By J. Michael Kearsey
So much of the popular NBC weekly television drama, Grimm, is set in SE Portland, it seems you might run into one of those ‘Wesen’ folks at Safeway morphing from mild mannered plumber to a humorous beaver. Maybe you will. I did.
Back in the late 80’s, I met Danny Bruno. It was the winter the city set up a skating rink at Pioneer Courthouse Square. We were both out of work: an actor who took the tickets and a musician who became the Human Zamboni. We spent a lot of time together and a lot of laughter, because Danny, now having a successful run as ‘Bud the Repairman’ on Grimm, is a very funny person.
That winter he moved up from Eugene to obtain his Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card and audition for the number of made for TV movies being shot around Portland. He got an agent, made a round of auditions and was cast as Pee Wee Reese in the Jackie Robinson Story that ran at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center and never looked back.
“That was great run,” Bruno said. “We all played different characters and it turns out Hank Cartwright was in the same show and now plays my friend, Jerry, on Grimm.”
Though he had only been on stage briefly in high school, he volunteered at Eugene’s Oregon Repertory Theater in the ticket booth and auditioned for anything he could. His first role was in the Marx Brothers’ comedy, Room Service.
Wanting to stay in Oregon, he co-founded an improv troupe at ORT with Cheyne Ryan, son of movie actor Robert Ryan.
“We called the group ‘On the Edge’ –and we were! I cut my teeth on improv in Eugene. We played the Brass Rail, the Eugene Celebration, just about anywhere. We would do anything and make it work. I even played a dog for one show.”
When the group splintered, Bruno moved to Portland and joined the fledgling co-operative, Artists Repertoire Theater. Its home was in the YWCA’s 110 seat Wilson Center for the Performing Arts.
He performed everything from Chekov to Mamet to Shakespeare and hit the big screen in the 1995 movie, Without Evidence, written by Phil Stanford and Gill Dennis, concerning the conspiracy behind the murder of the Oregon’s Head of Corrections, Michael Francke. (Dennis went on to write the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line and Sanford is still trying to unravel the Francke case.)
Bruno found movie roles shot in Oregon: Bill Plympton’s Guns on the Clackamas, In the Line of Duty: Blaze of Glory, Kelley Baker’s Birddog, and What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? with Marlee Matlin. Along with commercials, he has found television cameos and has appeared in Nowhere Man, Leverage, Final Witness, Portlandia and nowdays, Grimm.
“I play Bud Wurstner, actually Rupert Ferdinand Wurstner,” Bruno told us at his Hawthorne neighborhood home.
“My agent sent me in for an audition in 2011 and I got the part of a refrigerator repairman, a certain Grimm type who can morph into a beaver (‘Eisbiber’). He is part of an extended ‘Wesen’ family of beavers. I think they liked my improv style and I added a bit of unexpected humor to the show.”
He has played in 18 shows so far including the pivotal episode at the end of January where his character shows a few policemen that he really can make the transformation, though not on command, and usually brought on by intense emotions.
In a recent episode, Bud has more face time than ever in several locations during the rescue of a kidnapped character from a militaristic cult of hooded evil-doers. Bud survives a bloody tribunal somewhere in the Oregon wilderness and lives on to toast the survivors at a so-familiar Portland Craftsman home.
“The Hollywood producers love Portland,” he told us, “due to the darkness of the plots supported by the usual darkness of our scenery. The story lines date back to Germany’s Grimm Fairy Tales and the producers, David Greenwalt, Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner, thought it looked like the Black Forest out in the Oregon countryside. They love the diversity of the architecture here.”
The repairman/beaver role has changed Danny Bruno’s life in many ways. Social media response to his character has been overwhelming, urging the producers to keep ‘Bud’ in the mix of talent and he won last year’s Best Actor’s Award from the Oregon Media Production Association (OMPA).
So, rather than booking auditions, he is on a bit of a retainer and feels good about the future. Actors don’t have much of a safety net, but Bruno points with pride to his big screen TV and plans on getting a car this year to augment his trusty bicycle.
“We have just shot another new episode with my character and I really feel a bit of security! This could turn into a real job.”
When you see those trucks, lights and cameras parked in Ladd’s Addition or Colonial Heights, keep an eye out for a mischievous beaver – it just might be Danny Bruno…