Frank Grillo is one tough dude.
I don't simply mean he can handle himself in a fight or that you should get behind him when the world ends (I mean, you should)-but he is tough in every facet of life.
For example, when we conducted our sixth interview, he was sitting in Los Angeles traffic in 90 degree heat without air conditioning in his vehicle. I don't know about you, but that's a whole level of tough that 99% of movie stars and celebrities wouldn't be able to handle.
Grillo is something else, though. From the first time we spoke back in 2014 to the latest chat over the weekend, he's remained the same guy. No matter how bright his star shines, Grillo remains the same down to Earth dude who granted a guy with a blog an interview to promote his big summer release, The Purge: Anarchy, way back when.
If there is a harder working actor in Hollywood, please bring them forward. Grillo has four films in post-production-Boss Level, Into the Ashes, Donnybrook, The Night-along with one film coming out this summer, Reprisal, and a Netflix series this October in Fight World. Don't forget the newly announced Point Blank, which reunites Grillo with his Captain America: Winter Soldier co-star and friend Anthony Mackie, which will launch into production this month.
When the avid boxer isn't hitting things, he's in front of a camera hitting things or reading a script preparing to hit things. Yes, I meant script(s). Since our last chat in the fall of 2016, Grillo has played a part in two widly successful film franchises, wrapped up one of television's greatest all time series in Kingdom, and started a production company, War Party, with his best friend and writer/director friend, Joe Carnahan.
When I call Grillo an authentic man of action, the words are set in stone before I stop talking. He's always moving, hustling, putting himself out there-and constantly connecting with his fans on Instagram. He took a break from the heat of his schedule-but not from the actual heat-to chat with me about where he's been and where he's headed.
Buffa: You've been a busy man, going from set to set. The Batman of the film world.
Grillo: I'm trying to make a dollar out of 30 cents.
Buffa: When we last spoke, Fight World was just getting kicked around, so I'm going to run back a bit and catch the audience up. Let's talk about War Party. How did this thing come together?
Grillo: It started with Wheelman. Joe and I love working together. We are best friends. That film launched the idea of us making this movies for under $20 million that we loved when we were young. Those 70's styled Michael Mann movies. Wheelman turned out to be a great success and we did it for $6 million for Netflix, and that started a great relationship there. Joe and I have since are going on our fourth film, Point Blank, with Netflix. We have the Fight World TV series as well. We are two guys with no office and we just seem to keep pumping out some great stuff.
Buffa: Wheelman was a unique beast. It was a juicy steak with no fat on it, but the greatness of that movie came from the heart it had, especially between you and Caitlin Carmichael, who played your daughter.
Grillo: I agree. Without that storyline, there is no Wheelman. You don't care about him. It made the audience care. In the real world, there's nothing fantastic about him. He's kind of a jerk, but you see that he's a guy who loves his kid and wants to make their relationship okay, so you like him.
Buffa: I'll appeal to the people who love that movie, myself included because I've watched it like seven times. Will there be a Wheelman 2?
Grillo: We wanted to do it. I don't know is the answer. There's some legal stuff with the rights to the story. At some point, it may become more trouble than it's worth. It's not counted yet. We are still trying to figure it out.
Buffa: War Party has launched an interesting film called Boss Level, which looks like a pedal to the floor, science fiction seasoned, action extravaganza. Mel Gibson and Naomi Watts are involved. Tell me about this flick.
Grillo: This is amazing. Joe wrote this one a while ago and we tried to do it at Fox. It is truly a throwback to the films like Die Hard. Throw in some Groundhog Day and Deadpool. It's Joe Carnahan at his best.
Buffa: I've been an apologist for Gibson since he got himself into trouble. I just think it's about time to release the shackles and let the big talent back into the game. How was it working with him?
Grillo: Two things. First of all, Mel Gibson is a legend. You have to understand the circumstances that which he got himself into trouble, and he did say some stupid things. He was drunk. But I've gotten to become very good friends with him. I spent a lot of time with him. There's a reason why he's one of the iconic movie stars in the world. He's also one of the most talented directors that are working today. He's also a great guy. Is he without flaws? No. Has he done some silly things? Yes. Has he paid the price? Yes. So in a world with guys like Harvey Weinstein and these pigs terrorizing women, I'll say that Mel Gibson did some silly things, went away for ten years, and now it's time to let him do his thing. He's got to feed his family. He's just a terrific guy to be around.
Buffa: There seems to be a double-standard in Hollywood. They will let one guy keep working and hold another one down. When it comes to talent, Mel Gibson has more talent than Kevin Spacey will ever have.
