Luke Grimes is a cool dude. He’s wearing the requisite worn jeans and form-fitting sweater, hair appropriately mussed, face appropriately stubbled. We’re somewhere in Beachwood Canyon, sipping coffee on a patio. Grimes is chill, reclining in his chair, greeting friends who pass by.
But Luke Grimes, although handsome—almost absurdly so, with a mug you could set your watch to—is not so conventional in terms of Hollywood actors. Sure, he’s playing the Christian Grey’s brother, Elliot Grey, in Fifty Shades of Grey and opposite Bradley Cooper in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, but you’d never guess Mr. Grimes is on the brink of superstardom.
He’s a country boy, through and through—he still goes hunting and could walk you through the steps of skinning and gutting a deer. He’s got a trip planned with his father (a preacher) for the holiday, a hunting trip, and then it’s off to the Virgin Islands for a photo shoot. Deers and DSLRs in one month; a double life.
Grimes wasn’t immersed in the biz from a young age—he recalls watching a fresh-faced Macaulay Culkin presenting at the Golden Globes. In a hotel room with his family—he tells me—he thought, “I want to do that. Kid’s got nothing on me.” Fast-forward 21 years and I ask if the press madness around his latest two films has started. He says, coolly, that it hasn’t. But, he admits, “The idea of going on an awards show makes me so nervous I could vomit.”
“I never gave myself a plan b,” he says, “because I knew [if] it got hard enough I’d take it.”
It took Grimes a year of auditioning in L.A., three or four times a week, to book a job. Since then, he’s worked on indie films, network shows like Brothers & Sisters—paying his dues while paying his bills—and drummed up a little controversy with his departure from True Blood. There were rumors he’d quit over homophobic claptrap, but, on the contrary, Grimes trusted his guns. “I’m not in the business of being forced into doing things for money,” he explains. “You can use sexuality as a tool to tell a beautiful story. When you use it as a cheap thrill to keep ratings up, that’s not the business I’m in.”
He just wrapped shooting Freeheld in New York with Julianne Moore, Steve Carell, and Ellen Page; in it he plays a gay cop that hasn’t come out. I ask about his process prepping for such a role, “It was important to make it closer to myself. I wasn’t trying to remove myself. I just played it as personal as I could. I know what it feels like to make love to someone, whether it’s male or female, that doesn’t read on the screen.” While some actors develop triggers for themselves, Grimes just advises “allowing everything to actually come out of you in your normal life.”
These readily accessible emotions must have come in handy shooting American Sniper, where Grimes plays a Navy S.E.A.L. For this film, he had no prep time. He was on the set of another film in Phoenix, got a call that he booked Sniper and left for Morocco that night. Upon flying in, Grimes went straight to the production office, had his head shaved, four days of gun training and then was thrown onto set. He had never met Eastwood before they started. “He’s very hands off.” Grimes appreciated the director’s confident vibe and found that it actually made him work harder. “I was more prepared on that film than anything because I knew I had to be.” When asked whether or not Eastwood gave him specific direction, “Speed it up. That’s the only note I ever got.”
Grimes was also asked to audition for the Fifty Shades character Christian Grey, but he turned it down. “It just wasn’t’ for me and I knew that. I wouldn’t want to get myself in a position where I’m bumming people out because I’m not performing the way they want me to.” He thinks Jamie Dornan is the perfect guy for the job. “He’s a braver man than I.”
But when an offer came around for Elliot, he happily obliged, having admired director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s earlier work. “She did a short [Love You More] that’s incredible,” he says, “about these two kids in a record shop who like the same record. They go home to play it and have crazy sex. It was erotic but so well done.”
It’s clear the midwestern roots still run strong in Grimes, preserving his morality but also facilitating a humble charm. With two blockbusters on the way and his feet firmly planted in his craft, Grimes is only just getting started.