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Published on August 1st, 2011 | by simeon

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Claire Coffee Talks GRIMM and Franklin & Bash

Recently I got to speak with the lovely and talented Claire Coffee. Claire is in two very hot shows with her role on Franklin & Bash as well as the upcoming GRIMM. I want to thank Claire for taking the time for the interview and for Caitlin for setting it up.

What attracted you to the roles and where did you get your inspiration for the parts?

I read pilot, loved the smart and snappy comedy, and was brought in to audition. I didn’t know it at the time, but the director (Jason Ensler) had seen the web series I wrote and directed with my friend, Ellie Knaus (Chelsey & Kelsey are Really Good Roommates), and had called me in based on that performance. I was hired after that first audition.

I didn’t draw inspiration from anything outside, just really tried to dig in and connect to Janie’s relationship with Peter (and Jared), which was easy because Janie’s outward reactions are written so well. I had great guidance from Bill Chais and Kevin Falls, the creators, who were able to describe the love story of Peter and Janie as they saw it… And then let me make decisions and choices based on my instincts in the moment. Jason Ensler, who directed 3 of my episodes, was an expert captain, veering me back on path when I’d drift off course too far.

What were some of your memorable moments from filming?

Mark-Paul and Breckin are that awesome to watch off-screen as well. There was a wall in the makeup trailer devoted to pictures of the two of them together in between takes – always in identical positions (usually on their iPhones). They’ve been through everything the business can throw at a person and the fact that they’re both still such morale-boosters on set is kind of baffling to me.

What do you look for in a director?

I want the director to be honest above all. I mean, to be fair, I demand brutal honesty from everyone in my life, to my own detriment sometimes. From a director, communication is also incredibly important. A lot of times the language to describe a moment is very different between actor and director, so if you have a director who can be as honest and clear as possible, it makes the communication of the motives behind the moment that much easier – you’ll be off on a good path. It’s my job as an actor to have all of my questions clearly defined and my character in full color before I get to set so I don’t waste time ‘working through’ what the moment may be. There just isn’t time to do so in television. We don’t get rehearsal, really, so I’ve got to come to work confident and prepared and with a really clear direction in my own head so that I can adapt quickly when it’s raining and the scene has been chopped to pieces and I’ve got one take because we’re about to lose the light.

What sort of characters are you drawn to?

I like characters who make seemingly ‘bad’ choices. It’s basically the ‘there are two sides to every story’ phenomenon. Someone who seems morally bankrupt or compromised always, ALWAYS has a reason for the choices they make. Human beings don’t set out to intentionally, emotionally hurt other human beings (unless they are ill). It’s incredibly interesting to me to get inside and figure out what’s at the heart of the hurt. It sounds indulgent – it is, I suspect, but I think that’s why people like television, movies, books, etc. The characters are reference points to how we behave or would like to behave in our own lives. Our deepest inward feelings can connect anonymously with these characters on the screen. It’s also crucial to me that I am able to learn from the people I work with – I’d always prefer to be the little fish in the big pond (or ocean, more accurately).

What got you started in acting and what was your big break and what advice would you give to people new to the industry?

When I was a toddler, I was incredibly shy and frightened of people. My parents wanted me to make more human friends to add to my imaginary collection, so they enrolled me in an audition workshop at a local regional theater (The Mountain Play in Mill Valley, CA). I was cast in The King and I at The Mountain Play and things soon spiraled. I did a few regional musicals a year and plenty more productions bossing around my sisters and cousins in my grandparents’ living room. It all continued to be something I really enjoyed, something I seemed to be good at, and I started to think about a career. I wanted something to fall back on and always liked writing and editing, so I enrolled at Northwestern in their Journalism department, knowing that they had one of the top Theater programs if I changed my mind. I did.

I graduated with a degree in theater. My freshman year I submitted my materials to agents in Chicago, got myself represented at a place called Stewart Talent, and began auditioning. Mind of the Married Man was filming exteriors in Chicago so I was hired for an episode, got my SAG card and then went to LA to meet agents one summer. I finished my credits early and went out for pilot season winter quarter of my senior year and booked a few episodic roles. I’ve kept along the ‘slow and steady’ path to a career ever since.

My advice to anyone coming out here would be to gather all the confidence you can muster and get as much tape as possible and be nice, genuinely nice and responsible. This is an industry built on relationships, even though it doesn’t always seem that way. I know the backstabbing stories. They happen. But those people don’t tend to endure. People want to work with people they like, with friends, just like any other industry. You’ve got to work really hard at being the best actor in that room so that they can’t help but pay attention. All you have to do is be the best in the room. Just do it. Wardrobe is also more important than people talk about. It sounds ridiculous, but figure out your look, whatever it is. Refine it and be known for it. I don’t know if I’ve had my ‘big break’ yet, but I’ve had lots of tiny breaks that are all starting to come together and create some real traction for me, finally. It feels really good!

‘Who are your favorite actors?

There are so many! I don’t have favorites, but I love Rose Byrne right now. I always thought she was so good on Damages – so complicated and human and really skilled. Then, when I saw her in ‘Get Him to the Greek’, I fell in love. Her timing and her cadence with comedy is impeccable. I just really admire her ability to create such relatable and honest and simple moments. That’s the hardest thing to do sometimes. Denis O’Hare is outstandingly fun to watch, as is David Morse. Just such commanding, involving choices. I also think Natalie Portman is fantastic. The scene in Black Swan when she calls her mother in the bathroom stall to tell her that she got the part of the White Swan was my favorite acting moment of the year. Oh, and Matt Damon. Matt Damon is really, really good.

What do you have upcoming?

I leave tomorrow to start work on GRIMM, a fantastical cop drama for NBC. I’m playing a ruthless, supernatural villain. It’s very exciting!

Any funny or memorable moments that stand out?

There were so many wonderful moments that happened during filming but I have a terrible memory. I remember 3:00 am macaroni and cheese vividly. I also remember breaking Stanton’s wedding gift (Bro-Bono) twice and holding up filming before I was finally able to carry it off screen without a hitch. Oh, and also in that episode… the part where Breckin removes the screws in M-Ps chair and he falls over backward? All M-P, all for real, no soft pad to catch his fall. Dudes.

What do you do in your free time?

These days I spend most of my time reading books and plays and trolling Twitter for information on the 49ers and their free agency disaster of 2011. I hike in Griffith Park all the time, which is my favorite way to relieve stress (especially since it’s not too far outside my front door). Every now and then I go on a baking tear.


Photo by Whit Anderson


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