NBC’s Friday thriller series GRIMM features stories about a young detective Nick Burkhardt, who finds out that he has inherited the ability to see people in their true forms, and not all of them are strictly human. Portraying Nick’s partner, Hank, who is not gifted with the special sight or even the knowledge that such creatures exist, Russell Hornsby has the unique challenge of remembering that his character is unaware of this supernatural world. In an exclusive interview, Russell candidly shared what he thinks of the show’s success and what he likes the most about playing Detective Hank Griffin in GRIMM.
Are you surprised by the show’s success and how it has taken off with the television audience?
RUSSELL: Yes. Having been working on television for a while, you’re always hoping for a hit, and we got one — I think. [Laughter] And I’m really surprised! I mean, I’m surprised, but I’m not. It’s just great. You know what I mean? It’s a great opportunity. I think it’s a wonderful show. I hope the audience keeps supporting the show.
It’s been so much fun and my entire family seem to have gotten addicted to it. It’s very easy to follow and it’s very fun.
RUSSELL: That’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be fun, and I also appreciate the audience is following the journey — and following the story and allowing it to unfold. I think that’s what it’s meant to do. It’s just to take the journey, watch it unfold, and have fun.
It is a very fun and we’re enjoying it quite a bit. Have you finished your season yet or are you still working on it?
RUSSELL: Actually, we are still working. Initially we had an order of 13 episodes, and because of its success — and the network was surprised at its success — we were extended the back 9. So we don’t finish shooting until April 19th.
Oh my goodness, you have a busy season.
RUSSELL: Absolutely, so we’ll have 22 episodes.
How has it been working throughout the winter in Portland? This has been an exceptionally cold year.
RUSSELL: It is a cold year. We’re out in the elements, so we’re like the postman: neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will keep us from delivering a great product to our audience. We are in the elements quite a bit, whether it is in the city where it is raining, and it’s been snowing for the past week or so, or up in the wilderness. But we don’t stop. There’s nothing that will keep us from shooting.
Do you get a script and go, “oh no, this is another in the woods one! No, no, we need some indoor episodes”?
RUSSELL: [Laughs] That’s also one of the components of the show — Portland itself. It’s like another character. Whether we are around town or in the woods, those lush greens are just beautiful. It’s so green sometimes, I’m just struck by it. It’s so green and so vibrant. I think that it adds to the whole look of the show.
It feels very rich and very real, which is kind of odd being in a society where we don’t have those kinds of creatures, and yet as you have portrayed them, it makes us feel, “oh maybe I kind of believe they have those in Portland.”
RUSSELL: Absolutely! And it’s also close to what there is in the German wilderness, so that’s why they chose it. A lot of these stories took place in the woods, so that landscape gives you that visual richness and it helps build that specific look.
It does. It’s visually stunning. You guys have such well-drawn characters, such that each is a hero in and of itself, and you want to root for them. Do you want to talk a little bit about your character Hank and what you’re appreciating now that you’ve worked in his skin for a number of months?
RUSSELL: What I appreciate it is he is 3-dimensional character. He is a man who is flawed. He is not perfect. He’s been married and divorced 4 times. I think he’s trying to get it right. I also appreciate that it allows for some creative freedom for me as the actor, and that the character has a sense of humor. He has some wit and he’s a bit silly too, which is fun; and I appreciate the banter that happens back and forth between Hank and Nick and also Sergeant Wu. In my mind, their relationships are just perfect. We’re just finding areas where we can infuse a lot of humor in these stories.
Do you appreciate the fact that they haven’t really made your character and the character of Nick best-buddies? They are partners and they support each other and they work together, but they do not necessary hang out in their off time together. That kind of gives them room to grow.
RUSSELL: I think it does give them room to grow. I also think it reflects reality. In a lot of work places, you work at a lot of jobs and people work more with their colleagues than with their family. So in those off-hours, it’s just better to get away. I think that’s what probably makes it work, makes their relationship that much more stronger, that not only do they get along, but they don’t necessarily spend every waking moment with each other.
It’s like they that there’s a boundary there. That they have personal lives, so let it be.
RUSSELL: I also think there’s a balance. There’s an inherent acknowledgement and need for balance in each other’s lives. I think that’s something we must acknowledge that we need to maintain some balance between work-and-play and work-and-family.
One of the things that struck me, and they never quite picked it up, was when Hank seemed to go out on a date or met up with Claire Coffee’s character, Adalind, and yet Hank never mentioned it to his partner.
RUSSELL: It’s very interesting that you brought that up because we’re actually going to revisit that storyline and I sort of call it “the love spell.” But that’s about all I can give.
That sounds intriguing!
RUSSELL: Yes, we have what I call “the love spell” series.
Awesome! We’re looking forward to that because it seemed like it was dropped for a little bit. Like they teased us. But I figured it might come back and I was hoping it would.
Does Hank start to get suspicious of Nick? With their different personal lives, he hasn’t really picked up that Nick is doing other things in his spare time. Does Hank start to see a pattern or start to wonder what his partner might be doing?
RUSSELL: No, I don’t think so. I think the audience gets ahead more than what’s there. Also because I don’t look at it as though they have one of those relationships — where he wonders with Nick, “Where were you?” I don’t think he’s questioning Nick like that. I think once things start to happen, then the audience starts to say, “Why doesn’t Hank pick up on this?” But I don’t think the writers have put that as a question for Hank yet. I think the way Nick sort of discovers and approaches the cases and they work together is in line with who Hank is as a detective and he trusts that Nick’s intuition is working. So I think they are riding that for awhile, which I think still works, and I think it will for awhile longer.
