Grimm's Silas Weir Mitchell: Wolf in the Fold

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Michael Muller/NBC

Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe in Grimm

A little over a year ago, Grimm’s Monroe was just another resident of a Portland, Oregon neighborhood who happily led a very ordinary life. A clockmaker by profession, he is a bit of a loner and, unbeknownst to most people, a “Blutbad” or wolf. Monroe and those like him are members of a race of supernatural beings called Wesen who have been living among humans for centuries. He is, however, a reformed Blutbad and does not give into his more animalistic nature, preferring a vegan diet as opposed to snacking on members of the general public.

Monroe has recently been revisiting his Wesen side after meeting Portland, Oregon police detective Nick Burkhardt. Since then, his life has been anything but ordinary, or safe for that matter. Joining Monroe on his leap back into the Wesen world is actor Silas Weir Mitchell, who, thanks to an earlier project, was cast as everyone’s favorite Blutbad on the show.

“I worked with Jim Kouf [Grimm co-creator and one of its executive producers/show runners] on a movie a few years ago called A Fork in the Road,” says Mitchell. “He wrote as well as directed it, and Jim really cast me in that film against type, but it ended up working out. When you write and direct your own projects, a lot of times I find that those projects don’t work because the vision is too hermetic and there’s no outside influence to kind of balance what someone’s ‘vision’ is.

“Jim, however, took quite a risk by casting me against type. His vision for the character — and he should know because he wrote it — was someone who was a bit more of a corn-fed quarterback type of guy. He was basically Jaime King’s raging jealous boyfriend or husband in the film. So I auditioned for Jim and did something completely other than what he expected, but it worked. Jim is open-minded enough to go in a direction he never expected to go in. He cast me and we had a great time.

“The film was funny and a good one, but it went to market at a terrible time because the economy had just collapsed, so unfortunately nothing much came out of it as far as being theatrically released. But in terms of establishing a relationship between me and Jim, it was a terrific working experience, and I think when he began working on the Monroe character for Grimm, my voice popped into his head. Jim was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that guy,’ and he just brought me in.”

The actor makes his Grimm debut in the show’s pilot. Like Monroe, Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) has a dual identity. He is the last known descendant of the Grimm, a group of ancient profilers/hunters responsible for maintaining the balance between humans and Wesen in the world. Grimms can recognize Wesens for who they truly are, and when Nick sees Monroe momentarily “morph” into his wolf side, he immediately links him to a missing person case. Monroe is, of course, innocent, and, in fact, ends up helping him track down the real culprit.

“The thing I remember most about the pilot is my first day of work on it,” notes Mitchell. “I’d had a terrible dry spell before I booked this job; I hadn’t worked in months and months and I was sort of out of ‘shape.’ You can get in shape and out of shape as far as on set shape, and on this particular day I had a full day of work. We had about six pages [of script] to shoot, all of which was me and David, and at one point Monroe has to morph when this group of kids on their tricycles ride by him. He has this moment of, ‘I’m hungry, I haven’t had breakfast,’ and he’s like, ‘Oh, no, I can’t do that,’ when looking at these kids.

“This was my first morph as Monroe and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. What’s a morph? What’s this thing that’s happening? I mean, I had read the script and talked to them [the producers] about it, but we’d never done it. There hadn’t been any rehearsal of, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ There had been consultations and I had my ideas, but that was it. Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt [series co-creator/executive producer/show runner] were on set watching me on the monitor, so I sort of just did it, and they were like, ‘Hey, that’s great. That works.’ I asked them, ‘What? What did I do?’ Jim and David said to me, ‘We don’t know, but just keep doing it. It’s fine.’ So I was flying without a net on that, but luckily it turned out okay, that’s all I can say.

“For me, acting is actually a very practical thing in a lot of ways, so practically speaking, the only thing hard about the Grimm pilot was that, again, I hadn’t worked in six months,” continues the actor. “Suddenly I had a six-page scene that was critical to the pilot working, which is where Monroe jumps out a window and comes upon Nick. The two of them have this interface between a Wesen and a Grimm, both of whom are meant to be mortal enemies, and yet it’s a different type of Wesen as well as Grimm.

