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Looking for shiny happy escapism to cope with the harsh realities of your life? Chances are your soft ass isn't ready for Grimm, NBC's new fantasy police procedural. While investigating a string of savage murders, homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) learns that he is descended from a group of hunters, known as Grimms, who protect humans from the supernatural monsters that live amongst them (and were described in Grimms' Fairy Tales).
The evildoing creatures, which only Nick can see, are repulsive in their true form, thanks to some quality CGI and makeup. Fortunately for us, we get to see Claire Coffee, the beautiful actress who plays conspiratorial lawyer/Hexenbiest witch Adalind Schade, in her natural glory most of the time. To mark the premiere of Grimm (Fridays, 9 p.m.), Complex spoke to Coffee, who also stars on TNT's Franklin & Bash, about her new show's darkness, why the Pacific Northwest might turn anyone into a serial murderer, and the thing she fears far more than a home invasion.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
What we can expect from your character, Adalind Schade?
The show is a police procedural where the villains are Grimm’s fairy tale characters, so my character is one of the Grimm’s fairy tale characters; she’s a witch, and so she’s a bad guy working opposite or against Nick Burckhardt (David Guintoli, right), who plays the main cop, and in the pilot I try to kill his aunt. We just shot an episode where he is forced to protect me because of some circumstances, so it mixes who I am in the real world and who I am in the Grimm’s fairy tale world.
What does your character do in the real world?
In the real world I’m a lawyer. And I’m also a witch. They call it a Hexenbiest, that’s the type of creature. Each episode you’ll be introduced to a different type of Grimm’s fairy tale creature, and as it goes on you’ll start to learn more about these creatures and the ways that they’re evil and the way that they operate in the larger underworld.
Was your character based on a specific character from a Grimm’s story?
No, there’s no specific Grimm’s fairy tale that it connects to but it touches on a lot of different themes. The episode that we just shot, there’s a Grimm’s villain who controls bees, and bees are a theme in a lot of the stories.
Were you familiar with the Grimm’s tales before this?
I would say I was as familiar as most people. I used to watch Fairy Tale Theater when I was really little, and they had Tatum O’Neal play Goldilocks and I think Shelly Duvall was in Cinderella, So I’m familiar with the most popular ones but I recently got a copy of all of them and I’m kind of working my way through. I would say that the popular ones are popular for a reason; a lot of them are kind of boring, but the characters are interesting, the moral tales.
As a kid, what did you watch or read that really terrified you?
I hated being scared when I was little. Aliens really scared me. I remember watching Fire In The Sky (right) when I was 10 or 11, and thinking about that still scares me. I think I saw a commercial for A Nightmare On Elm St. on television and that gave me nightmares for a week. So pretty much everything scared me when I was little, if it had to do with fantasy. [Laughs.] Real-life things, like spiders and snakes, that doesn’t scare me, but if it’s a monster or a ghost or an alien, that will always scare me.
So I guess you avoided that sort of stuff as a child.
I watched a lot of Disney movies. I was a different Disney character for every Halloween. My parents kept it pretty PG, I would say.
What is it about aliens that still scares you?
Alien abduction movies are always the scariest; no matter how cheesy they are, they still scare me for a week. I live by myself in my apartment, and I don’t worry about intruders or robbery; I mostly worry about alien abduction or evil, mean ghosts. So not much has changed.
What alien abduction movie freaked you out the most?
My memory of Fire In The Sky is probably the worst, but recently I watched The Fourth Kind with Milla Jovovich, and that one’s pretty scary too.
Grimm is a mash-up of police procedurals and supernatural shows, both of which are everywhere these days. What do you feel separates Grimm from the other shows?
It has these two worlds working in opposition. You have this fantasy contingent and then the real world, and they’re solving crimes, the way that we understand crime, but then there’s this undercurrent of, “What is this world and where are these people coming from?” That will be revealed throughout the course of the series. And it’s also pretty dark; it’s a Friday night show, and so they’re trying to make it as scary as possible for a network show.
When you’re little and you’re afraid of monsters under your bed, [Grimm] asks, what if those monsters really existed? What if kidnappers were actually trolls living under a bridge? ... It's not taking itself too seriously.
Yeah, the pilot episode centers on a Big Bad Wolf pedophile and murderer. It’s pretty "grim." Did watching that scare you?
No, I don’t get scared watching my own show because you know exactly what’s gone on to shoot it.
What do you think it is about the Pacific Northwest that lends itself to dark shows like Grimm and Twin Peaks and The Killing?
I guess the weather changes people’s moods. I really like the rain but everyone up there…it seems to be the main topic. “Just wait until it’s eight months of straight rain!” And the looks on their faces are just kind of dire and sad.
In Portland specifically, there’s this enormous kind of teenage homeless population, because there’s this huge meth problem. When I was there to shoot the pilot, the hotel was right in downtown, and around eight or nine at night you’d start hearing them screaming, or just yelling at each other, and it sounded and looked a bit like a zombie apocalypse. So I think that also adds to it.
That’s the weird thing, but mostly everybody in Portland is friendly, even these homeless kids, they seem pretty harmless, but just the look of it, everybody is tatted up, and a lot of piercings.
I find it odd that you enjoy rain, because a prolonged lack of sunshine definitely turns me into a bitter, hateful person. Do you think that living in that overcast environment might bring the homicidal sociopath out of people?
[Laughs.] I mean, it may, but Portland has the best coffee you’ll ever have in your entire life, so I’d say that helps to keep people’s spirits up even when it’s rainy and dark and cold. But maybe it’s just being cooped up for that long, because it’s such a gorgeous place and the parks are incredible, but if it’s raining you gotta stay inside. I think being cooped up anywhere could start to drive a person mad.
