GRIMM: Shining the Spotlight on Silas Weir Mitchell (2011)

Friday nights have welcomed a new kind of supernatural series with the impressive debut of the quasi-horror/fantasy series GRIMM.  One of the key reasons viewers latched onto the fun show is fun portrayal by Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays Monroe, the bluebod with a heart of gold.  Call it what you may, bluebod – werewolf – lycanthrope – it does not matter if the creature with claws is on your side.  It was a fun twist to find that last week’s prime suspect ended up being the mentor that Detective Nick Burkhardt needed when he began seeing people in their true forms – for not everyone is strictly human in this new supernaturally-infused world.  In a conference call with press, Silas shared what he loves about Monroe and the show that is winning hearts across the television spectrum.

Could you elaborate about your character Monroe and what will we learn more about him in future episodes?

SILAS: Well, to elaborate more on my character — basically I suppose everything you hear in the pilot, that’s pretty much as far as we get. I mean I’m a Bluebod and I am sort of a reformed Bluebod. I’m trying to live as a human on the straight and narrow. We will definitely learn more about my character in future episodes. But as far as sort of family history we’re not getting into that yet. We do learn about the clockmaker, but it doesn’t get too much into my history or anything.

Can you talk a little bit about your experiences shooting the pilot episode for GRIMM and what were some of the initial challenges you found stepping into this role?

SILAS: Shooting the pilot was really, really exciting and it was really, really challenging. I mean you’re allowed more time to shoot the pilot than a normal episode, almost twice as much time. So you can be more deliberate, but you also don’t have an infrastructure that’s kind of set up, which you do once you get a production up and running. So it was challenging just on the level of the production value that NBC.  So that was hard to try to make it as the best thing as possible without having a production infrastructure that had been working together for a while. So that was a big challenge. On a production level for me specifically it was just the idea that I’ve been on a lot of series but I’ve never been sort of the central sort of pillars of the narrative really, and I found that to be challenging in its own right knowing that a lot was riding on it. That was challenging. But luckily we all have a great time working together. It’s a great environment to work. So everything kind of came out well I’d say.

Can you talk about how you got involved in the show in the first place?

SILAS: Yeah, I worked with Jim Kouf, who is one of the creators and writers of the show along with David Greenwalt.  But I worked with Jim Kouf on a movie that he wrote, directed and produced called “Fork in the Road” in 2007, I believe, and we just hit it off.  We had a good working relationship and he and I understand his sense of humor and I was auditioning for a role where they expected a different kind of [character] and really in their minds when they wrote it envisioned one kind of person that this character was. And Fern Castle who is the casting director thought that I might be an interesting kind of other way to go. Casting directors try to do that, they try to give you the choices that you think it’s going to be and then they always bring in sort of the “black sheep,” just to say, “You know, what about this idea?” and a lot of times I’m the “black sheep.” I’m the sort of what about going this way kind of guy. And it doesn’t really work out very often because people have their hearts set on kind of one thing. In this case, I was the way to go and it was the opposite of what he had anticipated and so I sort of struck a nerve with him and we had a great time then henceforth working on the project.  So you know when this came along, they just called me in. I think that they said, “Oh this guy would be good because we saw him, you know we worked with him before.” So that’s how it went, you know it’s just I happened to know Jim.

What actually attracted you to the role of Monroe and the show GRIMM? Was there anything particular that you really, really liked about it?

