Under the Radar

America's Funniest Marine Gets Serious in the New Afghanistan War Movie '12 Strong'

Rob Riggle has managed an impressive feat in his life: he’s an accomplished Marine officer who’s managed to be incredibly funny at the same time. Lt. Col. Riggle served more than twenty years on active duty and in the Reserves and then-Major Riggle served under Lt. Col. Max Bowers in Afghanistan in those tense months after 9/11.

Now Riggle's playing Bowers in the new movie "12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers," the new movie about the U.S. Special Forces team that was the first unit into Afghanistan after 9/11.

Rob has an incredible resumé as a comic actor: correspondent on "The Daily Show," Phil's nemesis Gil Thorpe on "Modern Family" and movies like "The Hangover," "21 Jump Street," and "The Other Guys." He starred in a huge 2017 Dos Equis ad campaign familiar to college football fans and has been doing clips for FOX NFL Sunday. It's an awesome body of work and now he's moving into dramatic roles.

Rob gave us some time to talk about "12 Strong" and answer a few more dumb questions. The movie is in theaters now.

I thought 12 Strong was more of an action picture than one of these solemn, respectful, “pay tribute to the troops” movies.  Would you agree with that?

Well,  there's action in it, for sure, but it’s also a fascinating story.  At the end of the day, any movie that is made, whether it’s a comedy or drama, you want to have a story that you can embrace.  I like this one personally because it’s a true story and those always, I think, always make the best stories. 

Some of us have wondered why a movie about fighting on horseback after 9/11 has taken so long to get made. 

Well, that’s Hollywood. I'm finding out it takes a long time to get things made, so that’s the way it goes, but the good news is they got it made. Personally, I think they got it made well.  

In this movie, you're playing Colonel Max Bowers, a real person that you know.  What's that like?

It’s a little added pressure.  You know normally I'm a comedic actor and a comedian, but I was lucky enough to get to play this role.  

The story takes place in October of 2001. 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group goes into Afghanistan, they're our first response to 9/11.  They link up with Northern Alliance and they do some of the most amazing military feats of 21st century warfare and they do a lot of it from horseback. It’s a fascinating story.  

Now I personally ended up going over as a young captain and joining this group in late November of 2001, and I worked for Lieutenant Colonel Max Bowers’ Command Element doing public affairs and civil affairs work for him.  Every morning I'm briefing him, every night I'm briefing him, I work directly for him, and now I'm playing Lieutenant Colonel Max Bowers in the movie.  

It’s an honor to get to do that and hopefully I’ll see him at the premiere and hopefully he’ll like the film.  

Rob talked to Military.com before the 2017 Army-Navy Game.

You're involved in a lot of veteran charity work.

I retired from the Marine Corps in 2013, but you know it’s in your bloodstream, it’s who you are.  I don’t think I’ll ever be out of the military, so to speak.  Service is a thing we do.  It’s just in my DNA now.  

I get approached often by various veterans’ organizations and I try to support the ones I can. I’ve found certain organizations that I think do amazing work, are doing the right things, and the results speak for themselves.  So I've tried to partner with as many of those as I can.  

I have my own golf tournament which supports the Semper Fi Fund.  I teamed up with We Are the Mighty to do that. Team Rubicon, Got Your 6, Boot Campaign, Warriors and Quiet Waters.  There are more and I'm sure I'm going to hear about it because I'm probably forgetting someone, but there are many organizations out there doing great work. I try to support as much as I can and do what I can. 

I could probably do something almost every day, but I’ve got to make a living, so I do what I can when I can.

There’s a perception from some of our readers that everyone in Hollywood is a liberal who’s lining up to do George Clooney’s laundry. In your own experience, do people in show business fit that description or is there a wide variety of views just like you’d see in most any other job?

Here’s my experience:  Hollywood probably is a little more liberal than your average.  Yet, everybody I've come across, this is my experience, has been very respectful of the military.  When it comes to telling a military story, they are all very interested in getting it right and being fair.  So my experience has always been pretty good, I've got to say.

Are you going back to being funny now since the movie is coming out?

Well, it’s funny, this is a very straight role. In March, I have a movie coming out called "Midnight Sun," which is a very dramatic role.  Then in September I'm back in comedy with Kevin Hart doing a movie called "Night School."  

Look, I'm a comedic actor, I'm a comedian.  It’s my passion, it’s my love, I’ll always be doing comedy as long as they’ll have me, but I am an actor and I spend a lot of time studying it here in New York and elsewhere.  It’s a thing I enjoy and I haven't really had many opportunities to do straight roles or dramatic roles. Now I'm getting a couple and I'm really enjoying it.  So if they’ll give me opportunities, I’ll do what I can. 

Rob really, really wanted to be Dos Equis' Most Interesting Fan in the World.

I guess I was a little distracted by the actual National Championship game, but I didn’t see, did you get your Most Interesting Fan statue or not?

No, some very talented, motivated kid – I call him a kid, he's a man, a 21-year-old college student from LSU, he won.  And he deserved it.  He is an amazing fan, no doubt about it.  And the other runner-up was a really awesome guy from Michigan.  So yeah, no, I didn’t win, but I was there to help present him his statue, his life-size statue of himself, which was pretty amazing, actually.  He was really stoked and I think it was a fun night.  His parents were there, it was cool, it was a lot of fun.  

Then, of course, the national championship game was amazing.  Couldn’t ask for a better game, so it was a cool night.

Did you stay until the end?

Oh, I stayed.  Yeah, oh, absolutely.

That’s great. I hear that some people didn't stick around until the end.  

No, that game was amazing.

Are you doing more Fox stuff for their football telecasts leading up to the Super Bowl?

You know this is my sixth year of doing Riggle’s Picks on Fox NFL and I plan on doing a couple more.  I really enjoy it. I have 1:45 to 2:00 minutes to do a comedy bit every single week and it has to be PG-rated and football-centric.  So it’s a narrow lane with which to do comedy, but I enjoy it and we have a lot of fun.

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