The Real Deal
Amidst a fanciful Hollywood life and the dark fairy tales that haunt his new tv drama, STL actor David Giuntoli is as grounded as they come.
It’s a little ironic that St. Louis-bred actor David Giuntoli received his first big break from a new NBC crime drama inspired by the famous Grimm fairy tales. After all, the thought of a down-to-earth Midwestern guy making it in Hollywood could arguably be the makings of a pretty decent fantasy. And even though Giuntoli’s celebrity life often comes in equal doses reality and fantasy, it’s been every bit as interesting as he could’ve ever imagined.
Take his latest acting adventure, “Grimm,” which premiered in late October. It isn’t based on the modernized version of Cinderella and other familiar fairy tales, where the lowly maid wins the heart of the prince. Two hundred years ago, when the German brothers first published the story, it was a little darker—as in, the stepsisters mutilate their feet to fit them into Cinderella’s tiny golden slipper. This is the grisly fairytale world Giuntoli inhabits on “Grimm,” which is already earning high marks from critics for originality. The 31-year-old actor, who played his first part at St. Louis University High School in ’98, plays the role of detective Nick Burkhardt, a descendant of the Grimm family with special powers that allow him to see the beasts lurking inside the criminals he’s chasing.
It’s Giuntoli’s first leading role in a television series, though he’s been gaining traction in LA since 2005. His first break came when he was on the cast of MTV’s reality show “Road Rules: South Pacific” in 2003. Two years later, he moved to Los Angeles with a college diploma in international business and finance and a whole lot of enthusiasm for acting. He’s since landed parts in TV shows, including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Cold Case,” and a number of TV movies. Giuntoli spoke with ALIVE from Portland, where “Grimm” is filmed, to talk about his journey to Hollywood, his unfolding TV stardom and his upcoming movie. He also set us straight on a few stereotypes that he himself harbored before living in LA. For one thing, all actors are not rich; “99 percent of them are working like it’s a blue-collar business,” he quips. And another: “It’s really not very glamorous when you’re doing it”—yet, he’s loving every bloody minute.
ALIVE: How did you get into acting…was it doing plays at SLUH?
David Giuntoli:I wasn’t really doing plays. I would take all these courses, like scene studies, improv, things like that, and then we had this thing that every graduating class did called “Senior Follies,” and I just wrapped myself around that. I loved it!
ALIVE: Was the Indiana University degree in business something your parents wanted you to do?
DG: Some people know what they want to do when they’re kids. I was not one of those people. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, and my parents were like, “Why don’t you get this degree?” But once I started straying from that, I certainly was encouraged to do what I wanted to do. My family’s always been very supportive and encouraging and kind of giddy about me going for it.
ALIVE: I bet they’re really giddy now.
DG: Now they can tell their friends what I do without having to qualify it with, “Well, he did a pilot, but it didn’t get picked up…but a pilot’s a big deal.”
ALIVE: What’s it like being the lead on a series?
DG: It’s insane! I had no idea how work-intensive it is. It can be 14 hours every day, and then you’re back home and you’re trying to work out and be in shape and stay healthy mentally and do press. Once I booked this thing, I talked to people who had been the leads of their own shows, and they warned me, “Get ready!” It’s a weird sleeping schedule hard to get rest.
ALIVE: Sounds like it’s grueling at times.
DG: Yeah, that’s why staying in shape is really hard. So finally I went to Sports Authority and bought weights for my trailer. You know you’re starting to slip when a 19-year-old kid who’s working there comes up to you and says, “Hey, looking to get back in shape, huh?”
ALIVE: Have you been brushing up on your fairy tales, too?
DG: My relationship with fairy tales went from zero to being completely enveloped. I’ve read most of the Grimm fairy tales—in their original form, they’re very dark and menacing. I think they kind of served the function that horror movies serve now for teenagers. “Don’t have sex!” “Don’t drink in the woods!” “Don’t leave your house!” You’re supposed to be scared.
ALIVE: “Grimm” is produced by Jim Kout and David Greenwalt, an early writer and director of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Were you a fan of “Buffy”?
DG: I just remember thinking Sarah Michelle Gellar was hot.
ALIVE: So, you weren’t thinking about the writing and the plot?
DG: You have to understand, I was almost failing out of high school. I had horrible ADD, and that kept me from sitting in front of the TV too much. Then Ritalin came along and I was saved. But, I revisited “Buffy” after I got this show. Man, it was so fun and playful and smart. It was campy, but it didn’t insult your intelligence. Just to be involved with one of the creators of that is humbling.
ALIVE: Tell me about your upcoming movie, “Caroline & Jackie.”
DG: It’s so wild. Bitsie Tulloch plays my girlfriend in “Grimm.” She’s an awesome actress. Just randomly, last summer I got offered this movie. So Bitsie and I worked together for a month and a half, and it was great. We had a lot of chemistry. Then after I booked “Grimm,” I went in and helped in the casting process. In walks Bitsie, and I’m like, “Oh my God!” She nailed the audition. And, the next thing you know, we’re playing boyfriend and girlfriend again. We joke that we’re gonna get a head shot together.
ALIVE: It must be nice to feel like you’re getting to know your way around the scene in LA.
DG: It takes a while to get your foot in the door and to get some traction out there. I’m addicted to the rush of auditioning, and it’s weird not to audition now. It’s kind of like adrenaline junkie behavior. You need that zest for life, especially in the beginning, just to keep you going.
ALIVE: So did you ever think about coming back to St. Louis?
DG: Actors have an unhealthy dose of delusional confidence. If you’re booking jobs every year, you have momentum, so even though you’re not working a ton, you feel like you’re going in the right direction. Also, none of my friends had jobs regularly—you have a community where that’s the norm, and you help each other through until everybody gets their break, and then you help each other to the next level.
ALIVE: And it takes the stress off while you wait to find out if your show is a hit.
DG: You just take what you get when you get it, and enjoy it! Don’t take it too seriously. You have to have more confidence than you deserve, and that gives you the excitement to go on—otherwise, it’s miserable.
ALIVE: Any thoughts about what your future might hold?
DG: Actors always want to be working, but if you’re lucky enough to work, you want to be creatively satisfied. This role is fantastic for that. I just want to keep getting roles that are satisfying for me.
ALIVE: Do you come back to St. Louis to visit?
DG: Yeah, I love St. Louis. It’s such a real place where people are real, and they’re not trying to show off. Some of my best friends are in St. Louis, and my family is there. Christmas is like the greatest time for me. And thank God for Cardinals baseball—it’s the only sport I care at all about!
Photo credit: Photo by Brian Higbee/CPi Syndication