In a recent conference call with press, David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, the executive producers and writers from GRIMM, shared what inspired them to create a modern day fairytale series with a healthy does of horror infused in it in order to capture the imagination of today’s television viewers.
Can you talk about where the idea of extending the world of the Grimm fairytales came from?
DAVID: Yes. Originally a Jim Kouf and I were approached by Hazy Mills, which is Todd Milliner and Sean Hayes’ company, and Todd had this great idea about doing something in the modern world with the Brothers Grimm — and we flipped for the idea. We came up with the notion to marry that mythology into the modern world by the following: that the original Brothers Grimm were in fact “profilers” and that the stories they were telling were in fact true on some basic deep level; and we came up with the notion that in our world of GRIMM, there would only be one world. There wouldn’t be a fairytale world and a real world. There would just be our world; and in our world lived these creatures who can be seen by our hero. For example, he can see the big bad wolf and the child molester. It’s a sort of a marriage of a police procedural and a mythological fracturing fairytales every week.
Why is this right time to be bringing this kind of a fairytale series to the screen?
DAVID: Now is a good time because it’s always a good time for fairytales. It’s a good time to be scared on a Friday night and have a bedtime story that kind of gets under your skin.
JIM: These tales get told every year all the time. So it just happened to be the time that they would put one on the air. But fairytales never got away.
DAVID: In particular, the ones that are really iconic have been handed down — the ones that have lasting emotional resonance have been obviously handed down of the years. And we’re taking bits and pieces of these fairytales and using them for our own purposes in the show.
Do you think it’s been a bit of a recent kind of rise in the trend to bring fairytales to life on television?
JIM: Yes. That’s pretty interesting. All of sudden so much of attention was given to fairytales. We’ve been on this one over a year. I don’t know why it’s all of a sudden. I think people are just looking for things to remake and books and source material for a lot of different projects. So everybody suddenly starts paying attention to the Brothers Grimm.
Why is this a good time to be writing “scary TV”?
JIM: Well, our series is not just scary TV because we also have humor in our show. So ours is an odd combination of horror, suspense, classic fairytale story structure, iconic characters and humor. So we’re trying to hit it all. We just want to be entertaining.
DAVID: It has all the elements that, as Jim just said, that we really like. I think any time is a good time for a good show — and people love to be scared and they love to have a little bit of a laughter while they’re being scared. I just think it’s a really good time as the genre has grown, and that’s great because it’s an opportunity to tell different kinds of stories and more kinds of stories. So for that I think it’s a terrific time to be on the air with this.
Why do you think that the world of fairytales has endured so long and drives peoples’ imaginations?
DAVID: Fairytales appeals to people of all ages and it appeals to people in different ways at different times. The big bad wolf is a cautionary tale for: “don’t talk to strangers, go straight to grandma’s house.”
JIM: Hansel and Gretel. That’s a cautionary tale for parents who are raising children and don’t have enough money to feed them. “Don’t bring them in the woods.” It’s speaks to the times that people were living in.
DAVID: There’s also a delight in the fairytales for all ages. Because when you’re a kid — I mean, Bruno Bettelheim in “The Uses of Enchantment” talks about how important it is for children not to be protected from this information about the world and what the world is really like — but the fairytales really provide a great way to talk about that kind of stuff and usually the good triumphs. Not always. But usually the good triumphs and the evil is vanquished. So it’s great to sort of be read a fairytale when you’re a kid and also to read fairytales to children when you’re older. So there’s something about sitting around, the campfire and telling a story. It’s an oral tradition that seems you know ancient and had lasted all this time. We still love these stories.
Is there also going to be a season long story ark or something like that?
JIM: Both, actually.
DAVID: All of the above. There will be week-to-week episodic tales that you can just enjoy like opening a book and reading a fairytale; and there will also be seasonal arks involved in the show as well.
What can you share about the casting process? Were there people you had in mind or did all the cast came through the casting process?
JIM: The only one that we had in mind was Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays Monroe.
