Frank Grillo: On the Verge With ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ and Returning For ‘Captain America 3′
Frank Grillo isn’t 50 yet — he just turned 49 earlier this month — but the Internet, led by IMDb and Wikipedia, has aged him by two years … and Grillo seems resigned to this fact. It’s almost fitting: Grillo, who has been acting for over 20 years, but is just now starting to become a household name (thanks to high-profile roles in ‘The Grey,’ ‘Warrior’ and this year’s blockbuster ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘), still can’t even get his birthday listed correctly. (It’s June 8, 1965, for future reference.)
When you meet Grillo, it’s hard not to be excited for him, as he oozes an almost childlike wonderment about his recent success. This is an actor who, until recently, spent his time guest starring on episodes of ‘Law and Order: SVU, ‘Blue Bloods,’ ‘CSI: NY’ — basically running the gauntlet of all the productions available for New York City-based actors. In 2003, Grillo played second banana to Fred Dryer in the reunion movie ‘Hunter: Back in Force,’ now Grillo starts shooting the third Captain America movie this coming spring and is one of the leads in the American remake of ‘The Raid.’ Oh, yeah, and then there’s the upcoming sequel to ‘The Purge.’
The first ‘The Purge’ film is an interesting case study: On a budget of only $3 million, it grossed $87 million worldwide based pretty much on the film’s concept — every year there’s a 12-hour span in which all crime is legal, including murder. Audiences showed up, but they didn’t love what they saw, giving the film a lousy CinemaScore. The problem was there really was this great concept, but the budget didn’t allow us to see any of that concept, relegating the first film to a claustrophobic home invasion film. The world is opened up in the sequel, officially titled ‘The Purge: Anarchy,’ as Grillo’s Leo leads a group of innocent bystanders through the purging streets of downtown Los Angeles.
I met Grillo on a stormy Friday afternoon in the parking lot of Coney Island, which kind of sounded like a joke when I first heard where the interview location would be (on location is an interactive ‘The Purge’ “experience” that I declined to do because I don’t like being scared) but, there he was, in a thankfully air-conditioned trailer, as Coney Island’s famous Cyclone roller coaster roared every so often in the distance. Or perhaps that was thunder. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.
Frank Grillo: Did you go through The Experience?
I did not. Is it scary?
Yeah. It scared the shit out of me. I almost punched a guy at the end, he jumped out at me.
Fight or flight.
Right, fight or flight.
Can that happen in the real movie, or is it too rehearsed?
Not so much with this film. I did ‘The Grey’ and it was very intense and emotional because we’re in the wilderness and it was always 30 degrees. You kind of lose your sense of reality in the fact that you’re filming a movie.
That movie sneaked up on a lot of people.
It did, yeah. It wasn’t marketed well.
You don’t think it was marketed well?
No. I think what happened is Open Road, who I love — I was in ‘End of Watch’ with them; ‘Homefront’ — it was one of their first movies that they acquired and I think they were kind of just banking on Liam Neeson.
Which sometimes is a solid strategy. But this movie was different.
So, “Liam Neeson versus the wolves” doesn’t make any sense. To me, this movie was more like ‘Deliverance.’ It was the number one movie when it opened, but it certainly didn’t do the numbers we thought it was capable of doing.
It could have been an Oscar contender.
Listen, they were talking about it, but that’s a whole other game.
You don’t look 50.
I’m actually not really 50.
It’s OK, I don’t mind people saying that I’m 50. But, no, I was born in 1965 and IMDb has 1963. Whatever. I’m still old. I just had a birthday.
And now as you approach 50, you’re getting famous.
Which is kind of a scary proposition; that’s never entered my mind. You know? That’s not my life. I work hard. I don’t know why all of a sudden people started– I think ‘Warrior.’ If I had to go back, that was a jumping point.
Another great movie that few people saw.
Again, not marketed well, but a great film.
I cried during that movie.
Me, too. In fact, they screened it for me and Robert De Niro was sitting right next to me and I looked over and he was hysterical crying. A good friend of mine said to me, who runs CAA, he said, “There are no rules in this business, so keep doing what you’re doing, and at the very worst, you’re going to put a body of work together that’s you’ll be happy with. At the best, somebody’s going to discover what I know.” Then ‘Warrior’ happened and my phone started to ring and then Joe Carnahan called and said, ‘Come do ‘The Grey.’”
