He might play an intense hero in his new film “The Purge: Anarchy,” but if and actual “Purge” was really something the U.S. government implemented in the future, don’t count on actor Frank Grillo to hang around to see what happens.
“Oh, I’d go to Canada,” Grillo, 51, told me during an interview last week when asked what he would do if the government legalized all crime for a 12-hour period annually. “I’d go live in Toronto for the night.”
In “The Purge: Anarchy,” the sequel to last year’s surprise hit, which starred Ethan Hawke, Grillo plays Leo Barnes, a man who goes out on Purge night for once specific reason: to murder the man who killed his son. Leo is sidetracked, however, when he decides to help a group of people escape a gang of hardcore Purgers hunting them down in downtown Los Angeles.
During our interview, Grillo, who was just cast in the remake of the popular 2011 Indonesian martial arts film “The Raid: Redemption,” talked about his recent success in the industry and why he’s glad it’s happening now. He also mentions why he thinks a movie like “The Purge: Anarchy” might be closer to reality than we think, especially if this country doesn’t start seeing its own faults.
How does it feel to be the leading man in a film like “The Purge: Anarchy?”
You know, specifically, for this kind of movie, it was something I truly enjoyed doing. Whether the movie does well or not is irrelevant to me at this point. It was a great opportunity to be handed the ball and told to run with it.
What attracted you to a story like this and “the Purge” as an idea for a film series?
I hadn’t seen the first film when they offered me the role in this one. When they gave me the script, I was really thrilled with probably 85 percent of it. Then I went back and saw the first movie and I got some ideas for my character. They gave [director] James DeMonaco complete creative autonomy. We made this film exactly the way we wanted to make it. So, if it doesn’t work, you can’t blame anybody else but us.
The first film worked out pretty well in terms of the box office, but not so much critically. Does that bother you at all or are you more worried about just getting the work out there and seeing what happens?
Ultimately, you want the movie to be financially successful because it helps the movie and all the people involved. Critically, I don’t care who you are, if you’re telling me film reviewers don’t bother you, you’re a liar. You want people to respond positively. I hope people show up to the movie. I hope they respond to all the characters. More often than not, for a movie like this to get reviewed, serious reviewers will think it’s outlandish. I’m more interested in what the fans and the moviegoers say than the critics.
So, when you’re reading the script, was it important to you to feel like there were some realistic elements to the story or are you fine with it having that, like you said, outlandishness attached to it?
I think we executed it as if it was real. We felt, as outlandish at sounds, it was really happening. Otherwise, you can become farcical. I think what DeMonaco is doing is poking at the audience. He’s poking at us and saying that if we don’t get a handle on how we treat each other and whether or not we help those with a low socioeconomic status and get a handle on our obsession with violence and guns, something outlandish may happen.
And very soon, apparently. I mean, do you think DeMonaco is also saying something by setting this story in the not-so-distant future? The year 2023 isn’t very far away.
Yeah. There is so much unrest not only in this country, but globally. Something bad can really happen if we don’t start looking out for each other.
Do you think most people are going to pick up on the more complex ideas of the film? Do you want them to come out of the theater debating an issue or would it be OK if they just enjoyed watching people hunt and kill other people?
First and foremost, I want them to be entertained and thrilled and at the edge of their seats. But, yeah, I want them to go on a journey with these people. I want them to bear witness and talk about things that need to be talked about. DeMonaco didn’t want to just make a horror movie or an action movie or a thriller, although it does have aspects of all those genres. He wants people to start paying attention. I mean, listen, there is far too much gun violence in this country. It’s like no other place in the world. We have to get a grip on violence in general.
In another interview you did, you described yourself as a “journeyman” in the film industry. In sports terms, what a journeyman is to me is a player that can’t seem to find a home but always finds an open door because of their strong work ethic. Is that how you see yourself?
Yeah, I think that work ethic is what translates into the film. There is an authenticity about that that people can relate to. I’m not a movie star. I’m just a guy who’s in a movie. That seems to be working. I think that’s why my friend Liam Neeson has been so successful in his movie career in the last four or five years. At 62, he’s probably one of the most bankable action movie stars in the world. It’s because he’s authentic.
You’re 51 and your career, which started back in 1993, seems like it’s breaking out more than it ever has before. Recently, you were in “The Grey,” a movie I can’t say enough great things about, and also other fantastic movies like “Warrior,” “End of Watch” and “Captain American: The Winter Soldier.” Does this success feel good even though it might be happening a little later in your career than you would’ve liked?
A good friend of mine once told me, “There are no rules. Just keep working.” You only have the now. So, whenever you get to a place that you’re happy with in your career, nothing else matters, as long as it’s happening now. I’m really excited. I have a whole new attitude about the work. I get up every day imagining what could be next. It really is a great time and I’m glad it’s happening to me now because I can appreciate it and handle it a lot better.
Yeah, it must feel great to wake up and get a call letting you know you got the part in the new Marvel movie or in a remake of “The Raid.”
That’s the thing! They’re coming to me! They’re saying, “Hey, I think you’d be great for this. Are you interested?” That takes some getting used to. There are a lot of “Raid”-esque-type movies out there people are considering me for. Normally, I would have to knock down walls to get those things, but it’s all changed. Now, I just have to be a good boy and eat properly and hopefully it sticks around for a while.
Oh, I’m sure you have to stay in incredible shape for these types of films. I know you’re trained in martial arts and boxing. How does that help with a physical role like this?
Oh, I do all my own stunts. I’m serious when it comes to jiu-jitsu. I’ve also been boxing for 25 years. I was also a wrestler. Everything you see me do in the film, I actually do. In fact, I’m also doing a TV series that’s like the movie “Warrior” that I was in (“Kingdom”). I love the fighting aspect of it all. I’m very well equipped at this point in my life.
So, how do you break it to a stuntman waiting in the wings on set that you’re going to be the one that does the stunt and not him?
Well, normally, the stunt coordinator will create the dance – the fight. They all know me. They all know what I’m capable of. I want to come in and make it real. I don’t want it to look like a movie fight. So, I’ll let them know what I need to do and then we’ll find something we’re both happy with. It usually goes quickly. I don’t need a lot of takes. I think that’s part of the reason I’m getting some of these offers. People know they can save some money by casting me. I don’t cost what Matt Damon does and I do my own stunts!
Who would come out on top if you and Liam went head to head?
If I had Liam Neeson in his prime, it would be a good fight. He’s an ex-boxer as well. He’s a big guy. He’s like 6’5. It would be close. He’d be one guy I’d have a tough time with.