DAVID: Because Jim had worked with him before and from the beginning was saying you got to see this guy for this part, and when we saw him, it was like, “Oh yes, who else could possibly do this part but Silas Weir Mitchell?” David Giuntoli came through the casting process, as did Russell Hornsby. But it was clear when those guys came into the room and read that there’s something very special about them, and then there was something special about those two together. We really saw them as partners. Russell has a lot of depth and a lot of strength and power to what he does, and David is terrific. He’s got charm. He suffers well which is always a thing you look for in these young stars.
JIM: We also have a good supporting cast with Bitsie Tulloch and Sasha Roiz.
DAVID: Sasha Roiz and Reggie Lee. We actually created a part for Reggie Lee. We liked him so much we created a part for him in the series.
Will there be a big bad villain in GRIMM?
DAVID: Well, the big bad comes in a little different form in GRIMM because we’re presenting some characters that appear to be bad, but may actually have some good agendas — a little more mix of good and bad in the characters that Nick, our main character, will go up against.
The creatures in this series appear to have royal bloodlines that date back hundreds of years. Will there be flashbacks to the original Grimm Brothers?
DAVID: That’s a great question. I wish. The answer is maybe. We haven’t gone that far in the mythology yet, going all the way back. But certainly, these creatures have been around from time to memorial, and there certainly is royalty in our story today. There are still royals around, but they are like creatures live among us and have their own disguises and their own agendas.
Do you have like a story “bible” written for first season and beyond?
DAVID: Yes and no. We have a book that’s much like the book that’s in the show that tells us of our different creatures and some of their different abilities and a lot of history on each of these creatures. We’re also discovering as we go. We like to be surprised to. So it’s not like we know every move on the board, but we kind of know what the board looks like, if that makes any sense.
In the pilot episode, there’s a lot of saturation in the colors, creating a very distinct look to GRIMM. Can you talk about the cinematography? The show has a very lush, densely saturated look.
JIM: Part of that’s where were we’re shooting, which is Portland. The look of Portland and the surrounding area is that lush, beautiful landscape — and I think we always wanted to give it a film-like quality. David and I both come from the film world as well, so we want it to look like a movie.
DAVID: And a bit like a storybook movie. We wanted to push when we’re with the so-called GRIMM characters or GRIMM creatures. We wanted to push the look and have brighter colors and less subdued hues; and then when we’re with the regular “normal” people, we wanted it to look a little more like real-life. But we love the look of that the forest with mist in them and the waterfalls and the streams and the rivers and all that great visual you get in Portland, as well as the story book look.
Can you can give an indication of what episodes 2 and 3 are going to be like?
DAVID: One will involve a retelling of Goldilocks and The Three Bears, and one will involve bees — like thousands of bees. Lots of bees.
JIM: Well, we’re taking little bits and pieces from a lot of fairytales. So you may not actually recognize the fairytale we’re drawing from because some are not that well known. But there’s one called The Queen Bee and it’s not one that everybody can recall immediately. So we take bits and pieces from a lot of fairytales and we kind of meld them into real life stories as well.
Can talk a little bit about the makeup and special effects that are used on the show?
DAVID: We have worked long and hard to try to get a look to the show for the makeup and the special effects that is expressing something that’s inside the character that you’re seeing – so there’s not just somebody in a mask, but that you’re seeing the sorrow, the rage.
JIM: The emotions manifest themselves in kind of physical characteristics. So you see the child molester — what we think is a child molester is actually a big bad wolf — and we see that morph out as they become emotionally aroused. So that’s how our main character, the Grimm, sees these characters beneath their human facades.
DAVID: And the idea that these creatures, they live among us. But also that these feelings live inside all of us and the best way to express that is when the “creatures” look like the actors playing them; not just like some fierce person in a mask.
JIM: But we’re using a combination of onset makeup and CGI effects depending upon what the needs of the scene are, and it’s pretty extensive in some scenes. We have a really good team, I mean, from the design concept of the creatures all the way through the delivery of the CGI work at the end.
When you’re crafting a show like do you sort of take a more academic approach to the mythology?
