film?
I’m a comedian by trade. I come from the UCB in New York. I do sketch, improv, stand-up. So, comedy has always been my thing. It’s where my joy is, but I’m also an actor and I’ve studied extensively. I always wanted the opportunity because I felt like it would be a natural fit to portray a military person. I was just finally happy to get an opportunity.
It must be nice to finally highlight what these men did on this mission since it was under wraps for so long.
I think that’s a really big part of this. Every single day we have men and women deployed around the world, working on our behalf, and defending our freedoms and other people’s freedoms and we never hear about it. A lot of the times the missions are classified, but by the time we do hear about it, it’s years down the road.
In the grand scheme of things, what does that time in Afghanistan mean to you?
You know, it was my time to serve. I was trained, I was ready, and it was a tragic time for our country, but I was glad I was able to be there and to serve, so I consider it an honor.