And then you’re in the sequel to ‘Captain America.’
And at this age, 50-years-old.
Yeah, but you know what I’m saying — approaching on middle age, real middle age, where now I’m getting phone calls to be in ‘The Raid’ and this movie and that movie. It’s an interesting observation about Hollywood. There’s a vacuum right now and I’m lucky — I’m not really that talented.
That’s not true. And I feel if you are talented, people can’t ignore you forever.
Right. That’s what it is.
Just like there are a lot of flashes in the pan who don’t have talent.
There are a lot of those. Then there are the John Hawkes of the world. He’s always been great, but now he gets to do roles where he’s shining. He’s a beautiful actor. And what’s his name, from ‘Breaking Bad’?
Cranston! He’s been around forever, he’s been successful, but now he’s a serious actor. He’s a guy who can open a movie, maybe. Listen, I’m just going to keep doing it, so hopefully people will knock on my door.
When you signed on for ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier,’ did you sign a multi-film contract?
I know a character is important when after a lot of chaos, we see a close-up of that character to prove he’s still alive. They did that with your Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones character.
Yeah, it’s good, you know … I don’t have any baggage. How many guys at my age don’t have any baggage?
You can define yourself any way you want.
I can be anyone I want.
In 2008, we hear Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man and we have a good sense of what that may be like. With you and Crossbones, it really could be anything.
I’m going to tell you something that is great about the fanboys. Once you get on their radar and they respect what you’re doing — you’re kind of living up to what they expect from you — it changes your life.
Because the studios and the powers that be that create these movies, they listen to the fanboys. Kevin Feige is one of the biggest fanboys of all. He knows his shit. So, now I kind of have this little fanboy following that is getting bigger and bigger because I’m not doing anything stupid to disrespect the character.
The problem is it’s the opposite if they don’t like something you chose for the character.
I know. They can destroy you. And, let me tell you, people listen. I’m all about authenticity, always. With this role in ‘The Purge: Anarchy,’ I had a clear idea about this guy. And you know, there are people who say, “Why do you want to do this movie? Did you see the first one? It’s kind of stupid.”
It was an interesting concept, but then it was a home invasion movie. It felt like the premise was wasted.
That’s it! How often does that happen? Never. It was a $3 million movie with a $100 million concept.
How do you win the audience trust back? People felt burnt after the first movie.
Great question. You know, I think Universal has been brilliant in the trailers. Nobody is inside; everybody is outside … but it will live and die by word-of-mouth. So, if people respond to it, which only the movie gods know, but it’s summertime and everyone will go see the movie. So that’s [knocks on the wood table] what we’re hoping for.
You mentioned that you’re getting a lot of phone calls for projects.
I’m going to go do ‘The Raid.’
Is that 100 percent happening?
Well, they offered me the film and we’re in the process of negotiating now. We shoot in September and I was supposed to be rehearsing by August. I was a big fan of the first ‘Raid’ and when I read the script, this does the first one justice as far as becoming an American version of it. I met with Patrick Hughes who just directed ‘Expendables 3‘ and I fell in love with that guy. And we were off to the races. Because of casting and time constraints — I’m on a TV series that doesn’t finish until August — we decided to push the movie until January. Right after that is ‘Cap 3′ — it will be around that time; so there’s that — and I’m in the process of shooting this great TV series called ‘Kingdom,’ which is like ‘Warrior.’ It’s funny, I’m more excited by my wife’s excitement and my mother and it’s fun for my kids. They get to see me in ‘Captain America.’
Did they ask why you were trying to kill Captain America?
Yes! They came to the set and they were looking at him — my six-year old could not figure out how he was standing in front of me, Captain America. And Chris Evans is a good friend now, so he played into it. So, to me, that’s what’s fun about it.
Have you seen the designs of the Crossbones costume you’ll get to wear in the next movie?
You know, they are so– I have to tell you…
Because his face is burnt now.
Yeah, his face is burned. If you read the comics about Crossbones, you know, Marvel always takes their interpretation of the comics. It’s exciting.
Is he like Black Widow and could show up in any of the Marvel movies?
It doesn’t have to just be a Captain America movie?
No. He could show up in anything. He could have his own thing. He could really have his own thing.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.