Hey friends, Barbarella here. Amidst frigid temperatures, I had the opportunity to warm my spirit through talking with actor Frank Grillo. From the expanse of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to the confines of a vehicle in WHEELMAN, the actor captivates audiences with a presence and authenticity that few possess. You could get a sense of his talent through the variety of projects he’s already done: WARRIOR, DISCONNECT, END OF WATCH, THE GREY, the PURGE franchise, Showtime’s BILLIONS, and KINGDOM, to name a handful. The latter is currently available on Netflix, and the series about a former MMA fighter-turned-trainer is the perfect option if you’re staying home and seeking entertainment to binge.
I suspect 2021 should prove to be a great one for the actor who got started a bit later in life. This year, you will be able to catch him in half a dozen or so new films from sci-fi to thrillers, including BODY BROKERS, John Swab’s semi-autobiographical film about a drug addict trying to escape his addiction but discovering the shady side of rehabilitation.
While I’ll get to BODY BROKERS, I have to say the film I’m most excited to see is THE FATHER, in which Frank Grillo stars with Donnie Yen and Alec Baldwin. I'm a huge Donnie Yen fan. In fact, I've seen IP MAN so many times I'm surprised that I don't speak Chinese yet. I had to kick things off with a question related to the martial arts actor.
You’ve been around the boxing and martial arts scene for decades. What did you learn from working with Donnie Yen?
“Well, it's like any kind of sporting event when you're with another athlete that is really good at what he does. I always compare it to boxing. You get in the ring with somebody who's good, and as much as you know, you're kind of looking to see what makes them so good. So, his whole style of physicality is very... He's very strong in Chinese martial arts. I'm far more abstract in my fighting style, and he's like Bruce Lee. And so, it's fascinating to watch him.”
Do you feel like you're constantly learning new things, or do you feel like you're sort of sticking to the same stuff you've already learned?
“It's kind of a pet peeve of mine when people think they know everything. I'm always looking to learn from young people, from people who are older than me, who are less experienced and more experienced. There's a saying, "Move or die." And I really believe that that applies to learning. The day you stop learning is the day you should close your eyes, because there's so much to learn.”
Right, yeah. You’ve done so many different types of roles that I get the sense that you would take on anything. Is there any type of role or character that you just absolutely wouldn't consider doing?
“No, not really. I just did a movie with John Swab, the guy who did BODY BROKERS, and I played a hardcore gay gangster, and it was so much fun. I like kind of stepping out of my comfort zone and out of the wheelhouse and doing all kinds of things. I'm pretty much game for anything, except romantic comedy stuff.”
What was your reaction to the first reading of the screenplay for BODY BROKERS?
“I loved it. I couldn't believe that it was based on true events, a true story. I'm kind of familiar with the world of rehab and recovery, not for myself, but for family members. I was amazed at the story, then I got to talk to John, and I was equally amazed by his vision and that he had gone through a very similar situation. And so, I was kind of in from the beginning. I knew about insurance scams, but I had no idea about this at all. It was so intriguing to me."
Would you describe your first time that you met John Swab, and what was your first impression?
“He was much wiser than his young years, and he's a very serious kind of guy. When you hear about his past and what he dealt with in his life, you kind of understand that. He's such a passionate filmmaker that you want to be involved with guys like that. I knew I wanted to be a part of it in whatever little way I could because I wanted to be around that collaboration.”
What were you able to draw from your own life to build out your character, Vin?
“Not much from my own life, except for some people that I knew back in the nineties who were petty stockbrokers. Vin reminded me of a scammer, a petty stockbroker who's preying on people who were far less knowledgeable and a bit naive and vulnerable. It's like the bad side of Tony Robbins. He could make people feel a certain way about themselves that was necessary to kind of perpetuate the scam.”
You’re quite active on social media. On Instagram, you have everything from your Super Bowl predictions to doing facials during quarantine. What appeals to you most about posting on social media?
“First of all, I think it's a great tool as an actor, a filmmaker, and a producer. It seems like I have some people who are interested in the stuff that I do, which is great because it's a great way to promote what you're doing and yourself. But for me, it's just fun. I don't take it very seriously, and there are a lot of people who do. I just like to have fun with it and kind of make fun of myself. And then every once in a while, put something on there that's going to help promote something. I try to never, or rarely, talk about my political views or anything like that, because I think the world doesn't really need another actor's opinion about you know... Yeah. So I try not to make it too personal.”
Right. You seem like you'd be incredibly approachable. Have you ever had an awkward experience meeting a fan?
