Frank Grillo is a man of action. And in films like The Grey and Captain America: The Winter Soldier he’s been pitted against ferocious wolves, treacherous weather and do-gooding superheroes. But now his skills are being put to the ultimate test in The Purge: Anarchy.
A sequel to the 2013 sleeper hit, the movie takes place during the next Purge, a 12-hour period during which any crime — ranging from looting to murder — can be committed without persecution. Grillo’s character Leo is on the streets of Los Angeles seeking revenge for the death of his child when he stumbles across four strangers in need of help. Together, they must fight to survive the Purge.
The actor recently spoke with SPINOFF about the film, channeling his action heroes and the future of his Captain America villain, Crossbones.
Spinoff Online: The Purge was a surprise hit that seemed to warrant more. Were you a fan of the original and wanted to be a part of the sequel?
Frank Grillo: I never saw the movie until after I signed on to it [the sequel]. I knew director James DeMonaco through Kill Point, which was a thing that he wrote. Then he saw The Grey and was convinced I was the guy to play this role. I went in and talked to him and loved the script. I loved the idea and then I saw the movie. I wanted to do it based on the script. I wasn’t aware of how successful the first one was.
How does this installment build on The Purge concept?
The first one was limited by the budget of the film. They basically took what was happening inside this house during the night of the Purge. They couldn’t afford any more. For our movie, the scope is enormous. It’s about what is going on in the entire city of Los Angeles. You really get a sense of what the Purge as an ideology is.
Introduce us to your character Leo and where he fits into all the chaos.
I drive the story in the sense that my journey, which is using the purge as a mechanism for revenge, is obstructed by these people I save. Throughout the night, I stick with them. Eventually, I try to do what I set out to and realize I’m not capable of doing that. It’s a real edge-of-your-seat thriller, more so than a horror, but it has a little bit of everything.
Sadly, it’s refreshing when a character gets an arc in a horror movie.
I would have never have signed on to it without one. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of great supporting roles in great movies. Every character that I play, whether he’s in four scenes or the whole movie, it’s got to have an arc. There has to be a journey that the character takes, even if it’s a short one. Early on, DeMonaco and I talked about how similar to the Outlaw Josey Wales he was, how Leo starts out with revenge in his heart and goes to this great place at the end of the movie.
Your character has this Mad Max/lone wolf vibe. How did you approach the role and what influences seeped in?
The guys I loved back in the 7’0s and early ‘80s, like the Charles Bronsons, Steve McQueens and Lee Marvins, they were men of few words, but of great action. We cut down a lot of my lines in the film. I don’t say a lot. It’s all portrayed through my actions and how I looked. That was something by design. We didn’t want them to know my name either. I didn’t want to be sentimental at all until the end of the film. There’s a great payoff where I actually purge emotionally. The great thing about working for Jason Blum and Universal is that you don’t get trailers and you don’t get paid a lot up front, but they give you total creative autonomy. We made the movie that we set out to, so if people don’t like it, I can’t blame anybody except myself.
Did your familiarity with James allow you to have more input and discussion?
It’s not usually as deep as it was with James because I’m in every scene. What often happens is it becomes a collaborative experience. It’s the best way to work in this business. You have an understanding and aren’t working out of a place of fear. You have a creative understanding with each other. DeMonaco is amazing with that. He listened to a lot of what I had to say and I listened a lot of what he had to say. If we do another Purge, if people turn out to see this one, I wouldn’t do it without him and I don’t think he would do it without me.
Leo has the best of intentions. How do things go horribly wrong for him and this group of strangers?
He is all geared up to get from point A to point B. I don’t think he cares about what happens after that. I don’t think he cares about living. One of these people lies to him about helping him get to his point B. He’s kind of tricked into helping them so they survive. Through that, he really opens his heart and begins to realize what life is about.
There’s running and fighting and guns are blazing. Was it challenging keeping that intensity and energy up?
That’s a great question. We shot the movie at night in 28 days, outside in downtown Los Angeles. I’m a physical guy, I did feel it. When your body is not supposed to be awake and you’re awake, that’s one thing. But when you’re not supposed to be awake and you’re running all night long with guns, and those are real guns and heavy … it was demanding. I was exhausted by the end.
The Purge is supposed to be this cathartic release, but obviously the system is flawed. What does such an event say about society?