Grillo: And we forget, Mel Gibson was the biggest movie star in the world. That's like being Lebron James. He reached a height that is very rarely seen.
Buffa: You mentioned working with Netflix. How is that compared to working with regular movie distributing studios?
Grillo: I'm going in August to do a film called Point Blank with Anthony Mackie, Marcia Gay Harden, and some other great actors. It was a piece of material owned by Gaumont, which is a French company and we rewrote it. Netflix does this: "we love the property, we love the movie. Come in and talk to us about it. Let us know what you think. They do it. We just sat with 75 executives from Netflix, going from pre-production all the way to the credits and marketing. They know exactly what they are going to do with the movie the minute they sign on. They are the easiest studio I've ever been involved with. True partners. Their only involvement creatively is positive. It's a joy to work with them.
Buffa: You can see that with Wheelman. That was the movie Jeremy Rush wanted to make.
Grillo: With Joe and I there as producers and responsible for the movie, Netflix entrusted us. We made sure Jeremy stayed the course, because he was a first time director. It was a bit jumpy at times, but in the end, we made the movie exactly the way we wanted to.
Buffa: There's something cool and signature about making an indie film. A freedom. You just got done making a film with your boy James DeMonaco (wrote and directed The Purge Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year with Grillo) called The Night. It's set in 1982 around the release of Rocky 3, which instantly gets my attention because I'm an '82 baby.
Grillo: This is a movie he's wanted to make for a while. James is from Staten Island, and he still lives there. It's a great family story that revolves around the night that Rocky 3 opened. It's myself and Naomi (Watts) again, and some great young kids, and Bobby Cannavale. A great cast. A Blumhouse film done by Universal done at a price that leaves James alone to do his movie. You're very restricted, because you aren't getting any more money, so it's a very specific way to make a film, which is why Blum is great at what he does.
Buffa: You mentioned Cannavale, who is one of my favorites and like you, always gives a real, lived in performance. Putting you two together is straight fire, Frank. I saw on Instagram that your characters get into a fight.
Grillo: It was great. I'm a huge fan of his. In the beginning, he came over to me and said that while he played a lot of bad guys, he didn't do much fighting. He asked if I could help him, and I told him it was going to fun and dirty. It's two guys in the movie who don't know how to fight. We had a ball. Bobby is great and the fight is great.
Buffa: Any time you mention a fight and you're involved, I'm there and so are millions of others. It's a given, because anyone who follows you on social media can attest, you fight every day and it's part of your DNA. You mentioned in an interview that fighting made you a better actor. Can you explain that?
Grillo: They are. Fighting is a visceral and emotional thing. I don't claim to be a fighter. I just love to fight and train in many aspects of fighting. It changes on a cellular level how you carry yourself in the world. The way you treat people. You aren't insecure and afraid, but your heart is open. It's a big part of my acting. Fighting and training, knowing how to carry myself physically.
Buffa: You can tell on screen. The best character you've ever played is Alvey Kulina on Byron Balasco's Kingdom. This is as close of a character to you as a writer can make.
Grillo: Byron is one of the most talented guys that I know. He wrote the heck out of that show. He deserved a lot more recognition than he got. I was just on an email chain with the crew from Kingdom. I really miss it.
Buffa: One of the best scenes came between you and Nick Jonas near the end of the series. Nick's character, Nate, is trying to come out to his father, Alvey. That scene was something else. It is what Byron did so well, giving us a show about fighters where the best parts involved no fighting at all.
Grillo: Absolutely. It's about your inner fight. The turmoil. It's an unnatural thing. Byron didn't shoot away from who these people were. The way Alvey responded to Nate was terrible and nothing pretty about it. That's what I loved about Byron.
Buffa: The best writers have to write for their characters and not the audience. It would have been so different, and not as good, if Alvey reacted positively to Nate's confession.
Grillo: Absolutely. Alvey had to go there. I have sons, and it's a terrible word to say, what I called Nate. We were true to the character. It ended too soon, but I savor it.
Buffa: One of the best shots is the final one, where it's just Alvey sitting in that locker room, bloodied and broken in a way, on the inside and outside.
Grillo: It was one of the best shows that nobody really paid attention to. DirecTV tried, but they didn't try hard enough. More people should have been watching that show.
Buffa: Is it bittersweet for you to see Purge film released without your Leo Barnes on screen?
Grillo: No. I really had no desire to do another Purge movie. Anarchy was a lot of fun and a throwback to the 70's movies that I love, but there was no iteration of Purge 4 that I wanted to be a part of. James didn't direct the new movie, but it looks great and I hope it is successful. There are some things that it's time to move off of.
