Frank Grillo is emerging as Hollywood’s most genuine badass — the kind of actor who could likely wipe the floor with any challenger, even when the cameras aren’t rolling on projects like next year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” where he plays Crossbones.
Fortunately, Grillo’s also one of the most genial and even-natured showbiz types one could hope to encounter, and it becomes pretty clear in conversation that while he could take you out with one hand tied behind his back, he probably won’t. At least, when SPINOFF Online quizzed him about the second season of his highly regarded Audience Network (available via DirecTV) series “Kingdom,” set in the world of competitive mixed martial arts and debuting tonight, we didn’t land on any questions to prompt a takedown.
SPINOFF Online: What were the big challenges for you coming into the second season?
Frank Grillo: It’s a tough role in the sense that it’s demanding not only mentally and emotionally, but physically. And because of that, I actually am moving my family from New York to California. They’re actually going to be here in 10 days because I just had no time. Literally, there was no time. I had no emotional capacity to go and be with my family. So we were like, yeah, we’re picked up for another 20 episodes. I was like, I’ve got to figure something out because this isn’t going to work. So they’re on their way here in the next week or so.
This season is actually more demanding than last season in a strange way. There’s more fights, so there’s more preparation with all that stuff. And that’s why I get up every day at 5 o’clock in the morning because it kind of gets me to par so that I can go and do my thing.
It’s interesting where we left your character off, because things are better in his business life, but he’s got so many loose threads in his personal life. Where do we pick up with him?
We pick him up six or seven months later, and obviously, he’s doing better. There’s a new gym. There’s a new truck. He’s spending some of his money. There’s no fighters. That brings him more purses, and he’s back into a place where he’s relevant as a coach. So that’s all great. He grabbed the brass ring. The thing he was most tortured by in the first season, which was to have a success — he’s got it.
Now, the expense of that is, his relationship with Lisa’s in the crapper. They got this kid coming, but that doesn’t really do anything to mend the fences. In fact, it just creates more tension. And he’s confused a lot about being a father again, and he kind of screwed up the first two times. He’s older, and do I want to do this?
And then the relationship with the boys is still tumultuous. Jay’s fighting and doing well, so he’s coaching him. And you know more about Nate than Alvey does. He’s still trying to figure this kid out. And they all do something that alters the course of their future, which we’ll see in the second set of 10 [episodes]. That really changes the dynamic again of the family, without giving the plot away. And specifically, Alvey finds himself unraveling. He really does.
And he’s got that ghost of his past with his ex. Is that still in the storyline?
Yeah, it is for a minute, and then that’s kind of not. She goes home. They go in their separate directions for the first 10. I don’t know what the Back 10 look like. And the relationship with Lisa is very different than it was last year — very, very different. They still need each other professionally. Him more than her. He really needs her more. But as far as their personal relationship, it’s kind of disintegrating. It’s like watching the Leaning Tower of Pisa, just slowly falling like this. It’s just not going to go back. It’s not going back.
So [producer/writer] Byron Balasco, I give him all the credit because all we really have to do is show up. I mean, this guy, he’s intertwined these stories — again, not a lot of plot — and he made these people interesting. And he’s tapped into what we all want to know about, which is why we watch reality television.
Byron told me that he discovered what you and the rest of the cast were capable of in Season 1, so were you surprised at the level of dramatic challenges that came your way?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think there’s a symbiosis there because he realizes how much he can give us. And we’ve made him realize how much he could write for us. It’s like, he can go as far out as he wants to, and we’ll go on the ride with him and give him what he needs. And it does. It feeds both of our creative juices. It’s like, wow, are we allowed –?
First of all, when you’re bound by network television and the rules and regulations, you can’t do this stuff. You have to do TV stuff. And like, DirecTV lets us just basically do whatever we want. And it’s like doing a movie. I mean, it’s more risqué. We do crazy stuff that’s real. It’s authentic. It’s how people really behave which is not always very good. So sometimes, still, I’ll catch myself going, “Can I say this? Am I allowed to do this?” And they’re like, “Go ahead.” [Laughs] “Do more!”
What gets you excited about keeping up your physical discipline?
This is probably a longer conversation, but I think it has to do with control. I’m a father of three boys and I’m married. And I have this job and do movies in between. It’s about the one thing that I’m in complete and utter control of is that discipline, is that working out. Not to mention I am a fanatical boxing fan and boxer. But I think it’s the control.
I used to ask my mother why she always cleaned the house. And I grew up in chaos, my whole life. No money, the whole thing. But the one thing we always had was a meticulously kept home. However small it was. And my mother would say, “It’s the one thing I can control is how clean this house is.” I think it’s a similar psychosis.
With this show, what was cool when the MMA fans found out about it — to hear their reaction?
They thought maybe this was going to be an offshoot of like what “Warrior” was. But in many senses, in many ways, this show is far, far more authentic than “Warrior” was. “Warrior” was the Hollywood version of [“Kingdom”] – and it was still gritty and down and dirty. And it’s my favorite movie. But it touches on those big themes. Those kind of Hollywood movie themes.
This is down and dirty and gets to the core of what these guys go through. Not only in the cage, but how it affects their families and so forth. Much more so than “Warrior” did. “Warrior” was driven by a plot, and this is not. These are just these peoples’ lives.
Kingdom season two starts Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 9 p.m. on DirecTV’s Audience Network.
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