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INTERVIEW: Grimm’s Russell Hornsby

Grimm's Russell Hornsby (photo credit: Bobby Quillard)

Russell Hornsby stars in the hit NBC series “Grimm,” an unusual hybrid drama that combines the standard police procedural with wild fantasy. In the world of “Grimm,” fairy tales are more than stories — they are quite real, as are all the monstrous creatures they contain. In the first season, Portland homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) learned he is descended from the Grimms, guardians who have the ability to detect, and hopefully defeat, the evil they alone can see. His partner and best friend Hank Griffin (Hornsby) is unaware of Nick’s special calling, but painfully aware that something out of the ordinary is going on. Will Hank figure it out? Stay tuned…

The show’s second season premieres Monday, August 13th. Hornsby took some time out of his busy production schedule to speak with Terry Kaye about the upcoming season and the fairy tale mythology behind “Grimm.”

WEIRD TALES: Without giving anything away, what can you tell us about what’s to come in season two for the series and for Hank Griffin?

RUSSELL HORNSBY: Well, the series left off with Nick’s mother, who he thought was dead for 18 years, comes back, and you find out that she’s a Grimm, and we’re going to start where we left off, with some of the issues that Nick is dealing with, with his mother. You know, does he accept her, and what is the relationship going to be like? And moving forward, how long is she planning on staying in his life, and is she here for good or for bad? We’re asking all those questions. And then of course, we have Juliette, who is Sleeping Beauty, and I think the question is going to be asked, is she going to be alive, is she going to come out of her coma?

And, for Hank, you know, obviously Hank saw more, and I think he’s mentally unstable at this point. I mean, any sort of sane person, if you see someone turn into a creature, you’re going to think you’re crazy. Because you know, creatures, they just don’t exist, that just doesn’t happen, and the way we’ve sort of set up the world for Hank is, he’s a representative of the real world, he’s the one who’s sort of grounded, if you will, so he does in fact seek professional help to try to figure this out. And he questions his sanity, obviously, but also questions whether or not he should remain a police officer. And, so what does that do to him, you know, what does it do to the relationship between him and Nick?

I think overall, the show is going to inject a little steroids, a little HGH, and I think we’re going to get more of the roles worked out, you know, follow the other characters. I think everyone’s journey is going to be told at certain points in this season, and all roads are going to lead back to Nick, and we’ll get deeper into the mythology.

WT: How familiar were you with the original Grimm fairy tales before you signed on for the show?

RH: You know, I was Disneyfied like every other person. So I knew, Sleeping Beauty, cartoons, stuff like that. But I didn’t really know the origins of the stories or that they were in fact cautionary tales, I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize that they were as dark as they are. All our European brethren, they know the origins of the fairy tales, and had heard or read them in their truest form. But I was not very familiar with those fairy tales until I got this job. It’s almost like what we do here in America, we rearrange and change everything. Everything has to be bigger and better and more, so everything is very simple and basic until we screw with it.

WT: Fairy tales have been told for a long time and have been used in countless shows and movies and books. Why do you think these stories endure?

RH: I think they tap into…the reality is there is darkness in everybody. And so in that respect, I think they tap into a real fundamental truth that we all live with, that we are all walking around questioning ourselves and questioning each other about who we are, who we want to be, what our real intent is. And I think it also deals with alter ego, and a lot of us have a dark alter ego which in fact sort of turns into this alter beast. And you know, beasts can be good or bad, so I think those are things that we constantly wrestle with. I think people are drawn to the inner struggle of man, and these fairy tales tap into that.

WT: With another show (“Once Upon a Time”) currently mining similar material, how do you think “Grimm” approaches its source material differently?

RH: Well, I mean, you know, they’re on ABC, which is owned by Disney, enough said. I mean, I think they’re really trying to serve the youth, and it feels a lot more, for lack of a better word, juvenile. And I think that we’re taking the stories and adapting them from their true form, which is as a dark cautionary tale, and again I think the reason why they’re speaking to a lot of people is because of just that. It’s like, there is a darkness within us, and it sort of asks the question of, why are we this way? Then, tries to answer it somehow.

And I think that at a certain point, for young kids, they want to hear the truth, they want to tap into that. I think that audiences now, after having “Angel” and “Buffy,” and the movies of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” I think audiences, or more specifically young people, are a lot more sophisticated. So I think the breadth and the depth of the stories themselves, it’s a lot more interesting than watching, “I will slay you, you must leave, be gone before somebody drops a house on you!” Like, we do fantasy, but I think for us, it’s fantastical.

WT: What are the challenges for you, playing the “normal guy” in a supernatural world?