Buffa: You are moving towards better scripts.
Grillo: I'm not Brad Pitt, but I have some movies coming out that I'm really excited about. Donnybrook, which I'm taking to Venice and Toronto and has Jamie Bell and James Badge Dale, is really dark and unapologetic. Into The Ashes, which my buddy Aaron Harvey wrote and directed, with Dale and Luke Grimes. There's also Boss Level. I've had a great run this past year working with some very good people.
Buffa: You work with some great people too. Guys like James Badge Dale, who reminds me of a more wicked Jonathan Tucker.
Grillo: He's scary talented. The type of actor you could use every take. He's amazing.
Buffa: We also need to talk about Fight World. It's you in your element. You love to fight, but you also love to meet people who fight and learn why they fight. When we last spoke, you compared it to the late Anthony Bourdain's shows, No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Instead of connecting people with food, you are doing that with fighting.
Grillo: I'm connecting culture through fighters. This isn't a tutorial. It's more anthropological. Truth be told, I was hoping there would be a crossover one day since Bourdain did some Ju Jitsu. It drops in the fall season. It's on Netflix. It's very different from anything else out there about fighters, telling stories through fighters' eyes.
Buffa: When you think about where you are now and where you came from, playing Detective Grogan in 1993's Deadly Rivals-do you ever stop and just reflect on how far you've come?
Grillo: I think we should all reflect. There are times where I'm in a movie that I'm producing and Mel Gibson is the bad guy, and there are scenes where we are face to face, and his big blue eyes are in front of me, and I'm like, "Jesus Christ! This is Mel Gibson." It's not lost on me. I wasn't a first round draft pick. I wasn't one of those guys who did a studio film at 22 years old. I'm a working guy and a working actor. Every time I get to do these movies with titanic actors, like Naomi Watts who is one of the best actors working, I walk away and pinch myself. Good for us.
Buffa: I remember back in November of 2013, you respond to a direct message and I couldn't believe it. That's really Frank Grillo!
Grillo: I don't take anything for granted. I was just working out in Gold's Gym. Two guys were there and they drove two hours to take a photo with me, and I was like, "are you kidding me?" We sat down and talked and took some photos. If that ever gets lost on me, because I'm not Tom Cruise. I mean, you have to know who I am. I take it all very seriously and I'm humbled by it.
Buffa: You inspire a lot of people. Your posts on Instagram and not just the workout photos. The memes you post about anti-negativity and evil really help people.
Grillo: There's a lot of negativity in the world and some of them are close to us. We don't realize how damaging things become and how toxic it is. As you get older and you have less time in front of you, you don't want to tolerate it. I posted a quote that talked about people talking behind your back and how they are behind you. That's the mission statement.
Buffa: A lot of times when an actor like yourself puts it out there, it carries weight.
Grillo: At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we are all the same. There are people that I trust and people that hurt my feelings. I post things and a lot of people say they are feeling the same thing. We are like one big AA meeting.
Buffa: I have to ask you this in order to do my movie guy due diligence. If you feel a rifle scope dot appear on your chest, say no comment. Is Crossbones alive or dead?
Grillo: It depends on what dimension that the movie is in. It could Crossbones or Brock Rumlow. Who knows?
Buffa: One more thing. What's the best advice you've ever received from someone?
Grillo: There are no rules. You can be 5 or 85, and whatever you're doing could come to fruition. You could be 30 and you haven't done your first TV show, and there are no rules. There are only things in your head. The only rule is, don't stop and don't quit.
Grillo hasn't stopped moving since he landed in Hollywood. Whatever hooks that usually knock other actors out or make them second-guess their choice has alluded the 53 year old veteran performer. I say performer because every time I watch Grillo work it feels like a one-man performance. He comes on screen and just convinces. There's a truth to his work that others just can't find.
If you thought 2017 was big for Grillo, 2018 is even bigger and 2019 may be the biggest yet. Paired with Netflix and now an actor/producer double threat, Grillo isn't stopping. There's no quit here. He plans to entertain audiences for the foreseeable future, and that's a privilege and not a right.
As good of an actor as he is, the most incredible thing about Frank is his decency and willingness to commit to people. He gives so much of himself that it's easy to think you are talking to a friend and not an actor. The first time we spoke, it was a quick exchange over a social media platform. This time, it felt like two guys talking about the movies and things they love.
That's the Grillo effect. He's the action hero we need on screen, but the decent gentleman that the world needs every day.
He's doing okay, especially for a guy without air conditioning.