“Maybe there was some kind of tenuous 'okay, I’m not going to bite your face off, if you don’t chop off my head' scenario going on with them, but the challenge for me was how to navigate all of this, because this [Grimm] world was totally new to me. As much prep as I had done, it was still one big long day of work on a critical scene, and while we had twice as much time to shoot the pilot — 16 days as opposed to the eight we get for a regular episode — which meant there was time to think about things and deliberate in order to get a scene exactly right, it was still a very challenging day.

“I was quite dubious, too. I had moments of extreme crisis of confidence during that day. So again, acting being a rather practical thing on a certain level for me, it was difficult stepping into a long day with a crew I didn’t know as well as an actor whom I had just met, and such an important scene. That was tough.”

Fortunately, Monroe made it through his first encounter with Nick unscathed, and, despite their differences, the two of them have become not only friends but allies as well. Throughout Grimm’s first season, Monroe assisted Nick on a variety of Wesen-related cases, risking his own life more than once to do so, and that continues in season two. As much as Monroe helps Nick, the detective has also worked wonders in drawing the Blutbad out from the confines of his home.

“I’m parroting something that Jim Kouf said, so forgive me, but it’s pretty accurate, in that season one was really about Nick dealing with the fact that he’s a Grimm, and season two is more about the people in Nick’s world being affected by the fact that he’s a Grimm,” says Mitchell. “You could sort of translate that a little bit to Monroe and say that season one was about him being reluctantly pulled out of his shell and into the world, and season two is kind of about how Monroe handles being out in the world as opposed to just being an atomistic loner clockmaker.

“When it comes to Nick’s and Monroe’s relationship, it has a pretty clear trajectory, which is they’re mortal enemies. It’s like a snake and a mongoose, a cat and a dog, whatever you want to call it, it’s black and white. Nick’s job is to kill Monroe and that’s that. My character’s job isn’t necessarily to kill him. Nick is the predator in this case, because Grimms are used to killing Wesen. Throughout the show, you’ve seen that every time a Wesen becomes aware that Nick is a Grimm, its first instinct is, 'don’t kill me'.

“So in the beginning all that history and ancestry is what’s operating between Nick and Monroe as opposed to two individuals operating. Then the trust slowly begins to build and the two of them are able to transcend their ancestry and history and operate independent of that. It’s kind of a nice metaphor for enemies — don’t behave on the basis of your history. You can transcend that and maybe, just maybe, work together to bring about some good in the world.

“I think certainly for Monroe, his relationship with Nick becomes something where not only is he getting out in the world instead of being a hermit who’s just trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but he actually might be able to be a force for good. It sure beats doing what his ancestors did, which was roaming the countryside and ripping peoples’ arms off.”

Preventing redneck hunters from killing a young Blutbad who has been living in the wild for years (“Let Your Hair Down”), sneaking past a pair of Damonfeurs to help rescue Nick’s girlfriend Juliette (Bitisie Tulloch, in “Plumed Serpent”) and helping save the life of Nick’s partner, Lieutenant Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby), when he falls in love with a Hexenbiest (“Love Sick”) were among Monroe’s selfless acts last year on Grimm. In one of Mitchell’s favorite first season stories, “Game Ogre,” Nick puts his trust in Monroe to deal with an Olge Stark (Eric Edelstein), a Siegbarste or Ogre with a grudge against Hank.

“I really like this episode because it’s the first time that Monroe went into Aunt Marie’s trailer without Nick,” says the actor. “Nick is badly beaten up and in the hospital, so he relies on my character to go into the trailer and find a certain gun, which is similar to an elephant gun and that will take down the ogre. So it was Monroe to the rescue for the first time. In addition to what I had to do in the episode, I thought the director, Terrence O’Hara, was such a good director. He’s just solid and gets what he needs and it cuts together really well. This was a straightforward simple revenge story. It was not a complex, filigreed, super-duper camera squishy type of story, but just a well-told story.

“Another cool episode from last year is “Last Grimm Standing”. We shot at a fun location. It was one of those stories where the dynamics that are actually going on in the building when you’re shooting are really neat. There were about 150 extras who were all screaming and we were using these amazing props and weapons. That’s one of those instances where it feels sort of theatrical or operatic because you’re really in the space and there are a ton of people around, so it was great fun.”

