Veteran actor Frank Grillo has trained as a boxer and martial artist for nearly four decades. That commitment has led to some of the most physical roles in the movie industry, including Boss Level which premieres on Hulu March 5.
Boss Level is an independent action-thriller co-produced by Grillo along with director Joe Carnahan. It's one of at least eight movies for Grillo in 2021.
Grillo joined SportsJam with Doug Doyle from his home in Los Angeles, CA to talk about his passion for fitness and acting.
Grillo's character, a retired special forces soldier named Captain Roy Pulver, is trapped in a never-ending time loop on the day of his death. Boss Level's supporting cast includes Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, Will Sasson and Grillo's son Rio.
One of the film industry's tough guys got emotional when talking about working with his real-life son on the set.
"I saw him in a very different light. I saw him as an individual. The movie was just a couple of years ago so he must have been 10 and a half years old but he'd always been fascinated by movie-making. His little friends were constantly writing scripts and re-imaging Spider Man or whatever it was, so he had a fascination for it. But when I worked with him, I realized how serious he was about it and how he wasn't looking to me for any kind of advice. He really had his own ideas about it. I got teary-eyed talking about him. He's a beautiful little human being and it changed my relationship with him and I didn't even want him in the movie. It was all Joe Carnahan."
Grillo's popularitiy comes from work in both film and television. The New York City native played Captain America: The Winter Soldier's (2014)) supervillain Brock Rumlow/Crossbones in the Marvel movie series. His other movie credits Warrior (2011) and Carnahan's The Grey (2012). He had his first leading role in the action horror film The Purge: Anarchy (2014) and The Purge: Election Year (2016). He also played Big Daddy in the Chinese action film Wolf Warrior 2 (2017), the highest grossing non-Hollywood film of all-time. Grillo's first television gig was starring as Hart Jessup in the soap opera Guiding Light (1996-1999), but it was his role as Alvey Kulina in the DirecTV drama series Kingdom that increased his fandom even more.
Grillo's freakish-like workout routines have enabled him to do most of his own stunts through the years. That was certainly the case in Boss Level, shot in just 27 days.
"I made a decision early on to look a certain way, so I trained four months, three times a day, from boxing to Jiu Jitsu, a lot of weightlifting, a lot of dieting and Joe (Carnahan) is always scratching his head going 'Why are you doing this?' I don't know, I just feel like this is who I am. This is who Roy Pulver is. It really did pay off in the end because I had to push myself physically because of the time limitations."
Grillo also admits directors love actors who can do their own stunts.
"During the old days of theater, actors had to be well versed in all kinds of sword-fighting and stage-fighting and the reason is you're a character (like Crossbones in the Marvel movies) who is not in the movie alot, but if you able to facilitate the stunts, your face instead of the stunt man's back is on camera. That's how I always thought about it. It's a business thing. I want my face to be on the screen as long as it can possibly be. I'm not Captain America, so I'm going to do all those stunts as long as my life is not in peril and I'm not doing anything I don't have the skill set for. And that's how it started and directors love it."
Grillo's thirst for fitness and training goes back to his early days as an athlete. He was a wrestler and played lacrosse at Clarkstown High School South in New York. He started boxing before 18 and became a very accomplished Jiu Jitsu practioner (Muay Thai). Taking in all that knowledge, Grillo hosted the Netflix documentary FightWorld in 2018.
"I traveled around explosing fight culture. Fight culture to me is my greatest love, but from a humanistic standpoint, not from a tutorial of fighting."
One of the few projects, so far, that Grillo's fighting skills are not part of the script is Showtime's popular television series Billions. He recently joined the cast as sophisticated artist and painter "Nico Tanner". Tanner has already had a few confrontations with multibillion dollar hedge fund CEO "Bobby Axelrod" played by award-winning actor Damien Lewis. Grillo chuckles thinking about those moments.
"When I'm doing Billions, they want me to play it in a certain way, but internally I'm thinking 'I don't care how much money you have, I'll cut your head off."
Some of the other movies for Grillo this year include Body Brokers, Copshop, The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard and Ida Red.
Has he always been intimidating? Apparently not in high school.
"I don't think so. I got nominated and got voted "nicest smile" and maybe "cutest" (laughs). I was little in high school and friends with all the popular and nerdy kids."
When Grillo was a kid he loved watching New York Yankees captain Thurman Munson play in the Bronx.
"When I was young I loved the Yankees, he was the leader and he was the guy. He stood and protected the gate, home plate. He didn't move. You could come into him and maybe you got the run maybe you didn't but he never wavered. When he died in a terrible plane crash (1979), I was sitting on my stoop crying. I've not cried like that for relatives who passed away and I didn't know Thurman Munson. I was a kid but it had such a profound effect on me."
If your a New England Patriots or Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, you'll see a familair face playing the role as helicopter gunner in Boss Level. It's 4-time Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski. Grillo says "Gronk" is a super guy. With the film being shot in 2019, the film's crew didn't imagine the prolific tight end would later be reunited with Tom Brady in their first year together in Tampa Bay and win another title.
"If I were to write the story for Hollywood, they'd go 'come on stop'."
You can hear much more from Frank Grillo by clicking at the top of the page. You can also see the Zoom chat here.