Russell Hornsby has acted in films and television for well over a decade, appearing in shows like Lincoln Heights, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, and movies such as Meet the Parents and After the Sunset. He now appears weekly on NBC’s Grimm, a show that is kind of hard to explain.
Matt Betts: I don’t want to be cheesy by starting out quoting IMDB, but I’m going to be that guy anyway.
Russell Hornsby: Okay, go ahead.
MB: According to IMBD, Grimm is an “American police procedural television drama series.” And they also categorize it in the genres of fantasy procedural, horror and mystery. Grimm is a pretty hard show to pin down and describe, isn’t it?
RH: Yes. I have a tough time myself and I don’t know if I always get it right. I’m glad someone is able to do it.
MB: Well, there’s just a little bit of everything in it. There’s action, there’s horror, there’s fairy tale, and it is all blended together so well.
RH: I think, as you said, they do it so well and I hope, sooner rather than later, that it would just be its own genre. You know what I mean?
MB: Absolutely. With all of that in mind, what made you want to take the role of detective Hank Griffin?
RH: I think because the show was so different. I’ll be honest with you; I’m not a big genre guy. But I am Mr. Police, you know? But I could appreciate it for what it was trying to do. I really thought that if all of these elements worked, it could be something special. That’s the way I looked at it.
The flip side is: when we started, there wasn’t much to Hank, at least on the page. You knew it was going to be about whoever the producers hired to play him, breathing life into the character. So they give you a lot more latitude about how you’re going to play it. I can go into my bag of tricks if you will, to say, “This is how I want to play this.” And they say, “Go on. In fact, we’ll write this. Let’s do it.” It becomes a wonderful collaboration.
MB: For the better part of the first season your character was unaware of all the strange goings-on around him, while his partner, detective Nick Burkhardt, went about chasing down odd creatures that were committing heinous crimes. Did this make for some interesting acting conditions?
RH: I’m the kind of actor that works from the inside out. It’s hard to qualify. On certain aspects of the script, I just dive in. I don’t over-intellectualize about it, I don’t think too much about it. I just dive in and do it. You read a script and think about your approach, but after a while, you just dive. That’s what I ended up doing. I didn’t know how to play this transition of this guy who is on the real side, the procedural side, coming into the fantasy side. I didn’t know what that was about. I really had to use my imagination and say, “This is what I want to give to the moment,” and then pray for rain, you know?
MB: It must be difficult at times to play off of other actors with masks, makeup and even green screen effects, when your character isn’t supposed to see certain elements in the scene.
RH: It is very tough, and I’m telling you, at times you just feel stupid. You’re acting opposite a creature that’s not there, or something. You just feel stupid, for lack of a better term. You’re like, “Uhhhh. What am I doing here?” And again, it’s just throwing things up against the wall and hoping that it sticks. You have to sort of trust your director and the writers behind it and that the set monitors are watching. Because you don’t know what you are doing. Sometimes you wonder, Am I reacting too much to a creature? Not enough? Am I being too passive? You just hope it works.
MB: It seems a lot of television shows and movies are taking their inspiration from Fairy Tales these days. Why do you think that is?
RH: Of course, first and foremost, those stories are out there in public domain. Anyone can use them freely, like Shakespeare. I also think that all of this stuff goes in cycles. It was just that time for a resurgence of fairy tales. It’s always here; it’s really the one story or the one approach that says something different. I think that’s what happened, it’s just our time.
It’s also how it’s done. I think that with our show—I can’t speak to Once Upon a Time [another fairy-tale series on another network]—but I think that our show has a level of craftsmanship and a level of artistry and sophistication that audiences are ready for now. We have raised the bar a bit, I’ll say that. And audiences really appreciate that because we are not dumbing down the material.
And it’s also kind of helpful that it is something that people can watch with their families as well.
MB: Did you know the real Grimms’ Fairy Tales before starting on the show? The original versions are pretty out there.
RH: Oh no, no. Not at all. I tell people all the time that we’ve all been Disneyfied. I had no idea that they were true cautionary tales. It was really news to me. It’s exciting now that I’ve had a chance to read a good number of them.
MB: I have young children and I wonder whether I should give them the original versions or stick with the modern take on them.
RH: Well, a lot of European kids, they all got the real non-watered down versions and their kids came out just fine. You have to start them early.
MB: With Grimm’s success, the show has developed a very loyal fan base already. Have you been out to meet them?
RH: Are you kidding me? We went to Comic-Con. Comic-Con was nuts! It was out of this world.
The fans were great. They come up to you and have created backstories for the characters, telling me what my character was going to do, and I wasn’t used to that, you know? I’ve never been to any sort of convention like that. It was like we were rock stars, you know? It felt like A Hard Day’s Night, running from all these fans and trying to get away.
But what’s beautiful about it is that they are so interested in what we’re doing. They are so knowledgeable about the show, the characters, the world and the genre, so to me that’s a byproduct of the show being so well-written and well-conceived.
MB: With the two detectives finally on the same page, what do you see in the season ahead for Hank?
RH: In this season, I see Nick and Hank’s partnership and relationship developing and becoming stronger. I see them fighting crime and solving crimes together. Hank is going to become more involved in the stories and the Grimm World.
Rather than it being a Nick show with Hank bringing up the rear and saying, “Can I help you?” I think it will become more of a Nick and Hank show. A true partnership.
Photo Credits: NBC.com