Frank Grillo has worked as a journeyman actor for many years: appearing in soap operas, commercials and shows like Poltergeist: The Legacy before moving up the food chain to steadier TV work. He’s definitely having a moment in 2014, first for his turn as a pre-Crossbones Brock Rumlow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now as the central figure in The Purge: Anarchy. He sat down to talk about the project – and his future as Crossbones – with the press this past weekend.
Question: Was there anything specific you drew on to create this character?
Frank Grillo: It was Snake Plissken, from Escape from New York. That and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Clint was bad ass in that film. He didn’t say much, he just conveyed it in his face. My clothes became a part of that. My jacket was this sort of pseudo-duster. We were really concerned about the silhouette of the guy, how he would look. And the more that came into focus, the cooler the character got. Even my son thought it was cool, and he doesn’t think anything I do is cool!
Q: How much does the surrounding atmosphere in the shoot feed into that?
FG: Amazingly. We were night shooting for weeks, and I don’t sleep in the day. I just don’t. I can’t reset my internal clock like that. So yeah, it gets to you. You start to feel a little anxious, a little ragged. Plus, there were rats. Have you seen the rats in this town? We were shooting in downtown LA, and the rats are like German shepherds. Hundreds of them! And they’re not afraid of people.
I think all of that feeds the film and the story we’re trying to tell. It makes the story better and helps us convey the right emotional state.
Q: How tough is it staying in shape for these physical roles?
FG: It’s been in me for a longtime. I grew up boxing. I grew up wrestling. I grew up with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I was involved with the Gracie family way before the UFC. And I’ve always had a bad relationship with food. There’s always been a little weight that needs trimming. So I’ve always been in shape, since I was 9 years old. It’s just a lifestyle at this point. It’s come in handy in my line of work, but really, it’s just been a part of my life for so long.
Q: Is that part of why you play tough guys so well?
FG: I suppose so. When you’re involved in those sports on a high level, you learn not to be afraid of other people. I carry myself with a certain confidence I suppose. Otherwise, it’s a mystery to me. (Laughs.) I really don’t feel like a bad ass most of the time! I get afraid of things like everyone else. Cancer. War. Someone I love dying.
Q: Or people deciding to legalize an annual night of murder and mayhem?
FG: Exactly. I’m afraid of what people are capable of. I grew up in New York City, so I’ve seen what people are capable of. I’ve seen what random acts of violence look like. I’m afraid of the unknown of it all, things that you can’t possibly anticipate. I think people are unstable, and people are put under a lot of duress, especially people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. I grew up in a bad place. There were a lot of immigrants from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republican. It was bad for them, really bad. And eventually, you wear that. That’s the loss, and it can get very ugly if you let it. That’s what I think this movie is about.
Q: You say “things you can’t possibly anticipate.” The film seems to agree with that, especially in those times when you see horrible violence coming from people you don’t expect it from.
FG: That’s exactly it. The way The Purge came about is that James DeMonaco and his wife – who’s a doctor, who saves people’s lives – got cut off on the highway in New York. They pulled over, they were really shaken. And she said, “If I could kill that guy and get away with it, I would. That’s how angry I am at what he did.” The lightbulb went off in his head, and he thought, “That instinct is in every single human being. It’s in our DNA.” Maybe not to kill people, but at least to get even. We all have that, it’s innate.
Q: And your character struggles with that harder than anyone else in the film.
FG: I wanted to see how that related to this character, to the journey he’s about to make. His whole life now, all he cares about is getting this thing done. Taking care of this thing. And that’s not who he is. I thought really hard about the end of the film. How I wanted it to go. Whether it would serve the characters well, or the messages we were trying to send with them well.
Q: Where do you find that kind of anger when you’re playing him?
FG: I have a friend who was in Iraq, and saw terrible things. He was a Special Ops guy, he was really in the thick of it. And when he got home, he was discarded by the government. He had been injured and they made it very difficult to even get a basic amount of service. The amount of rage and hate he was carrying was unbelievable. And he wasn’t that way before, when we were growing up. I keep telling him, “you’ve got to let it go. This is going to eat you from the inside out.” You sympathize and you try to put yourself in a place where you can understand that.
I don’t think my character cares about where he’s going. He only cares about getting there. He spends all of his resources planning for this night. He’s living in a crappy apartment. There’s nothing on the walls, no distractions. Every penny goes into the weapons, the car, the tools that are going to take him where he needs to go. There is nothing else in his life, nothing beyond that. For an entire year.
Q: So would you ever do a comedy?
FG: Actually, my first job in LA was a sit-com with Gary David Goldberg, the guy who created Family Ties. I loved it! I got to be campy, and you just won’t see me do that anymore. You’ll probably never see me in a romantic comedy. In fact, let’s go on the record: you WILL never see me in a romantic comedy! But I would love to do something funny. Something funny and smart. That Seth Rogen film from last year, This is the End? I’d love to do something like that.
Q: Any tidbits on Captain America or Crossbones?
FG: I signed on a multi-picture deal with Marvel, and Winter Soldier was pitched to me partly as an origin story for Crossbones. I can’t say where it’s going, but everyone knows the character and knows where this is headed in the comics. Kevin Feige is the Oz of it all, and he’s the one with all the strings in his hands. They’re very quiet about it, they don’t tell you much. The only thing so far is that you have to clear every movie you do with them, so there won’t be any conflict. So far, they haven’t said no to anything. The minute they do, I’ll know it’s time. I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll let the audience see where Brock goes and what happens to him.