Oakland-born actor Russell Hornsby is the lead in NBC’s fantasy cop drama Grimm, and sat down with Wonderland to talk fairy tales, LA and his debut theatre role as the tinman in 1978’s broadway cult, The Wiz.
I guess you’re used to playing detectives now – you also star in Lincoln Heights.
Yeah, I’m used to playing police officers, detectives – what I like to call authority figures, if you will.
Do you feel comfortable in that sort of role?
I do actually. It’s interesting because; especially playing a detective, a plain clothes detective, it allows for a lot of my personality to kinda shine, to come out, which is a lot of fun. I sort of like to infuse Hank with a little bit of my Russell swagger if you will, and my Russell charm. It’s very much what you, as an actor, brings to the role, and so you can’t veer too far off the path. You have to infuse little specific touches of your personality to make the character interesting.
What do you enjoy about playing those parts? Is it that you see them as opportunities to infuse your own sense of authority over -or personality into – a character?
If you’re not playing a specific character role, a sinister villain, or a witty [cop], of some sort, that’s very specific, then your gonna play the lead, what I call the leading man. It’s really about where your imagination can take you within the confines of the story. So, you have to move the story forward, you have to move the plot forward, but at the same time, if you can add just these wonderful touches and little idiosyncrasies I think that’s what the audience grabs hold of. Again, that’s just me infusing other aspects of my personality and that’s just fun, and because the thing is that as the show grows you can take a little bit more liberty with each episode.
What intrigued about the premise of Grimm?
As an actor you’re really happy to have a job, you know what I mean? So the fact that I could get a job, and get a part on this show that was as interesting as Grimm… when you’re marrying these two worlds, of acute [procedurals] and the world of fairy tales, goblins and stuff like that, you say to yourself, “this can either be very interesting, or it can just flop.” Being part of something that was sort of stepping out of the monotonous world of usual law and order, and CSI, and all that kind of stuff, that’s what intrigued me. I like doing procedurals, but I think the Grimm fairytales component was what really sent it over the top for me.
You came into screen acting through theatre… how did you end up in The Wiz?
The Wiz was when I was in high school – I don’t think that even counts. I was toiling around in New York for a couple of years – after I had graduated from university majoring in theatre, I got a role in a August Wilson play called Jitney, and we had gone to seven cities around the country and ended up in Los Angeles. Of course everybody’s dream is to bring a play to LA, and everyone figures that’s the best way to get discovered and that’s how I was discovered. I auditioned for a television series, and I got the part. And ironically enough, when I got the role we still hadn’t premiered in New York with the play, and they told me I had to quit! I had to quit the play in order to do the TV show. I said “nope, I’m not going to do that.”
What’s next? Are you working on other projects at the moment?
The truth is Jack, this show is so time consuming – we’re shooting nine months of the year, and if we get a second season we won’t get too much time off so we wont have much time to shoot anything else. If I can get something else to fit into the schedule then I’d go ahead and do that but right now Grimm is my main focus – it’s the main-stay in my career, I definitely don’t have to time to be in a play right now.
Grimm is on Watch, every Monday at 9PM.
Words: Jack Mills