Grimm's Detective Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby) and Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli)
Good cop/bad cop, guy cop/girl cop, messy cop/neat cop — TV has played host to a variety of police partnerships over the years. In NBC’s new fantasy/drama Grimm, Portland, Oregon police detectives Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin are among the small screen’s newest crime-fighting duos. Like many of their predecessors, they, too, are opposites that work together in (mostly) perfect harmony. Nick is, in fact, a descendant of a long line of criminal profilers called “Grimms” who, over the centuries, have risked their lives to maintain the delicate balance between the human race and the mythological creatures living amongst them.
Hank has no idea of his partner’s special abilities. However, he soon learns to respect Nick’s “hunches” when Portland begins to experience a series of bizarre crimes. Old-fashioned police work and a keen eye for the supernatural are the tools that Nick and Hank use to try to stay one step ahead of their extremely dangerous competition.
Actors David Giuntoli (Nick) and Russell Hornsby (Hank) spoke on the phone last week with me and other journalists about keeping the streets of Portland safe from Hexenbiests, Blutbads, and other storybook baddies in Grimm. The following is an edited version of our Q&A. Enjoy!
What is the most challenging aspect about your character that you have to deal with when you’re performing?
RUSSELL HORNSBY: I don’t necessarily have any challenges with this character. I think right now the biggest [overall] challenge is just the time and actual shooting schedule itself. We shoot very late at night and sometimes early into the next day, so the turnaround is probably one of the most challenging things right now.
DAVID GIUNTOLI: What Russell said is certainly true. It’s a wonderful job, but it does require really long hours. Also, with TV and movies you often film, for example, the climax of the episode first thing that day, and then the first scene of the episode right after that. So it’s all out of order and it can be difficult to remember exactly where you are at with the story arc of that episode.
Russell, how do you approach playing Hank since the character is not part of the mythology or fairy tale element of the show?
RH: There are two elements of the show and he’s steeped more in the procedural element. That’s the world he lives in, so that makes it a lot easier for Russell the actor and Hank the character to focus on that side of things. As we move further along in the show, I think Hank will become a little bit more curious as to how things are sort of changing in the city itself with a lot of these crimes that are being committed. For now, though, I’m keeping my feet on the ground as far as the procedural real world elements are concerned.
In the first two episodes, Nick really hasn’t had any problem hiding his Grimm ability from Hank, and Hank has just kind of gone along with Nick’s hunches. How does it play out going forward? Is it going to become an issue for the partnership?
DG: Yes, I think as the series goes on it becomes more and more difficult for my character to keep these two worlds apart. Initially, they’re fairly separated. The monsters are only going after a different perpetrator and not so much Nick. However, once they start to come after him and directly affect his life - and that life includes working at the precinct and being at home with his loved ones, including his fiancee Juliette [Bitsie Tulloch] - I don’t want to give too much away but it becomes a little more difficult for him to keep this lie going.
RH: From my character’s perspective, Hank is totally in the dark, and as things sort of open up it becomes a bit more interesting for him to discover new elements of the story. Again, I think my character starts to see that things are getting weirder in the city and the types of crimes being committed are a little bit out of the ordinary. I don’t know what the future holds, though, as far as my character finding out about Nick’s ability. We’ll all just have to leave that up to the writers and tune in to find out.
I was wondering if there are any specific fairy tales that you would like to see worked into the show as well as any preferences on who you’d to see play particular characters?
DG: There are like 300 fairy tales that we’re working with, and any one that involves me sleeping for eight hours would be great [he jokes]. So far we’ve probably done12 different types of fairy tales that have weaved their way in and out of the show. I don’t really have a preference to one, although we haven’t truly done "Rumpelstiltskin" yet.
We’ve done many of the famous ones. My favorite has always been "Rapunzel" and we’ve already dealt with that in, I believe, Episode 107. It’s a wonderful episode and I can’t wait to see it. The fairy tale itself is incorporated in a somewhat fractured way. It will probably be difficult as a viewer to figure it out that it’s "Rapunzel," but there you go.
As far as guest stars go, we’ve been very lucky with some of these actors who have really elevated their roles from the page and brought them to life. If they can continue to do that, I’ll be very happy.
