By Aaron Sagers
The big bad wolf lives in Portland, except he’s not all that bad since he discovered Pilates and an appreciation for wine. He does occasionally wolf out still, but now it is for the purpose of fighting monsters on the side of good or for his were-fox girlfriend.
Such is the life of Monroe, the fan-favorite character on “Grimm,” NBC’s fairy tale/cop procedural show which was recently renewed for a third season. And the man behind the wolfman is Silas Weir Mitchell, a character actor whose career has been transformed by Monroe – and not just in the ways of CGI or the prosthetic makeup he wears when things get hairy.
Since “Grimm” debuted in Fall 2011, Mitchell-as-Monroe has become as well known as the reformed “blutbad,” a type of “wesen” or creature we regular humans thought were relegated to folklore. Instead of chasing down girls wearing red riding hoods, or just generally wreaking havoc and terrifying people, Monroe is a Stumptown clockmaker who opts for the quiet life. He drives around in a yellow Volkswagen, cooks, plays the cello and hangs out in flannel shirts and comfy sweaters.
That is, until he pairs up with Nick Burkhardt (played by David Giuntoli), a homicide detective and wesen-hunting “grimm.” The show, which was moved from its Friday night timeslot to Tuesday nights at 10 p.m., and wraps its second season May 21, often finds Monroe and Nick, along with Nick’s partner Hank (Russell Hornsby), fiancee Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), his shady police captain Renard (Sasha Roiz) and Monroe’s wesen girlfriend Rosalee (Bree Turner) at the center of a city overrun with magic and myths.
But through it all, Monroe has remained the friendly monster of the bunch who has saved the day a few times, and has generated a lot of Grimmster fan love.
“I’m descended of a species of rapacious wolf-people, but I’m a nice guy, trying to help this other dude who would normally want to kill me, and I would normally want to kill him,” Mitchell said in a recent phone interview when asked to describe Monroe.
“Nice guy” is a change for Mitchell; the actor doesn’t have a track record of playing lovable characters. His resume boasts a lot of entries — including recurring roles on “24,” “Prison Break,” “My Name is Earl” and “Burn Notice” – but he is best known for portraying outsiders who range from quirky to psychotic.
That is part of Monroe’s appeal to Mitchell.
“It is a very different sort of role and it is very much fun to live in that space,” he said. “I think the way Monroe thinks is unique, to my career and in general.”
Granted, the 6’3” actor does possess a stare that could creep you out should he choose to do so, but Mitchell is a pretty subdued type. Raised in New England and Philadelphia — He shares his name with a prominent ancestor from Philly, the 19th century physician — Mitchell is Ivy League-educated and studied theatre and religion at Brown University.
But the actor posits that his work playing a lot of “others,” as opposed to normal people, is part of the following he’s gained with Monroe, who he said has a “man-child dynamic.”
“There’s something about the other guy, who is approachable, who is a little dangerous but clearly has a good heart,” said Mitchell.
But he added that the crowd of women with crushes on Monroe is “new for me.”
“It’s not my matinee idol looks,” he joked. “There’s obviously some kind of danger but safety thing. Monroe is that exact combination, like, ‘I might rip your arm off but I’m also kind of sweet.’”
Whatever the reason, Mitchell said he slowly became aware that viewers were ready for a show like Grimm, and that a fan base was developing after the pilot screened at San Diego Comic Con in 2011. He said that when the show was the first picked up by NBC for a second season, he was aware that they had momentum.
However, that momentum made the network’s decision to put a show, which delivered solid ratings, on a midseason break between November 2012 and last March puzzling. Mitchell called the move that also impacted performer “Revolution” a “perfect storm” resulting from a lot of things.
“The programming schedule we were working with was two programmers ago at NBC, from what I’ve heard,” he said. “[But] there’s a lot of reasons that happens — some of it was bad decision-making, some of it was timing; writers need time to build stories.”
“When you’re in sort of the dire situation [NBC] is in, as far as viewership and general perception in the world, I would think they would be risk-averse in the neighborhood of the shows that are working,” said Mitchell. “In other words, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.”
He acknowledged he thinks the network has tried to not mess with the show too much, but also that they’ll “roll the dice on anything at this point” on a broader level.
“You’re kind of dealing with a madman with a gun when you’re dealing with them; on the one hand, I think they’ll do anything to scare up numbers, and yet, I think they’re trying to be ultra-safe with the shows that are working.”
Regardless of network mechanics, Mitchell said he is simply grateful that viewers returned for more “Grimm” after the hiatus.
“Thank god our fans came back, because they did,” he said. And he added that the audience will get some fun pay offs – and “very cool, culturally-specific magic stuff” — as the series heads into the final two “bang-up” episodes of the season.
“There is a really nice umbrella which covers all the different storylines,” said Mitchell.
So as a lead actor on a renewed show, portraying a popular character, who he even said represents the very en vogue city of Portland, it seems curious when Mitchell still refers to his work as having an outsider status.
To this, Silas Weir Mitchell said it is all fairly relative considering “Grimm” is set in a “delightful” but “creepy world” where they have a spider creature who throws up in victim’s mouth to paralyze them with a neurotoxin.
“It ain’t ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and thank god for it,” he said. “I’m not trying to sell myself short and say I can’t be a leading man, but I’m a leading man in a world where spider people throw up in other people’s mouths.”