When you first came across Grimm’s pilot script during the pilot hustle, what were your initial thoughts?
I thought it was really cool, man. I really liked the humor, I really liked the procedural elements, and I really liked the guys behind it. I was never a big genre fan, or a big genre guy, and I’ve played lawyers, boyfriends, and those types of characters in the past. So Grimm is so exciting; it’s me playing pretend with monsters. I go to work with ogres, and the guy behind me in the lunch line has four hours’ worth of troll prosthetics on while he’s talking about sports. [Laughs.]
TV certainly doesn’t have a shortage of procedural shows—it seems like every pilot season is filled with at least five or six new ones. Aside from Grimm, which adds a cool genre twist to the format, were you reading a ton of routine procedural scripts?
Yeah, and I think that those are out there so much because they work so well—they’re so palatable for the audience. Every season, shows try to stray from the procedural thing, and they’ll make it to air; look at Playboy Club, and Pan Am. Tons of serials make it to the air and want to be the next Lost or the next Mad Men. Unfortunately, it’s harder for audiences to get gripped and tune in every night for one of those shows, which makes it harder for those shows to become successes.
I think the reason why there are so many procedurals on the air is that it’s a matter of survival; those are the ones that have been surviving, so that’s what’s dominating our TV sets. The beauty of Grimm, obviously, is that it can satisfy that procedural desire but we also get to play around with it. That’s what Buffy The Vampire Slayer did, and that’s what Angel, and The X-Files did. It’s a really wonderful genre to be a part of.
The genre approach to TV shows seems more prevalent than ever these days, thanks to last year’s huge debut success of The Walking Dead. Do you get the sense that networks are more comfortable with taking chances of stranger genre shows than in years past?
Every pilot season there’s a couple of zeitgeist-y themes going on; this year, there was some fairy tale stuff, and also period pieces and comedies about guys being idiots. [Laughs.] There’s always something, and I don’t know what it is; obviously, right now fairy tales are one of them. I’ve heard people make guesses as to why that is, with some people saying that the times are tough and people like to escape into these fairy tale worlds. But I think people say that about every genre. [Laughs.] Because TV is generally a form of escapism.
There might be something to it, though. People like seeing the monster getting slain; they like seeing the bad guys go down. And what easier way in story-form to see that then when the bad guy looks like a monster? It’s so black-and-white.
You didn’t have any interest in trying out for any of those “guys being idiots” sitcoms?
[Laughs.] Well, there are various degrees of quality in “guys acting dumb” TV shows, and there’s nothing wrong with them. yeah, I love a great comedy, certainly, but that’s just one of those things that was hitting at the time. There were all of these scripts that basically said, in more words or less, “Men are idiots.” I don’t know, men are idiots.
At least your Grimm character isn’t. What is it about Nick Burkhardt that’s most interesting to you? In the episodes that have aired so far, he has this wide-eyed, still-in-shock quality to him—he’s yet to fully understand and accept the monsters he’s seeing on a daily basis.
Exactly. I love the idea of coming into a story with a character where the exciting incident happens about five pages into the series’ first episode. My life changes right away; you barely see me prior to his revelation. That really, really excited me, because it goes from “Am I insane?” to utter disbelief: “What is going on? This is horrifying—am I losing my mind?” And as the series progresses he goes through the grieving process, where he first denies it, he doesn’t accept it, he gets angry, and then he kind of succumbs to it and embody the role. That’s what so fun about my character. By the way, I’m sure I just maimed the stages of grieving process. [Laughs.]
That sounded pretty astute to me, so don’t sweat it. When you first landed the role, did you go back to the old Brothers Grimm tales and familiarize yourself with their monsters and sensibilities?
You know what? I did a little bit, but I didn’t do it that much. I wanted to discover everything as the show goes on. What I did acquaint myself with, though, was the thing that’s most foreign to me: working in a precinct. I did a ride-along, I read Homicide, and I tried getting into that world a little bit.
So how’d you prepare to arrest werewolves, trolls, and other bizarre monsters, then?
[Laughs.] Thankfully, that’s all in the scripts. What’s funny is that I don’t see anything a lot of the time; when the faces morph into monsters, it’s CGI, and I just see a person with little black dots on their faces for matching technology. But when it comes to extended scenes, they are in fact in full-on prosthetics, and those are always more fun.
And, dude, every crime scene in Grimm is more gruesome than the next. I swear to you, it’s worth watching just for that, in and of itself. In one of the episodes we’ve shot, at one point somebody’s body is completely eaten through by rats, and there are rats pouring out of his mouth. It’s totally disgusting. [Laughs.]
That’s the kind of thing we usually only see on the cable network shows, not NBC.
Yeah, man. I think we’re going to end up being the scariest thing on network television. Or, the most shocking, at least. I just think that people are drawn to suspense and fantasy, and our show marries those two genres so well, with that little sardonic humor that comes from our writers. I think just think that Grimm the perfect Friday night getaway.
In terms of TV shows, Friday night has this stigma where it’s looked upon as a tough night to corral viewers, yet Grimm has been performing quite well in its Friday time slot. Why do you think Friday night works for the show?
Friday is great, because you don’t have to have 20 million viewers. That makes us all feel very relaxed; we can have fun with it as actors. I can’t speak for the writers and creators, I know they’re churning away as hard as they possibly can, but I think you can take more risks on a Friday night. You don’t need to get those giant numbers, so you can go to places that other shows can’t or won’t go, and so far we couldn’t be happier.