Sometimes what you don't see is scarier than what you do. On Grimm, NBC's supernatural police procedural, homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is blessed/cursed with the ability to see mythological creatures, or Wesen, that live amongst humans and often commit horrible crimes against humanity. A descendant of the Grimms, hunters tasked with keeping the baddies in line, Nick knowingly pursues dangerous monsters who he can tell from garden variety deviants.
Nick's partner, Hank Griffin, played by Russell Hornsby, on the other hand, had no idea about the true nature of his buddy or the monsters they were contacting until recently. As you can imagine, when he started to glimpse into Nick's world, he thought his mind was playing tricks on him or somebody was drugging him. How his knowledge of the world around him will change his life is playing out now on season two, with all-new episodes every Friday night at 9 p.m.
Complex recently spoke with Oakland-raised Hornsby about his first taste of genre television insanity, how he makes sense of the Grimm world, and why he didn't end up rapping like his high school friends in Souls of Mischief.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Prior to Grimm, were you into genre movies and television?
No. This is a whole new world for me.
How has the genre world been treating you?
I have no reason at all to complain. [Laughs.] I’m having a lot of fun. I can’t get over how crazy and thankful the fans are with this show and other shows; it’s been eye-opening. At Comic-Con, it was absolutely surreal how engaged fans were, how fanatical they are about this show and other shows. They love their genre-themed TV, which is great.
What’s the most interesting thing that a fan has said to you about the show?
It’s fascinating to me how interested they are in the minutia of the show. They come up and they tell me where they think my character is going or should go, what Hank should find out about Nick being a Grimm, or about one of his ex-wives, who's probably a Wesen, making Hank's kid one, too.
I’m like, “How do you know this? Where is all of this coming from?” Basically they create this whole character for me, and I find that fascinating, really cool and endearing.
How do the back stories and future story arcs that fans approach you with compare to the work you've done fleshing out Hank for yourself?
I just flesh out the human aspect of my character, where my character is from, the basic stuff. You don’t really wanna get into all of the other things in depth because then the writers come along and they switch it up anyway. Or when you start working on things they say, “OK, thank you very much,” because it's not your job, it's theirs. [Laughs.] I try to keep it very basic and simple, then elaborate and expand upon what I'm given from the script.
In real-life, most people would freak out and lock themselves in their homes if they discovered there were monsters in their midst.
Honestly, I think that if I were a lay person that would be the approach, but Hank, having been a police officer and having seen a lot of strange, crazy stuff in his life, I think there's an acceptance in learning.
I equate [the world of Grimm] to the crack epidemic. Police officers who were working when the crack epidemic first hit didn’t understand what was making people so crazy.
Of course it's weird and crazy, but I equate it to the crack epidemic. I've spoken to a lot of police officers who were working when the crack epidemic first hit. They didn’t understand what was making people so crazy, what it was that was making people rob and steal from their families at such a crazy level. Then they found out it was crack and everybody was like, “Now that we know, this is what we’re gonna do about it.” It was the not knowing that freaked the police officers out.
It's the same for Hank with the Grimm world. He may have to tread lightly when approaching criminals because you don’t know who they are or what you might be in store for, but he becomes a better police officer because of his knowledge of the Grimm world.
Are there any analogies you find fitting for the Grimm story as a whole?
The show speaks to the idea that we all have alter-egos, we're all these altered beasts of sorts. That's why it's so poignant. It's like when you brought a friend home and your mother or grandmother would say, "That person bears watching." With the spirituality that old people have, grandmothers and grandfathers could look at somebody and you would say that they would have a Grimm-like ability, or an eye. They had a sage wisdom about them.
There are people who can shake your hand or look you in the eye and tell, by the light or darkness in your eye, if you have a good heart. That’s what we do with everybody we meet. We're seeking the truth of who they are as individuals or how they are as human beings. How would they treat me or treat others? We’ve created a whole show about people’s alter-egos.
