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'Grimm' star Silas Weir Mitchell thought show was 'never gonna work'

Scott Green / NBC

Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) gets in on the action in the new episode of "Grimm."

“Grimm” star Silas Weir Mitchell is having a full-circle moment. The very first role he landed was that of Hansel in “Hansel and Gretel” back in the third grade. Now, at 43, he’s back in the fairy-tale world, playing Monroe, a reformed Big Bad Wolf-like monster known as a Blutbad, on NBC’s “Grimm.”

It’s a funny turn of events for the longtime actor, but even more remarkable is the fact a show as quirky as “Grimm” is on the air. After all, it takes a leap of faith to buy into the show’s main premise, the idea that normal-looking “humans” living seemingly normal lives can shift into crazed, diabolical creatures when provoked.

“I don’t ever remember reading the whole script. What I remember when I read the breakdown was, ‘This is a cool idea and it’s never gonna work,’ ” Mitchell said of his first encounters with “Grimm’s” tale. “All of us who had shot the pilot, we felt like it was a really special thing that was going to be this kind of dream-like month in Portland, never to be heard from again. Despite feeling like we were making something cool that was funny or weird, and it kind of worked and it had its own unique flavor.”

Part of that “unique flavor” is due to the fact that the show is shot on location in Oregon and doesn’t rely on Hollywood trickery to convey its setting. When the characters run through a haunted-looking forest in the Pacific Northwest, it’s really a forest in the Pacific Northwest. And if there’s one character on the show who outwardly represents some of the more specific characteristics of the city, it’s craft coffee, slow-food movement, fine wine-loving Monroe.

“Portland’s motto is ‘Keep Portland weird,’ and it’s painted on a very prominent spot downtown ... Monroe in a lot of ways represents that kind of uniqueness,” Mitchell said. “Portland celebrates its uniqueness in a way that is unpretentious and genuine. I think if you made a list of adjectives that you felt describes Monroe, you could very well be describing the city of Portland. He’s sort of a surrogate for the city. Even the facial hair, the sweaters that he wears.”

In the case of “Grimm,” there are occasions when getting into character means more than beards and layering. Copious amounts of special-effects makeup are required for a man to go Blutbad and back.

“To be honest, I don’t do very much of that,” Mitchell said of the complicated makeup process.  “Even when I do morph out, there are ways of doing it using photo doubles who do sit in the chair.” Further shedding light on the process, Mitchell said that “to get into it and out of it is like eight hours. The getting out of it is a whole chunk of time in its own right. And your skin just gets destroyed.”

And what about some of the smaller, yet no less important details of the show, like the many reference books about creepy creatures that Monroe and company depend on? They are more than a prop -- they are meticulously written and illustrated by graphic designer Carly Serti

“She is fantastic. But what is also great about this show is it glamorizes books in many ways,” Mitchell said. “The show is about ‘Books are cool. Books are interesting. Books have things in them that you want to read.’ ”

And what about that Airstream trailer that is practically a character in and of itself? It doesn’t take an overly critical eye to see that it appears to have some serious square footage despite being a simple Airstream.

“You just gotta roll with it. Just accept the fact that on the inside it’s more a double wide,” Mitchell said, laughing. Kidding aside, he explained the illusion. “Part of that is the lenses they use, to be fair. A lot of the visual, aesthetic vocabulary of the show is low shots that are wide, and high shots that are wide. There’s a spooky kind of arch quality to the composition they use. But the set that’s the interior of the trailer is still bigger. And it looks even bigger when they shoot it. It’s also a little ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ Walk into a little room and it’s actually a big room. It has an MC Escher, the ‘world is not what it seems’ quality to it.”

The final episode of 2012 airs Friday night, and the cast and crew are currently filming the back end of this second season. Is there anything Mitchell can leak? Without going so far as to spoil, just keep a careful eye on Capt. Sean Renard, the man to whom detectives Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin report.

“The captain figures pretty majorly in what happens going forward. The relationship between Nick and Hank and Juliet really reaches a breaking point,” Mitchell said. “And that’s a very interesting story line to watch unfold.”

Meantime, fans of the show will want to know: Does good guy Monroe get the girl? 

“It’s an interesting thing to watch develop,” Mitchell said. “Getting the girl -- what’s it mean? I know it’s based on fairy tales, but it’s an ongoing saga. There’s definitely a dynamic at work that the writers play with.”

In other words, stay tuned. The final episode of the year airs Friday on NBC at 9 p.m. “Grimm” returns in 2013 for the second half of season two.

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