“It was never about the Shakespeare of it all or the fear of it all. It was about playing these cool characters. Oddly enough, as I have gotten older, I have gotten to do just that. I don’t know how long it is going to last, but I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to do this.”-Frank Grillo
When I think of Frank Grillo, I think of pure authenticity. Someone that I see on screen and instantly believe in and see as a character worth following down the darkest of roads. After all, the job of an actor is to convince the viewer that the person you see could be real and out there existing among the lot of real souls. It’s imitation via realization and takes skill. When I watch Grillo work, I get that. You may know him as “that one guy” but you will soon know him as Frank Grillo, the most authentic tough guy in the world of entertainment.
Grillo has stared down heavyweights on the big screen and held his own. He locked horns with Liam Neeson in Joe Carnahan’s underrated wolves/wilderness thriller The Grey. He fought British action star Jason Statham in Homefront. He coached Joel Edgerton to fight Tom Hardy in Warrior, an MMA cult classic. He stuck his boot heel into Chris Evans in Captain America: Winter Soldier and will do so again in May in the much anticipated Captain America: Civil War.
Grillo’s biggest performance to date and dream role has come on television in Direct TV’s hit show, Kingdom, playing Alvey Kulina, the ex-MMA star and owner of Navy Street, a place where his sons fight and a legion of fighters wage war within themselves. Playing an old lion still trying to stay in the game and keep the scent of blood within a sniff, Alvey finds a new life in the sport when his old friend Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria) gets out of prison and gets back in the fight game. When I asked Creator/Executive Producer Byron Balasco about Grillo, he said Grillo was the key to getting the show rolling. “When Frank is on set, there isn’t a false note. It doesn’t feel like work. It feels natural.”
It helps that for the past 25 years, Grillo has been a fighter. He trains like one 365 days a year with real boxing trainers. This Alvey Kulina diet is something Frank has worn on his shoulders for years and it keeps him going today. When he isn’t on set for a film, Grillo trains. He’s hitting something, talking about hitting something or planning a train. You hang a bag in the middle of an endangered war torn city, and Frank will lace up and destroy some leather. It’s in his DNA. What 95 percent of actors have to learn, Frank has running through his veins. He is always a week out of fighting shape.
“That is what I am attracted to. Damaged guys. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. Agents will ask me about a role and I will say, I don’t want to do that. I am not the actor who gets a role and has to do it different. I don’t need to stretch my muscles.”
Grillo calls on many past roles to properly put Kulina together but he pulled the most thread from Warrior, where he played Frank Campana, the trainer who turned Edgerton’s teacher into a world class fighter. That was the role that got Hollywood’s notice. He hasn’t left their door step since.
The notice went on high alert when he stood toe to toe with Evans in Winter Soldier. In 2016, Grillo returns as Marvel bad news dispenser Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones. He will cause a few storms in the lives of cinema’s precious Avengers, most notably Evans Red, White and Blue hero. When asked about fighting Grillo on set, Evans simply said Grillo punches hard. That’s what Grillo does in every role.
Take End of Watch, a superb David Ayer cop drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Grillo gets maybe five scenes and 10-12 screen minutes. There is a scene halfway through where Grillo tells a group of Marines about a partner taking a bullet for his Sergeant years ago. With a few lines and the conviction of a semi truck plowing down an ice road, Grillo lays into the audience. When I left the theater, I couldn’t get that scene out of my head. A movie full of greatness left me wondering where that sergeant goes from there. Grillo does that a lot.
Grillo stole Warrior from Edgerton and Hardy, making one person call up Grillo anonymously for a possible training session which the actor had to respectfully turn down. He’s that good. His work onscreen inspires real fighters to give it one last shot.
“When I tell you that the only place in life where I don’t have anxiety is in the gym when I box or when I grapple, I’m not lying. I don’t go out on the streets and start fights but I love combat. I love fighting as an art.”
You want a full order of Grillo? Watch Purge: Anarchy, a movie few critics had high hopes for but one that scored better reviews than the original film due to Grillo giving it an extra dose of testosterone hero medicine. His street Avenger, Leo Barnes, reminded me of an unofficial take on The Punisher Frank Castle. A man out on a mission to avenge his family no matter what happens. The movie was so well received that it has spawned a third film, which just wrapped up filming in Rhode Island. It is set for release in the summer of 2016. After scrapping for years as a hard working actor taking what Hollywood gave him, Grillo is starting to call the shots and will star in two sequels as a top bill in the same year.
At the same time, he headlines Kingdom, a show that was so well received that Direct TV called for two seasons after the pilot aired a year ago. I call that the Grillo effect. It’s also known as hard work paid off.
Grillo will also be showing up in Akiva Goldsman’s latest, Stephanie, as well as taking on martial arts action star and The Raid maestro Iko Uwais, a man who moves so fast cameras have a hard time catching up to him.
Off the screen, Grillo is a prince, living the good life with his wife of 15 years, Wendy Moniz Grillo and three boys. He connects with fans through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. He tweets along with fans during Kingdom. An actor’s job may be done when the finished product hits the screen, but Grillo takes it a step further and shows his appreciation. Back in November of 2013, Grillo granted me an interview via Twitter Direct Message. Later on, we talked on the phone about where life had taken him. Instead of talking about himself nonstop, he appreciated me taking the time to write about him.
With Frank, there is zero vanity. Just toughness and determination. He cares and shows it every day through his preparation, drive and need to quench the thirst of this newfound stardom.
When I asked Frank in July of 2014 about what he would tell an aspiring young actor who may or may not soldier on with the odds against him, he didn’t hesitate.
“There are no rules when it comes to anything. What roles you are able to get. As soon as you put limitations on yourself, you are going to have those limitations. If you just listen to conventional wisdom, you are (finished). You go out there and you believe in yourself and you work hard. I am a testament to that.”
Grillo has been working hard since his first role in the movies back in 1993, a small forgettable flick called Deadly Rivals. He is a fighter in more ways than merely physical. Grillo is a fighter in the walk of life and someone worth rooting for when you see him killing it on screen. He may not win an Oscar or be mentioned beside the likes of Denzel Washington or Daniel Day Lewis, but not everyone comes to Hollywood to win shiny trophies. Some guys just want to work, enthrall and thrill the audience.
At the age of 52 years young, Frank Grillo is a force to reckon with in the world of entertainment. Whether it’s on TV coaching Nick Jonas or on the big screen telling Captain America doom follows him around, Grillo is there with his fists up ready for action. How can you not get a kick out of that? He isn’t a gimmick. Grillo is flesh, bones and grit personified.
Long may you run, Frank. I’ll be watching and so will millions of others.