In 'Horse Soldiers,' comedian Rob Riggle plays a colonel he served under in Afghanistan

The actor will be putting his military background to use in the film.

ByABC News
August 30, 2017, 12:55 PM
Rob Riggle attends the screening of "Middle School" in Hollywood, Calif., Oct. 5, 2016.
Rob Riggle attends the screening of "Middle School" in Hollywood, Calif., Oct. 5, 2016.
Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

— -- When you think of comedian Rob Riggle, his characters in "The Hangover," "The Daily Show" and "21 Jump Street," may come to mind.

But Riggle is much more than a funny man. The Kentucky native, 47, was in the United States Marine Corps for nearly two decades, and come early next year, Riggle will be featured in a war drama, playing a colonel he actually served under in Afghanistan.

"Horse Soldiers," set to hit theaters this coming January, features Riggle opposite actors Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon and Michael Peña, and tells the story of one of the First Special Forces units deployed overseas following the events of 9/11.

Riggle told ABC News he always had a passion for comedy and acting, but as an undergrad at the University of Kansas, he also had his pilot's license and an amazing opportunity to serve his country.

"I got a flight contract with the Marine Corps," he said at a recent Dos Equis event in New York. "So, I thought, ‘Top Gun, waiter, Top Gun, waiter?’ Plus I always did want to serve my country, it’s something I always wanted to do. I did it."

The actor was on-hand to celebrate the upcoming college football season and Dos Equis's search for the "Most Interesting Fan in College Football."

Riggle served in the military for 23 years and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. Some of his highlights include helping to evacuate the embassy in Liberia and setting up refugee camps in Albania.

But after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Riggle said he "was activated."

PHOTO: Jack Kesy, left, Geoff Stults, and Chris Hemsworth in "Horse Soldiers."
Jack Kesy, left, Geoff Stults, and Chris Hemsworth in "Horse Soldiers."

"I was in the reserve unit here in Manhattan," he said. "I got a call saying, 'Report to Ground Zero.' I worked on the rubble piles in the bucket brigades from the 12th to the 18th; 12 hours on, 12 hours off, just moving rubble by hand, cause it was still search and rescue at that point."

He then volunteered to go back on active duty and that November was sent to Afghanistan. It's there that he met Col. Max Bowers, the man he plays in "Horse Soldiers."

"They were the first guys in," he said of the Special Forces unit. "They teamed up with the northern alliance in northern Afghanistan and they did some truly amazing things; fighting in the mountains on horseback under intense conditions. They took three warlords and brought them together and fighting a pretty well-armed and entrenched Taliban force."

He continued, "Their commanding officer was Lt. Col. Max Bowers. After I volunteered to go back on active duty ... I worked directly for him. He was my direct boss. I was doing public affairs and some civil affairs work for him. Now I'm playing [him] in the movie."

Riggle said in addition to his experience serving under Bowers, there were Special Forces consultants on set helping the cast bring the story to life.

The surreal nature of how his acting and military experience have come together isn't lost on Riggle.

"It's weird how these things turn out ... I still consider myself very lucky to live in a country where you can have more than one dream and pursue them all," he said.