I frankly think it's spectacular to work outside of L.A. because it's such a rat race over there, man.
Sourcing ideas from centuries past has long been par for Hollywood’s course. NBC’s Grimm finds inspiration in the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, many of which have become so ingrained in our cultural consciousness. On the show, Portland detective Nick (David Giuntoli) seems to be leading a normal life until one day, he begins to witness improbable things. A stranger glances at him, flashing momentarily into a zombie, and it won’t be the last time. You’d think his meds aren’t kicking in… It’s under these circumstances that Nick meets Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed Blutblad (German for the Big Bad Wolf) who keeps a strict regiment of Pilates, eats quinoa, and would rather restore grandfather clocks than eat grandmothers.
What makes Weir Mitchell so relatable in Grimm is how he portrays indefiniteness. Monroe is open, yet he’s our voice of reason—always game, always slightly wary. Watch his face when he asks, “So little Timmy’s stuck in a well, and you need Lassie to come find him?” He’s willing to fight the good fight, but not without a scrunch of his forehead. Zipping through its packed plot with style to spare, Grimm is currently netting close to six million viewers each week for NBC. The snappy dialogue and confident world-building echos the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which makes perfect sense considering the show’s executive producers David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf come from the Joss Whedon universe. And a new Scooby Gang is born.
You can catch new episodes of Grimm on Tuesdays, 10/9c
What were your initial thoughts about the show going into it?
I don’t know that I even got the entire pilot script. I think I was given around ten or twenty pages that outlined what I would be doing. If I was given anything like that, I don’t remember getting a whole impression of the thing. I was thinking more in terms of the auditions. I think I was given sides for Monroe. I remember thinking this was a really interesting part and I was really excited about it. But I also have very low expectations in my life… [Laughs] I thought it was cool, but I also thought no one would ever go for something like this. This is a hybrid. I don’t have the capacity to foresee what will work and what won’t work. It felt like a good role, but I had no real sense of the project in its entirety.
Were you very familiar with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel universe that David [Greenwalt] and Jim [Kouf] helped create?
I was aware of that universe and that David was a major planetary unit within that realm. I was also aware of Jim’s work because I had worked with him a few years earlier, which is actually how I was even in the running as far as Monroe goes. I was certainly aware of it, but it wasn’t a genre that I was particularly taken by as a spectator. I was always more drawn towards the “realistic” things as a reader and a moviegoer. Having been on the inside telling these kinds of stories, I’ve learned that there’s so much you can do as far as examining the elements of humanity ironically. When you’re operating within a vocabulary that’s less bound to the real world, it becomes Shakespeare in a way. You have this poetic license. You can paint with a broader brush, which in a way allows you to ask deeper questions.
How much do the writers let on at any given point? Are you pretty much going script to script?
Script to script. It also depends on how the writing goes and how soon we get the scripts for future episodes. Sometimes they come late and other times we do it in advance. It just depends on what happens in the writing room.
What about in terms of keeping secrets? If you shoot a particular episode and you have people inquiring about it, are you pretty good about handling that kind of situation?
I’m a huge believer in keeping secrets. As a spectator, I don’t want to know what’s coming up next. When there’s a spoiler alert, I just turn away from that. In today’s world, everyone wants to know what happens before seeing it. I think that’s a detriment to one’s enjoyment of a story. I know there are people out there who read the last chapter of a book first, but I would personally never do that.
It ruins the thrill of it all. What’s the point then?
It ruins the storytelling! If you know what’s coming, you’re not on that journey. It’s hard to be invested in the journey when you know how it ends.
What is it like to explore one character for an extended amount of time that TV affords as opposed to what you get in film?
There are pros and cons. Mostly, it’s a good thing. Like with a book, you’re on the ride on a serialized television show. You’re letting it take you places. Everything that you get comes from a place of the unknown. I enjoy the experience of watching the journey unfold. Your character deepens. Your life becomes more and more real. Grimm is our world, it’s not a fantasy world. It’s just our world looked at through Grimm‘s eyes. It’s not like Battlestar Galactica, which I love by the way. That’s just another world. It’s another time and another place. It’s not like Star Wars or Game of Thrones. It’s the world we live in with today’s problems and today’s headlines. The guy sitting next to you on the bus muttering to himself might be a Wesen. We have crazy people out there burning houses down, robbing banks, and kidnapping children.
Monroe is very much the guru on the show. You’re a walking Wikipedia. Is it ever challenging to keep on top of the mythologies and memorize all the jargon that comes along with that?
The jargon is fun! [Laughs] But what happens sometimes is that there are developments taking place and we have to refer back to certain things. It’s like, what exactly do I know about this situation? That sometimes becomes a challenge and I have to make a call. “Do we know… blah blah blah?” Due to the nature of the way stories are told, time is pretty compressed. It’s not like years, years, and years have gone by. It’s really the amount of time that we’ve been on the air and maybe even less than that. Simply put, a lot happens in a very short span of time. For instance, what happened in season one when we shot it three years ago is last year in the story. It’s sometimes difficult to keep all of that straight.
You guys throw around a lot of German on this show. Do you have a dialect coach on set?
Not on set, but we do have a dialect coach. At this point, we’re pretty much on our own as far as that goes. We’ve gotten up to speed by now, you know? Not in terms of the meanings and the syntax, but the overall sound of it. But there’s also non-German. There are other cultures that we’re starting to incorporate more and more. We have to decide how certain things are pronounced so we’re in somewhat of the same ballpark.
Does it come as a challenge on a TV show when you’re constantly made to work with different directors?
