Frank Grillo Picks Fights, Sometimes With Superheroes

With a new show and several prominent action roles, a brawler is making himself into a heavyweight.

It’s unclear whether Frank Grillo is a fighter that acts or an actor that fights, but whatever he’s doing seems to be working. The actor was a standout in several sequels this year, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Purge: Anarchy, and is now headlining DirecTV’s original series Kingdom, in which he plays MMA fighter Alvey Kulina, whose sons have followed his pugnacious path. The role isn’t much of a stretch: Grillo has a background in Jiu Jitsu and boxing. He goes ten rounds on the regular and sometimes his co-stars (cough, Chris Evans, cough) complain he hits to hard. He can’t help it. He’s a method stunt guy and an emotive star.

What made you want to be part of Kingdom?

It was one of those things as an actor – and it doesn’t happen a lot – where you read something and you immediately get the guy. It’s a world that I’m really a part of in my normal day to day life. It was a no-brainer. As an actor you hope that someday you’ll get a piece of material where everything kind of fits.

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You actually fight, right?

I do. I mean, I don’t as much anymore because I’m getting a bit older and I have three children. But I box. In fact, I just walked out of the boxing gym. I don’t compete anymore, but I grew up boxing and wrestling and doing Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve always been involved in some form of the fighting arts. If I could write my own television show about myself, this would be it.

What’s the key to a successful fight?

It’s preparation. You have to be in both peak physical and mental condition. When the chips are down and you feel like ‘I can’t take another blow,’ somehow you have to have the mind-frame to get your body back in there. I think that’s 90 percent of it to be honest. Anybody can get into physical shape but it’s that mental conditioning that separates the elite fighter from the really good fighter.

Have you ever gotten in a street fight or bar fight?

A lot. I’ve been in a lot of trouble. I’ve gotten into a lot of fights in bars and in the street. I had a wild upbringing so fighting is a big part of who I was. I just did the Jimmy Kimmel show and he asked me what the last fight I had was. It was three years ago and when I was putting my son on the bus and some jerk was banging on the bus because it was in his way. I ended up getting out of the bus and getting into an altercation. I’m still fighting, even at this age.

Did you always want to pursue roles that lent themselves to that kind of physicality?

When you first start you’re happy to be there so you’ll do anything. But, as my career has gotten more to be in my control, I do seek out the roles where it is physical but there is something to be said. It’s not like a John-Claude Van Damme movie. It’s usually a character who is struggling with something and there’s violence and physicality in his world. He makes a journey and makes a discovery about himself in the end. That’s what I look for in the roles.

What role has felt like a game-changer for you?

Warrior with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. After Warrior, my entire life changed. I got the big agent, the big manager. And that is a very well-received movie inside the business so suddenly there were meetings with studios. That was really the jumping off point. And I had been working 20 years before that. So I was an overnight sensation in 20 years.

What’s been your favorite fight to shoot in your career?

My favorite fight was with Liam Neeson in The Grey and he got the best of me. It was a quick fight. But I remember being there and standing across from him and being like ‘Wow, I’m about to fight Liam Neeson.’

Do you always do your own stunts?

I do all my own stunts. Unless it’s something driving or a car crash. On Kingdom, all of the guys do their own fighting and their own work. It brings an authenticity because the camera never has to cut away from your face because of the stuntman. It really adds to the show.

Your Twitter bio is ‘I’ll fight any superhero with my bare hands.’ Who could you beat?

I think I could beat any one of them. In the [Captain America] comics, Crossbones doesn’t have superpowers, he’s just a badass. That’s why he’s one of the favorite supervillians. He’s got this badass costume and mask. He’s just a big bad dude. That’s what I like about him.

I’ll fight any superhero.

Photos by Universal / Everett Collection