While you may not know the name Frank Grillo just yet, he’s making every effort to see that you eventually do. The veteran character actor has been acting in Hollywood since the early ‘90s, but is only now starting to see his career really start to take off. Earlier this year we saw him play villain Brock Rumlow in the super successful hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this weekend he is front and center in the new horror sequel The Purge: Anarchy, and soon he will be the star of his own series, Kingdom on FX. But this is only the beginning.
In promotion of The Purge: Anarchy, this past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Frank Grillo and talk all about not only his latest film, but also his ambitious goals for his future as an actor. He had a bunch of absolutely fascinating things to say, so start reading now!
Why Sergeant Doesn’t Have A Name And Why A Lot Of His Dialogue Was CutIn The Purge: Anarchy, Frank Grillo’s Sergeant is what you might call a man of mystery (and I don’t mean in the globe-trotting spy sense). While we know that he is using the Purge night to some serious revenge, and that he has some trauma in his background, he is a character of very few words, and never even fully reveals his name. While you’d think this would be an extra hard challenge for an actor to wrap his head around, the reality is that Grillo fought to keep Sergeant in the shadows and as enigmatic as possible.
Talking about being a "pain in the ass" to writer/director James DeMonaco, constantly asking about his character and the larger world he lives in, Grillo explained that it was a mutual decision between him and the filmmaker to cut down on all the talking and leave his identity a secret to both the group of travelers he’s working with in the movie, and the audience.
"I ask ‘why?’ ‘why?’ ‘why?’ and he listened," Grillo told me. "We cut a lot of my dialogue out and I said I didn’t want to have a name. I should never tell them my name. My job is to get rid of [the group] so I can do what I have to do. I don’t want to make friends. I don’t want any more emotion to be released from me. I don’t want any sympathy. I don’t want to be sentimental, so let’s make this guy like one of those guys we love, like the Charles Bronsons of the world."
But while we may not know the big or tiny details of Sergeant’s life, don’t be confused: Frank Grillo knows the man inside out:
"I have a bible of backstory, which is just for me. What that does, my bible, is it creates my behavior, and good acting is behavior. If I know what I’m doing at all times and why I’m doing it, it makes what I’m doing authentic. That’s what every character has to have, all that knowledge."
He Wants To Be The Next Liam NeesonIt’s certainly an odd trend, but there is something about older action stars that audiences seem to be eating up these days. The whole thing can be traced back to Liam Neeson’s performance in Taken, where the 56-year-old Northern Irish actor started whipping around a particular set of skills that made movie-goers absolutely fall in love with him as a professional badass. Now more than ever, the door is open for other older actors to try and find the same level of success – and that’s right now the career goal for the 51-year-old Frank Grillo.
The topic came up while discussing the physical preparation Grillo needed for The Purge: Anarchy - which actually resulted in him telling me that there was no actual physical preparation necessary. Instead, he keeps himself so in shape with boxing, Jujitsu, Cross Fit, running and other various exercises that at this point most stunt guys are trying to keep up with him.
"I’m doing this TV show where it’s the world of MMA, and I know as much as the pros," Grillo explained. "I can roll with the pros, and I take pride in that. I love that, and it’s who I am as a man, and it’s who I am as an actor. I think it’s interesting that people are starting to recognize that maybe I’m one of a handful of guys who can kind of pull something off at my age. There’s plenty of young guys, so we’ll see what happens."
Of course, Grillo actually had the experience of working right alongside Liam Neeson in the Joe Carnahan arctic thriller The Grey, and the two actors are actually friends. The Taken star even made a point to provide some advice.
"He tells me, ‘Make sure your knees stay good,’" Grillo said, laughing.
He Took A Ton Of Inspiration From Pop Culture Revenge And Man-On-A-Mission MoviesFrank Grillo’s character in The Purge: Anarchy is cut from a very familiar Hollywood cloth. Movie-goers love a strong, silent man on a mission, and that’s exactly who Sergeant is. Of course, to try and be the best, you have to learn from the best, so while Grillo was preparing for the part, he did his film history homework to make sure that his character had the exact resonance he was going for.
In addition to building a personality bible for Sergeant that could be used as a reference for emotional reaction, Grillo also sat down to watch a number of classic films with classic man-on-a-mission heroes that Sergeant could relate to. So what exactly was on his watch list?
"I watched the old movies that I love," Grillo said. "Escape from New York with Snake Plissken, and even The Warriors, we watched again. I watched Outlaw Josey Wales and High Plains Drifter. I saw Bullitt with Steve McQueen and you know, those guys. And Lee Marvin, a couple Lee Marvin films."
Between Kurt Russell, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin, Grillo was learning from the best, and had a very clear idea in mind what he wanted both from his research and how Sergeant came across in The Purge: Anarchy:
"Those are the guys I want to be in a bar with," Grillo said. "If there’s a problem, and it’s going to get sloppy, I want to be with those guys."
The Satire Of The Purge WorldThe Purge franchise can largely be categorized in the thriller/horror genre, but the movies do feature their own little bit of satire. The sinister underlying reason for The Purge - allowing the wealthy to stay safe and healthy while the poor tear themselves to shreds – is obvious social commentary, and there are even some moments in The Purge: Anarchy where it beat audiences over the head with the message to the degree where it’s actually funny. Rather than just being the filmmakers trying too hard, however, this bit of over-the-topness is 100% intentional.
"It’s an outlandish idea, and I think what DeMonaco does with these movies is he’s poking fun at society," Grillo answered after I asked him about the larger world of The Purge. "Even with the way the newscasters sound, and ‘Release The Beast!’ and all that stuff. It’s a poke."
The movie is meant to be unrealistic (sorry, guys, we’re never going to get 12 hours of lawless freedom per year), but that also doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have something to say. As Grillo explains, there’s a certain terrifying culture of violence that is growing in our world, and things can and will get incredibly awful if it goes by completely unchecked. Said the actor,
"If we don’t get a handle on our obsession with violence and guns and hurting each other and the socioeconomic differences that we seem to have, and we don’t take care of people, something is going to happen. Something is going to happen."
The Purge: Anarchy will be in theaters on July 18th.