Mandi Bierly
April 28, 2010 AT 05:25 PM EDT

Image Credit: Peter Stranks/ABCOn ABC’s new drama Happy Town (premieres tonight, 10 p.m. ET), Geoff Stults stars as Tommy Conroy, a deputy in Haplin, Minn., which hasn’t had a serious crime in five years — since the elusive “Magic Man” was believed to have kidnapped his eighth and final victim. With a brutal murder that he suddenly needs to know how to investigate, some bizarre ramblings by his sheriff father (M.C. Gainey), the separate arrival of two mysterious out-of-towners (Sam Neill and Lauren German), the agendas of Haplin’s founding family (Frances Conroy and Steven Weber), a loving wife (Amy Acker) and child (Sophia Ewaniuk), and a babysitter/addict’s daughter (Sarah Gadon) in a secret relationship with a boy (Ben Schnetzer) from the right side of the tracks, Tommy’s got his hands full. Stults phoned PopWatch Tuesday — in between a satellite media tour and a trip to sit in the audience at Dancing With the Stars — to chat about the role that was written for him (he worked with the show’s creators as Eddie Latekka on ABC’s October Road), why he’s obsessed with Chad Ochocinco on Twitter, what happened the first time he met Gary Busey (a great story involving being chased with a knife), his new man crush, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So we’ve never actually spoken, but you left me a voicemail once after I wrote that seeing you shirtless was a reason to tune into October Road. Not sure if you remember.

GEOFF STULTS: Of course I remember. I owe you some nakedness.

Yes! You suggested you come in and dance around my office shirtless. Did I miss my window, or does that offer still stand?

My abs have only gotten better, so I’m ready.

Is going to Dancing With the Stars a perk or an obligation?

Actually, I love it. First of all, the women are beautiful, but the dancing is a skill that I don’t have. I’m a fan of Ochocinco as an athlete [Stults played semi-professional football in Europe before turning to acting] and as a sports fan. But I think the guy is one of the most dynamic personalities out there. There are athletes and celebrities that are out there and they Twitter and they constantly try to drum up press because they’re narcissists. I don’t know him well, I’ve met him one time, but there’s something innocent and wonderful about his personality. He seems to be just a happy guy who genuinely likes to entertain people. They asked me to start Twittering for the show [@GeoffStults], and he’s THE first person that I followed because I heard about it on the radio. He does things that are amazing to me, like, “Hey, I’m bored at my hotel. I want to go to the mall. Whoever picks me up, I’ll buy your Christmas list.” Or, “Hey, let’s go support my friend’s movie Death at a Funeral. The first 60 people who meet me at the Grove in L.A., I’ll buy your tickets.” “I feel like sushi. Anybody want to me tonight at Katsuya, I’ll see if I can get us a table for 40.” There’s been a couple times I’ve been like, “S—, I should just go and see if he really does it.” But I know he really does…. I follow [the fake] Gary Busey, who is fantastically crazy. I’ve actually met [the real] Busey, and he’s a bit of a loose cannon, but he’s a nice guy when he’s not being crazy. When I first met him, he chased me around a table in Puerto Vallarta with a kitchen knife that was like six inches long ’cause my brother George said, “Yeah, my brother Geoff thinks he can take you.” And Gary’s up. “What?!” And he chased me. I’m like, you’ve got to be f—in’ kidding me. I ran. I ran out of the restaurant. Maybe he’s not joking, I don’t know. There’s a look in his eye.

Let’s talk about the show: Are people already asking you who the Magic Man is? Did you have to sign something saying you wouldn’t let it slip?

People have asked that already. We didn’t sign confidentiality agreements, but if I let somebody know and it got out there, I wouldn’t have to worry about coming back to the show because it wouldn’t exist anymore. When the secret’s out, the secret’s out. I’ve never worked on anything that people really gave a damn about, meaning you show up, you do your stuff, the crew members are there and they just want to get their day done and move on. Week after week people got more drawn in. We had crew members asking for scripts. They all had their own theories developing. We’d have theories as cast members and we’d run it by the producers and they’d laugh. At lunch, people are like, “Well, what do you know? What do you think?” “What do you think?” It happened so organically that we ended up having an office pool. We’re talking about 150, 170 people who threw in money guessing who the Magic Man was.

Who won the pool?

I can’t tell you that. You’ll hunt them down and make them dance naked in your office, too. I get your game, lady.

I’ve watched the first two episodes, and I have no idea what’s going on. Is that the proper response?

Yes. It’s not CSI, where at the end of the episode, you’re like, “Oh, that was the killer.” That’s not what we’re going for. We want people to be along for the ride. It’s a lot more Stephen King than anything else. There’s no supernatural element to this, but because there’s a mystery that’s unexplainable to the people of Happy Town, ideas and emotions get involved and then it becomes sort of supernatural. Not because aliens are coming down and abducting these people or killing people — because it’s unexplainable and bordering on the mystical.

