Entertainment

Why war drama 12 Strong is not your typically skewed U.S. military horseplay

Actor Geoff Stults talks about his challenge in working with horses and the film's universal appeal.

Geoff Stults, left, and Chris Hemsworth in a scene from 12 Strong.

Warner Bros. Entertainment

Geoff Stults, left, and Chris Hemsworth in a scene from 12 Strong.

“It’s nice to know there are still some heroes out there making sacrifices so I can go play dress up,” says Geoff Stults, “and I loved playing dress up on this one.”

Stults co-stars with Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon and Michael Peña in 12 Strong, the tale of one of the most successful missions in military history. In just three weeks, 12 Green Berets, with the help of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, battled the Taliban to take back the occupied city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Based on Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, 12 Strong is both conventional and unconventional in its approach. Structured like a traditional war film, it’s also the first time in memory we’ve seen modern warfare on horseback on the big screen. Once in Afghanistan, the Green Berets discover the best method of transport through the rocky and treacherous terrain is on the back of a horse.

“I grew up part-time in Colorado so I grew up with trail rides,” Stults says. “Certainly hadn’t been on a horse in years. The first day of getting on this horse was interesting.

“The wranglers would throw marks on the ground and we would have to ride up and stop and hit our marks-ish. The good news is the horses were trained better than the actors were trained. They knew what they were doing but they’re temperamental animals. Sometimes they didn’t want to stand there on a weird angle, on a weird hill, for 10 takes in a row while the actors got their lines right. Harder than riding was getting the horses to stay still. Between takes, just to keep the horses chill, we’d be moving them around.”

As the first American soldiers to take on the Taliban on their home turf after 9-11, the soldiers portrayed in 12 Strong endured impossible odds, outgunned and outnumbered 5,000 to 1.

“These guys were already in service and said, ‘What are we going to do to make sure nothing like this ever happens again?’ It’s a story about 12 guys who were willing to make what could have been the ultimate sacrifice.”

Stults is quick to mention that the movie is not only an American story.

“9-11 happened on American soil,” he says, “this is an American skewing story but it wasn’t an isolated American experience. It changed all our lives.

“It is also about the people of Afghanistan and their heroics. This couldn’t have happened without them and Gen. Dostum’s partnership. These people have been occupied, oppressed, dealing with the Taliban coming in and out of their villages.”

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