“I have. People get carried away sometimes. I think I am approachable, and I think people forget sometimes that they really don't know me. If you'd get me off guard, I could be a little bit protective, especially if I'm with my kids. So there have been a couple of times where I thought I was in a situation where I was going to have trouble, but it was just a fan. Yeah, and I've had to apologize. But mostly it's pleasant, and I'm flattered by it all the time. It’s usually really nice people saying really nice things, and so it's great.”
Parents teach their kids a lot, but I think parents also learn a great deal from their children. What have you learned from your kids?
“What I've learned from my kids is that they know more than I do. I have three sons ranging in ages from twenty-four to thirteen, and I have to tell you, I'm amazed at how much more they know about the world than I do. Now, my job is to keep them out of danger and to keep them on the straight and narrow and make sure they're educated, blah, blah, blah. But as far as being knowledgeable about what is in the world today, I learn every day from these kids. Sometimes they look at me and they kind of snarl like, "Oh God, you're so old." So it's fun."
I've read that you work out every single day. On days when you're not really feeling it, what do you tell yourself to get inspired to just hit the gym?
“"Just get up and go. Put your shoes on and go to work." To me, working out is not a chore; it's just part of my lifestyle. It's worse if I don't work out. Going to work out when I don't feel a hundred percent is far easier than having to deal with myself mentally if I didn't work out, so I'd rather deal with the pain physically, than the pain mentally.”
How challenging is it, if at all, for you to play characters that don't really fight?
“Oh, I love it. I can do either. This is new for me, the last eight years or so, all the fighting and stuff. But I love just drama. I love acting. I love playing other people in any capacity, and I have a bunch of stuff lined up that I don't think I do any fighting or killing anybody or saving anybody. It’s just kind of straightforward dramas, and I love those as much as well.”
Cool. If you could go back in time and talk to your twenty-year-old self, what advice would you give?
“It's so funny you say this because sometimes when I'm struggling, I'll talk to my cousin Dean, and he'll say, "Look where you've come. You should go back and talk to your thirty-five-year-old self because he got you here." I would go back to my twenty-year-old self - and that's a long time ago - and I would tell myself to forget about all of the things that you think are important for success and for your life. It took me a while - it takes everyone a while - to learn what it is to be alive and what it is to live a certain kind of a life. At twenty years old, I didn't know any of that, and I made a lot of mistakes because I didn't have a lot of guidance parentally, and so I had to kind of live through that. If I could go back, I could save myself a lot of grief.”
Yeah. How do you stay humble given that you're practically in everything these days?
“Not really everything, but people would argue about my humility because I still think... To me, it's still new, and I still am always amazed at the opportunities, whether bigger or smaller, that I have. We all get a little carried away once in a while, but I'm far more self-deprecating than I am conceited. I do appreciate the things that I've done, and I'm confident in my ability, but I imagine I'm a humble guy; that's how I see myself.”
What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
“My dear friend, Kevin Huvane, who is a very successful guy, he's one of the partners of CAA, my agency, and I admire him dearly. He's an amazing businessman, and he's an amazing human being, a philanthropist. And again, my success, whatever that is, came later to me. There were times when I was really down, and he said to me, "There's no rules." And I said, "What do you mean?" He goes, "There's no rules in life. You're putting this on yourself, and you're listening to other people. There's no rules about how old you need to be or how young you need to be or how tall or short or skinny or heavy. There's no rules. Nobody is writing this. There's no rules, and you just don't quit." And that's gotten me through to where I am today. And I tell a lot of people who I hear complain, "There's no rules. Don't listen to that. This life that we have, this journey you're on, it's yours, so don't create rules. Just don't quit.””
Cool. If you had a theme song, what would it be?
“My theme song, and you may be too young, would be "Come Fly With Me" by Frank Sinatra.”
How do you unwind after a rough day?
“I drink wine. I am a connoisseur of old-world, red wines from Italy and France. And so I'll have a glass or two of wine.”
Very nice. If you could relive one moment in your life, what would it be?
“Wow. I don't know. What would I relive? I think, without getting too personal, it would probably be something I would take back or do differently with my father, who I had a difficult relationship with, so that when he wasn't here anymore, I would be a little more comfortable with him knowing my feelings towards him. Do you know what I mean?”
“Everybody's like, "Oh, if I only had another chance to tell him this." So, it would probably be something with my dad.”
Yeah. What would be the title of your memoir?
"Fat Chance” because I always thought it's a fat chance that I make anything of myself. It's actually also the name of one of my companies because it was a saying when I was younger. I would always say, "You're going to be successful? That's a fat chance."”
If Frank Grillo’s success is a fat chance, I think he’s redefined the phrase. You can catch him now in BODY BROKERS, available on Digital and On Demand. Check out the trailer.