Q & A with Grimm's Silas Weir Mitchell

By , Contributor

NBC

Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe in Grimm

Since the early days of storytelling, wolves have usually gotten a bad rap. For example, just look at "The Three Little Pigs," "Little Red Riding Hood," and those old black and white movies where the angry villagers with torches chase after Lon Chaney’s Wolfman character.

Currently, the Canis lupus is getting a chance at redemption thanks to the character of Monroe in NBC’s new fantasy/drama series Grimm. A Blutbad living in the civilized world, Monroe looks like the average man in the street, but he truly is a wolf in sheep’s (or human’s) clothing. Fortunately, he has his animal side under control, and the only one who can see his true nature is Portland, Oregon police homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli). A descendent of a long line of supernatural profilers, or Grimms, the detective has persuaded a reluctant Monroe to assist him on cases.

Actor Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays Monroe, recently spoke via a conference call with me and other journalists about his reformed big bad wolf alter ego of Monroe. The following is an edited version of our Q &A. Enjoy!

Could you elaborate more on your character and will we learn more about Monroe's background in future episodes?

Basically everything you see in the pilot is pretty much as far as we get. I mean, he’s a Blutbad and a reformed Blutbad in that he’s trying to live as a human on the straight and narrow. He’s also a clockmaker. We’ll definitely learn more about Monroe in future episodes, but as far as sort of family history we’re not getting into that yet.

Could you tell us a little bit about your experiences shooting the pilot episode for Grimm and what were perhaps some of the initial challenges you found stepping into this role?

Well, shooting the pilot was both really, really exciting and really, really challenging. You’re allowed more time to shoot the pilot than a normal episode, almost twice as much time. Because of that, you can be more deliberate, but you also don’t have the infrastructure that is set up once you get a production up and running. So it was challenging just on the level of the production values that we were going for.

For me specifically, it was a challenge in that I’ve been on a lot of series but I’ve never been sort of one of the central pillars of the narrative. I found that to be challenging in its own right, knowing that a lot was riding on it. Luckily we all have a terrific time working together. It’s a really great environment to work in and everything turned out well, I’d say.

What process do you use as an actor to establish a close working relationship with your costar, in this case David Giuntoli, in order to make your onscreen chemistry really work?

I can only talk about this show, in particular, but we’re very lucky in the sense that we love working together. I have a lot of respect for David. I think he’s very well cast and he’s just a lovely guy as well as a smart guy, so establishing a rapport on-camera is not difficult because we have a very good one off-camera.

David and I have coffee every so often, and we’ll run lines once in a while if we have a big scene together, but one doesn’t necessarily do anything calculated in order to create a rapport. You either have one or you don’t, and, fortunately, we do. They cast this show very well, and somehow managed to put together a group of people that has great chemistry. I don’t know if you can calculate that or not, but in this case it has worked well. We all dig working together and are very happy to be here, so we don’t have to fake anything.

I’m glad to hear that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Monroe this season, but is there any chance that we’re also going to be seeing any of his bad wolf-suppressing Pilates techniques?

It’s not out of the question that you’ll see some of the techniques that Monroe employs to keep himself together, Pilates among them. That’s a fair statement, I would say.

Can you talk about how you originally became involved in Grimm?

I worked with Jim Kouf, who is one of the show’s creators and writers along with David Greenwalt, but I worked with Jim on a film that he wrote, directed, and produced called Fork in the Road in, I believe, 2007, and we hit it off. I understand Jim’s sense of humor and we just had a good working relationship.

When I auditioned for Grimm they really envisioned one kind of person that this character was when they wrote the script. Fern Castle, who is the casting director, thought I might be an interesting kind of other way to go, and casting directors try to do that. They try to give you the choices that you think it’s [the character] going to be and then always bring in a “black sheep.”

A lot of times I’m that black sheep and the sort of “what about going this way” kind of guy. Very often it doesn’t really work out because people have their hearts set on kind of one thing. However, in this case I was the way to go and it was the opposite of what he [Jim] had anticipated. So I sort of struck a nerve with him and we had a great time then working on the project.

What actually attracted you to the role of Monroe and the show Grimm?

It was a job, really. I got a phone call telling me that there was an audition for this show. I read the script and thought it was cool. Given the fact that I’m actually doing it now, though, what really did attract me to the role is the inner conflict. That’s rich territory for an actor to not only have a secret with a character, but to also have a secret that he’s trying deal with on a daily basis. It’s not just a secret from the past. It’s a secret that with every breath the character is trying to maintain. That’s really fun to play.

I also think the mythological elements of the story are very compelling. In a lot of ways I feel like the “creature” elements of Grimm are really in my mind an expression of the sort of mythological underpinnings and, not to get high falutin’, the human psyche. We all live in a world where there are monsters. Monsters are real, you know? Just look at murderers and people who are on death row or have done terrible things, like the Richard Ramirezes and Sons of Sam of the world, those types of individuals. I feel like the creature elements of this show are in various ways addressing that sort of mythical darkness. If you bring myth into it [the story] you can discuss it in broader terms and not just make it about the procedural element, which is still a huge part of the show.

