David Giuntoli and the underdog success of 'Grimm'

"I think what happens to a Grimm, over time, they get hardened and mean," David Giuntoli says about his "Grimm" character.

Story highlights

  • "Grimm" centers around detective who finds out he's a descendent of the Grimms
  • "Young people really are enjoying this," David Giuntoli says
  • "That's where "Grimm" lives, aesthetically. That mossy, dense forest," he says
Of the fall television season, it's probably safe to say, NBC's "Grimm" was not expected to be the breakout hit, or any hit for that matter.
The time slot was terrible (Friday nights), it had no major stars attached to it and the premise -- Grimm fairy tales set in modern times around the banner of a police procedural -- sounds like it could be the cheesiest thing ever.
But it's not. The show is dark and imaginative, both in rich, lush set designs and writing that puts a spin on the original Grimm tales where they come alive and make sense in the context viewers are given (short answer: the Brothers Grimm weren't writing early kid-lit; they were writing about real occurrences).
"Grimm" centers around Detective Nick Burkhardt (played by David Giuntoli), who in the first episode finds out he's a long lost descendent of the Grimms and is starting to see people for who they really are -- in short, evil. Giuntoli has been a working actor for the past several years, picking up mostly one-off roles on shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "Cold Case" and "Hot in Cleveland" before landing the plum role on "Grimm."
CNN recently spoke with the actor from the "Grimm" set in Portland, Oregon, about what makes the show such an unlikely hit and the process of bringing fairy tales to the small screen.
CNN: Prior to "Grimm," what were you doing for the most part?
Giuntoli: I was a working actor for three or four years before I got "Grimm." I was doing what many actors do in Hollywood: I was working gig to gig. I would book a lot of pilots for TV shows that weren't picked up. I'd been positioning myself for the last years to get the show, but it takes so many ... just the right mix of circumstances to take place for a show to go. But the first two years I lived in L.A., I managed an apartment complex in Little Armenia. So I didn't have to pay rent. There were more Armenians in Little Armenia than I think in actual Armenia.
CNN: What's a "Grimm" audition like? Do you have to pretend like wolf people are chasing you?
Giuntoli: It's funny how the audition process is. So often you'll get a script that's completely retooled by the time you get to the series. And that's what happened. I was auditioning with scenes that never made it to the final script. For example, in one of my first scenes I auditioned was me telling (my girlfriend) Juliette everything I'd been seeing and admitting everything to her, right away. Now, we probably won't let that happen for a long time. But I didn't have to chase anybody.
CNN: The show's part police procedural, part fantasy. Why does this mix work?
Giuntoli: It caters to several demographics out there. Something that surprised me: Young people really are enjoying this. The "Twilight" crowd are going crazy for it. And it makes sense. They're home on Friday nights. Families are watching this together. That really helped it become this little ratings hit for NBC. People love it. Hopefully the procedural people like it, too. Let the Venn diagram overlap everybody.
CNN: You could be the next Robert Patterson.
Giuntoli: If I stop eating, grow and lose that pesky pigment in my skin.
CNN: But what do you think it is? That viewers had gotten bored of the run-of-the-mill cop dramas, or that fantasy is just so appealing right now.
Giuntoli: [Attracting the "Twilight" fans] is something we didn't consider would happen; it's only dawning on us now that it's happening. The people that are visiting our sets, the people that are really going crazy are 25 and younger. Maybe that's who goes crazy for anything, but that's what we're seeing. Another thing that's been postulated is the economic downturn and that people flock to fantasy for escapism. I don't know how true that is, I don't know if that's any more true now than it ever was, or people are watching TV now because it's network and it's free. But it makes sense to me.
CNN: What's the "Grimm" set like?
Giuntoli: We're not serious at all. We are somewhere between good times and grab-a**. I don't know what that really means ... no, the cast, we all hit it off. We're all actors and we think we're funny. We do about half our work outside. I was just in a rainforest, I swear, two hours ago. You make one turn down a windy road and it's sunny, and the next turn you're in a cloud and there's ferns all over the place like Jurassic Park. We try to use the aesthetic of the woods and the moss and the light precipitation. That's where "Grimm" lives aesthetically. That mossy, dense forest, which is a great substitute for the Black Forest, which is where the originals were largely set.
CNN: At the table readings, or when you get on set -- have you noticed any difficulties in adapting these old narratives into modern times?
Giuntoli: No, I haven't. Our writing staff is really clever and fairly seamlessly adapt the old fairy tales. Also, they take liberties. They pluck what they want from the original Grimm fairy tales and discard what they don't want, in a sense. It's TV, it's creative, they can do whatever they want. I think the joy in it is finding the little nuggets of what is from the fairy tales and what isn't.
CNN: People are weary of remakes. Did you initially think that re-purposing this material was risky?
Giuntoli: People do get worked up over remakes, don't they? They feel ownership of the first thing. People get worked up about anything. I didn't worry about taking this or sullying the Grimm name or anything like that. It's a creative little spin we're putting on it.
CNN: The series just got a full 22-episode order. What's in store for Nick? He seems like a nice guy at this stage. A guy you'd trust your daughter to go out on a date with.
Giuntoli: Oh yeah. He's that guy. You could trust your daughter to drive cross country with him upon one meeting. I hope that I go from nice guy to bad guy, but who knows? There's so many places for it to go. I think I learn more about the past coming up here soon. I think what happens to a Grimm, over time, they get hardened and mean.
"Grimm" airs at 9 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. CT Fridays on NBC. A special new episode will air at 10 p.m. Thursday following "Whitney."