RH: Well, I think that what happens, is, I am playing in a regular procedural where it’s very basic and very simple, so when you start to deal with this world where you’re being enraptured, or under some spell, that now you have to imagine. You have to react to things that aren’t there, you have to react to things that could possibly be, so as an actor, that’s what you do. It’s like, I imagine harder than you. And that’s the fun.

Then you can break down those walls and become vulnerable, and that’s what acting sort of is, is opening yourself to the audience and letting the audience look deeply into who you are and what makes your character react the way he or she does. And I think that’s why I got into it. Because I could be somebody other than myself but at the same time bring my level of humanity to the role, and really get inside each of these people and find what it is that makes them tick. And it becomes a sort of therapy, because if you ask the question of the characters, you in turn have to ask the question of yourself. You can’t go there if you haven’t gone there. You know, all that actor flowery bullshit.

WT: So you represent the police procedural part of the show, but the rest of the show is deeply fantastical. Does Hank kind of keep the balance for the show?

RH: I like to think so. I think the audience is asking the same questions my character is. I think for Hank, and this is sort of my analogy, there’s the whole first half of the first season, and I sort of liken it to the crack epidemic. It’s like, there was that time in the 80s when the drug addicts had shifted, and police officers saw people stealing from their families, taking things like old china to the pawn shop, and it’s like, what the hell’s going on? And then the other shoe drops, six months to a year later: Oh, this new drug called crack.

I think that’s where Hank is, in that kind of purgatory of asking, why is this weird shit happening? I mean, Portland’s weird, don’t get me wrong, but this is crazy! And I think that’s where he is, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and going crazy trying to figure it out.

WT: That sounds about right. And Hank’s been through some pretty horrific stuff at this point, and he’s a smart guy.

RH: Well, we know there’s a cause and effect to everything. So, what’s the cause here? And that’s the thing, it’s like, I’m a damn good police officer, I should be able to figure it out, it shouldn’t take me this long. So I wake up, you know, in a room, naked, with them looking at me, what is that?

WT: Do you have a favorite episode so far?

RH: Oh, I liked the Ogre episode, where I got to shoot a big 12-gauge shotgun, and have a big fight scene…you know, all guy folks are hard-wired to love violence, I guess, so I enjoyed that. Even though, you know, I’m a little bit too old to think I’m Jackie Chan or something.

WT: Do you do your own fighting and stunts?

RH: Uh, yeah, I mean we do, and then we have doubles for the more dangerous stuff. And the thing is, David and I are a few years apart, he’s a lot younger than I am, and I don’t have the eagerness to prove myself as a Jackie Chan or some “Fall Guy.” So I’ll let them do more than I did when I was 30, and I really liked to show that I’m a bad man, I can do this.

WT: Now you’re like, eh, you know, you can do this.

RH: I want to be able to walk in the morning.

WT: Are there any fairy tales or fantasy stories you’d like to see the show incorporate?

RH: Well, the one I’d actually like to see done, I think would be Rumplestiltskin. And I think there’s a way, see I’m from Oakland, and there was a time when Oakland was big into prostitution. And I think that you could show Rumplestiltskin as a pimp, and getting into the sex trade, sex trafficking, that kind of bad and shady stuff, and I think it would be interesting. And so when I start talking about, I can’t turn this straw into gold, and Rumplestiltskin’s like, hey babe, you’re a good girl, you look good, but guess what? Go stand in that corner, I’ll go and hook you up. And when that man comes over, do a little stuff for him.

WT: Do you think we’re headed for some kind of moment of realization with Hank this year?

RH: Well, honestly, it’s hard to say, because first of all the writers don’t tell us anything. Each script is like a breadcrumb, you pick it up and you get closer and closer to, you know, to see the wizard or whatever it is. And I hope so, you know what I mean, but then again, they might have some clever way to keep me in the dark. And the audience can say, oh wow, that’s great. Even up to this point I always felt like, when I was asked, why doesn’t Hank know? Are you playing the dumb cop? I felt like audiences are always trying to get too far ahead of the story, instead of just letting the story play out. And I think sometimes you just have to take the ride.

Terry Kaye is a professional actress and writer whose career has taken her across the United States, Canada and Europe. Her first book, Dog Only Knows, is awaiting publication.

(photo credit: Bobby Quillard)

  1. Penelope Flynn
    Penelope Flynn08-16-2012

    My husband and I got into Grimm early on. The show started at a decent pace but then took off like a rocket. The writing, the fantastic actors and the genius of David Greenwalt can’t be overstated.

    The fact that the writers keep the episodes under wraps is a brilliant device. It keeps the actors honest, I think. They can only develop from where they have been instead of anticipating the arc and creating their own subtext and foreshadowing (which they almost can’t help doing).

    Great interview. I’m looking forward to the new season!

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