A werewolf is a character we all know but very few actors actually get to play. I’m wondering what kind of research did you do or if there were any texts on werewolves that influenced your portrayal of Monroe?

The research I did was really reading. I’m presently at arm’s length of a book that was written in 1933. It’s one of the classics - and this is no joke - on lycanthropy as well as werewolf-ism. There are pages of it that are in Latin and others that are in like middle French, it’s really fun.

Like I was saying to the last caller about the mythological elements of this, the werewolf is a “real” thing. There are stories that aren’t just occult lore, but, for example, describe a guy in 18th century France who ran around the countryside at night terrorizing the locals and stealing as well as mutilating children. What’s our answer to that? One of the ways of addressing that is to say that you’re a monster, you’re a werewolf, you know? I think now we recognize that the werewolf is a myth, but the research of reading stories from a time when the werewolf was a real thing is pretty intense when you put yourself in the shoes of someone who believed that a transformation took place and a beast roamed the hills.

Is there any make-up involved in your character’s transformation or is it entirely CGI [computer-generated image]?

It’s both. The idea is that it’s CGI on top of make-up, but you still can tell that it’s my face. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it, but the three ingredients really are prosthetics, computer graphics, and my face.

On the show, when someone morphs, they don’t just turn into a generic werewolf or whatever. They turn into what they would look like as this creature, so the show has really made an effort to fuse the prosthetics and the CGI in such a way that you can tell that it’s me, for example, underneath it. And they do that with other creatures that are coming down the pike.

So if you think of it in terms of, say, a murderer, a kidnapper or whatever, they look like a human. When you look at Charles Manson, you see a human, but if a Grimm were to look at Charles Manson they would see the beast that the guy is underneath the human mask. However, that’s only if you have the perceptive powers of a Grimm.

What you can you tell us about the upcoming episodes of Grimm and if you have a favorite fairy tale that was covered?

All I can tell you is that the episodes get sort of deliciously dark as well as creepy, and NBC is letting us go there so to speak, which I think is fantastic.

I didn’t really grow up on fairy tales per se, but there was one book I had as a child that I’ve mentioned in other interviews called Slovenly Peter. It’s also known as Shockheaded Peter and it’s an old German book. It has various cautionary tales in it, one of which might be, for instance, about a little girl who played with matches and what happens if you play with matches. At the end of the story she’s burnt to a crisp and ends up a pile of ashes. That was sort of the German fairy tale book that I had. It wasn’t Grimm but it was grim, if you know what I mean.

Going forward, is Monroe going to be able to keep his werewolf tendencies under wraps or will we see his inner beast popping out every now and then?

Oh, his inner beast pops out every now and then.

I know that you’ve played a lot of disturbed characters before and, yes, Monroe has his sort of dark obviously history. But I feel like he’s more of an endearing, sort of fun character. Has that been a nice change for you, or something interesting for you to do as an actor, sort of changing up some of your typical type of roles?

I think that’s a great question and I appreciate that awareness of yours. Yes, it’s lovely to play someone who’s not any crazier than the next guy. I mean, that might be debatable. Some people might say, well, Monroe is definitely a unique person and a little crazier than the next guy, but not in the kind of way that you’re talking about. It’s nice to have that change and not play someone who is feverishly disturbed or evil for that matter.

Can you talk about the conflict within Monroe and what you like about his struggle to contain his aggression and what he’s capable of?

He’s capable of extreme violence, first of all, and keeping it under wraps is a universal struggle. And in that way Monroe is no different than anybody else.

The Grimm pilot was pretty shocking from the very first scene, so it kind of makes me wonder what frightens you?

That’s an interesting question. Well, I’ll tell you when I was a kid what frightened me had to do with the power of suggestion. I lived out in the country and on summer nights you sometimes wound up sort of far away from the house. Suddenly it was dusk and then it was dark and you had to get back home. It’s pretty scary walking through the woods alone at night when you’re little, and one of the things that really scared me was if I started thinking about a guy who was chasing me or a guy who was in the woods, if I started thinking about it, it was scary.

If, however, I had started behaving as though the guy were really there and I started running, the behavior of it actually made me really scared and I’d have to get home immediately. If you just walked slowly and calmly and realized that it was just in your imagination, you’d be fine. As soon as you actually began running, though, you were done. So that’s one of the things I remember from my childhood, and a I think back on it’s very apropos of Grimm, that sort of running through the woods.

Our imagination is very powerful weapon and we use it against ourselves all the time. You see people imagining things that are terrible, and mine is just one example of how you can scare yourself. If you went to bed every night imagining that there was a guy with an ax in your closet you’d eventually start believing it. You don’t want to do that to yourself, you know?

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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