Claire Coffee: More “GRIMM” Than Ever
NBC’s hit supernatural series GRIMM returns for its third season tonight, chronicling the adventures of Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), a Portland, Oregon police detective who discovers that he is a Grimm, one of a special order who can detect and, when need be, combat a wide variety of human-seeming creatures known collectively as Wesen. When season two ended, Nick had been turned into a 28 DAYS LATER-style zombie and was being shipped to the Wesen Royals in Vienna. Also in Vienna is Adalind Schade, played by Claire Coffee.
Adalind is, or at least was, a Hexenbiest, one of the magic-wielding Wesen (the males of the species are known as Zauberbiests) who, in their true form, look like freshly mangled undead, with eyeballs in empty sockets and teeth showing through missing cheek flesh. Adalind was a proud and happy—which is to say vengeful and homicidal—Hexenbiest living in Portland, until Nick forced her to ingest his Grimm blood, which caused Adalind to lose her powers and ability to manifest in her true form. Adalind, however, has managed to get herself pregnant by a Royal. We don’t know yet if the baby’s father is Nick’s half-Zauberbiest boss, manipulative police captain Renard (Sasha Roiz), or Renard’s half brother, fratricidal Prince Eric (James Frain of TRUE BLOOD). Either way, Adalind has made a deal to give the baby up in exchange for the return of her powers.
Speaking by phone to FANGORIA, actress Coffee sounds a lot more genuinely friendly than Adalind does. And she reveals that the first few episodes of GRIMM’s new season are particularly FANGORIA-worthy. “It opens with definitely the most gruesome stuff that Adalind has taken part in, and maybe the most disgustingly gruesome we’ve seen yet—elbow-deep in black blood for a lot of it.”
Prior to GRIMM, she hadn’t done a lot of genre work, but she says she was ecstatic when she saw the CGI rendering of Adalind in Hexenbiest mode. “I was so excited; it was so much better than I even expected. They showed me the test during the pilot, using [FIREFLY’s] Summer Glau as the test subject for the face. I’m such a fan of hers, so it was fun to just get to see, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s going to be on me, and it’s going to be on television.’ It felt like I had succeeded finally in this career.”
Unlike many current shows that use practical makeup for other-than-human characters, GRIMM creates its creatures via CGI in a process similar to motion capture, with actors wearing dots on their faces for computers to read and fill in with monstrous features in postproduction. Coffee relates, in fact, that she’s never worn prosthetics as Adalind. “I do a bit of a ‘growl,’ shrugging off the face [as Adalind morphs from human to Hexenbiest], and then we have to shoot with the tracking dots,” she says. “The only time they used actual makeup was with my stunt double, during the big fight scene where I lost my powers in the forest. They had to put full makeup on her, because she was moving so much,” which would make it difficult for the computer to keep up.
Coffee expresses sympathy for her stand-in: “With the teeth included, she wasn’t able to eat or drink while she was in makeup. She did an incredible job.” For heavy action scenes, though, Coffee is happy to let one of her several stuntpeople take over. “I want to do as much as helps me get back into the dialogue. I’m in pretty good shape, but I’ve got some knee injuries, and I wouldn’t ever want to be so bold as to try to do things that people spend years and years training for. So I leave it to the experts, for the most part.”
On playing a Hexenbiest, Coffee observes, “They can bite people and they have access to evil spells. One of the characteristics of a Hexenbiest is a preference for witchcraft and the dark arts. I think she feels that when she witches out and ‘woges’ [the GRIMM term for a Wesen showing his or her true face], that’s the purest expression of her soul—dark as it may be. The ability to scare and intimidate someone with that face contributes to her confidence when she’s in human form, so it makes her fearless.”
Adalind was not originally conceived as a series regular. When that came about in season two, “I was so excited,” Coffee recalls. “I love being in Portland, I love the people I work with and I love the crew—and getting to be so evil, especially on a sci-fi genre show. I’ve always wanted to do that.” She adds that she was ignorant of the scope of Adalind’s role when she was first cast: “During the pilot, I knew that I was one of Renard’s henchwomen, and that I’d be carrying out some dastardly deeds, but I didn’t know the extent of the role, so it’s all been very shocking.”
One of the dastardly things Adalind did was pretend to be in love with Nick’s police partner Hank, played by Russell Hornsby, who wound up with a magical disease and almost died. Coffee says she enjoyed playing that story arc: “Russell is awesome. But that’s just the worst, messing with someone’s romantic emotions like that. That’s the most evil anyone can possibly do.”
Of course, Adalind may be have had her own affections toyed with by Renard or Eric, or both, but that’s assuming she has actual feelings for anyone apart from anger. “I think she is determined, and very ambitious,” Coffee muses. “I believe she had real feelings for Renard, because she’s living an existence where she doesn’t have a lot of allies. As creepy as it sounds, he was a fatherly, kind of parental influence, in addition to being a romantic interest, so he fulfilled a lot of her needs and was really the only ally she felt she had. But at this point, the gaining of power is overreaching, and she’s not really paying attention to much else.”
