Nearly at the mid-season mark, the Fall 2011 TV season has been a mixed bag of dead-to-rights clunkers and undeniable successes. On the negative front, hyped, eye candy programs Playboy Club and Charlie’s Angels drove home the point that sexy women can’t make up for bland scripts and shoddy characters—seriously, not even Amber Heard in skintight bunny costumes. Currently straddling the fine line between “good” and “red alert” are Terra Nova and Pan Am, a pair of intriguing shows marred by inconsistent quality; basically, they need to be more like Homeland and American Horror Story, two of the season’s brightest spots.
Joining those two triumphs in positive lane is Grimm, NBC’s cop procedural with a genre twist. Airing Friday nights at 9pm EST, Grimm follows detective Nick Burkhardt, played by first-time leading man David Giuntoli, as he comes to terms with his family’s lineage as “Grimms,” a secret order of heroes tasked with ridding the world of Brothers’ Grimm-inspired supernatural creatures in human disguises.
With its freaky villains, often hardcore gore, and splashes of dark comedy, Grimm flips TV’s traditional “case of the week” format into an immensely entertaining monster mash. Leading the charge is Giuntoli, a St. Louis native whose charming performance grounds the show’s craziness in character-driven reality. If Giuntoli looks familiar, it might be from his 2003 stint on MTV’s Road Rules: South Pacific, but Grimm’s strong ratings (the show, only three episodes deep, was recently included in NBC’s mid-season schedule) promise that his reality show past will soon become an afterthought.
Complex recently chatted with Giuntoli about his life before Grimm, why television executives can’t enough of procedural dramas, why Grimm is so unique, and the benefits of airing on an otherwise TV-light night.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Even though Grimm is only in its beginning stages of Season One, you’re still filming the season’s latter episodes. How’s the story progressing so far?
It’s getting pretty wild, man. Basically, the way I see it is that the biggest aspects of the show are these two worlds that my character, Nick Burkhardt, is living in: this monster fighter by night, and cop by day. And he likes keeping those two worlds separate; he’d rather not have them at all. He just wants his normal life, but since they’re there he wants to keep them separate.
As the series goes on, obviously life doesn’t go that neatly, so the two worlds start to blend together, and it makes me very uncomfortable. [Laughs.] And my loved ones start to get threatened. The monsters aren’t going after perpetrators anymore—they’re going after me, and I’m always near my loved ones. So it’s like, How long can I keep this lie about my true background going?
So does the show transition into more of a central story and less of a weekly procedural format?
No, I wouldn’t say that. The show remains a procedural. I’d like to say that it’s getting weighted a little more now, at the end of our season order, toward the mythology of it. I’d say the beginning was largely procedural, but it’s still a procedural show; a crime does get solved every week. But some of the most fun of it is the mythology, and the story—who’s coming back for me, and which monsters work together? Who’s good? Who’s bad? Who’s reformed? And who’s reforming? All of that gray area is a really nice playground for us.
And it seems like NBC is on the verge of granting Grimm a full season and more of that playground. It must be especially gratifying for you, being that Grimm is your first shot as a leading man. Prior to landing the show, had you been plugging along on the pilot circuit for years?
Yeah, I was plugging along. I moved out to LA in 2005, from St. Louis, and that’s when I really started pursuing everything. I studied for a couple of years, and then I got an agent. After that, throughout the first three pilot seasons, I actually booked pilots, really great projects that just didn’t go for some reason. There’s no real math behind that or anything—some TV pilots make it and some don’t. That’s just how it is.
This is my first lead that I’ve ever booked; I’ve booked a lot of “series regular” roles, but never the main guy. This is the one where the magic happened, really. It’s a genre show with some great people behind it, and it’s all been miraculous for me, really. Everything that happens in Hollywood is miraculous—it’s so hard to get anything done.
During those years where you started making a name for yourself, were there any difficulties associated with coming from your time on MTV’s Road Rules
It really didn’t play a factor. No one really knew who I was. [Laughs.] No one really remembers me from that show. I think the only reason anyone remembers me, in fact, is because now people are looking at my resume and talking about me a little bit. But it wasn’t hard, no.
Some casting directors knew me—I’d say one out of ten recognized me from MTV. It had been four or five years since I’d done the show that I actually started auditioning. I did the show when I was 21, and I started auditioning when I was 26, so it had been a lot of time.
When you went on Road Rules, did you already know that you wanted to be an actor?
No, actually. It was funny, I was in a bar in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where I went to school, and they were auditioning people for something. I went up and was like, “What’s this about?” And the person said, “Do you want to audition for this thing? You’d get to travel in the South Pacific?” I did, and then I got it. It was pretty cool, but it was kind of a lark. So then I finished my degree in college, took some years off and figured out what I wanted to do.
The Road Rules experience was fun, though. I’d encourage any 21-year-old who’s not sure what they want to do with their life to do that, to benefit from traveling around—you learn quite a bit about yourself.
So what made you want to become an actor then?
It was kind of in me for a long time. My family knew what I wanted to do with my life before I did. [Laughs.] I just didn’t know it was a career path; I didn’t know that it was a viable thing. My family all works in corporate America in one way or another, just not in the arts. In college I started meeting people who were in the arts; they have a wonderful theater school and music school in Indiana University. So I started hanging around those people and I found my way. Then, it was all about taking a leap. I didn’t know anybody, I just went out to LA on a whim and hoped that it’d all sort itself out.
I went to school for finance and international business, so it couldn’t have been further removed from acting. [Laughs.]