SILAS:  As far as what attracted me to it, what attracted me to it was it was a job really. I mean there was an audition for one of the leads in the pilot so there you go. Like I didn’t seek it out, I got the call, “Hey there’s an audition for this thing” and I read the script and I thought it was cool. That having been said, what does attract me to the role?  Certainly I would have auditioned for it probably otherwise. But given the fact that I’m doing it what really does attract me to the role is the inner conflict. I mean that is rich territory for an actor to have that kind of secret. Not only to have a secret, but to have a secret that you’re trying to you know deal with on a daily basis. It’s not just a secret from the past. It’s a secret that in every breath you’re trying to maintain, and that’s really fun to play. I also think the mythological elements of the story are very compelling because I really feel like in a lot of ways the creature elements of the show “creature stuff” is really to my mind an expression of the sort of mythological underpinnings of not to get high falutin’, but really of the human psyche. We all live in a world where there are monsters, monsters are real, you know and you look at sort of murderers and people who are on death row and people who have done terrible things, like the Richard Ramirez’s of the world and the Sons of Sam and those people, and I feel like the creature elements of this show in a lot of ways are addressing that sort of mythical darkness. Because if you bring myth into it you can discuss it in broader terms and not just make it about you know the procedural element, which is a huge part of the show.  Long story short, I think you know the mythology and the inner conflict.

What kind of research did you do that influenced your character?

SILAS: The research I did was really reading. I’m presently at arm’s length of a book that was written in 1933.  It’s one of the classics — this is no joke — on lycanthropy and werewolfism and all that.  There are pages of it that are in Latin and pages of it that are in like middle French, it’s really fun.  Because the werewolf is a real thing. I mean there are stories that are not just like occult lore where in France in the 18th century, there was a guy who terrorized the French countryside running around at night stealing children and mutilating them. And what’s our answer to that? What is that? And one of the ways of addressing that is to say, “You’re a monster. You’re a werewolf.”  And so the research was for me was reading these stories sometimes when these were real. It wasn’t mythological then. I think now we recognize that the werewolf is a myth. But the research of reading stories from a time when the werewolf was a real thing is pretty intense when you really put yourself in the shoes of someone who believed that a transformation took place and that a beast roamed the hills. That’s pretty intense.

Is make up involved in your transformation at all or is it entirely CG?

SILAS: It’s both. The idea is that it’s CGI on top of makeup but you still can tell that it’s my face. I mean there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it.  But the three ingredients really are: prosthetics, computer graphics and my face. Because the idea is that when someone morphs, they don’t just turn into a werewolf like a generic beetle creature or you know whatever. They don’t just turn into a beetle; they turn into their beetle.  They turn into what they would look like as this creature so they really make an effort to fuse the prosthetics and the CGI in such a way that you can tell that it’s me underneath it, and that they do that with other creatures that are coming down the pike. . . . Those are the rules, I mean it really is if you think of it in terms of a murderer or a kidnapper or something, that they look like a human. You look at Charles Manson, you see a human. But if a Grimm looked at Charles Manson they would see the beast that the guy is underneath the human mask. That’s only if you have the perceptive powers of a Grimm.

What you can you tell us about the upcoming episodes of GRIMM and if you have a favorite fairy tale that was covered?

SILAS: All I can tell you is the episodes get sort of deliciously dark and creepy. And NBC is letting us go there so to speak, which I think is fantastic. I didn’t really grow up on fairy tales per se. I kind of grew up on — there was one book that I had as a child, which I’ve mentioned in other interviews, which was called “Slovenly Peter.” It’s also known as “Shock Headed Peter” and it’s an old German book . . . Anyway, it had cautionary tales in it and they were pretty grisly. The idea was the cautionary tale of the little girl who played with matches and what happens if you play with matches, and in the end of the story she’s burnt to a crisp.  She’s like a pile of ashes. So that was sort of the German fairy tale book that I had.  It wasn’t Grimm, but it was grim, if you know what I mean.

Did you find anything in the pilot when you were filming it to be a really challenging?

SILAS: Yeah, the thing that was the most challenging was it was really practical.  It wasn’t like a challenging in an aesthetic sense.  The challenge was knowing that you’re shooting a pilot that you really want to do well, and from an actor’s point of view it’s lovely to be employed.  It is lovely to be employed in a part in a role that you find rich. It is lovely to be employed in a role that you find rich working with people that you actually like. So you got all these things lined up, then you have to shoot a 6-page scene in four hours.  So that was the only challenge. And that’s, for the record, that is a lot of pages in and not a lot of time. So, to me, the greatest challenge was even though we had more days than we would normally shoot the pilot, I found the challenge to be living honestly and having fun keeping the stakes of the thing at bay, i.e., wanting it to be good and get picked up and all that jazz. Just trying to get through a very long scene you know without rushing it and making it – still making it good. So the challenge was a very practical one.

