Frank Grillo interview: Purge: Anarchy, The Grey, Statham

We chat to the star of The Purge: Anarchy about Captain America 2, The Grey, Jason Statham and more...

It was absolutely tipping it down with rain the day we met Frank Grillo to talk about his latest film. Yet Grillo himself was in high spirits despite the weather, and despite having endured a short yet gruelling shoot on The Purge: Anarchy, the action thriller sequel written and directed by James DeMonaco.

Grillo recently scored a high-profile role in Marvel’s Captain America 2, which could make for a regular role in the studio’s forthcoming superhero films. But Grillo’s career has been long and varied, with the actor having appeared in several films that deserved far more exposure at the cinema: the 2011 MMA drama Warrior and Joe Carnahan’s The Grey (also 2011) to name but two.

It was roles like these that we were keen to talk to Mr Grillo about, as well as the contrast between the hectic, relatively low-budget shoot on The Purge: Anarchy and the vastly more expensive production on Captain America 2. Oh, and we found time to ask him about working with Jason Statham in Homefront, too.

Here’s what he had to say, starting with his excited realisation that your humble writer was from the UK….

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This [the hideously rainy weather] is my gift to you.

[Adopts surprisingly good cockney accent] Fackin’ hell mate. You fackin’ Muppet! [Laughs]

Bloody ‘ell! Yeah, we all speak like that! Congratulations on the film. It sounds as though it was quite a tough shoot.

It was. It was a quick shoot – we shot it in 26 days. But a lot of it was at night, so it’s that thing of not really having enough time to acclimate to sleeping during the day – that’s the big thing. All that action was me, so it was a little physically demanding, yeah.

What was the toughest aspect of it?

You know, I think the toughest aspect of it was, DeMonaco and I had an idea about this character, and to keep him really on these rails. To not have him too emotional or sympathetic, or sentimental. Aside from the action aspect of it, which for me is kind of easy, it’s keeping this guy in a place where the audience knows very little but they’re willing to go on a journey with him to the end. So by the end, where there is some emotion, you feel he’s earned it. I think James did a great job of pacing it that way.

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He’s a difficult to read character, which is good.

Yeah. You don’t know his name. There are little things we held back from the audience. Because we used Escape From New York as a bit of a template, with Snake Plissken. You remember Kurt Russell – you might be too young [I’m not] – but he was over the top and he had the leather pants and he’d talk like this [adopts growly voice].

So we didn’t want to go that far, but the vibe of it, the feel of the film… I think he pulled it off.

It reminded me of Escape From New York and also The Terminator, with that grungy, street-level action.

Yeah. You know, the movie wasn’t made for a lot of money, so when I saw it – Universal screened it for me last week – I was thinking, man, this looks like a much bigger film. Which is a good thing, because you’re able to make a good film for that money, but it’s a bad thing because then the studio can say, “Well, he did it that time. He could do it again.”

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Right, right. You can make it look too easy. Did the satirical aspects of the script appeal to you?

Yeah. I grew up with no money. No money. I always struggled and had the sense that there was this other class of people who went to college – this was when I was younger. So I’ve always felt like a person who would be purged against, you know? So when I read it, and I read the script before I saw the first movie, I was like, “This is an interesting concept. I know it’s a genre film, but inside it there’s a social message – not just for our country.”

Listen, The Purge actually exists in some form or another in many places around the world when you think about it. And then I saw the first one, and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It was contained and you could see it had been made on a budget. You didn’t see what was going on around it. This film opens the scope of it up, to where I think the first film should have, but they didn’t have the money to do it. The success of the first movie was a big surprise. 

The thing about a movie of this size is that you can get away with adding things, other satirical elements that you couldn’t in an expensive one.

Exactly. We were asked the question a couple of times, “Would you make another one?” And, you know what? With James DeMonaco, [I would]. I certainly have ideas – you could take this purge to so many different places. There are so many stories that you could tell based on this event. So who knows?

You’ve got Michael K Williams’ character as well, which is kind of like a whole other film.

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A whole other thing. The thing James and I have been talking about is, how do we get my character and Michael K’s character to come together and fight back against the Purge? Wouldn’t that be a cool story? So maybe there’s something in that, yeah.

How did making this compare to something like Captain America 2, which had a huge budget?

Cap 2 for me was a whole learning experience, because it was a four month movie in different states and countries. The elevator scene – that was a two week scene, just to shoot that three minute sequence. Two weeks.

So almost as long as this took to shoot!

Almost. So when you think about that, you do a page of material a day. And if you didn’t get it that day, you’d do it the next, because there was an abundance of money. An abundance. And this thing, you have 26 days, you have three bucks to do it, it is what it is. This is what you have. Go do it. The thing is, Jason Blum and Universal didn’t interfere with us creatively, so in a sense it was more satisfying, because you really got to make this movie the way we wanted to make it. But it’s not easy making movies like this. It’s tough. You get spoiled on Captain America, where your trailer’s two blocks long and it’s got three bedrooms. On The Purge, there is no trailer. But I loved doing both of them.

Do you know if you’ll get to return to that character in Cap 2?

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Well, I do know that I’ve signed on for multiple films, so it looks that way. That’s as much as I’m allowed to say! 