The show's protagonist cop, Nick, can see your character for the witch that she is. That quick flash is CGI, but have you gone through a lot of makeup?
No, it’s all CGI, and those guys are pretty incredible. The bad guys on the show, they show themselves to Nick, who’s a Grimm, so he can see all the creatures when they’re emotionally compromised. So anytime they’re stressed it brings out their true monster faces and they can’t hide it anymore. So we’ll do a take and then I’ll have to put these little tracking dots on my face and then they do a take for FX and morph me in the FX lab.
So you won’t have to endure sitting in a makeup chair for seven hours every morning?
I won’t. Some people do, some of the creatures, they have some pretty fantastic creature makeup going on. There’s this woman who gets stung by a bunch of bees and swells up and she walked into the makeup trailer and I was scared of this. They’d swollen her eyes shut and turned her into this swollen monster creature.
The idea of the evil next door is interesting. Do you know if Grimm is intended as a metaphor for the war on terror or anything else in particular?
I haven’t really thought about that. The part that’s so much fun and that makes for a great work day is the fantasy element. Like, when you’re little and you’re afraid of monsters under your bed, this show asks, what if those monsters really existed? What if kidnappers were actually trolls living under a bridge? It's fun because it plays to your imagination and lets you keep running with it. Hopefully we’ll give you a few nightmares.
This is one of a few projects, from the Snow White movies to the TV show Once Upon A Time or even the comic book series Fables, that are turning towards classic fairy tales for inspiration. Why do you think fairy tales endure?
I think, reading the Grimm’s fairy tales, they all have some sort of moral component to them, teaching you a lesson. You know, do right be other people and the Big Bad Wolf won’t eat you. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re edging towards the apocalypse that people are reaching back in time to the simple stories that we all grew up with.
The first script after the pilot was a modern spin on Goldilocks and the three bears, like, how could you modernize what Goldilocks did then, breaking into their house and sleeping in all their beds? In the parlance of cops, that's "breaking and entering." I think it has this element of humor, and it’s not taking itself too seriously.
The big reveal at the end of the pilot is that your character is working with someone who is originally believed to be a good guy. How deep can fans expect a conspiracy to go in the Grimms world?
There’s definitely a conspiracy and there’s definitely, within the underworld of the evil characters, there’s definitely a hierarchy. You’ll start to learn more. Same as there’s a government and police and people controlling people in the world that we know, they have that too.
Can you say where you exist in that hierarchy?
I work for the police chief, who’s very high up. I’m a bit of an assassin, but then it gets called into question. I can’t really get into more than that.
What is the most monstrous thing that a guy might discover about you in a relationship? What is your deep dark secret?
Like the fact that I actually have four arms under my outfits? [Laughs.] Um, I’m pretty stubborn, but that’s not monstrous. I’m afraid of the dark, but that’s ridiculous.
Would you consider yourself to be high maintenance?
I’m definitely not high maintenance.
Well, perhaps there is nothing and you’re just a dream girl.
On your other show, Franklin And Bash, you play an assistant D.A. Was there anything particular that you did to prepare for the role?
One of my friends was finishing law school and studying for the bar at the time, so if there were ever any terms that would come up, I would ask her. I like to know what I’m talking about. That was super helpful, but it’s mostly ridiculous cases, so [ultimately it was] the same preparation I would do to play the [Grimm] lawyer who’s actually a monster.
Has playing the ex girlfriend of Mark-Paul Gosselaar's character been like living the pre-teen dream of a Saved By The Bell-loving Claire?
If I’d gotten the role when I was 14, but I think now in my old age, I was more just curious.... People who’ve been in the business that long, it can go either way. Some people who grew up in Hollywood, or were just child actors, have a very skewed sense of reality, but Mark-Paul is actually great. He has two kids and he’s really funny. It's been a good, pleasant experience.
Does the crew give him a lot of shit about Saved By The Bell?
Oh yeah, he and Breckin [Meyer] both, because Breckin did Clueless. They’re both '90s heartthrobs—and current heartthrobs, obviously. They both get tossed a bunch of shit on set, and then also in any interviews it’s the first thing that comes up. They’re good sports about it. I don’t know if I’d be as gracious as they are.
As people who’ve had that kind of longevity, did they impart any wisdom as to how to not end up one of the statistics of this job?
Yeah, I think the most important thing is to just be nice and generous to the people you’re working with. Try to learn as much as you can. I always like working with people who I think are better than I am, so I’m always learning. It’s stressful and the hours are so long, and if you can just remember that your job is no more important than anyone else’s job, I think that it’s the best way to get through the day.
What was the craziest soap opera plot you were involved in during your 170-episode run on General Hospital?
When my character Nadine Crowell first got there, she was coming to town because her sister tried to kill staff at the hospital. Her sister was working for an insurance company and trying to sabotage the hospital, and she was in a coma. So I was there to visit and check up on my sister in a coma, but then you never saw my sister again. [Laughs.] That was sort of typical. And then my love interest kept seeing the ghost of his wife who’d died, so that was pretty soapy.
Didn’t a hospital collapse on your character?
No, that was my sister.
Ah yes, the sister who’s never seen again.
Yeah, my demise wasn’t that dramatic. I just had my heart broken and left town.
Was doing a soap a fun experience?
I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot, but I’d been working in episodic television before then, and I like comedy; it doesn’t really give you the opportunity to do that. But the hours are great and the people are really great. It was nice going to work with the same group of people for that long. You established relationships in that way. But yeah, I prefer the way I’m doing it now, project to project.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)