Frank Grillo Interview: Avenging Purge Artist of Kingdom

Frank Grillo doesn’t waste a second of your time on screen. What you see is what you get. Every time. Pure rapid authenticity and dedication to a role. He may be avenging a few heroes, purging some bad guys or trying to get inside the head of a fighter he is training. Every film and every set, Grillo is simply hustling. Trying to get it all right and give the fans a show. Something they will remember.

People will gloss over the Oscar nominations this month, but I’ll tell you there is a fine list of actors who left a dent in my mind and did something unforgettable who don’t own Oscars. They hold your attention and that is good enough for them. For the third time, Grillo and I got on the phone and talked about a number of things ranging from Crossbones to Leo Barnes to Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor. It wasn’t a standard interview. It was a conversation. Enjoy.

Buffa: How’s it going Frank? What’s happening?

Grillo: Just chugging along. Finishing up Kingdom. We have about another month left of shooting. It will be coming back sooner than people think. 

Buffa: You also have another Purge coming. I was so glad they brought you back for another film Anarchy was so much better than the first film. 

Grillo: They weren’t planning on doing another one. The second one surprised everybody. (James) DeMonaco and I looked at each other. He said, “You want to do another one?” I said I would if he would, and that’s how it all began. 

Buffa: There’s also this little indie type…EXTRAVAGANZA called Captain America: Civil War. When we last saw your Brock Rumlow, he was in pretty bad shape. Laying under a building and ready to become Crossbones. What’s his mindset heading into Civil War? Revenge, villain work or just anger?

Grillo: As much as I can give, he’s not really happy about being left for dead and what it’s done to his body. He’s definitely not looking to have tea and coffee with these guys. It’s going to be interesting to see what this guy does. There’s no secret he becomes Crossbones. 

Buffa: Did you do any research on Crossbones? Is it a daunting task to take on a comic book character everybody knows and handle it?

Grillo: Nah. I read the comics and got a little backstory from the (Russo) brothers. They tell me what they’re looking for. You read the script and you make it your own. People like it, that’s great and if not, you don’t come back. It’s painting by numbers. They write it out for you. As long as you bring the physicality and the acting, it’s pretty much a home run. 

Buffa: Every character you seem to play has a unique brand of toughness. A “come get some” attitude. You fight all the stars in movies. Where does that come from? The physicality and toughness?

Grillo: I’m a child of very blue collar middle class parents. I’m a regular dude. I don’t put anyone in an ivory tower. I was a big Liam Neeson fan and love his acting, but if you let it affect you on the set, then they win. Everybody’s on par when they get on the set. For me, the 4th or 5th guy on the set, I basically step on set and tell myself the movie is about Crossbones. 

Buffa: That’s the way I found you. In a movie like Pride and Glory, stealing scenes from other bigger name actors. 

Grillo: You work with Edward Norton and Nick Nolte, you have to put your stake in the ground. Use the time you have to the best of your ability or else you get lost in the movie. You know, I see movie stars get lost in the movie. They go through the motions and by the end, I’m not interested. It’s not a meritocracy. 

Buffa: Warrior was supposed to be centered around Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton but you stole that film from them and made it about you by the end. 

Grillo: I don’t know if I stole that from them but I took a character that wasn’t really on the page and I fought hard and worked hard and the director, Gavin O’Connor to his credit, saw something that worked and kept it in the film. It’s a risk you take when it’s not really there. It’s all about hard work, tenacity and grit. When you are not given things, you gotta hustle man. That’s my life.”

Buffa: To your credit, you’ve been working for the last 20 years in this business but it’s just these past few years that you are hitting this new stride. 

Grillo: Since Pride and Glory, Warrior and the past 6 or 7 years, my life has been different. I mean, I’m not getting a call for the Oscars tomorrow morning. Certain mainstream films that I love doing. There’s films that I am really proud of like Disconnect, Warrior, The Grey and even The Purge Anarchy, which is a great movie. Cap 2 included. To get my own TV series that is so close to what I am in real life, is great. 

Buffa: When I watched Purge Anarchy, I certainly thought there was more story for your character, Leo Barnes. Is that what fans are getting in this third film?

