When he was a child, Marc-André Grondin didn’t shy away from the bloody injuries of friends or family.
“I wanted to be a paramedic when I was a kid so I’ve always been kind of attracted to stuff like that,” the French-Canadian actor said during a recent interview. “It’s easy to say when you don’t have to deal with it for real.”
Still, it’s a good thing he’s not affected by blood and gore, because he dives elbow deep in the terrific new series “Spotless,” premiering at 9 p.m. Nov. 14 on Esquire Network. Grondin stars as Jean Bastiere, a crime-scene cleaner who scrubs every trace of blood, guts or brain matter from the most heinous crime scenes.
A French ex-pat living in London, Jean is married with kids but is having an affair with his therapist. He’s barely keeping his business afloat when his estranged brother Martin (Denis Ménochet) shows up one night pushing a freezer packed with the body of a dead drug courier.
Martin insists Jean—since dead bodies are his thing—help him retrieve heroin balloons from this particular body. “I’m a crime-scene cleaner,” Jean tells him. “Mops and bleach and shit.”
When the “crime-scene Picasso’s” cleaning talents catch the attention of frightening London mobster named Nelson Clay (Brendan Coyle, “Downton Abbey”), Jean and his brother are forced to work for the crime boss.
Tension—and laughs—ensue. “It’s a real interesting ride into darkness and laughter,” Grodin said.
Grodin and I talked more about the fabulously unusual series, the movie that has kept him working as an actor and his love for hockey.
Jean is very meticulous in his job as a crime scene cleaner, but he makes a mess of his personal life. Why is that?
Jean is such a great character. Throughout the first season … there’s so much happening and the character changes so much. …
I don’t know [why his personal life is such a mess]. I think there is a darkness inside him that comes from his childhood. With [Jean’s brother] Martin showing up it’s not just him annoying [his brother] on a daily basis. It’s his past just showing up. Things—his family, his secrets—he has never been able to make peace with. Martin represents a life that [Jean] ran away from years ago.
What got you interested in the project?
For me it was that this is something really, really different. As an actor—and I think if I was in front of my TV—I would feel the same … It reminds you of different things. It has its own tone and it’s character oriented. …
Jean’s job is real interesting and it’s not something you see often. Most people have never met someone who does crime scene cleaning. … I’m a really curious person, too. I was fulfilled in many ways with the character.
And then I met Denis Ménochet, the guy playing Martin. I really wanted to work with him. I just got this feeling when I read the part with him that working with him would be easy. I think the six months of shooting together proved me right. We became, kind of, brothers on set even though we’re playing brothers. Yeah, we ended up being really close. He’s such a great actor.
Jean (Marc-Andre Grondin, left) and Martin Bastiere (Denis Menochet) in “Spotless” on Esquire.
Martin (Denis Menochet, left) and Jean Bastiere (Marc-Andre Grondin) and in “Spotless” on Esquire.
Jean Bastiere (Marc-Andre Grondin) cleans brains off a wall in “Spotless” on Esquire.
Martin (Denis Menochet, left) and Jean Bastiere (Marc-Andre Grondin) and in “Spotless” on Esquire.
Although the show has the unusual crime-scene cleaning angle, there are a lot of other things going on. Did you pick up on all those other themes?
Outside just the crime-scene cleaning and the relationships with the family and the mistress and the mob, I think there’s a nice portrait of this invisible immigrant in London or in any big city.
Something that I really like about the show is London is almost a character. There’s some kind of authenticity about big cities. There are so many different accents. There are so many different backgrounds, different cultures that are mixed up in these cities. And in our show it’s just there like in real life, you know? …
We don’t get to see different accents often on TV. French shows everyone speaks the same French and when there’s an English show everyone speak the same English. There’s no mixture of different backgrounds. I think that’s something I really enjoy on the show. I didn’t really realize it until I started shooting that it was a big melting pot. I think that’s something really interesting.
How did the trauma from Jean’s early life shape his career path, if at all?
That probably helped him in a way dealing with what he does now. It’s not everyone that can deal with guts and blood and stuff. I guess some traumatic events in his childhood triggered something inside of him and even though he’s trying to run away and not talk about what happened, I think with every job he does there’s a little bit of that background following him.
One of the best early scenes I think is when he’s cleaning up where the guy jumped to his death inside the building mall. Jean sort of visualizes what happened. Is he, as his brother says, obsessed with death or is he just highly empathetic to how these people died and maybe what they thought as they did?
I think it’s both. I think that’s something that is part of the job like the real people doing this job is you’ve got to deal with people even though you’re cleaning up [after a] death. You see it when the guy jumps or … an old man dies and it takes a month before someone realizes it and calls the cops. The guy was completely alone.
You’ve got to empty that whole apartment and go through that person’s belongings and those memories and pictures and stuff. You see the life they had and you deal with their loneliness.
I think you need some kind of empathy, but at the same time it just hits you—their loneliness. That’s one thing when I researched crime scene cleaners … Dealing with loneliness is the worst because it’s really, really sad when no one is looking for you once you’re dead.
