David Giuntoli Talks Scary Monsters With Screen Spy
Grimm debuts on NBC on October 28th. Created and written by Buffy and Angel alums David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, the show is part cop procedural, part scary monsters and a one hundred percent blend of trademark drama and dark humor we’ve come to expect from this duo.
Screen Spy sat down with Grimm star David Giuntoli on a rare afternoon off to talk about acting, Hollywood’s current obsession with fairytales, and just what attracts people to scary monsters in the first place.
I have heard a rumor that David Giuntoli has a degree in International Business and Finance, and I begin our interview by asking him a little about it.
“That is true,” he confirms. “International business and finance. I don’t know how that happened!”
So how does someone who started out on such a specific path end up pursuing an acting career anyway? “I just stopped caring about International business and finance about 3 years into it,” he laughs. “I still read The Economist. It’s my favorite magazine. But I just had a passing care about that sort of stuff. I just wasn’t good enough at it and people who were doing it really loved it and I didn’t love it. I can’t fixate on something I don’t dig.”
David goes on to explain that growing up in the Midwest, a career in acting wasn’t something that many people he knew aspired to. “I wasn’t really in that circle,” he explains. “My family weren’t in that circle. It takes a little while to even know something is an option. I think I found my people when I started doing it a little bit in college and I just kind of went for it after that. But I was a pretty late starter. I actually started pursuing it as a career when I was 25.”
Was it the right decision? “I hope so. There’s no way out now. I’m entrenched.”
David’s filmography includes appearances on genre shows such as Ghost Whisperer, Cold Case and Veronica Mars but unsurprisingly, he feels these roles didn’t give him a sense of knowing what he was about to get into with a show like Grimm.
“I was guest starring, or doing just one or two episodes on those shows. I played a lot of love interests, and I played a lot of lawyers and businessmen and things like that. But this is the first time I’ve been fully entrenched in the genre world and interfacing with the Blutbads and the monsters and the bad guys personally.”
Additionally, David is the star of the show, a role that must carry a certain degree of responsibility and ownership.
It’s my first real starring role on a TV show. I’ve done pilot after pilot where I was one of the main cast but never ‘the guy.’ It’s been a very intense learning curve. I knew it was going to be intense. I knew it was going to be a big responsibility. I didn’t know how to treat it other than to respect it. I’ve absolutely taken ownership of this show. I feel an ownership over it – as well as my cast mates. I’m sure they do too. But I’m in love with it. I’m absolutely in love with it.”
Filming is ongoing in Portland, Oregon. “We just filmed some stuff this morning,” David says. “We’re on episode 8 right now. They ordered 13 [episodes] right off the bat. Then,” he laughs “NBC will decide if they like it or not. And if they like it we’ll get a back order, which we’re expecting. It will be a back order for 9 episodes. That will bring it to a full 22 episodes for the first season.”
It sounds like a lot of hard work. “There’s a lot of work in making a good TV show. There really is. It’s hard to do. But we have the best people in the business. The computer graphics guys are fantastic. We have a guy who worked on Pan’s Labyrinth. The prosthetics people are fantastic.
“I get to walk into the makeup trailer and take a fake human hand whenever I walk through. And there are these weird corpses lying around. it’s fun. It’s a fun business! A lot of nice photo ops! The other day I had the fake rubber hand in my shirt sleeve. I kept trying to get unsuspecting people from the crew to give me a high five and see them freak out.”
David has high praise for his Grimm cast mates. “We have an amazing group of actors,” he tells me. “I couldn’t be more blessed to have them around. I’m learning from them frankly. There’s Silas Weir Mitchell who is best known for his work in Prison Break. He always gets to play these fringy borderline-psychotic characters. He plays a reformed Blutbad – a reformed wolf – named Munroe. And he is just fantastic to work with.
His character and I form a tentative and uneasy partnership where he helps me figure out this world that I’m new to – about these creatures. I don’t have many resources to learn about them but he is one of the few resources I do have. He’s trying to make amends with his past a little bit and he therefore helps me out reluctantly.
“Russell Hornsby is a fantastic actor who plays my partner Hank Griffin. He doesn’t know anything about this. He’s been my partner on the force for a little while. He’s a veteran detective and I’m more of a new guy. He’s about ten years my senior. I can’t let him know about what I’m seeing or else he’ll think I’m crazy.
“The same goes with my captain played by Sasha Roiz who has done a lot of cool genre stuff including Caprica and Warehouse 13. He plays the captain of the precinct. Also, he knows this world. He knows that I’m a Grimm because he’s a creature himself. But I don’t know any of this stuff about him. He has the goods on me. I don’t have the goods on him. He wants to keep an eye on me.
“The actress who plays my girlfriend Juliette Silverton is Bitsie Tulloch. We’ve actually worked together in a movie in the last year as boyfriend and girlfriend. And then the next thing we got this. It was so funny. The movie is called Caroline and Jackie. It just got finished being edited. I’ll see it for the first time next weekend. Check it out on IMDB. It’s a total indie but it’s got really good people in it.