Grillo: You basically get a knowledge of why they called him Sergeant and he goes back to what he was doing before the second film, based off the events of Anarchy. You also see from a political standpoint what the Purge is really about. It’s funny because the film parallels this thing going on with Donald Trump and the election. There’s a character really similar to Trump in the film and it’s by complete accident. It comes out I believe on July 4th and it’s very fortuitous. 

Buffa: At my family get together for Christmas, I made my entire family sit down and watch Purge 2. I mean, 70 year olds, 60 year old’s, and 30-40 year old’s. All of them. No excuses. They all saw your character and said, “Who is that guy?” and I had all the pride in the world in saying, “That guy is Frank Grillo”. There are so many faces in cinema and I like to know who those faces are. When they hit it big, I can say I’ve been watching this guy forever. 

Grillo: There’s a level of that with me. People recognize me all the time but when people call me my name, that is a level of recognition I am not used to. When I hear that, I expect to see someone I know. It’s a very interesting thing. It starts with fanboys but everything has been overlapping the past few years. It’s a strange and odd phenomenon. When people you don’t know..know your name. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Buffa: The best thing about Kingdom is it feels like a one hour movie every week. It’s real, precise and well put together. Was that the goal that Byron Balasco(the show creator) and yourself had early on?

Grillo: Yep, that is by design. It’s directed by a couple guys. The way Byron writes is very real, and we don’t have any restrictions on language or sexual content so we are free to not worry about it. It doesn’t continue. One episode doesn’t have to have something to do with the next episode. There’s doors to nowhere and steps that may go nowhere. I’m so proud of everybody on it. I’m getting more calls from my agent about people saying this show is great. We are on a little network so people have to find us, guys like you. There are people Kelly Ripa and Anderson Cooper who are talking about it all the time. I’d rather be on this type of show than a flashy network show that isn’t very good but everybody know about you. I’ve lived my whole life this way. Being the guy under the radar. It doesn’t have to change if the quality is there. 

Buffa: You’re a true fighter. Nothing was given to you. There are so many actors that are given stuff, someone like Shia Labeouf. You’ve earned everything.

Grillo: He’s a good guy and an good actor. It happens to a lot of them. I mean, listen, it’s not a meritocracy. It’s not about being the best. There’s a guy like Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance, who I think is one of the best actors on the planet. He’s brilliant. No one knows his name but he’s so good. And god bless Sylvester Stallone, he won the trophy. If it was based on acting, Mark Rylance would win. And he didn’t, but it’s okay. That is what this business is about. It’s a hard to become the star. Someone has to push for it. You have to be in a bunch of films to be that guy. 

Buffa: When we last saw Alvey Kulina in Kingdom, he was in a bad spot. His wife Lisa was leaving, Chapas took his life with Alvey’s gun and his life seemed to be crumbling. What obstacles lie in this man’s path when the season picks up this summer. He did talk at the very end about having the urge to fight again. 

Grillo: There’s a little foreshadowing with Alvey’s last speech. And again, this is the brilliance of Byron Balasco, who has written some of the best stuff I have ever said on camera, and he’s totally under the radar. You see this with Ken Shamrock in real life in MMA fighting at the age of 47. That could possibly be in Alvey’s future, which is really interesting. The relationship with Lisa is basically over and we will see what happens with the baby. The stuff with his son(Nate, played by Nick Jonas) and his sexuality will eventually be exposed. The thing about this show is there is a lot of story so it can go on for a long time. 

Buffa: I hope so. Before I started this show, I wasn’t a huge MMA fan and it’s taught me so much about the sport and the world these people live in. I’m a boxing guy, but it’s sucked me in. This is the reason I watch these shows and not a FOX or CBS show. The authenticity. Kingdom and Banshee have ZERO restrictions. 

Grillo: Banshee is another great show. I’d love to do something like that. It’s fantastic. That’s the gift we have at Kingdom. Would it be nice to nominated for Emmy’s and be recognized? But we don’t have the exposure or money to go after that. However, the judicious people who seek out good content, they find it and they love it. To me, that’s the trophy and the reward. That’s a testament to DirecTV and Endemol studios because they know they something special and high quality. 

Buffa: The one thing that sticks out about you is your authenticity. In every role. What would you tell a young actor who wants that brand of authenticity? What would you tell them in order to achieve that?

