"Grimm's" Silas Weir Mitchell enjoys a new take on cautionary tale
Hollywood has done its part to make sure we've seen our beloved characters presented in every way, shape and form. But never before has anyone come up with the idea to present a werewolf as a Pilates enthusiast whose lover-not-a-fighter mentality makes him slightly less petrifying and slightly more personable.
Cue the entrance of Silas Weir Mitchell, whose character, Monroe, on NBC's “Grimm” is the walking definition of those characteristics. Lest the name doesn't give away the obvious, the show takes the twisted tales of the Brothers Grimm and re-purposes them with just a hint of modern-day mystery and crime. It's up to the reformed Monroe to assist the town detective to figure out exactly how to combat the familiar fairy-tale foes that have infiltrated the real world. After all, if there's one thing the Brothers Grimm imparted on the world, it's that not all fairy tales have a happy ending.
Luckily for Mitchell, his professional resume lacks any shadowy dark omens, with credits including stints on “The Mentalist,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Numb3rs,” “Prison Break” and “Dexter.”
Question: What goes through your mind when you're given an audition for a pilates-loving, pacifist werewolf?
Answer: Well, the first thing I remember actually was seeing Jim Kouf's name on the breakdown as one of the writers and creators, because I know Jim from having worked with him on a film he wrote and directed. He cast me very much against type, and that's really saying something about him. ... A lot of times when people direct their own work there's a kind of walled-off vision that doesn't wiggle and breathe and doesn't work a lot of the time. To be honest, I got the tone of what it was ... somehow.
Q: What is it about Monroe that is so endearing?
A: First of all, just the character, himself, as written is an interesting thing that we haven't seen before particularly. And it has echoes of things that we know, like the Hulk or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where the concept of a shadow, or an id or underlying element, is sort of metaphorically manifested. It sort of deals with territory we sort of know, but it deals with enough new material or, at least, deals with fairy tales and mythology in a new way that keeps you leaning into this. There's just something kind of other and familiar about Monroe. He's written as a weird creature, but highly relatable at the same time. A lot of time, Monroe is the audience's point of view, like: “What is this? This is ridiculous!”
Q: You didn't think ‘Grimm' would last beyond one episode — why?
A: I'm a low-expectations guy. I've been around the block long enough to know nothing — and I mean nothing — is to be taken for granted. And I really think that we were sort of an afterthought ... sort of a lark. And a kind of “What the hell? Let's throw it in there for this season and see how it is.” And it found an audience and we did OK in the end. It's very, very, exciting, because it feels like something happened that was: a.) not really expected, and b.) had a lot to do with the people making it. This wouldn't be working if all the elements weren't weirdly on the money. And it just fits. It's like a weird salad that just tastes good.
Q: When you have to get into full regalia, how many hours do you spend in the makeup chair?
A: The fact of the matter is, I'm into the mystery of playing the fun. I don't like lifting the veil because, in my own life, I can't stand when people tell me what's going to happen in a movie. So, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” is my creative ethic as an actor. That being said, I don't really do a lot of makeup because it takes too long. There are a lot of ways around that like computer graphics, a photo double ... so I don't have to sit in the chair.
Q: Seeing as how Monroe is based on the Big Bad Wolf, has that changed your perspective on how he was portrayed in the fairy tale?
A: No, no, no! The Big Bad Wolf is the mythologized version of what were actually Blutbad. So, if you take the world of Grimm, the idea behind the whole thing is that there were these actual Vessen who would change their form, all these different types of underlying mythical elements to people's personalities that they actually become in moments of stress. So what the Grimm Brothers did is (say), “There's this actual thing out there rampaging the countryside, so we need to tell people these things, and we're going to call it the Big Bad Wolf so people know to watch out when they walk through he woods at night.” The Big Bad Wolf is the sanitized version of this sort of warning signal that there are things out there (so people wouldn't think) the Grimm Brothers were completely insane.
Q: What was in your gallery of childhood stories?
A: In my family it was called “Slovenly Peter.” It looks like a child fairy-tale book and it's German. Basically, it was a bunch of grisly, comically gruesome cautionary tales. Like “Little Suck-a-Thumb,” about a little boy who couldn't stop sucking his thumb. His parents got annoyed and finally said, “We're leaving, we're going out. You must stop sucking your thumb and if you don't stop, a man is going to come in here and cut your thumbs off.” And he promised not to and the parents leave and the little boy starts sucking his thumb and in through the window leaps a man in a stovepipe hat and morning coat with the gray and stripe pants and tails and long garden shears. And he leaps through the window and cuts his thumbs off. And the final image drawn in this cute little book is this boy holding his hands up and blood where his thumbs were. Brutal.