Claire Coffee on ‘Grimm’, Northwestern University and Being a New Mom
“As an actress that’s really all you want is to be able to play extraordinary circumstances” – Claire Coffee
NBC’s Grimm is back for its fifth and actress Claire Coffee, who plays Adalind, took some time out of her busy schedule to jump on a conference call to chat about the upcoming season.
Coffee is a new mom so she’s juggling that and her acting duties on the popular show. But, she’s lucky, she said. “I’m able to bring him on set with me, so he hangs out in the trailer with my incredible nanny.”
In this interview, she talks about motherhood (both on the show and off), going to school at Northwestern University, starting on the show as a guest star and moving to a series regular and more.
‘Grimm’ airs on Fridays at 9pm on NBC
How has motherhood been for you?
Claire Coffee: It’s been – you know it’s been – it’s so many things but, it’s been awesome. Cal is awesome. And luckily I’m able to bring him on set with me, so he hangs out in the trailer with my incredible nanny. And I get to pop in and out to feed him or hang out with him on breaks from set. So that’s been really good.
He’s sort of like the set mascot. That’s right. But it’s been good you know, and I think, you know, I feel so much better informed this season, playing the role of a mother after having – now that I am one myself.
I feel very bad about my birthing scene of Diana. I would have done it very differently had I know what it actually feels like.
Have you had a chance to reflect on your characters journey? At the beginning she was evil. She was actually one of the first Grimm I think we saw. And so have you had a chance to kind of step back and say man, what an arc for this character?
Claire Coffee: Oh yes. I think rollercoaster defines it most accurately. It’s been – I really do try to take it day-by-day. And we don’t get the scripts, you know, except for probably a week in advance, so – so, it’s great.
I never knew where she was going, which helps, because you can kind of take each insane thing at face value and not really worry about what, you know, too far in the future or how it’s going to affect things in the future.
But you know as an actress – as an actress that’s really all you want is to be able to play extraordinary circumstances. And I feel like I got to play three different characters in the same show so far, so it’s been great fun for me.
When this series started, obviously you were a guest star. And now you are a main component of the main storyline. You’re an integral part of the show. What does that say about your talent, about the creative team’s confidence in you and really about the fans desire to see more of you?
Claire Coffee: That’s a very flattering way to look at it for sure. I – yes, I always do mind getting killed off, so I’m so grateful that I had more than one episode.
Before Grimm I’d done a fair amount of you know, oh its guest star and it’s going to be recurring. If the series gets picked up you’ll be a regular. And then you know, the series doesn’t go or that doesn’t happen.
So I really at this point consider myself insanely lucky. And I feel great that the fans have, you know, have love to hate me this long. It’s – I’m very grateful on that.
When you signed up for the role did you have any idea that they would be this complex, or did you think it was a quick evil character?
Claire Coffee: Yes, I know when I signed up it was just – it was one episode with a potential to recur. And I was a sort of, you know, henchman for Renard and that’s as far as I knew.
I try not to – I try not to wonder too much beyond that. And yes, it’s just been a very pleasant surprise how it’s gone.
In the past, actresses in particular, have cited David Greenwalt as a consistent champion of complicated, multilayered, female characters. Have you found that to be a factor with your character? And just in general, how have you found the experience of working with him as a collaborative partner?
Claire Coffee: You know he’s fantastic. Both Jim and David they really – well first they balance each other out so perfectly. And you know David is – he’s just a champion of the show and all of is.
I get calls from him every so often just telling me like oh, you’re doing such a great job. We’re so happy that, you know, you are with us. And just really proud all of the work. And that’s for everybody.
And the feeling on set that the both of them have created is just – that we’re all one – a big family and everyone is just really wanting everybody else to succeed. So but it’s rare and really wonderful.
And I would say yes they – I am so lucky that they’ve put so much faith in me to kind of carry out the insanity that is Adalind’s character. But you know as I talk to them a lot about like this, life is never complicated as well.
So it’s not – it’s definitely extraordinary circumstances, but they approach everything the most grounded way possible. So, nothing is crazy to them. So like of course she’s going to lose her powers and gain her powers again and you know, sleep with Nick and then have a baby.
And it will be fine and you know, they’ll be living together. And it’s amazing, this is what’s happening. So taking all of that at face value.
But it’s a very longwinded way of saying yes, David Greenwalt is a fantastic champion of female – complicated female characters.
I wanted to know about Northwestern University because a lot of the current actresses on NBC are from Northwestern like (Marina). Are you friendly with – you know, what’s up with Northwestern? They must have a great drama program?
Claire Coffee: Yes, (Marina) and I were friends. (Marina) was only a year behind me at school. And we were friends at school. So for her we – it’s a really, really good program; Northwestern is. And I think, you know, there’s a lot of drama schools that do well in Hollywood. But Northwestern, it’s not a conservatory so you have other classes.
