Catching Up With Claire Coffee of Grimm

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If, for whatever odd reason, you are not watching this season of NBC’s Grimm, Claire Coffee’s character arc alone is reason enough to start tuning in to the series. Adalind Schade ain’t nothin’ to mess with, and – along with some of the other women characters on the show – her storyline is only getting more and more fascinating. We recently counted down some of the creepiest monsters we’ve met on the supernatural fantasy detective show (now in its third season) and we had to include the hexenbeist. Part-witch, part-zombie, Coffee has done an amazing job of keeping us thoroughly fearful of Adalind’s monster within, especially since she also possesses telekinetic powers and is now the proud hexenbeist mommy of a powerful little Royal baby. Paste caught up with Claire Coffee to talk about gynecological monsters, Aaron Sorkin, and a couple of mandolin players we know.

Paste: Obviously I love Grimm, but once we met the Aswangs I was like, “That’s it. This show is getting out of control and I can’t deal with it anymore.” (laughs)
Coffee: (laughs) I know! When I saw that creature I felt that way too. I think that’s definitely been the gnarliest one that we’ve had so far. I was talking with Reggie [Lee, Detective Wu on the show] and asked him about how accurate our portrayal was compared to the actual Filipino myth. Apparently, we had the creature’s tongue going through the belly button, but in some myths it would go up into… the um… nether-things-I-can’t-say. It was very gynecological! It was a very gynecological monster (laughs).

Paste: On the review I wrote for the Mommy Dearest episode, we got a comment from a reader who is Filipino and she said something like, “Oh you think the Aswang is bad, let me tell you about this other monster from Filipino legends, and this one, and this one.” There were all of these other horrifying myths. So I think it was accurate, and terrifying, and great. I hadn’t had that experience in a long time where I felt like a show had just gone too far, so I thought that was probably a good sign.
Coffee: Yeah, and then we had the scalpers to. I’m always amazed at what they come up with.

Paste: I was wondering if you could talk a little about your early beginnings in theatre. You went to Santa Catalina School for Girls, right?
Coffee: Yes. I was five when I did my first show with the Mountain Play Theatre company in Marin County. I started young and since no one in my family was involved in the industry in any way shape or form I think everyone thought, I’d do a few plays and that would be it. But then I kept doing it. I was in Fresno and I did dinner theatre with these regional theatres on the weekend. My mom would pick me up at midnight and then I’d go to school the next day – how we did this I don’t know! But at Catalina they had such an incredible performing facility. They had a drama teacher on staff, and they had dance programs – dance became one of my favorite things to do. They had music. There was such a priority placed on the arts. So that definitely helped when I got to college. I actually went to study journalism at Northwestern thinking that would be my Plan B for a career. But then I realized, if I’m going to struggle and make no money I might as well do what I really want to do (laughs). So things slowly but steadily started working out.

Paste: I got the chance to interview Josh Malina a while back, one of your former co-workers.
Coffee: I just saw that! I’d just logged into the TV section. My husband is a musician and Paste is one of his favorite places to be interviewed by.
Paste: Oh, awesome!
Coffee: This is the first time we’ve had crossover. It’s one of his favorite publications.
Paste: He plays the mandolin, right?
Coffee: Yeah, he plays with Nickel Creek, a band he started with his friends when they were, like, eight years old. They’re doing a reunion tour right now. And then Punch Brothers is his other band.
Paste: It caught my eye because our TV editor Bonnie Stiernberg— her father is a renowned mandolin player. I’ll have to send you this video she tweeted out. It was so cool.
Coffee: Yes, do that! It’s a small community so my husband might know him.

Paste: So one thing Josh talked about was working on The West Wing, and transitioning from Aaron Sorkin to Shonda Rhimes. Do you feel like there are specific experiences that prepared you for this role on Grimm?
Coffee: The West Wing was really important for me for a lot of reasons. It was the first thing I did when I got out to Los Angeles. I’d just finished school and I was so naïve. Aaron Sorkin was sitting right there in the audition. And it was like, I knew who Aaron Sorkin was… sort of. I knew The West Wing was a good show (laughs), but I was kind of like, “Whatever.” Had I known—really known—there’s no way I would have gotten the part. I would have freaked out.

At that point the character was just a few lines, but reading for Aaron Sorkin is still one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. And Josh was such an incredible person to work with. He was just such a funny guy, so great and so generous.

Paste: I love Adalind’s character because it’s difficult to pin her down as a villain or as a good guy right now. And she’s in a vulnerable place having just had the baby taken away from her. What’s it been like for you, watching this character evolve over the course of three seasons?
Coffee: It’s been a blast. In terms of suspense, it’s so fun. Every time I get a script I’m just like, “Who knows what’s gonna be in this thing?” With this season I think I’ve gotten to play every single human emotion there is. From an acting perspective it’s felt so good to have something like this to get into, something that reminds me of my theatre school days. Adalind now has a real reason for what she’s doing. In the past she was evil but you didn’t really know how or why she was that way. It was like, “Oh, she is just a megabitch!” It was fun, but it can be a little empty at the end of the day. Right now she has this child, and she feels empathy for the first time in her life. And that’s going to be the driving force behind everything that she does.

Paste: I love the women-centered plots on the show. It’s starting to feel like you all are really dominating things right now— there’s your story, the Aswang episode, the new Grimm we just met.
Coffee: Yes, we’ve been enjoying it!

Paste: What’s the vibe been like on the set?
Coffee: It’s been really fun for all of us. We all also like each other a whole lot. In the past I haven’t gotten to work with Bree [Turner] and Bitsie [Tulloch] all that much, so just being on set with them has been so much fun.

Paste: I’m sure you’re not allowed to talk about this too much, but can you give us a little hint as to what’s next for Adalind? I think we’re all wondering if and when she’s going to find out the truth about Diana.
Coffee: I can tell you that she is highly motivated to get her daughter back. And it’s kind of propelled her into behaving in more “classic Adalind” ways (laughs). She’s really going to start wreaking havoc on everyone. And there’s a lot of stuff that the writers have done to try to tie in the classic witch paraphernalia. Like, you’ll soon learn why a witch’s hat is pointy.
Paste: (laughs) That sounds great.
Coffee: So there’s going to be some really batshit crazy stuff in store.
Paste: Well, I’m excited to see what happens. Thank you so much for this, Claire.
Coffee: This was awesome! Thank you.

Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.