In season one’s “Island of Dreams,” Rosalee Calvert (Bree Turner) is a female Fuchsbau who comes to Portland following her brother Freddy’s (Randy Schulman) death. He was the proprietor of the Exotic Spice and Tea Shop, a Wesen establishment that sells human organs as “spices” and “herbs.” Rosalee subsequently decides to stay in town and take over the running of the shop. In doing so, she becomes another of Nick’s allies as well as finds herself attracted to Monroe and vice versa. What did Mitchell think when he found out that the show’s producers/writers were introducing a love interest for his character?

“To be honest, I didn’t think of it as such,” he admits. “Serial television is a pretty fluid arena as far as narrative goes. If something doesn’t work, they drop it. If something does work, they stick with it, and if something works that they don’t expect to work, they’ll stick with it. That’s what happened to me on Prison Break. Originally it was a one or two episode gig, and then the writers were like, ‘Hey, wait a minute. This guy fits the role. We can use him in the writing to get out of this situation that we’ve painted ourselves into or whatever. Let’s keep him around.’ That was unexpected.

“With Bree’s character of Rosalee, I don’t know what they expected with her. There were whispers of maybe a romantic thing [with Monroe], but initially she was brought in to address the situation with her brother and facilitate the storyline involving the spice shop. Then I think it was a case of, ‘Oh, wait a minute. Maybe this is an interesting dynamic.’ I didn’t know who Bree was. I just hoped she was cool. When you’re in my position, you’re at the mercy of the casting people and producers insofar as who they’re going to bring in, and thank God, Bree is a terrific gal. We have a really good time together. She’s a very kind, decent human being and also a talented actor who works the same way I do. “

After production wrapped on the first season of Grimm, the show’s cast and crew had a short four-week hiatus before starting work on season two. With various Wesen factions vying for power and looking to orchestrate world events by controlling a Grimm, Nick and his friends are facing more danger than ever before. Of course, Monroe is right back in the thick of it. In last week’s episode, “Good Shepherd, he went undercover to help Nick expose the truth about a local church minister and his unusual flock.

“One of the great things about this episode is that we shot in this absolutely gorgeous church in Portland,” says Mitchell. “I think it’s a Presbyterian church and it was built by shipwrights, so it looks very nautical. It has beautiful curving balustrades and is just this very well-kept place. The storyline itself is fun because it deals with the sort of metaphor of group thinking and how herd mentality can make people blind to certain things. It’s kind of an oddball standalone episode that doesn’t deal with a lot of the show’s mythology, but is really fun in its own right.

“There’s another episode coming up this week [“Over My Dead Body”] that involves some pretty intense emotional stuff as far as the sacrifices people have to make in this world where good and evil are beginning to seriously battle one another. Angelina Lasser [Jaime Ray Newman] returns and things get messy,” teases the actor.

A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mitchell moved to Los Angels after finishing his graduate studies in theatre at the University of California at San Diego. The actor has worked extensively on TV, having appeared in several made-for-TV movies as well as guest starred or had recurring roles in such series as Silk Stalkings, The X-Files, Nash Bridges, 24, CSI: Miami and My Name is Earl. His feature film credits include The Patriot, Rat Race and Halloween II. A seasoned stage performer, Mitchell has also spent some time behind the camera, having directed the short film "Song in a Convenience Store." His trek up the professional ladder has been a steady and fulfilling one.

“I’m a fan of the Grateful Dead, and Jerry Garcia has this great thing that he said about the band at one point, which was something like, ‘You know, it just keeps kind of unfolding before you, and it’s always kind of just out of your reach.’ That’s the way I felt about acting,” says the actor. “It was something I clearly enjoyed doing and people were clearly responding to my work, but my true inner feeling was one of, ‘I haven’t figured this out yet. It’s unfolding before me and I can’t quite get it yet.’ It has kind of an enticing dynamic, so I just kept doing it and hammering away at it.

“The most rewarding thing about it is getting to a point where your penetration into a certain mode of behavior, which is this acting thing, has become sort of so complete that you have moments where you don’t worry about what it’s going to look like, where the camera is, whether you’re good or bad, or what people think of it. You’re just doing it, you know, and it’s fun because you’re completely enveloped in it. The more you do it, the more often that happens. Going back to what I said before, it [acting] is elusive but close, and every now and then you have these moments where you’re totally immersed in this imaginary world between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ and it feels great.”

Please note, all photos above copyright of NBC.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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