JIM: Well, we’re not thinking in terms of how we’re going to “teach” the series. We’re just at least trying to have a lot of fun; and raise something that’s very entertaining and that people will enjoy and scare and laugh and have a great time. Good solid characters that have emotional flare to them.
DAVID: One of the things that’s really fun about “genre” is how people project on to “genre” in different ways of what they themselves are feeling — that’s why you never quite know what’s going to be successful or not either, it depends on how people respond to it. I remember way back to after we’d done Buffy for a while, that there were actually college courses. Buffy is an iconic female character and that was great. It was a little surprising, but it was great. But I don’t think you can really take an academic approach to this kind of work. I think you have to say, “What’s really scary? What’s really fun? What’s a little different that maybe I haven’t seen before?” People definitely get a lot of power from “genre” because they can project themselves onto the characters because they’re distanced from the characters. It’s kind of a strange paradox and one that’s really powerful.
Is your plan to have each episode have some basis in an existing fairytale or will you be inventing your own brand new fairytales?
JIM: All of the above.
DAVID: All of the above. Some will be really clear like, Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Sleeping Beauty; and then some will be less clear of what the specific fairytale will be. But they’ll always be an element of fairytale in the shows.
JIM: Or we’ll take a story from the headlines and give it a fairytale-like twist to it so you go, “Oh, the real life story has a fairytale like quality to it.”
With two fairytale shows starting up this fall, as well as being scheduled up against two other established “genre” shows [FRINGE and SUPERNATURAL], what is it about GRIMM that you feel is different that’s going to set it apart and attract viewers?
DAVID: I think GRIMM has the power of the “genre” shows, but it also has the power of procedural shows and the idea of one complete episode every week so that you don’t need a scorecard to watch the show. You get a complete story every week. Although there will be some mythology, but it will be doled out slowly enough that you don’t have to see absolutely every episode to know absolutely everything that is going on with the show.
JIM: Also our show is based in our world. So we’re just explaining a lot of bad behavior with fairytale reasons.
What draws you to supernatural television?
JIM: You know, we’re just drawn by the stories. We’ve written — because we started our careers together way back when doing “Class American” during “Secret Admirer” and stuff like that as features, and we’re always just drawn to the story whether it’s a “genre” or not. “Genre” is just the rules changed a little bit; but you’re still trying to tell emotional stories with real people in them. It’s just you get to have creatures opposed to not.
DAVID: Yes, and the fun of GRIMM is what happens to this young man who’s a robbery/homicide detective who suddenly starts “seeing things.” And at first thinks he’s losing his mind and he’s seeing this critters or creatures within “normal” human beings and that idea really grabbed us like, “What a great way to tell a stories and what a great way to explain some pretty heinous things that go in in the world that seem inexplicable.” But if you put the lens of the Brothers Grimm on it, you put this lend of the fairytale element onto the police procedural, you get this kind of new view of things. So we found that very exciting.
JIM: So every crime has two reasons: it has a GRIMM reason and what appears to be the real reason.
Why did you picked the story of Little Red Riding Hood to kick off the series?
JIM: Well, we thought about a lot of different ideas and that one was such an iconic story that we thought we could really have fun retelling it in this modern context.
DAVID: It’s just a great natural beginning. I mean, Little Red Riding Hood is skipping through the woods — and in our case, a college student obviously wearing a red hoodie is jogging through the woods, and is just taken by this creature really suddenly and we liked working backwards from that.
Is there anything particular from your previous shows that you worked on before that you wanted to bring to GRIMM?
DAVID: Well, just the power of “genre” that people will project themselves onto their characters. And in GRIMM, what’s kind of great about GRIMM is there’s something familiar to the tales of GRIMM, if you will. And something that we all can recognize from either when we were kids or reading to our own kids. So it just seemed like a very special idea to mix that with the police procedural.
How dark are you guys going to go? Are you going to keep it more of a family-friendly?