And you know it’s not just theater based training. And they don’t have auditions. It’s just – it’s based on your GPA and credentials. So they end up getting a lot of students who are very hard workers and highly motivated. And you know all the skills to really help you in the business where tenacity is kind of the name of the game.
So we all had to do – Student Theater was the main focus at Northwestern and all these great theatre groups. And you know when you were in all these theater groups you really had to do everything, you know, produce and (unintelligible) and behind the scenes and all that. So maybe that had something to do with it but, yes I don’t know.
We’ve all seen the evolution of your character Adalind, throughout the fourth season. But it also seems that the definition of what a Hexenbiest is has also evolved. Can you speak to how that has changed over the years?
Claire Coffee: I think it’s gotten more specific I would say. So at the start I was the only Hexenbiest and we had the B episode where you learned a little bit more about Hexenbiest, the sort of lethal, witch creatures that no one in the wesen community really liked.
And I think now, you know, it’s gotten more specific with the rules of Hexenbiest age and how you can become a Hexenbiest. And you know Juliette became a Hexenbiest. She was not born a Hexenbiest so therefore her powers are more deadly.
And then we have the Zauberbiest which is the captain. We learned about the male version of the Hexenbiest.
But it is evolving for my character and she’s suppressing her powers how and what does it take for those powers to kind of come back and come through? And how can you suppress them forever, and those are things that we will continue to learn about in Season 5.
Did you have input on how these definitions of Hexenbiest evolved, or were you – did you learn it as you got the script? Did you guys workshop what a Hexenbiest is? How did that come about?
Claire Coffee: No, it’s just all based on the script. When I first – you know in the pilot it was experimenting with a vogue because I was one of the first ones to do that; me and Silas.
So that was probably the only thing I had a hand in, and the rest of it is all Jim and David’s.
The show’s going to be celebrating its hundredth episode. So what does being part of a show like this mean for you, personally?
Claire Coffee: It’s unbelievable, truly. It’s very – I keep saying it’s that we’re all just so grateful and in disbelief and so proud of the show and so happy to be up in Portland.
And you know 100 episodes these days is such an enormous accomplishment. So that is just a – we are hugely indebted to the fans of the show. It’s – yes, it’s outstanding.
With so many TV shows and many ways to consume television today, why do you think that Grimm is still so popular?
Claire Coffee: I think that – well I think the characters; you know there’s a little bit of something for everyone with these characters. And the arches of the characters have been so complex.
So I think that’s really fun for fans from the beginning to see how things change from season to season and even from episode to episode. And the monsters are – the monsters translate, you know, in any language I think scary is scary.
And our visual effects and artists have done an incredible job of creating these very intricately disgusting at times, creatures. And you know that’s reason to tune in alone, just to see what the next monster is going to look like.
What was the most challenging thing to shoot this season?
Claire Coffee: There was a scene coming up where I had to hold the baby, answer the phone, and deal with a pot of boiling water with rice. So just from a choreography standpoint I would say, that was pretty challenging.
You’ve been playing Adalind as primarily evil for the last four years. Are you enjoying playing a kinder, gentler Adalind, or are you eager to get back to villainy?
Claire Coffee: I’m enjoying it. I like – you know, its fun to get to play something – it’s always fun to get to play something different. But I think yes, as I said before, it’s really just the day-to-day enjoyment of getting to work with the rest of the cast, I’m loving right now.
You have a lot of interaction with Juliette. What is it like working with her and also what is your relationship with Juliette like off the screen?
Claire Coffee: Well working with Bitsie from an actor’s standpoint is great. She is super professional. She always brings (unintelligible) stuff to work off of, so that was great last year to get to do that.
And then off screen Bitsie, Bree, and I are very close. We have, you know, girl dates frequently and yes, it’s awesome.
When you get a script, what is your usual reaction when you see what they have in store for you, and the show in general?
Claire Coffee: Well when I get – they always email the script first. And I sort of stop whatever I’m doing and I’m like scrolling through just to see, you know, okay what am I doing; what am I doing.
And this season in particular, there were a lot of, oh my – what? Oh, my god. Those kinds of reactions. But we all – because they don’t – Jim and David keep very tight-lipped about what we’re all doing. And I never ask because I mean I want to know but I kind of don’t want to know because then it would just (unintelligible) my performance in a weird way.
So we do read. And I am privileged to read the script as a fan really. That’s the easiest way to put it.
With the way things have played out with Adalind having the baby and you personally having your baby, what are the similarities and differences between your parenting and hers?
Claire Coffee: I think – well the similarity is that mother – you know being a mother makes your life very simple in one way because you have a thing – the only thing you’re really concerned with at the end of the day is making sure your baby is happy and safe.
So in those ways – in that way Adalind as mother and Claire as a mother are in lockstep.
The differences are that Claire as a mother is over-researched and much more paranoid than Adalind is as a mother. I think she’s winging it a little bit more.