Going back to the episode “Game Ogre,” that fight sequence at the end looked so brutal. It looked like you were getting beaten up completely. What was it like to work in that scene and do the stunts?
RUSSELL: It was wild. It was fun, but painful. You do as much as you can and as much as they let you. It’s fun throwing yourself on the ground, and it was raining that night, so I was getting all muddy and dirty, so it taps into your inner-child. I played sports, and it was always fun when it started to rain and you just slid in the mud. You didn’t worry about how you were going to clean your clothes or how you were going to get home, or once you got home, that you had to take your clothes off outside. It was just the joy of getting dirty and also fighting. I think what all guys like to do is fighting and trying to be a gladiator for a moment.
That episode seemed to up the ante. It brought the threat home to both Hank and Nick and they both took a beating for it. It just reminded us that our heroes are not invincible. They are human beings that are up against kind of extraordinary creatures.
RUSSELL: Yeah, and life is fragile. As you said, we’re heroes, but we’re not superheroes. We’re not invincible. And we still have doubts and we have to do it right. I think that’s where you sort of get the wonderful balance in the writing that is shaping the characters and the world. And when you say that it’s real and that Nick is still human — he doesn’t have these bones like Wolverine that are invincible, he can perish.
Again that brings home the reality of it for us, it’s like, “Oh my gosh! These are just normal people trying to fight these incredible creatures. How are they going to get out of these situations?” It ups the ante and makes it more tense.
RUSSELL: It really does. I think it makes it more interesting storytelling and it makes it more compelling for the audience.
It’s kind of like opening a treasure chest and you get to play with everything that’s inside, when you discover all these different facets to your character.
RUSSELL: Yeah, and it’s the balance because you can’t play with all the instruments and all the tools.
Like one at a time, slow discoveries.
Maybe you can tease what’s upcoming in the new episodes “The Organ Grinder” and “Tarantella” that you can talk about?
RUSSELL: Oh my gosh. I don’t know!
Powerful gag-order. No worries. [Laughter] Okay, I know the show does a lot of CGI for the creatures, do you ever get to see visuals while filming or are you as surprised as the audience once you see what they look like on screen?
RUSSELL: Well, they show us images ahead of time, what the creatures are going to look like — so you’ll know what you’re reacting to. So we get that ahead of time. But, for me, because my character is the one grounded in reality, I don’t see the creatures.
How do you think Hank will react once he sees that this girl he is interested in, and what she looks like in her actual creature state? Like how would he react if he saw Adalind and what she really looks like?
RUSSELL: I don’t know. I think he’d think he’s dreaming, that he’s in a nightmare. Like somebody has put something in his food or his drink. He’d have a double-take and would be thinking, “This can’t be real.” These things don’t exist, these creatures. For him, they just don’t exist. He’d be as surprised as anybody and terrified, obviously. At first glance, you’d be like, “Very funny,” then you’d be like, “oh, sh*t!” People think ghosts, goblins and ghouls are just a figment of our imaginations or stories that people tell. Like the whole Grimm stories.
So you think Hank enjoys his blissful ignorance state that he’s in right now?
RUSSELL: Yeah, what do they say: “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you.” Like in “Game Ogre.” He didn’t even really know who that guy was. He was just looking at this big huge guy coming after him. He doesn’t see this nasty ogre, just this big guy. It’s all real for Hank. How Nick sees it and where Monroe is, Hank has no perception of that.
So he’s in a real happy place knowing that the world he knows, exists just the way it is?
RUSSELL: Yeah, it’s like cops and robbers. He can deal with that. He knows that.
We actually relate more to Hank because he’s the “everyman” and he’s not aware of what’s going on. So it makes him the one person as we kind of see it through his eyes, ’cause we would react the same way. We would not be the Nick character because we don’t do the things that he does, and we’re not Monroe obviously because we’re not blutbats. So that’s the way we view it, is kind of the way Hank views everything around him. We’re just seeing the glimpses behind the curtain.
RUSSELL: That’s why people are hoping and wanting for Hank to find out — when is he going to find out about Nick? But, again, because the audience is able to peek behind the curtain, but look at it from Hank’s eyes while the story is unfolding, there has not really been the opportunity yet where Hank would really say, “How did you figure that out?”
For you as an actor, what do you get out of it? What do you really enjoy working on the series?
RUSSELL: Oh, wow. Just creating another character and trying to find an interesting balance of making sure you’re bringing a sense of great joy and of humanity — and on a personal level, for myself, to raise the consciousness. For me, being an African American, I look at this as educational. We don’t see many of us in television in strong leading roles generally, so I feel that young African Americans, Latinos, and other young people to look to this role and say, “I can do that too.” There’s something so cognitive about the portrayal of the character, that he is three-dimensional. I love and appreciate when I see young kids and they say, “I saw you on TV. I love you show. I love your character.” Just the joy on a young person’s face when they appreciate what you do. That lets them know that they can still dream.
To see more of Russell and to find out what is going to happen while Hank is under “the love spell,” be sure to tune in for an all new episode of GRIMM on Friday, February 3rd at 9PM on NBC. Catch up on past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv
Tiffany Vogt is the Senior West Coast Editor, contributing as a columnist and entertainment reporter to TheTVaddict.com. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).