By PETERSON GONZAGA
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Audiences may recognize him as the Marvel comics supervillain Brock Rumlow/Crossbones in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but Frank Grillo is not really a mean guy in person. Underneath those intimidating features and chiseled physique, there is actually an amiable family man.
In “The Purge: Anarchy,” written and directed by James DeMonaco, Grillo plays Leo, a conflicted sergeant, who has lost a young son. Wanting to avenge the death of his boy, Leo prepares for months before the annual purge to ready himself for revenge. Amassing a large cache of guns and retrofitting his car with armor, he is on a mission to do damage to the individual who ripped his life apart.
On recent summer day in downtown Los Angeles, Grillo arrives for an interview with an aura of realness about him, and yet there also is some mystery and possibly a quiet hero disposition in the man. As he talks about his new thriller, a sequel to the 2013 original (also written and directed by DeMonaco), he seems like a gregarious and cool guy who happens to look like an intimidating UFC fighter.
Q: You’re so badass in this film!
Grillo: Somebody asked me if I went to a badass school.
Q: There’s a school for badass?
Grillo: A school of badasses! (He laughs.)
Q: Where did you pull the character from? A little bit of Terminator, a little bit of Rocky?
Grillo: You know it was Snake (from “Escape From New York”), believe or not, and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Do you know that movie? It’s one of my favorite films. Clint (Eastwood) didn’t say much. That’s badass! Even my clothes (for “Purge”), I designed the coat that I wore. It was supposed to be like a pseudo-duster because it was like a frock. We were really concerned about the silhouette of the guy and it was cool. My son even thinks I’m cool! He never thinks I’m cool.
Q: Filmmakers think of you as a tough guy. Is there pressure to be a tough guy?
Grillo: I don’t know where that comes from. I have three sons, and I don’t raise my voice to them. I love being a dad. I’m a blue-collar a guy that a lot of people can relate to because I’m a working stiff. I’m a journeyman. I’ve grown up fighting, boxing and wrestling. I grew up doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu. My son’s name is Rio. I was very involved with the Gracie family way before the UFC. I guess I carry myself where I’m not afraid of people. I don’t have a fear of another man. There are a lot of other fears I have—like my children getting hurt, my parents dying—but I don’t fear other people. I don’t walk on the streets fearing people. Maybe that is somehow conveyed on the screen. I’m really not a badass! (He laughs.)
Q: Would you ever do a comedy?
Grillo: My first time in L.A. I did a sitcom with Gary David Goldberg who created “Family Ties.” I loved it, man. I got to be campy. People just don’t see me that way. You’ll probably never see me in a romantic comedy. In fact, I’m going on the record that you will never see me in a romantic comedy. I would like to do a smart comedy, like what James Franco and Seth Rogen did (in “Neighbors”). I thought that was fantastic.
Q: You’ve got to get in that group.
Grillo: I don’t have the right friends.
Q: “The Purge: Anarchy” is not about monsters or evil spirits but about a man against another man. You said you’re not scared of another man. Are you scared of the possibilities of what a man can do to another man?
Grillo: I’m afraid of what people are capable of doing. I live in New York City. I was born in the city. I see what random acts of violence looks like. I’m afraid of the unknown of it all. I think people are unstable. A lot of people are put under duress, especially coming the lower socio-economic background. I grew up in a bad place and a lot of people I grew up around were immigrants from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It was bad for them. I understand that eventually you wear that and that’s when the clashes are terrible. That’s why we have to make every effort to be better with each other.
Q: How do you feel about guns?
Grillo: They really make for great entertainment. I told people in other interviews that the way (writer/director) James DeMonaco came up with “The Purge” was he was with his wife who is a doctor. She saves people’s lives. They got cut off in New York on the highway. They pulled over and were really shaken up. She was shaking and said, “If I could kill that guy and get away it just once, I’d do it. That’s how angry I am,” and the light bulb went off in his head. He thought, “That’s in every single person’s DNA.” I think all of us have thought, well maybe not to kill someone but If I could just go back (and get even with) that guy in high school, or whatever. We all that though, “If I could just pick up those pair of earrings with no one seeing me.” It’s not just about killing people. We’re all in that. It’s innate.
Q: A lot of people at the screening were applauding in the part with the rich people being knocked off.
Grill: How about when I got the older woman out of the car? They wanted me to kill her but Universal thought that it was too much. They didn’t want people to look at me in a certain way. It was interesting because they were saying, “How about, you head-butt her.” She’s 97 years old!
Q: The movie delves into payback from the status quo. Does that resonate with you?
Grillo: That’s one reason I signed onto the movie. I wanted to explore the journey this guy was going to take. His whole life is getting this thing done, taking care of this thing. When it comes down to it, that’s not who he is. He opens up his heart and maybe starts to live again instead of dying. In a film like this, it’s fun not only to have people on the edge of their seat, but to also say something and go on some existential journey.
Q: Did James DeMonaco allow you to ad-lib some of your lines?
Grillo: I thought really hard about the ending, when my character was at home and how artistically I was going to go some place. I just wondered if this would serve the movie or whether it going to throw people off and make them get so emotional. Are people used to seeing this in this kind of movie? To his credit, James said, “I trust what you’re doing and you should just do it.”