DAVID: Well, it’s family-friendly if you like to be scared a little bit in their family. But it’s dark. I mean the actual tales themselves are really gruesome. And we’re not going quite that gruesome as the original tales are. But it is definitely showing a dark underbelly of life, leavened with humor and action.
How will Nick be able to convince those who can’t see this otherworld that it really exists and that he’s not completely nuts?
JIM: We haven’t written that scene yet.
DAVID: We still have to write that scene. This is the crux of the series. He is in a world where almost no one else knows about. But there are characters — and there’s a character in the pilot — who’s from that other world and that character is trying to control his own impulses and to become a better human. So Nick does have a confidant that he can talk to. But that is his problem: because he would appear to be crazy and would be locked up. And may indeed be locked up at some point as we continue on in this series. But there’s it’s a very hard thing to convince someone of if they can’t see what you’re seeing.
JIM: It’s a good problem to have. It gets more complicated as the series goes along.
Detective Nick Burckhardt seems to occupy these two worlds and it strikes me the series itself is doing the same thing: balancing between procedural and fantasy elements. How are you planning to balance these elements against each other?
DAVID: Well, if you’re someone who really likes a police procedural, there will be familiar elements in the show that will appeal to that viewer like, “Here is a crime. What’s the source? Who really committed the crime? What’s the source? What’s the cause? And what’s the solution? How do our heroes solve it?” At the same time, there a whole other level sort of cooking at the same time on the stove. That it usually has it’s own explanation in the GRIMM world of: who these creatures really are and what they’re really up to; and our hero is astride the two worlds. He’s got a foot in each world. And it’s very difficult for him to balance: what is he going to tell his girlfriend? What is he going to tell his detective partner? How is he going to use these abilities to solve crimes and yet still have it look like they could have been solved in the normal world? So I think it’s appealing to, hopefully, a broad audience that maybe normally wouldn’t’ be that much interested in one or the other, or that are interested in one or the other.
Why do you feel viewers have such a curiosity about things that are unknown and the fantasy aspect?
DAVID: I think it’s really hard to explain what the heck is going on in the world and the idea that there’s actually creatures living among us who express the very strange emotions and impulses that we all have inside us to actually make that answer perm orphic in a way as to the enjoyment of watching a story where you want to be entertained, but you kind of want to learn a little something too. You want to be scared, entertained, and made to laugh a little bit. So I think that the power of these age-old tales is kind of endless.
Are we to assume these characters, like the big bad wolf, are archetypes or is there more than one big bad wolf?
DAVID: I think it’s a great question.
JIM: No, they’re actually real people with real problems. And we actually, in the show, are telling their point of view as well. So there’s many of them. We call them blue pods and their blue pods in the plural, and they have a point of view that they’re doing. And their behavior, from their point of view, is not all that bad. They accept it as normal.
DAVID: And our one big bad wolf who is a regular running character in the show is a vegetarian, and he does Pilates and he goes to church. He’s trying to fight his Grimmer impulses. So they run the whole gambit, the whole spectrum, so that they’re not always evil or bad. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they’re innocent, but they’ve gotten themselves into a situation, which our hero has to help them. So they kind of run the gambit like humans do, and each one is different. They’re not all the same. They can’t just be categorized generically as the same.
DAVID: One more thing, these creatures, when they were little, they’re parents told them stories about the Brothers Grimm and to be afraid of the Brothers Grimm. So these creatures, when they recognize our character as a Grimm profiler/hunter of these creatures, some of them get very frightened because they’ve been told of these stories.
JIM: Because they’ll slay them.
DAVID: Yes. That they’ll slay them so. So there’s many points of view in this show.
Were you asked to tone down the violence and put in more comedy, or is it pretty much the balance that you originally planned on?
JIM: That’s kind of us.
DAVID: Yes. That’s kind of our approach to stuff when we’re writing a really serious scene. We start chuckling about things and we’re writing a less serious scene, we see things that are darker, and that balance was really struck from our original outline and our original script that we wrote for NBC.
JIM: The ability to tell the story is from the Grimm character’s point of view opens up so much for the show because it allows us to explore our feelings and reasons and all those fun things that most shows don’t do.