“Then we have Reggie Lee who plays Sergeant Wu, who is kind of a snarky, been-there-done-that sergeant in our police force. We’re going to be discovering a lot about his character. He’s got some otherworldly things going on. Half the characters are human beings. Half the characters are kind of on the other side and maybe one or two of them don’t know about each other.
“So my character of Nick Burkhardt has to juggle this world of stopping the bad guys he can see and not letting his loved ones know because they’ll think he’s insane. And they’ll be in danger if they know about all this stuff.”
I ask David if the show will present a new fairytale each week or some looser slant on a fairytale?
“Yes, I think that’s fair to say. In a very loose way, you will,” he says. “Sometimes not as loose. Sometimes you’ll be able to understand what fairytale this is. Sometimes you’ll have to figure it out. Often the fairytales are not recognizable because they’re applied in a very ‘real world’ sense. The people have to be real. It can’t just be Cinderella and a glass slipper.
“So far we’ve done Rapunzel, The Three Bears, The Pied Piper … We’ve done a lot of these things.”
I point out that the promo trailer is highly reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood.
“That’s the one! You’ve nailed it.”
“I did my homework.”
“You did.” he laughs. “It’s quite beautiful. The cinematography and the aesthetic of Portland is second to none. It’s constantly kind of raining up here. Everything’s turning into moss. If you park your car for too long by the side of the street it will be composted within a couple of weeks. It will turn into soil. But it’s beautiful. It’s like a rain forest out here. It’s aesthetically right in the world that Grimm lives.”
Is it always raining? “It’s pretty much always wet. We had a couple of good months in the summer but it’s turned. The clouds came in one day and the locals said ‘Here it is’ and then it was cloudy for the next eight months. But when the sun comes out, people come out with a vengeance!”
When critics and reviewers first caught wind of Grimm there was some confusion over what the show was. Executive Producer David Greenwalt described the show as [taking] the police procedural and turning it on its head. E.P. Todd Milner on the other hand was quoted as saying ‘There are a lot of movies and shows about fairytales, but ours is not about the fairytale. It’s a police procedural with a hint of fairytale.” I ask David if he agrees with those assessments of the nature of the show, and why he thinks some people are confused over how much fairytale to expect.
“I think those things were said before the show was fully made,” he explains. “You don’t know what it’s going to become. It’s a dynamic thing. But it certainly is a police procedural. And Todd’s pretty much correct. There’s a hint of fairytale in there. But there’s a lot of crazy things happening. It’s not all about the fairytale. But the creatures from the fairytales are very much involved.
I make the comment that the promo trailer for the show gives a clear indication of the tone and style of the show, in my opinion. I feel pretty sure that when people see the pilot episode, they will understand what the show is about.
“Yes,” David agrees, adding, “It’s scary. There’s a lot of thriller involved. It’s a world where you kind of don’t know what’s around the corner a lot of times. And you know, we solve crimes. So if that’s a police procedural that’s what we’re doing!”
ABC are about to premiere a show of their own, Once Upon a Time, also set in the world of fairytales. Does David think there’s going to be a temptation for people to compare the two shows?
“Yes of course,” he says. “I haven’t seen it, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a very different show. But yes, there’s a weird zeitgeist that happens in Hollywood and it seems that fairytales are now being done – in the movies and also on TV.
“This show is very different from Once Upon a Time. It’s a dark police procedural where creatures from the Grimm’s fairytales exist and are committing crimes. So it’s a whole different thing. It was being developed six years ago and found a home at NBC so it all didn’t happen at once but they all seemed to get the OK at once. And who knows why that is.”
I comment that there is a tendency for particular genre shows to have life cycles.
“Yes I think so,” he says. “I think the whole Vampire/Werewolf thing is done as far as Hollywood is concerned. Well not done, obviously, but they’re looking for something new but different. Or different but the same, in a sense. So this is where it is.”
“I think people love having stories told to them where the characters are not human,” he says, explaining people’s love affair with the genre. “I think you can fall more in love with a cartoon or a creature than you can with a person because we have all these prejudgements on people because we’ve lived around them our entire lives. We know what we like and we know the kind of people we like and we have judgements and categories. But when you see creatures and non humans you sort of open yourself up and let yourself get swept away a little easier. You suspend reality.”
Is this why so many people like genre shows like Grimm?
“I’m sure it is. We learn through stories before we know how to read and write. And these are the perfect stories.”
I finish by asking David why should people watch Grimm.
“People should watch Grimm because it’s got so many elements and so many wonderful things. It’s a police procedural, but it’s also this absolute fantastical experience and it’ll scare the Beejesus out of you. I can promise you that! It’s a beautiful show.’
Grimm airs on NBC Friday Ocotber 28th – just in time for Halloween!