Not even the murder of her Hexenbiest mother Catherine—by Nick’s Grimm mother, though Adalind believes it was Nick himself—truly fazes her character, Coffee believes. “I don’t think she’s that sad, because her mom and Renard abandoned her. She’s avenging Catherine’s death, but that’s kind of an excuse. She felt so betrayed by her mother that if Catherine was still alive, she’d be enacting revenge on her.”
Jessica Tuck (TRUE BLOOD’s vampire spokeswoman Nan Flanagan) played Catherine, and Coffee raves, “She’s wonderful; she’s such a pro. She’s really generous, and I got to talk to someone for the first time about who these Hexenbiests are, because she’s been the only other one.”
As far as the difference between playing a curse-casting Hexenbiest and a vindictive, unpleasant regular human, Coffee says, “I haven’t played many bitches, so I can’t really attest to that, but having the supernatural element, when I did have powers, you could fall back on, ‘Well, she’s not that bad—she’s a witch, so she’s exercising her witchy powers.’ Now that she’s just entirely evil, that requires a different level of, I guess, preparation. She definitely revels in it. It’s power, and people can get really drunk off of all of that, and it’s exciting.”
Despite now being a series regular, Coffee doesn’t take Adalind’s longevity for granted. “I always fear for Adalind’s life, because there are just so many people out to get her,” she laughs. “She’s never safe.” When old witch Frau Pech (Mary McDonald-Lewis) switched bodies with Adalind, Coffee was particularly concerned. “When I read that script, when I got to that part, I thought, ‘Well, OK, this has been fun, it’s all over now.’ Then I thought, ‘Am I going to be playing Frau Pech for the rest of my duration on GRIMM?’ But they handled that so well.”
To play Frau Pech in Adalind’s body, Coffee studied McDonald-Lewis. “I watched her on set when we worked together. I wanted to figure out a way to make it different than [the real Adalind], so I worked with Norberto Barba, who directed the finale and is one of the show’s executive producers, to find the right balance, because the last thing you want to do is appear hokey.”
As season three picks up a few moments after season two ended, Adalind will still be pregnant, though when it comes to the question of whether the father is Renard or Eric, Coffee says, “Neither of us know yet, and it’s killing me.” She claims not to have a preference (“I’m staying completely neutral on the subject”), and as far as whether the usually cold Adalind will develop any maternal feelings, the actress relates, “Now that she has lost her powers, she’s human, and the most frustrating thing for her right now is that she has to experience these human emotions. I would suspect that it’s inevitable that she begins to have maternal feelings for this fetus—whether or not she’s trying to sell it for her powers.”
The convention scene has introduced Coffee to GRIMM fandom. “They’re wonderful,” she reports. “I’m just floored by the response in general, because we go off to work in Portland, and we’re in this bubble. You almost forget that the show is on television, that people across the country and the world are watching this thing you’ve been making. I did Comic-Con and then I went to Monster-Mania in New Jersey, and that was really the first time I’d been able to come face to face with the fans. I get stopped on the street a little bit, but this was just overwhelming in the best possible way, to meet people who are so excited about the show and into the character.”
So far, her own favorite episode of GRIMM has been the season-two entry “Season of the Hexenbiest.” “That was great, because I got to work with everybody. Bitsie [Tulloch, who plays Nick’s girlfriend Juliette] and I had a couple of great scenes. I loved my lines. The stuff in prison with David and Sasha—I got really lucky with the writing of that show.” Some of GRIMM’s Wesen, she adds, can scare even an actress playing a Hexenbiest. Coffee reveals with a laugh which ones she’s found most terrifying: “I was afraid of the dark when I was little and still kind of am, so the fly creature and then the Mauvais Dentes [a sabretoothed tiger Wesen], which is just vicious.”
Besides GRIMM, Coffee is working on the second season of an on-line comedy she directs, co-writes and co-stars in with Ellie Knaus, CHELSEY & KELSEY ARE REALLY GOOD ROOMMATES. “An actress is what I always wanted to be,” she says, “and am happy to be and so grateful to be. There was nothing like, ‘Oh, I’m a writer now,’ or ‘Oh, I want to direct.’ It was just for fun and it is again for fun.”
She’s also a GRIMM fan herself. “I’m incredibly invested in all of the plots. We get scripts e-mailed to us before they’re sent [as hard copies], and everything stops. We like to read through and find out what’s happening, and especially right now with Adalind’s storyline, there are little bits and pieces revealed in each episode, so it’s like desperately turning the pages of this massive novel. I absolutely watch [the episodes], also because I don’t get to interact with the other cast members very often, so it’s really fun for me to get to see what they’ve been up to.”