Russell Hornsby is probably best known for his role as Los Angeles cop Eddie Sutton in the series Lincoln Heights. Most recently, he starred opposite Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in August Wilson’s Fences on Broadway.
In his new NBC drama Grimm Hornsby plays Hank Griffin, a Portland detective who is unaware of his partner Nick Burkhardt’s (David Giuntoli) new powers. Nick is a direct descendant of the Grimm brothers, who were actually criminal profilers. The creatures they wrote about in their fairy tales were real, and they are living in Portland, where Nick and Hank must destroy them in order to keep the city safe.
This is a different type of show for you, is that what attracted you to it?
Other than having a job? Yes, it was actually.
I’ve done the Father Knows Best situation [comedy], I’ve played the modern day Cosby, and it’s [good] to step out and be able to show a different side of me, a different level of my range. Also, to me, the show [handles] the characters truthfully, warts and all, so I think as we delve deeper into the stories and into the characters you’ll see that.
With Hank, we’re talking about a man who has been married four times and so we’ll uncover what’s behind those four marriages and how it got him to this point and how it informs Hank and Nick’s relationship, both professionally and personally.
We’re talking about a wonderful character study as we move forward, and not just dealing in a procedural nature of ‘just the facts Ma’am.’
How long is it going to be before Hank discovers his partner’s secret?
Just the nature of storytelling, the longer we can go without revealing it the better, but obviously you don’t want it to get corny.
I don’t want him to be constantly the Doubting Thomas everywhere he turns.
I do believe that Hank realizes that Nick has an ability of sorts, a sixth sense, like an ability to read people and size them up, and I think he realizes that’s good for him as a detective.
So I think in light of that he won’t be questioning it too much as long as it doesn’t stretch the boundaries. You saw in the pilot he says, ‘How do you know this stuff?’
I think we’ll take liberties with that, versus having to really reveal the fact that Nick sees dead people, or weird people. (he laughs)
Did you do any ride-alongs with the police?
I’ve done that before for past shows. For Lincoln Heights, my uncle’s a police officer in Boston, so I was able to ride along with the police in Boston and also work with my uncle as well. It was scary.
You develop a grand respect for police officers and what they do day-to-day, and you hope to bring some of that reality to the show.
I love the series’ premise.
Yeah, the most attractive aspect of it for me is that we’re telling these stories in the real world. We’re not saying that this is a parallel universe or this is ‘Once upon a time in a place not far from here,’ we’re saying that this happens here. It’s like Men in Black II, where you go, ‘I knew Michael Jackson (was an alien).
Oprah, see, I told you.’ Except that they are not of the supernatural world, they are just of this world. You’re saying that there are bad people who walk among us, and they do bad things.
That’s what the police are here for. And there are those people who have special abilities to solve these types of crimes.
How has it been working with David to cement the partner relationship between your characters?
Fortunately, we actually like each other. Everybody’s excited to be here and everyone is exceedingly talented. We all come from a wide range of experiences and genres so there’s a wonderful mix.
Honestly, it feels like we’ve put our egos aside and it makes it easy. We always want what’s best for the show. We’ve all heard the horror stories about casts, and as hard as it is realistically to get a job as an actor in this town, you have to honor the opportunity that you have in front of you.
I’m considerably older than David, so we do have this mentor, mentee relationship off set. He’s new to the business and so I’m schooling him on certain things, which is great. He has a great sense of humor and I have something close to that, and so we’re able to have fun.
The other thing is, we don’t take ourselves that seriously. We’re serious about our work, but we’re actors and we want to have fun.
Are you a fan of this type of a show? Did you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel?
No, I didn’t. I grew up more as a straight, dramatic lover of film and theatre, I wasn’t much into science fiction other than Star Wars.
So this is a new genre, a new step for me, which I’m embracing. But I think what I really like about it is the background of the fairy tales. We’re telling these stories in an honest, truthful way. If you look at Silas Weir’s character, Monroe [who’s a wolf], he’s addicted to blood, he’s seeking help, he’s trying to reform himself, that’s real.
It’s the same as a sex addict, as an alcoholic or a drug addict, he’s a blood addict. These are real people and I think that’s what attracted me to it, that’s what I think is going to really catch on with the audience, because you’re showing real people under extreme extenuating circumstances. That’s what my hope is.