Grillo: It’s about being honest in the performance. Being prepared. A lot of that authenticity is me and who I’ve become as a man. The great and bad things in my life. How I walk through life. It’s by no accident that most of my roles require that kind of guy. I would tell them a young actor to not stray too far from that core. Everybody wants to play all kinds of characters. Stick to what feels right at first. Don’t put yourself in a box but don’t spread yourself too thin trying to please everybody.

Buffa: What else is on tap for Grillo this year?

Grillo: I have a little movie called Stephanie, directed by Akiva Goldsman, who won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. It’s me, Anna Torv, and a young actress called Shree Crooks, who is on Ray Donovan. It’s a cool psychological movie coming out this year. I also did a nutty gigantic sci-fi fight film called Beyond Skyline with Iko Uwais from the Raid. We fight each other and then we fight aliens. It’s a big extravaganza and that comes out this year. I’m fairly confident we will go back and do a fourth season of Kingdom. 

Buffa: Random question. Alvey Kulina and Conor McGregor step into an octagon. Who leaves standing up? 

Grillo: Alvey Kulina man!!! Look, I like this McGregor guy. He’s good for the sport. He’s brash and delivered so far. He’s got a tough fight coming up. If he wins, he’s legit. He’s why people watch MMA. He’s smart, articulate and gets the job done. He took out a great fighter out with one punch in 12 seconds. He’s good for the sport, especially with the way Ronda Rousey got taken out. 

Buffa: Is that moment going to come for Conor? If he loses, can he bounce back from that loss? 

Grillo: It could happen. Conor was a boxer before. He has great stand up. I mean, if someone with great Jie Jitsu takes him to the ground, that could be problematic for him. He’s got an interesting style and styles make fights. Until they get somebody, and they will, because it happens to everybody. Craig Jackson trained Holly Holm and they found Rousey’s weakness and that was her standup. I don’t care how many times you pose about hit and miss or be able to hit a bag. When you come into a world with Holly Holm, a boxer for years, Ronda got lit up. 

Buffa: It was a matter of time. She kept coming at Holm and walked into a ton of shots. 

Grillo: Rousey panicked. That’s what every trainer tells their fighters when they panic. Just breathe and relax. Lay back a little and find some openings. She was so used to winning though. Jackson, who is my technical adviser on Kingdom, stopped by the set on Friday before the fight and we took him to dinner. Jackson told us that Holm was going to beat Rousey with her fists. 

Buffa: That’s all I got. Some movie talk, Kingdom talk and why not, a little actual real life MMA chat. I appreciate you taking the time. I know you are super busy and it’s great talking to you. 

Grillo: I love it. You’re a great dude. A great advocate for what I do and it doesn’t go unnoticed. I really appreciate the things that you say about my work. It humbles me. I really appreciate it. 

Buffa: I’m basically known around Arkansas and St. Louis as the “Do you know who Frank Grillo is” guy. I’m your Midwest advocate. .

Grillo: Hey dude, it’s working! I love it. 

When you watch Frank Grillo work, it’s an experience. One of a kind. It’s not going to show up at award shows but you will remember it for a long time. You will crave it. Need more of it. His dedication to the role, the dialogue and the physicality in his roles is unique and something you don’t see often in this business where short cuts are often taken.

When you see Frank Grillo in a film or TV show, you know that he is giving everything to that performance. It’s full immersion or go home with Grillo. Whether that’s throwing punches at Captain America, walking the line between MMA fighter and trainer, or taking his own personal brand of justice to the streets one night a year. He’s not just an action star and he’s not trying to be Daniel Day Lewis(no shoe cobbling for Frank). He’s a hard working tough guy who hustled at the right time, put his best foot forward and didn’t let the ego and reputation of others get in the way on a set. He’s a true fighter, in life and in front of the camera.

You can catch up on 20 episodes of Kingdom on Itunes, Amazon or UVerse On Demand or DirecTV. It will return this summer.

Captain America: Civil War and The Purge 3 arrive this spring and summer. Stephanie and Beyond Skyline arrive later.

Soon enough, you won’t be able to escape Grillo. If the world of entertainment is a ring and he is in it, it will shrink in 2016. That’s exactly the way it should be. The world of make believe needs more Frank Grillo’s. He doesn’t waste a second of your time.

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