It’s a fine line, orchestrating a slow build but giving people enough that they’ll keep coming back. Was there talk about how to balance that?

Absolutely. One of the writers’ goals was they didn’t want to be a show that dragged things on for three years before you find out who the Magic Man was. After the first two episodes, you get mini resolutions to things in each episode. The first season arc is the identity of the Magic Man, but every week you get more clues. When you get to see who the Magic Man is at the end of the eighth episode, those viewers that really bought into it and were trying to figure it out, they’ll go back and be like, “Ohmygod, I can’t believe I missed that clue.” Because they’re there. You’ve already seen some of them. That person has already been talked about. So we wanted to give viewers something to grab onto every week — enough every week where if you missed the first episode, you’re not gonna be lost — and some resolution at the end of the first season. You will ask, “Well, does that mean that the show is just gonna be done after one season?” Steven Weber had a good analogy: It’s kind of like playing a videogame, where if you get to the end of one level, all it does is open up the possibility of other levels. So we find out who the Magic Man is, and it changes things in such a profound way that it’s almost like just getting to the next level of your quest. What you thought was the answer isn’t the end all be all. Maybe that answer just creates more questions.

What’s interesting about your character is that he’s never had to be a real cop, so he’s sort of inept. And yet, all the storylines intersect through him, so he has to be smart enough to piece this together. Is that hard to play?

I’ve been able to maintain 33 years of relative idiocracy, so I can portray that a little bit as an actor. No. Tommy is a reluctant hero. He doesn’t want to have to take over. He’s very content living in his father’s shadow. Not only is he forced to be the hero, he could potentially be the only sanity in his life, his father, this guy he looks up to. Then he’s got to deal with the neuroses of people like Steven Weber and the rest of the townsfolk, and they all want answers. They look to the guy who’s in charge, even if he’s not qualified to be in charge. Ever week, bad s— happens to Tommy, and he’s just trying to figure out how to deal with it…. It was fun to play that, actually. For me, I just kind of use my imagination, and I use the fact that I’m No. 1 on a call sheet in a big ABC show, so it’s kinda like living it a little bit, too. I don’t look at it as like the burden’s on my shoulders because I have people like Sam Neill, Frances Conroy, Steven Weber, and Robert Wisdom. These people have forgotten more about acting than I know yet. As I like to tell Sam Neill, his first credits on IMDB were before I was born and to suck it. [Laughs] Anytime he tease me or makes fun of me, I go, “Yeah, is that right? How old are you?” I’m sure he enjoys that.

Will there be shirtless scenes? Let’s just get that question out of the way.

There’s a little bit coming later. Warren Christie, who was Big Cat on October Road, he makes an appearance and he’s got a little shirtless action going on. You might see the sexy, beautiful Amy Acker and I get a little action goin’ on somewhere in there.

So you’ve now been talking about Happy Town for how many hours?

I feel like I’ve been talking since 6 a.m. Monday in New York. I did Good Morning America with David Beckham. Oh, god, what a handsome devil that guy is. Honestly, kidding aside, f—in’ gorgeous that guy. He’s also a really nice guy, engaging. He walked over to me and was like, “Oh, I hear you have a new show.” “Yeah… David, can we hang out?” [Laughs] He was such a cool dude. His suit was pimpy. What a stud that guy is. One of the people I was with yesterday said, “You know, it’s interesting sometimes you look at certain people and you’re like, ‘Man, you really got more than your due share of good stuff goin’ on from God.'” And he seems to be one of those dudes. Great guy, supertalented, extremely well-groomed, we’ll give him that. Clearly, I have a man crush on Beckham. It’s just been fun for me. This is like two years of my life since I first found out about the show. This is kind of a funny story: These guys [Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Scott Rosenberg, who did ABC’s Life on Mars after October Road] created the show for me, and the three of them swore to each other, like blood brother oath, “Do not tell Geoff. We don’t want to tell Geoff until we know it’s happening.” And each of them individually told me, and made me swear to God not to tell the other ones. When they finally told me, they were all together, and they broke it down. Each one of them thought that the other two didn’t know I knew. Then they all looked at each other, “Ohmygod, you told him!” “You told him!” I’ve known about the show for two years, then it got picked up, then it was the casting process, then we shot the pilot over a year ago, then it got picked up, then we filmed, and then we waited for an airdate. Essentially two years of knowing about it is culminating in the next 36 hours. It’s very exciting and a little nerve-wracking. We’ve worked so hard and you want an opportunity for people to see it. I was talking to the producers last night, and we literally have nothing to bitch about: ABC has got behind it, they’ve given us really cool promos and a decent timeslot. Now it’s just up to you — it’s up to you, godd— it [Laughs] — to get people to tune in and put it on the DVR and the TiVo. That’s what we need.

Watch an extended promo for Happy Town:

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