You see the life of that person with their family, their friends, pictures, their jobs and you wonder how they got there. How do you end up being so lonely that no one is looking for you? …
I think Jean is trying to be respectful and understand it’s not just cleaning up and emptying a room. Those are someone’s belongings. It’s someone’s favorite picture, it’s someone’s favorite jacket that you’re throwing away. So it’s a very emotional job, I think.
Brendan Coyle is truly scary as Mr. Clay, isn’t he?
Unbelievable. I’ve got to say, I never ever watched “Downton Abbey” so I can’t really compare, but from what I heard it’s very different.
There’s something about Brendan; he just showed up and he was Nelson Clay. It was weird because the first couple of days … we were really busy and we didn’t get the chance to talk much, so I was only seeing him basically as Mr. Clay. Eventually we … sat down next to each other and he was the nicest guy talking about stuff. It was funny because I really didn’t expect it. He’s a super nice guy and super sensitive.
Jean is not happy that he’s being forced into having to do this work but does he kind of like that he’s becoming this indispensable person for this mobster, Mr. Clay?
I think there’s something he likes in doing something illegal. The fact that he’s kind of in charge when there’s a job that Nelson puts him on triggers something in him. He loves the thrill of the whole thing. But at the end of the day he would rather not have to do it.
He has to be concerned about his family, too.
He’s in survival mode because he knows he can’t just tell Nelson Clay to go fuck himself. That’s way too dangerous. And he needs that money. That money saves him from losing his house and his company and maybe losing his family in a way because his marriage is not perfect. So yeah, I think on either side he’s kind of trapped. He’s trapped in a life that he created for himself.
This has many darkly comic moments. Why do you think that kind of humor is so appealing for people to see?
I think there’s a limit to what we can comprehend sometimes. There are certain events, situations where it’s too much and you don’t know how to react so you laugh … It might be a survival instinct—laughter—to prevent us from killing ourselves or being depressed or something. I don’t know.
It’s kind of funny on the show because the comedy comes out in situations that are really weird, really strange. Stuff that doesn’t really happen to us. I think it’s not forced. It’s there because it’s natural and I think that’s why it’s funny when you watch it.
I think it’s very British. Even though the show is about two French guys in London, the show is very British.
You have a brother who acted and now directs. Did you take anything from that relationship for your relationship with this on-screen brother?
The reason why I’m an actor is because of my brother. He started before me and I wanted to do like him. My mother was bringing him on set and I was a baby. So I grew up on sets because of him. I started when a casting agent asked me if I wanted to audition. I just wanted to do it because my brother was doing it. I still learn all the time because of my brother. He’s a brilliant guy.
My onscreen brother I learned a lot too from him. I think we supported each other throughout those six months of shooting. Shooting a series like that is a long marathon that you’re running full speed in a very cold and wet city, London. You can’t call in sick. There are days where you’re tired and your head is not there. Whatever was happening to me he was there to cheer me up and help me out and vice versa.
He’s a great actor but I think outside of that there was just a connection. … It just comes naturally. Personally and professionally I learned a lot from that guy.
You’ve been in “Goon” and I’m happy to see that there’s a “Goon” sequel coming up. Are you a hockey fan?
I’m a big hockey fan.
You love the Blackhawks, right?
My second favorite team is in Chicago. [His first is the Montreal Canadiens.] I like the Blackhawks. When I was a kid I wanted to be a goalie. I’m born in 1984 so basically the big star was Wayne Gretzky but I did have a jersey of Ed Belfour so I mean I always liked Chicago.
Tell me about being in the film “C.R.A.Z.Y.”
The only reason why I’m still an actor—because I’ve been acting since I’m three—the only reason why I’m still an actor and why I’m in “Spotless” and why I have an American agent is one movie. I did one movie when I was 20 and that movie follows me all the time and there’s not a week that goes by without someone asking me about it.
I was about to become a carpenter. Even though I was an actor I was like, “Eh, I’m just going to go to carpentry school.” I like building things.
I did this movie out of nowhere and that movie is the reason why I’m still working as an actor 10 years after. I think it’s thanks to that movie that the director has the career he has now. The director did “Dallas Buyers Club.”
I’ve been a very lucky actor and a lucky person in my life.
I loved the movie and had to bring it up even though I knew you probably get asked about it a lot.
I’ve got to recognize the fact that I still get offers for leads just based on the movie I did 10 years ago. So it’s a pretty powerful thing and it’s not something that happens twice in a lifetime, in a career most of the time.
It’s funny because recently I was a jury member at a film festival in Europe and I was getting interviewed and often people ask me if I’m going to work with Jean-Marc Vallée again. I’m not looking necessarily to do that. I would love to work with him again but there’s something about that experience. We lived something together so powerful that if we work again together I don’t think we’re going to have the chance to live something as close as what we went through. It really changed our lives and yeah, I think it made us work for 10 years and probably more to come.
Are you excited about the “Goon” sequel?
Oh, it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be insane. I think it’s going to be better than the first one. Jay Baruchel directed it this time and he did an incredible job. You’re probably going to see a lot of movies directed by him in the next 20 years. He’s unbelievable. He’s a natural born director.