In this interview from Chicago Tribune, David Giuntoli (Nick Burkhardt) talks about growing up in the Midwest, joining the cast of “Road Rules”, his interest and journey into acting, and how “Grimm” is changing the police procedural.
As a child, David Giuntoli consumed a steady media diet of horror films like “Carrie,” “The Shining” and “The Exorcist.” The films scared the heck out of him, he said, but like a kid in a (really spooky) candy store, he couldn’t help himself from viewing the heart-pounding movies over and over.
“Watching way too realistic horror movies kind of ruined my life when I was a kid,” Giuntoli said during a phone interview. “They kind of destroyed me. I would be five inches taller if I had never seen ‘The Exorcist,’ I swear to God. I watched them during these horribly developmentally impressionable times in my life.”
Height aside, then-7-year-old Giuntoli couldn’t have known that wearing out those old VHS tapes would provide him a solid foundation for his starring role on NBC’s Friday series, “Grimm,” which the creators call “a modern retelling of the Grimm fairy tales.”
In the show, Giuntoli plays Nick Burkhardt, a Portland, Ore., police detective who discovers he is a Grimm, a sort of special agent charged with defending the world against the spiritual creatures and evildoers who conceal their real identity to live among humans. The third season of “Grimm” premiered on Oct. 25, drawing in more than six million viewers and tying with NBC’s “Dracula” (starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers) for the highest rated show of the evening, according to the network.
Speaking via cell phone during a walk through a Portland park, Giuntoli, 33, who wasn’t scheduled to be on set until that evening, said he never conceived of a career in entertainment until he was in his early 20s — although he always had thespian traits.
“I loved being the center of attention in the room, which was probably annoying, but I loved entertaining people when I was young,” he said. “I was extremely extroverted in a lot of ways … I was making movies with my friends and starring in films that we would write and sketch shows that I still have on tape and are absolutely humiliating to watch now.”
Despite dramatic tendencies, Giuntoli didn’t perform in St. Louis University High School productions, but did take improv classes and wrote for the annual “Senior Follies” showcase. His drama teacher, Joe Schulte, remembered Giuntoli having a “special sort of spirit onstage.”
“He had so much fun (in class), almost on the edge of getting ready to cause a little trouble,” Schulte said. “He had a joy for life and this sort of impishness about him. He really did some pretty good stuff.”
Giuntoli is sort of like a Midwest vagabond. He was born in Milwaukee, raised in St. Louis and graduated from Indiana University, receiving a degree in international business and finance.
“I kept the makers of the drug Ritalin in business throughout my entire collegiate run,” Giuntoli said with a laugh. “My brain is not made for finance and I had to pump myself so full of ADD medicine just to get through, but you know coming from the Midwest and St. Louis, I had no understanding that there was another way, another path in life. My parents tried to steer me as best as they could as a guy who didn’t know what he wanted to do, clearly still exploring life, and my dad suggested, if I don’t know what I want to do, may as well get a business degree.”
After college, he moved to Chicago and hung around the improv scene, taking classes at iO. The general “effervescence” of the Chicago arts scene helped reinforce the idea that he could have a future in entertainment, he said.
And then came MTV.
Giuntoli was visiting friends in Bloomington when a casting director for the 12th season of “Road Rules” approached him for what he remembers as a “30 second” conversation. Giuntoli was eventually cast on the 2003 show and returned to MTV to participate in the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” with then-girlfriend and “Road Rules” cast mate, Cara Zavaleta.
“I wouldn’t do it again at my age now, but as a 21-year-old it was really great,” Giuntoli said. “It was a wonderful experience and it really did help me realize what I wanted to do with my life. It revealed my interests (in entertainment) to me.”
Giuntoli didn’t express an attraction to acting until after “Road Rules,” but Zavaleta said she always saw a bit of an entertainer in him: “He is so captivating and interesting,” she said. “He is an actor, I mean that is him. When we were dating, he was so reserved about it, he seemed even a little embarrassed to say that he wanted to be an actor, but I told him he had to go to LA and try. The way that he can just command an audience and tell a story and just be so captivating and handsome, I think he belongs in front of the camera.”
So in 2006, Giuntoli made the move to Los Angeles. He studied with renowned acting coach Chris Fields, who said Giuntoli always had “the right kind of fire in (his) gut,” and took small parts on shows as varied as “Veronica Mars,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Hot in Cleveland.” His moving one-episode turn on “Grey’s Anatomy” as a gay soldier whose partner died from a mortal injury earned him a viral following.
“I got ‘Grimm’ through doing lots of little (roles),” He said. “(I) could never have planned it. You just have to work your ass off and show up all the time and you never know what is going to take you where.”
The exact genre of “Grimm” is hard to pin down; it’s a police procedural, a drama, a fantasy and an action adventure all wrapped up in one. Think of it as the love child of “NYPD Blue” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (on which “Grimm” co-creator David Greenwalt was an executive producer).
Greenwalt and “Grimm” co-creator Jim Kouf saw hundreds of actors for the role of Burkhardt, but found in Giuntoli someone they believed could hit all the notes their diverse show required.
“He had a great voice,” Greenwalt said of Giuntoli. “He was just damn good in the audition and we believed him (as Burkhardt). The show has this weird odd humor to it and he could do the serious and the humor, which was a big find for us.”
The third season of “Grimm” started exactly with Portland overrun by rage-filled zombies, who are normal people poisoned into that state by a mysterious creature named “the Baron.” In the first episode, Giuntoli’s Burkhardt transformed into a zombie and wreaked havoc on a bar of innocents as his friends chased after him, desperately hoping to give him the antidote before it was too late.
With each passing episode, Giuntoli’s performance gets stronger. He seems more relaxed and confident, a result of his willingness to put in time and energy to refine his character, said Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays Giuntoli’s supernatural partner, Monroe, on “Grimm.”
During the first season, Giuntoli “was getting notes and was taking everything in,” Mitchell said. “He was basically in front of just a fire hose of information and responsibility and he absorbed this avalanche and handled it like a champ and he did it with a smile and with humility and grace.”
Before landing “Grimm,” Giuntoli got a “dream audition” to try out for “Man of Steel.” He wore a blue and red outfit, hoping to plant subliminal messages of him as Clark Kent into the mind of the producers.
“I think they realized they wanted Superman to be more man-sized than me,” Giuntoli said laughing. “I am not quite six feet, so I didn’t think that was going to happen, but it was fun.”
He would blame his height on “The Exorcist,” but in a way his worn out VHS copy of the film provided a great education on the sort of creatures and spirits that make “Grimm” so dark.