Will Monroe be able to keep his werewolf tendencies under wraps going forward or are we going to see his inner beast popping out every now and then?

SILAS: Oh the inner beast pops out every now and then.

It feels like Monroe’s more of an endearing sort of fun character.  Has that kind of been a nice change for you — something interesting for you to do as an actor, sort of changing up some of your typical type of roles?

SILAS: I think that’s a great question and I appreciate that awareness of yours. But, yeah, it is.  It’s lovely to play someone who is not crazy, any more than the next guy. I mean that might be debatable.  I mean some people might say well he is a little crazier than the next guy but not in a kind of the way you’re talking.  I mean Monroe, Monroe is definitely a unique person. But not crazy in the way that you’re talking and it is nice to have that change, to not play someone who’s you know feverishly disturbed, or evil for that matter.

Do you think GRIMM will be going in other areas or other cities or towns?

SILAS: You know, Portland has so much going for it I would be surprised if we went too far afield, but it’s not out of the question that we will go farther outside of Portland than we’ve gone. But I don’t see us sort of you know shooting in Eugene or something.  I don’t know why we would really do that. . . . I wouldn’t say that’s out of the question at all, but I don’t think it’s something that the writers are kind of aiming to do that right now. I think Portland is so varied in its various environments.  I mean really it has a downtown, and then 15 minutes you’re in the literally in a rain forest, and in an hour you can be at the beach, in an hour you can be on Mount Hood and it has lots of different neighborhoods. So there’s so many various types of looks and places to shoot that I think it’s not something that they’re sort of hell bent to do because we’ve got it all here. It’s really a lovely place to live and work.

Can you talk about the conflict within Monroe and what you like about his struggle to contain his aggression and what he’s capable of?

SILAS: I mean, he’s capable of extreme violence, first of all, and keeping it under wraps is a universal struggle.  In that way Monroe is no different than anybody else.

Are the writers open with kind of your input on the script and the character and all that?

SILAS: Oh the lines, yeah, they’re very open to that. It’s not like working with David Milch. . . .  He is someone who is a brilliant writer, but he’s also a real stickler for word for word-ness. These writers are not like that.  At least they’re not like that yet.  So there’s plenty of leeway to move things around if you need to.  It’s not like willy nilly, but it’s certainly they’re more sticklers for uh’s and duh’s.

The pilot was pretty shocking as far as the shock factor and scare factor, and it kind of made me to wonder, what frightens you?

SILAS: That’s an interesting question. Well, I’ll tell you when I was a kid what frightened me, it really had to do with the power of suggestion. I lived out in the country and summer nights you know sometimes you wind up sort of far away from the house suddenly and it was dusk and then it was dark and you had to get back home. And it’s pretty scary you know walking through the woods alone at night when you’re little. One of the things that really scared me was if I started thinking about the guy who was chasing me or the guy who was in the woods.  If I started thinking about it, it was scary. But really if I started behaving as though the guy were really there and I started running, and if I started running the behavior of it actually made me really scared and I would have to get home immediately.  So that was one of the things I remember from my childhood that as I think back on it was very apropos of GRIMM was sort of running through the woods. Because if you just went slowly and calmly and realized that it was just in your imagination and walked you would be fine. But as soon as you actually start running you’re done. . . . The imagination is very powerful weapon and people use it against themselves all the time. You see people imagining things that are terrible or you can use the imagination in a lot of ways and humans a lot of times use it against themselves. And that’s one of the examples of people can scare themselves.  If you went to bed every night imagining that there was a guy with an ax in your closet, you would start believing it eventually.

To see what further struggles and difficult situations the bluebod Monroe finds himself amongst on GRIMM, tune in Friday nights at 8:00 p.m. on NBC.

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