Read our exclusive interview with actor Russell Hornsby, who is currently starring as Detective Hank Griffin on the NBC fantastical mystery-crime series ‘Grimm,’ which airs Friday nights at 9pm PT/ET. The show, which is based on the classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales, follows Hank and his partner, Nick Burkhardt, played by David Giuntoli, who discovers his family is a group of hunters known as Grimms. The Grimms fight to keep humanity safe from from supernatural creatures. Nick learns that he’s the last of his kind, and begins to protect humans from the evil that have infiltrated the real world, unbeknown to Hank. Hornsby, who has also appeared on such television shows as ‘Lincoln Heights’ and ‘In Treatment,’ discusses with us, among other things, what attracted him to the role of Hank, and what differentiates ‘Grimm’ from similarly-themed series.
ShockYa (SY): On ‘Grimm,’ you play homicide detective Hank Griffin. What was it about the premise of the show and the character that convinced you to audition for Hank?
Russell Hornsby (RH): Well, two reasons-the procedural and the fantasy aspect of the show. I am a big fan of police procedurals, like ‘Law & Order.’ I was a big fan of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ for years. Andre Braugher is one of my favorite actors.
I’m also a big fan of fantasy. I’m a huge fan of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ and things like that, and also the fairy tales. I felt intrigued by the idea of marrying those two worlds. When I read the script, I said to myself, this can become very interesting. I was really excited about auditioning for it, and elated once I realized I had landed the role.
SY: How did you initially prepare for the role of Hank? Did you know any details about the fairy tales the show is based on before accepting the role?
RH: I just had a cursory knowledge of the Grimms’ fairy tales. Basically my real exposure had really only been of Disney and the like, and the watered-down versions of the fairy tales. It wasn’t until I received the role that I really became more familiar with the fairy tales. I’m not familiar with all of them, there’s over 200 or so of the fairy tales, and I’m familiar with about 20 or so. Sort of the ones that are the more mainstream fairy tales. Again, having played a police officer before, I was familiar with the police procedure and their way.
SY: Has there been any discussion to eventually introduce Hank to Nick’s family background and his work as a Grimm?
RH: There hasn’t been any discussion about that up to this point, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. But as of right now, a lot of the actors are in the dark as to how we’re proceeding forward, as far as Hank’s knowledge of Nick’s world.
SY: Since you and David Giuntoli play partners on ‘Grimm,’ what is your working relationship with him like?
RH: David and I work well together. We have a very strong working relationship, and we get along with each other. We tell jokes and stories, and I think we have a great relationship. It’s a pleasure to work with David. I think we work well together, and I think we play off of each other well, which is very vice.
SY: ‘Grimm’ debuted this season alongside ABC’s similarly-themed show ‘Once Upon a Time.’ What is it about ‘Grimm’ that differentiates itself from ‘Once Upon a Time?’
RH: Well, I think ‘Grimm’ represents a more gritty aspect of what the fairy tales were originally intended. I think ‘Once Upon a Time’ is more traditional, and is more of a Disney vibe. Disney has characterized a lot of their fairy tales over the years, like ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ with a nice glow around it.
I think we’re more of what nature intended. We’re sticking to the original idea of what the fairy tales are meant to be. They’re meant to be cautionary tales, warnings for people.
SY: Can you give any details about what’s going to happen for the rest of the season?
RH: All I can say is that my character becomes lovestruck. Hank becomes lovestruck, and that’s pretty much all I can give out, that I’m at liberty to divulge right now.
SY: You are best known for your starring role on the critically-acclaimed ABC Family drama series ‘Lincoln Heights’ as police officer Eddie Sutton. You have also appeared on ‘In Treatment,’ ‘The Good Wife,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Law & Order.’ What is it about television that you find so appealing, and encourages you to continuously appear on different series?
RH: Well, I think television affords one the opportunity to really build a character. I think when I examine TV, it’s really like playing a role on stage. Once we start, you have a monthly rehearsal for a play. By doing a long run of a theater piece or play, it really lets you get into a character’s psyche and head. You really understand the world, and really flush out the character from the inside-out.
That’s why I really enjoy television, although I’m not adverse to being in films as well. I just so happen to think that the trajectory of my career thus far has kept me in the television world.
SY: Do you have a preference of television over films, or vice versa, and would you like to appear in films again in the future?
RH: I would love to work in films. I think that a lot of people have a misunderstanding of how it works. I don’t necessarily choose one thing over the other, per say. For now, I think it’s just the luck of the draw. So fortunately, I’ve been able to work very constantly in this business. It just so happens that the large share of work has been in television, and being series regulars. Obviously, that limits your time to do movies.
But I hope the show runs for quite a long time. I would also love to do some independent films, where I can work on different types of characters. But I also wouldn’t mind working on some larger studio films, and being an action-adventure guy.
SY: Do you take a different approach when preparing for television and films, or do you generally take the same approach?
RH: I think fundamentally I take the same approach. I think preparation’s key. It’s really as an actor that you’re following the story, and you understand what it’s trying to say, and what your role is in the story being told. It also depends on what your character is. But all you’re really doing is coming to the job to work, prepared to do your best.
SY: As the lead character on ‘Grimm,’ do you feel any pressure to carry the show in any particular way?
RH: Not at all. I feel that this is actually my sixth series. So having done almost 200 episodes of network television, all of that experience up until this point has prepared me to be a lead on a series. Also, this is my second time being a lead. So I’m ready and prepared. Experience is the best teacher. I’ve had a lot of experience in front of the camera, a lot of experience being number one on a television show. So I think that helped me prepare to be in the spotlight right now.
SY: Besides acting, do you have any interest in any other areas of the business, maybe directing or writing?
RH: Absolutely. I would love to go more into the directing route eventually, but acting is the direction in which my blood beats presently. I let things take their natural course. Eventually, I would like to get to that, and I’m preparing for that. But right now, I want my focus to be on acting.
SY: AS you mentioned earlier about acting in plays, you studied theater at Boston University and the British Academy of Dramatic Arts at Oxford University. You have also appeared on Broadway in ‘Fences.’ Do you have any interest in returning to the stage in the future?
RH: Theater is always in my heart and spirit. I’ve always loved theater. I just recently finished working on ‘Fences’ with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis on Broadway, and I was very excited to participate in what i would call a theatrical event. But what I really love about theater is the interaction with the audience and the fact that it’s live. One really has to be prepared for the journey the character takes. There is no stop and start in that journey. Once the curtain goes up, once the light goes up, the play doesn’t stop until it’s over. I just really enjoy the fullness of a theatrical production.
“Russell Hornsby-Photo Credit: Benny Haddad”
Written by: Karen Benardello