DeMonaco is poking at us. Obviously, this could never happen. Society could never survive a Purge. But if we don’t start taking care of one another, and paying attention to differences in the socioeconomic problems we have in the great gaps between the haves and have-nots, something bad could happen. We’re kind of obsessed with guns in this country and violence, and there’s the lack of gun control. It’s not like this anywhere else in the world. They see the same films and play the same video games as us, so we can’t blame it on that. It’s something internal in our country, and that’s what DeMonaco wants us to sit up and talk about.
Your previous movies The Grey and Captain America: The Winter Soldier also touched on bigger issues and put human nature under a microscope. Why are these types of movies such great vehicles for asking questions or raising awareness?
Especially for men, I think it’s an existential exercise. Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What are we doing that’s good or not good? Are we fulfilling the goals we had? The Grey was a great existential study about man and what he was capable of. People are often concerned about the things they don’t talk about and movies like this tap into that.
There are other horror projects on your resume, and Demonic is waiting for a release date. What’s fun about playing in this genre?
If the horror is realistic, it’s fun to put yourself in the situation that is scary. I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, per se. I love movies like The Shining that bend things psychologically. The mind is the most powerful thing, more so than the eyes. If I can trick you into believing something, your imagination will do far more damage than I can show you on a screen.
Looking to other roles, your character Crossbones was apparently left for dead in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. How do you see him moving forward?
I don’t know anything about what the future holds for the character. I know everybody has signed on to a certain amount of contracts for Marvel. Everything is hush-hush. Ed Brubaker wrote a Crossbones storyline, and I would love to see it go down that road. If Kevin Feige and Marvel liked what we did, I’d love to see it executed similarly to the way the comics are. To me, that would be awesome.
What are your thoughts on having to wear his comic book costume?
I would love it. Again, this is all speculation. I may never get another phone call, but I love the idea of having to play a character behind a mask. Much like Andy Serkis does with the apes, to be able to have a strong presence with just your eyes and whatever you say and your actions … I dig that. I don’t need anybody to see my face. I just need them to see my eyes.
Would you prefer Crossbones to go toe to toe with Captain America or Falcon again?
I don’t think the Falcon is much of a challenge for Crossbones at all. He’s a secondary superhero. I would love to see Crossbones go against Captain America or one of the other Avengers. I think he is capable of handling those guys. That’s what I loved about the Crossbones in the comics. He’s just a bad dude.
He’s an expert at knives and basically a mercenary. He’s capable of going hand to hand with Cap. It would be cool. That’s right up my alley. That’s what I love to do. I’m doing a TV series right now, Kingdom, which is very similar to the movie Warrior. It’s very physical and I get to fight all day.
The last Captain America film heavily influenced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. How would you feel about making an appearance on that TV series?
Oh, man, I’d love to do that. Absolutely. I’m happy to be part of that world. I love the fans. I love going to Comic-Con. These are the people dedicated to the comics. It would be great for Crossbones. Any kind of exposure in that world I would absolutely consider.
Speaking of television, you’ve been doing more feature films these days, but this fall you are returning to on the small screen for the aforementioned Kingdom. What lured you back?
The writing is brilliant. It’s some of the best writing I’ve been able to get my hands on. Byron Balasco created the show. It’s a very serious family drama in the backdrop of mixed martial arts. I get to be the guy. I have two sons. The language is real and raw. It’s an R-rated television show. There’s serious sexual content, but these people are real. When I read it, I was like, “Sign me up.” It’s only 10 episodes. We get complete creative freedom, and it’s like nothing else on television. This world has never been explored like this. It’s even more visceral, and the language is even more realistic than Sopranos or Breaking Bad. This is a real down-and-out dirty show.
You are attached to The Raid remake. Is the script as balls-to-the-walls as the original?
The script was absolutely phenomenal. I’m always cautious about remaking a movie that is beloved by people and it’s still new. It’s not an old film. We’re being really careful about honoring that film and if we can’t make it better, or at least as good, then we would seriously think of not doing it. Right now, it’s slated for a January start with a lot of rehersal before and a lot of fight stuff we have to do. I’m excited. I’m a huge fan of the first one.
Your recent roles are extremely action-oriented. Was that always the game plan or has it just been a welcome surprise?
I didn’t have a game plan. I was just flying by the seat of my pants. Fortunately, I was able to do these films that were physical and be convincing and authentic. You do enough of them where they are good and respected and do well and people start to pay attention. There are not a lot of guys in my age range that are still physically capable. One of my dear friends, Liam Neeson, is probably the biggest action star in the world right now. He’s 62 years old. It’s an interesting place to be right now.
The Purge: Anarchy opens today nationwide.