California Literary Review

CLR Writer, David Loftus, Recounts His Role as a ‘Reaper’ on NBC’s Grimm

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April 29th, 2012 at 2:32 pm

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Movie Still: David Loftus on Grimm

The author, in costume, on the set of Grimm.

When I walked into the audition on February 28, a little over eight weeks ago, I was absolutely sure I was not going to get this role. The character breakdown I’d received from my agent described Yannick as a “rotund but well-built man … reminiscent of the IRA … been through the wars, been in many fights, and should look like it.” Oh, sure, I thought; I’m the first actor people think of when they hear that!

Most of the time, I’ve been cast as trust figures and academics: doctors, lawyers, professors, psychologists — that sort of thing. This was the third Grimm role for which I’d auditioned. Last October, I went in for a tiny part as a lab tech in episode 10, “Organ Grinder” (which aired on Feb. 3). The second audition, on Jan. 23, was for the priest Captain Renard consults in the confessional booth in episode 12, “Last Grimm Standing” (which aired on Feb. 24). I really wanted that role, not least because it looked like a recurring character rather than a one-time-only appearance, but it went to a friend of mine in Portland. When I watched the episode, I knew everything that was going to come out of the priest’s mouth — I could even recite it with him — because I had auditioned for that scene, which was an odd feeling.

The email for this third audition came in from my agent on the evening of Feb. 24. It was a lucky break to get a weekend and more to prepare; usually, you’re notified about an audition for a TV show the afternoon or evening before the day you go in to read, so you have less than 24 hours to familiarize yourself with the scene and dialogue. I noticed that the “side” (the term for the page or two of script that actors read at the audition) said my character speaks “in French, subtitled,” though the lines were all typed in English.

Friends helped me translate the lines so I’d have the French in my back pocket. Still convinced I had no chance of landing the role, I wore a large khaki shirt and rolled the sleeves above my elbows to make my measly biceps look bigger, and carefully arranged my hair so it was unkempt, with loose strands hanging down either side of my forehead. And I put as much bass and gravel in my voice as I could muster.

Reader, I landed it. I was stunned. When I got to the shoot on Monday, March 12, I saw the two other Reapers were built like me — not “rotund” at all — so apparently the director, and perhaps even the creators, decided they wanted more of a mysterious European enforcer look. (That, and the fact that we could all speak French; maybe “rotund but well-built” actors who have studied that poofy language are thin on the ground.) My two scene partners were longtime Los Angeles actors who had flown up for the shoot, and appeared to be fluent in French … as if I didn’t already have enough to intimidate me on my first-ever network television shoot.

I didn’t get a trailer, but they gave me a room to myself, measuring about 5 by 15 feet and containing a sink, mirror, countertop, toilet, and padded couch, with my character’s name on the door — one of a series of such rooms in a big long trailer. A little thing that meant a lot was that Wardrobe had hung a large, padded jacket in my changing space that had nothing to do with my costume, but was simply mine to wear on a cold and rainy Oregon day whenever I was not on camera.

Portland's Lotus Cardroom and Café

Portland’s Lotus Cardroom and Café

We shot my two scenes in a historic Portland bar called the Lotus Cardroom and Café, which dates back to 1924 and stands only ten blocks from my apartment. I was able to walk to work that morning. Aside from the terrific furniture (the 30-foot cherry-wood bar is at least a quarter-century older than the building and said to be worth $100,000), most of the stuffed animal heads that turned up on the walls in the episode were permanent fixtures. I noticed that set dressers had placed pictures of Mad Ludwig’s lovely Neuschwanstein castle (the one that plays a prominent role in the movie Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang) and other German scenes inside the picture frames on the wall, but none of those turned out to be visible on camera.

Interior, Portland's Lotus Cardroom and Café

The interior of the Lotus Cardroom and Café, where David’s scenes were shot.

It took about two and a half hours to shoot my pair of scenes, which ended up amounting to a little over 90 seconds onscreen. If you’ve never been on a shoot, you might be unaware that for most of that “shooting” time, the actors aren’t necessarily on the actual set, never mind rehearsing or performing for the camera. We might be feverishly running through our lines in the next room, or relaxing and visiting with other actors and crew; but on the set where our performance will be recorded, the director, assistants, and crew spend most of that time planning the shot, adjusting lights, changing lenses, moving things in or out of frame for just the right balance of static visual context, and so on.

Other actors (or non-actors) stand, sit, or walk where your body eventually will be when the camera rolls so the cameraman and director(s) get an approximation of lighting and focus through the lens, but you — the actual performer in the scene — are at a nearby location, perhaps another room, for the duration of all that setup. This was the case here: after a couple of years of having acted and modeled in commercials, industrial videos, and indie shorts, this was the first time I had a stand-in, which gave me a certain silly pride. (He didn’t look anything like me, and was shorter.) On smaller film and commercial video projects, you tend to be your own stand-in.

Movie Still: David Loftus on Grimm

Fellow Reapers: L.A. actors Henri Lubatti and Chino Binamo.

I was treated with graciousness and respect by the more experienced pros in the scene, Henri Lubatti (who was returning from episode 3, “Lonelyhearts,” as the Reaper whose ear Captain Renard cut off after berating him in a seedy apartment room in Portland) and Chino Binamo. Henri, a Seattle native who has worked in L.A. for many years, expressed pleasure that the show is hiring more local actors. Chino has a long resume of stunt work in various feature films. The director of my episode, Holly Dale, has a substantial record of shooting single TV episodes, from Steven King’s Dead Zone and Stargate: Atlantis to Castle and House M.D. She helmed multiple segments of Flashpoint and Cold Case, and had already directed episode 7 of Grimm, the creepy take on Rapunzel called “Let Your Hair Down” that originally aired on Dec. 16 and was re-broadcast on March 16. On set, Ms. Dale was pleasantly and unhurriedly businesslike.

A key moment for me came in the middle of shooting my second scene — the one that comes at the end of the show when I’m alone with my surprise package. The director came over between takes and said, “I like what you’re doing, I’m seeing plenty of emotion, but I want you to end with fierce rage; there was something you did in the audition…” and that is when I knew, for sure, that she really had chosen me. That was a lovely thing to hear, because even though I should have known better, I had still been laboring a little under the unfortunate notion that I’m not “rotund, but well-built….”

Four days later, NBC announced it was renewing Grimm for a second season of 22 episodes. Maybe you’ll see me there again.

  • Teresa

    Awesome. Thank you for writing up your experiences and giving us Grimm fans a behind the scenes look. You were an excellent Reaper boss. Hope to see you in season 2! :-)

  • Smoker

    Thanks so much for your write up. I am in the Middle East and watching the Portland rain on Grimm reminds me of home.

    Good luck getting more parts in season 2 of Grimm.

    You were a great reaper boss so good luck in getting more parts in Season 2 of Grimm.

    Warmest Regards, Smoker

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