Do you have any desire to get into beast makeup?
No! I come from a good gene pool, baby! You can see my face! [Laughs.]
If the writers made you a beast, what kind would you want to play?
It sounds un-creative but I would love to be a Blutbad, a wolf howling at the moon. The full moon comes and you just go wild and crazy, dogs in heat and shit. To me, that’s sexy. Wolves are cool. That’s Russell personified.
You're friends with the guys in Souls of Mischief. How did you meet them?
I went to high school with Phesto. I met them when we were all freshman, and we all were in the same circle. Tajai lived around the corner from me in Oakland. We started a fraternity 'cause we all grew up watching School Daze. Tajai, Damani [Phesto], and I were all in it. It was just one of those things, kids in the hood growing up together.
Then they started a rap group and you take that energy to college. I went to Boston University and they would come and do shows in Boston, and when I moved to New York they would come do shows in New York. We’ve all stayed in good touch in the last 20 years, and it’s been great. We know each other’s kids and their wives. All through the years, it's been great seeing shows in many different cities and countries, running into them.
Did you ever have an inclination to rap?
I was never that guy. I was the actor. I didn’t have a gift for putting rhymes together like that. You realize quickly the discipline it takes to write rhymes. I grew up listening to hip-hop and had an immense amount of respect for those guys. You play around with it and leave funny rhymes on your answering machine, but I grew up listening to Rakim and the intricacy of the Souls' rhymes and I couldn’t compare. So I just left the pros at it.
What was it like for you to see critics heap praise on your your friends for their lyrics?
What I respected more than anything was their business acumen and hustle. That’s what Oakland is about; it's a hustle city—Too $hort selling tapes and CDs out of his trunk back in the '80s, MC Hammer getting his grind on. To see them start Hiero Imperium, I respected that so much.
Being from Oakland is walking in the spirit of the Panther, having a revolutionary spirit and the sense of being a free spirit, looking for a sense of justice wherever you go. But also having that hustler vibe, not taking no for an answer. That's why I'm here.
The magazine article that I remember the most was in Vibe, the one where Wesley Snipes was on the cover, and the title of the article was “Fresh air and trees breeds dope MCs.” It had the four of them laying on the grass with trees in the background, and that just epitomized Oakland and where we grew up. We grew up in a very hippie but very revolutionary atmosphere that had all of these forces going at once. They epitomized the revolutionary spirit of Oakland, but also the intellectual spirit of a UC Berkeley. And I think that’s what their image was and what their lyrics and music reflected at the time.
How would you say that Oakland vibe made itself apparent in you?
Again, just walking in the spirit of the Panther, having a revolutionary spirit and the sense of being a free spirit, looking for a sense of justice wherever you go. But also having that hustler vibe and constantly working at it, not taking no for an answer, always being willing to go the extra mile. That’s what it takes—that’s part and parcel of why I’m here.
You gotta go get yours, be true to yourself and represent where you come from, be proud to be black and do what you got to do to make it happen. That’s Oakland. I don’t live there anymore but my brother still lives there I go back as often as I can. Still, that spirit of Oakland, of growing up with the image of a Too $hort, the revolutionary spirit of the Black Panthers, all the intellectualism, all of those things inspire you to be the person that you are.
And now that you've achieved your biggest success to date with Grimm, how has life changed for you?
The biggest difference is that people know my name. Before, I was “that guy” and “Weren’t you on that show?” Now they know. “Russell Hornsby, right? I love Grimm!” Now they know my name, and that’s been the show's slow shift.
It's humbling, quite honestly. I appreciate it. I know it can be gone tomorrow, so it doesn’t change how I live, how I interact with people, how I treat people, or the relationship with my wife or my family. I’m the hot guy right now on the hot show but that can change tomorrow. The reality of it is that I’m an actor who wants to continue to do good work and be an artist who does work that speaks. I’m enjoying the time right now and I’m enjoying the shine but it's just something to grow on. Onward and upward.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)