DAVID: And our villain usually must have a good reason for what they’re doing. It may be very sick and crazy in our world, but in their world it may be as simple as just getting a meal.
Is there going to be an attempt to reform other creatures like Monroe, or is that rarely going to be an option?
JIM: Well, not all creatures are bad to begin with.
DAVID: No, some of them are good and they run the gambit just like you and I and the people in the world of good, bad and indifferent. So Monroe has had to fight his nature because he’s a blue-bad because of the blue-bad family he comes from. But not everybody is out there doing dastardly things. Most of them are just trying to pay the rent and get on with their lives.
What are the challenges and joys of creating a serious mythology based on essentially a fairytale mythology?
DAVID: Well, the joy is that there’s something familiar in it and there’s something in reversal in it.
JIM: And again, part of the fun of that is telling it from the Grimm character’s point of view because the Grimm fairytales don’t really give us the big bad wolf’s point of view.
DAVID: And the challenges are: what is happening in each episode that is a crime that could occur in our real world and it also has some kind of GRIMM meaning to it that they do in their world? And that’s a challenge because you have to have a couple of stories for every story.
Do the Grimm fairytales exist in the world of the show? Like for instance, do people think of them as fiction or is it completely just kind of absorbed into the reality of the series?
JIM: I don’t think the characters when they’re solving their crimes reference the Grimm fairytales because it’s an actual crime for them to deal with. So they’re not going say, “Gee, this is just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” . . . The GRIMM books that Nick has are the original stories that were handed down from the Grimm Brothers and passed on and added to by generations of Grimms. So the books are more like profiles on criminal behavior and creatures. So that’s what he’s got. He’s got ancient book to reference.
DAVID: So that’s the real search material. But the Grimm fairytales, yes, that book does exist in the world of our show. That could be on a shelf somewhere. But what Nick’s using is very specific profiling source material that’s been handed down to him through his family.
What can share about Monroe and the arc you have planned for him this season?
DAVID: We’re talking about a very interesting character — he comes from a family of “big bad wolves,” but as he says himself, he’s not that big and he’s not that bad anymore. And in a way, his character is the most human of any of the characters because he’s the one that’s battling his instincts. He might have an instinct to go after a little girl in a red hoodie, but he’s learned to not do that. Like I said, he’s a vegetarian and he goes to Pilates classes. He takes certain anti-depressant drugs that help keep him in shape and he’s going to go through all kinds of things in this season, not just one big overarching arc. But he is helping a Grimm, which is going to create a lot of trouble for him.
JIM: Because Monroe becomes the one confidante that Nick has, and he’s reluctant at first to help — but as the requirements of the cases get more complex, Nick has to rely on him repeatedly and that will cause Monroe some personal suffering in the near future which he’ll have to come to terms with as well.
Are there other Grimms, or is Nick the only one?
JIM: Oh, yes.
DAVID: There’s certainly other Grimms out there. He’s just not in contact with any of them nor has his aunt been in contact with any of them.
JIM: Because there’s an organization that is out to kill Grimms. So it’s kind of underground.
DAVID: It’s a little dangerous to gather in public.
What can you tell the fans out there what separates GRIMM from that kind of story on a show like SUPERNATURAL?
JIM: Well, we’re not really supernatural. I know the show SUPERNATURAL but I don’t know it well enough to really comment completely on that. We don’t have vampires.
DAVID: We don’t have supernatural creatures. We have critters who live within humans that are like you and me and can be seen by Grimms.
JIM: They’re living their everyday lives like we are and they have their reasons for doing things.
DAVID: But there’s nobody that is immortal. There’s nobody that can’t be killed, as the hero says in the pilot. He says to the big bad wolf character, “Am I going to need silver bullets?” and the guy says “what are you, an idiot?” So we’re probably a little more grounded in some version of reality, albeit a skewed one.
To experience the wonder and horror of the GRIMM world, be sure to tune in for its premiere on Friday October 28th at 9:00 pm on NBC.
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