RH: My favorite thus far has been the Pied Piper sort of fairy tale, even though I’m afraid of rats, but I still enjoy the story. And as far as guest stars are concerned, it’s actually quite a joy to meet new or relatively new and very talented actors, do you know what I mean? There are names that we as fellow artists and actors are not familiar with, and that the fans may not be familiar with, either. So it’s good to just to meet new talented people.
DG: Following on with what Russell just said, we’ve been able to use a lot of the local Northwest talent, some of whom perhaps don’t get to work as much because they’re not in Los Angeles. Honestly, there have been some phenomenal actors and actresses who’ve come through Portland as well as Seattle and the vicinity.
Has there been anything that you’ve been surprised to learn about yourselves while developing your characters for the show?
RH: I didn’t realize that I had a sense of humor. Up to this point I’ve been used to doing really intense dramas throughout my career. The show’s writers have woven some wonderfully funny moments and a lot of levity into the scripts as well as my character, and it’s actually been a great deal of fun to play. So I’m not as dour and dark as I normally am in the other roles and I can sort of be liked as my character.
DG: I’ve had to be very forceful and authoritarian, I guess would be the word, in various episodes. One of the neat things about our show is that these creatures have been raised to fear my character. They run away when they see him on the street. Nick is supposed to be this nice guy, a detective with a family, so their response isn’t in sync with my identity on the show. As the program goes on I try to kind of fill that role and actually become this fearful enemy of the Grimms when they’re around, so that’s been very fun to play.
You guys have some good chemistry onscreen, but can you talk a little bit about your relationship and what you think the other brings to the particular role?
DG: Yes, absolutely. I mean, first and foremost, we have a wonderful chemistry. I think it’s been great. Our entire cast has really gelled nicely off-screen as well as on-screen, but from my point of view, it’s just been an honor working with Russell because, as I like to say, he’s a youthful veteran of the world of theater and acting. I’ve learned so much from him as far the trade goes and the craft. Between him and Silas Weir Mitchell [Monroe], just getting to spend so many hours with them is like going to a master [acting] class.
RH: For me, the joy of working with David is that he’s a very intelligent actor who has his own approach to the job, which is the total opposite of my approach. So it’s been fantastic to watch how he approaches the material and learn from that. David also has a great sense of humor. We’re able to wisecrack on-set, which makes the day go by much faster. So it’s a pleasure to work with somebody with a sense of humor who takes himself seriously but not too seriously, and is definitely talented as well as engaged in the work.
Russell, how is this role of Hank going to differ from the other cops you’ve played, particularly your character on Haunted, which was another supernatural show?
RH: I actually feel that Hank has a more interesting personality and is a more well-rounded character. I’m also having a lot more fun playing this particular role and I think it’s because of the concept and the show. I’m able to sort incorporate different elements of who I am as Russell into the character. And I’d say the difference between, for example, my character on Lincoln Heights, which was more recent, is that he was more of a “father knows best” type of police officer, whereas Hank is more of a Man Friday, if you will.
Could tell us a little bit about how you both initially became involved in the project and perhaps about the audition process for your respective roles on the show?
DG: It was kind of the run of the mill process for me. During pilot season you get sent various scripts and if you’re lucky you get to whittle those down to the projects you’re really interested in. Grimm was one of the scripts that immediately grabbed my attention. I actually worked with the director [of the pilot], Marc Buckland, on a show called Love Bites two months prior to the casting process for Grimm. The producers also knew who was because I’d worked on another of their shows, Hot in Cleveland, last year. It was nice to be highlighted in that way so that you’re not like just another number.
So they brought me in and I read for the producers as well as Marc Buckland and they were like, “OK, can you screen-test next week?" Then I heard that they were going to try to offer the role to a big movie star and I freaked out. They didn’t, however, and we did the test process. When I was driving off after the audition I got a phone call telling me that I got the role. I had to pull over because I was so excited that thought I was going to run my car off the road.
RH: I was lucky too in that I had few fans in the room as well from my work on HBO’s In Treatment. So like David, they knew my work as an actor, but I think the big question with me was could I handle the lighter and more comedic elements of the show? So going into the audition I think that was one of the things they wanted to see. I guess I handled things, and, again, it’s been fun to find that lighter side of Russell as well as Hank.
Please note, above photos copyright of NBC.