Every director is different. Every director has strengths and weaknesses, just like every actor or every plumber. People have their skill sets. Sets are run differently with different directors. The challenge, really, is about acclimating to the way someone works. And the directors have to do the same thing. They go from the set of one show to the set of another show with a completely different culture and personalities. It’s this whole process of adaptation for everybody involved. There are sometimes directors who are extremely, specifically focused on one element to the detriment of another element. There are sometimes a possibility of directors over managing the actors or camera guys, and under managing other things. We have a stable of directors that are really great and know the show inside out. Whenever a new guy or a new gal comes in, they have to acclimate to the culture and the way we are. But they all get that from Norberto Barba, our producing director, who oversees every aspect of the show. He oversees everything from the color of someone’s shoes to a story arc. That guy is amazing. He’s incredibly hardworking and fully invested in the details. When new directors come in, Norberto will say to them, “This is the world we’re in and this is how we like to do x, y and z.” It’s all a process.
What was it like for you to see Monroe as a werewolf for the first time, post-CGI?
[Laughs] They showed me a picture, but it has changed like seven times since the pilot. That’s called too many cooks in the kitchen. “He needs more eyebrows. He needs a bigger nose. He needs bigger cheeks.” By the end, you have seven iterations of this same character. It’s kind of upsetting as the reality of the thing goes, but whatever… The first time I did that, it was very confusing because I didn’t know what I was doing. I had done my homework on what this world is and what this inner part of my soul is. I knew how this manifests and what it means, but it was very organic. I remember being on set for the pilot episode because everyone and their uncle, in a position of creative control, was there. There were six producers on set. Sean [Calder] was here. Todd [Milliner] was here. David and Jim were here. Bert [Barba] hadn’t arrived yet, but came once we got picked up. So, we have all these people under the tent looking at monitors. I’m thinking to myself, what the hell am I doing? I don’t know what this is. But here we are now. I guess something went right.
What can you tell us about Monroe’s house?
The interior that you see in the pilot, which we shot in March 2011, was in an actual house. We still use the exterior of that house, but the interior of that house is now a set. The art department did a remarkable job recreating that. It’s now built to be filmed in, so it’s a little bit bigger and certain walls move out. It still looks exactly like the house we had in the beginning though.
What is it like to shoot in Portland?
It’s fantastic. I absolutely love this city.
What are you doing when you have time off?
There’s a lot of eating. There’s a lot of coffee and beer drinking. In the summer, you go down to the river. It’s such an amazing part of the country for so many reasons. It’s beautiful. All the food is locally sourced and the restaurants are high-end without being pretentious. It rains a lot, but so what? I have Scottish blood, so I don’t mind the rain. [Laughs]
Do you have any weird encounters with the public over there due to the nature of this show?
Not really. I think they take it in stride. As disruptive as we are, we try not to block up an entire residential street for too terribly long. It’s not like people do crazy stuff while we’re shooting or anything. At the beginning, there were some fans that would stick around until three in the morning to get pictures, but that’s totally cool. Those are people who are into the show and they want to meet you.
When you’re this heavily involved on a TV show, do you ever feel like you’re missing out on certain opportunities?
You can’t live that way. You can’t ever worry about being somewhere else. I frankly think it’s spectacular to work outside of L.A. because it’s such a rat race over there, man. Up here, all you have to do is do your homework, stay fit, get sleep, and focus on the work. In L.A., there are all kinds of distractions.
Can you recall the first big lesson that you learned when you got into this business?
I don’t know what the first big lesson I learned is, but the biggest lesson that I’ve learned over time is to never do it for the wrong reasons. If you want to be an actor, you have to do it for the fun of it. You have to do this because you love to do it. There’s too much rejection for the motivation behind it to be anything other than the thing itself. You have to learn to enjoy auditioning as much as you can. It’s a terribly awkward, unreal and artificial environment to do work in. But that’s the job. The job is to play pretend. If you’re doing it for money, fame or prestige, it’s just not worth it. There’s too much rejection. And be on time!
What kind of movies and TV shows were you watching when you were at your most impressionable?
That’s a really great question. I have three sisters, so there were a lot of soap operas when I was a kid. [Laughs] I was also watching adult television like 60 Minutes and Brideshead Revisited. I was just interested in really good stories. I was watching cartoons like the rest of American kids. I was watching Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings, you know? That’s good storytelling right there.
You’ve been behind the camera before. Is that something that you’re actively pursuing in tandem with acting?
It is. But when you say actively, it’s more that I’m psychologically prepared for it as opposed to prepping to do a particular thing. It’s something I would very much like to do and think I would excel at. I look forward to making the attempt.
Just circling back to Grimm a little bit, can you recall the last time you were genuinely scared?
I hate flying. The older I get, the more I hate flying. The last time that I was genuinely scared was a very turbulent flight I had recently. Every time I feel a bump, I just imagine the worst disaster. As far as movies go, there was a movie I saw that was really good about a haunted house. Ron Livingston was in it with Lili Taylor…
Yeah, I thought that was really good. They made a really good, creepy movie.
What have been your favorite guest stars and villains on Grimm so far?
We had Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio on the show and she was great to be around. She’s totally awesome. My parents on the show, Dee Wallace and Chris Mulkey, were super fun. Chris was so great on Friday Night Lights, man. I was so incredibly intimidated by him because he played the tough coach on that show. We’ve been so lucky to get these people.
I think it’s great that you’ve been incorporating talent from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel into this show as well. I sort of geeked out when Amy Acker made a guest appearance.
Yeah! Not only does David know the people he wants to work with, but I think it’s also fun for the fans invested in the show to see familiar faces.
What can we expect from the rest of season three?
You’ll have to watch and see! There are so many plot lines and a lot of stuff about the Royals. A very important, new character will be introduced down the road before the end of the season. The writers are definitely coming up with some great stuff, so all I can say is stay tuned. It will be worth it. It’s a crazy ride and it’s going to be fun.