It’s a mysterious pop culture phenomenon that when a Republican is in office, zombie movies tend to be popular, and when a Democrat is, we’re all about vampires. So what to make of it when werewolves are on the rise, stealing the hearts of fans when forming love triangles in “True Blood” and the “Twilight” saga and souping up the melodrama of MTV’s very serious “Teen Wolf” series? Monroe, the proto-were played by Silas Weir Mitchell on “Grimm,” a show that airs Fridays at 9pms and has been one of NBC’s few recent successes, is the most charmingly unclassifiable of all, a clockmaker who’s a foodie, likes pilates and happens to be a reformed big bad wolf.
Monroe’s central to the disarming discordance in “Grimm” that sets it apart from other genre fare on the networks right now — it may be a dark supernatural procedural, but it shoots in Portland and is grounded in the city’s distinctive culture in a way that’s a little more subdued than, but really topped only by, “Portlandia.” Indiewire caught up with Mitchell, a veteran of “24,” “Prison Break” and “My Name is Earl” who’s finally poised to break out, to talk about playing a Blutbad (the show’s term for his breed of fairy tale creature) who’s also sardonic, quirky and a bit of a hipster.
I’ve been told you’ve never seen a werewolf movie. How is that possible? Not even “An American Werewolf in London”?
I know, it’s a little embarrassing. Especially given what I’m doing right now. But, Monroe isn’t really a werewolf. A werewolf is what the Grimms vulgarized the Blutbad to be. I did werewolf research, but it was in the form of old books that were written during the time that people actually thought that werewolves were real. Which is pretty amazing, when you’re reading Middle French and people are talking about the loup garou running through the hills and murdering children.
These are people who had gone crazy and torn their clothes off — they’re schizophrenic, but it’s 1412 and they don’t know what that is. Now, thanks to the DSM we can say oh, he’s just one of these guys. But in those days they didn’t know what those guys were, so they were werewolves. That’s the way I like to think of the show, that it’s all real. It’s not two separate realities, it’s not hallucinations. And I’ve never been into genre stuff really until lately when I got into “Battlestar Galactica.” Never been a monster movie guy.
You’re playing this guy who has a heritage of being a violent monster but who also often serves as the comic relief in the show. Is that contradiction interesting to you?
That’s the best apart about the whole thing for me — his inner conflict. Real people have inner conflict every waking moment. There are a lot of forces at work, some of which we’re aware of, some of which we’re not aware of, some of which we choose to ignore, some of which we can’t ignore. I think it’s interesting for people to watch because the threat of violence is almost invariably more interesting than the act when you’re storytelling.
Monroe is an unassuming guy at the beginning of the first season — to have that be the package that contains something as dangerous as a Blutbad or a murderer, that’s ripe territory for comedy. Not to mention the fact that they write funny stuff for me to say.
You played, over your career, quite a few characters who could be described as unstable.
That’s what it says on my Wikipedia page. I gotta nuke that page. I mean it’s true to a point, but it’s also like, alright. But yeah, I have to admit I’m interested in what makes people tick. Especially people who are ticking over there, on the corner, with a bag.
So has it been an interesting change of pace to play someone who, despite having this bestial side, is a solid guy and a good friend?
It’s been a delight to play someone who has a moral center, who is conflicted with his past, who recognizes that the world is an ugly place and tries to make it better. Who’s just a quirky, interesting guy. It’s a fun world to live in, the world that Monroe lives in, as an actor.
One of the thing that I find very charming about the show — and your character is pretty central to this — is you’ve got this dark, supernatural drama that’s also very grounded in Portland. There’s vegan salmon at the dinner party and Monroe’s geekiness about clock…
Let’s not forget the sweaters.
Yes, the hipster sweaters.
It’s very Portlandian, lest we forget the sartorial qualities of Portland. I don’t know what came first, us or the sweaters, but man those waves are breaking simultaneously cause those roll-neck sweaters are like everywhere. I feel sometimes that Monroe almost represents Portland because of the coffee, and the clocks, and the sweaters, and the facial hair. There’s a real symbiosis with the “keep Portland weird” and the way Monroe rolls. I love that.
I feel really at home in this town as an actor. I love how Portland is a perfect place for this show. This show is so lucky that all the elements fell into place the way they did because we wouldn’t be here if every part of the show wasn’t somehow perfect. The trees just fit this town — that’s another element that makes this weird stew that is this show fit. It’s really fun to be mining this other vein.
On one side Portland’s rainy and atmospheric and like a horror movie sometimes…
Yeah, it’s the Black Forest. That’s where all this stuff took place, the Grimm fairy tales, and it’s a metaphor in some ways, if you want to look at it like that, for the unconscious. You go in one way, you encounter a dark force, you come out transformed. Portland is dark and gloomy but beautiful at the same time.
At the same time, the occasional nods to hipster culture are fun because it’s almost the opposite of atmospheric, of horror (depending on your stance on it).
That goes all the way back to the guys who created the show, especially Jim [Kouf] and David Greenwalt who are the head writers and showrunners in LA. They have a sensibility that is really dark and funny — they want you to laugh inappropriately. Grimm fairy tales are funny and weird and creepy and sometimes they’re shocking and sometimes they’re delicate and all of those elements are represented in various ways on various episodes.
Do you watch “Portlandia” at all?
I watch bits of it online sometimes because the shit is so accurate. There’s a restaurant up here, I’m not gonna say what one it is, but I was reading a Yelp review that was hilarious. It was like, this is a “Portlandia” episode wrapped in bacon, smoked with fly-wings… It’s real! It’s a restaurant that only cooks things over a fire. Not just wood fire pizza, everything. It’s sort of a pioneer themed restaurant but it’s real. They’re cooking food that Lewis and Clark would’ve eaten. This town takes its otherness to heart and its really wonderful in this country in which you can be in Manchester, New Hampshire or Tallahassee, Florida and turn around and it’ll look like you’re in the same town.
So is Monroe his first or last name?
That’s a really good question, and it’s something that I’m indisposed to answer.
Mysterious, but I’ll leave it be at that.
Just Monroe, you know?