One of your films I really liked was Warrior.

Oh yeah, that was one of my favourite movies. And the TV series I’m doing now is loosely based on that movie. If you took the Nick Nolte character, and his two sons, that’s what the show’s about. It’s called Kingdom, and it’s on Direct TV. Ten episodes. Really visceral and dark. I play what would be the Nick Nolte character, and it’s about this world we live in. The MMA world, but at a lower level. Do you remember the movie Donnie Brasco?

Oh, great film.

You know how it explored the Mafia at that, uh…

Street level.

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That’s what this is. It doesn’t glorify the UFC. So I’m really excited about it. But that’s another guy who made a great film, and it didn’t get a lot of love from the audience. I don’t think it was marketed properly. But 10 people come up to me and say, “Dude, that movie changed my life. It helped me get through this.” Or, “Are you a coach?”

I got a call once from the Arizona State University’s wrestling coach, asking me if I’d train them. I was like, “I’m not really a coach!” [Laughs] But that was a great compliment. I was like, “Thank you!”

What was that like working with the cast, because you had Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte.

Yeah, that was before anyone really knew who Tom was. In fact, Gavin [O’Connor] had to fight to get Tom on that movie. I’ve been a life-long martial arts practitioner and boxer, so for me it was a marriage of two passions, which is acting and martial arts and fighting. We got to train for three months before we shot a frame of film. We created our own gym and me and the guys – to this day, Joel Edgerton and I are best, closest friends. Tom and I are dear friends, I was just with him for his movieLocke.

So we created great relationships. I’m really proud of that film. Just to be a part of it was a great thing for me. Changed my career, too.

Another film was Homefront, which you made with Jason Statham.

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Oh yeah. That was with my friend Gary Fleder, who asked me to be in the movie. He’s actually directing two episodes of my show right now, so he’s a dear friend. I had fun doing [Homefront]. It was a small thing but again, I got to do my own fighting. And Jason’s a great guy. He can drink a hell of a lot. So we had some fun times together. For a Statham film, that had some heart and some good characters in there. I got to terrorise Winona Ryder, which is always fun! [Laughs]

So what was Statham like to work with?

He’s great man. He’s a guy who understands his appeal to an audience. He understands his limitations. So he’s very professional. He really knows what he’s doing, and I respect that. He doesn’t believe he’s Daniel Day Lewis, you know what I mean? And he’s great at the action stuff, and he’s really charming. I can’t say enough good stuff about him. And like I said, he can drink more vodka than any man I know!

That’s a talent in itself. I have to ask, do you have a favourite Jason Statham film?

My favourite Statham film is the first one I saw him do. The Guy Ritchie film. Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. Man, for me, he just popped in that movie. I was like, “Who is that guy? I wanna hang out with him. Because he’s handsome but not Hollywood pretty boy. I could tell right off the bat that he’s an athlete, a tough guy. He’s got that thing. I don’t know what it is, that thing in his eye. I’m a huge Statham fan. I’ve seen all his movies.

So looking back on your career so far, what role or performance are you most pleased with?

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I think, for me, the journey I took as an actor in the film The Grey, with Liam Neeson. It was such a great, existential relationship with the character. It was shot in a very remote place in Vancouver, away from society, and it really change me as a person and an actor. Because I got to work with one of my heroes, Liam Neeson, nose to nose – or nose to chest – and I learned a lot about myself. To date, that’s my favourite film.

Again, Carnahan and I became friends. We’re going to do Death Wish together. Death Wish has an amazing script. That’s kind of tied up with Fox. He’s got a film called White Jazz, which is based on the book. So him and I are going to do something I think at the end of next year together. 

It’s a shame, the way The Grey was marketed, in the UK at least. I think, because Liam Neeson had done some action movies recently, they thought it might be good to market it as Taken with wolves.

That’s what happened.

Which is a shame, because it was actually a very poetic, existential movie, as you said.

It was, and the template for that movie – do you remember Deliverance?

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Yes, of course.

It was a very similar experience, where the people at the beginning of the film who you thought were the heroes end up being the weak ones. And the end was a reversal of fortune, where it was that guy who got them through, and the guy who you thought was the hero was basically a coward. And so those journeys that you get to see, for me as a film watcher, were gorgeous. It was kind of like a Godard film, you know? That’s what The Grey was.

But when you have Liam Neeson in a film, no matter how good everyone else is, it’s a Liam Neeson film. And if there’s wolves and you’re running, it’s about Liam Neeson running from wolves. And that’s what they did. They kind of took the easy route, and I think they made a mistake. I agree. But hindsight is 20-20.

Is it true you’re doing a remake of The Raid?

Yes, yes. We were going to do it in Malaysia in September, with Screen Gems – Sony has it. Great script. Patrick Hughes, who did Expendables 3. He’s a hot young director from Australia,  he’s directing it and rewriting it at the moment. We pushed it to January because of how much time we need and so forth. It’s me, and maybe Anthony Mackie, so we might be reteaming from Captain America.

Cool. So will you be the lead in this?

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One of them. There’s three leads. Three guys.

Frank Grillo, thank you very much.

The Purge: Anarchy is out in UK cinemas on the 25th July.