Frank Grillo loves to work. Since 2017, the veteran actor has registered over 20 film credits that include Boss Level, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, and Point Blank. This innate desire to work is not a decision motivated by a paycheck. Instead, Grillo’s dedication to acting comes from his genuine love for the craft. Although Grillo predominantly stars in action films, he’s not afraid to step outside of his comfort zone, with his role in Paradise Highway as a case in point.
In the dramatic thriller, Grillo plays Dennis, the incarcerated brother of Sally (Both Sides of the Blade‘s Juliette Binoche) who calls upon his sister to smuggle illegal cargo in order to save him from a prison gang. In an interview with Digital Trends, Grillo spoke about the joy of working as much as he does, the challenge of playing his character in Paradise Highway, the possibility of an MCU return, and the excitement of working with his son in a new horror film.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: You’re very busy. Since 2017, you were in just over 20 movies. One group might look at that and say, “Oh, he’s just working a few days. He’s going from paycheck to paycheck.” But from watching the way you train for your movies, I think you’re someone who genuinely likes to work, and you don’t take it for granted. How do you answer someone who questions why you work so frequently?
Frank Grillo: Yeah, I mean somehow working a lot became a problem. I don’t get it. There are some movies where I’m on the movie for a week. The majority of them are not that. For most of them, I’m heavily in the script. I never work for a paycheck. It’s never that. I kind of laugh at people who say things like that or critics or anything. I don’t take it very seriously.
I work because I love to work, and I have a lot of opportunities to do so with really cool people. Some of them are young and some of them, like in this movie, everybody’s very talented veterans. So why would I stay home, you know what I mean? [laughing] Then they’ll say “You’re oversaturated.” I’m like, “What does that mean? It’s a new world.” Sam Jackson has done 3,000 movies. Is he oversaturated?
No one asks him.
Grillo: Nobody asks him. [laughing]
In Paradise Highway, you play Dennis, the incarcerated brother of Sally, Juliette Binoche’s character. What attracted you to this type of role?
Grillo: Originally, I thought the script that Anna Gutto had written was phenomenal. I just loved the fact that for me, it was a bit of a departure. I get to play somebody who is a little simple-minded, a little confused, a little desperate. I’m not killing anybody. I’m not saving anybody. There’s a real ambiguity between the good and the bad of this guy. He really kind of exists in this gray area, and I thought that would be a great challenge. Then, to work with Juliette Binoche and Morgan Freeman, you know, it’s an easy yes.
You touched on this, but it is a different role for you. How does the preparation change for this role, knowing it’s mostly dialogue and based on emotion as opposed to fighting scenes?
Grillo: That’s a great question. Basically, what I have to do is really kind of get away from myself and my own behaviors because I am not a simple guy, and I’m not a weak guy. I’m not emotionally ambiguous. I’m very specific, which is why I do the movies I do. So for me, the challenge was to not let my natural instincts in the course of this movie take over, and Anna was very clear about not wanting to see the people that normally see Frank Grillo in movies. I think it was really fun to do that, and I think we pulled it off.
With Juliette, how did you build such a strong sibling relationship with her for this film?
Grillo: Again, you have actors who do their homework and have worked at such high levels. We met each other. We got each other right away. We didn’t have a lot of time. The piece was written so well. We understood our characters so well that we really just trusted each other and fell into it quickly. I mean I adored her from the minute I saw her on screen. So it was, for me, a great pleasure to work with her.
Chocolat is my guilty pleasure.
Grillo: I mean, come on! Right?
With all of the recent Marvel news, if Kevin Feige calls you up and says he needs you to play Crossbones again, would you return?
Grillo: What do you think?
I would say yes.
Grillo: I would say yes, too. [laughing]
You’re taking on the role of Ferruccio Lamborghini in Lamborghini. In the automobile industry in Hollywood, figures like Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford have been portrayed before. However, I really don’t know a lot about Lamborghini, the man. Was that part of the challenge of taking this role?
Grillo: When you see the story, it’s amazing. He’s an iconic industrialist who had many successful businesses. The car business was the last of his successful ones. For me to step into that role, work with people like Gabriel Byrne and Mira Sorvino, Bobby Moresco, who directed the movie and wrote it, they all have Oscars or nominations. Again, I’m playing a real guy. There are no guns and fights. I had to speak broken English and Italian in places. To me, any time I get a challenge like that, I’m in. I am in.
You’ve worked with many actors and directors, but working for your son had to be a special moment as you’re in his feature-length directorial debut. Could you even keep your emotions in check?
Grillo: It’s so great of you to ask that. It’s like part of me is my son’s father, who’s so proud of him and just wants to make sure everything’s right. And then the other part of me is the actor who says, “No, this guy needs to make his own mistakes and learn the way he needs to learn.” I had to balance that. There were times when I had to pull him aside and go, “Come here. I don’t think the camera should be right there. Maybe move it.” I adore my son. I respect my son. And I think he just made a really cool little horror thriller that people are going to dig. And he’s 25 years old.
That had to be a “pinch me” moment.
Grillo: Yeah, it really is. His mother and I are really very, very proud of him.
Paradise Highway is in select theaters as well as on digital and on demand.
- Paget Brewster on Hypochondriac and returning to Criminal Minds
- Anna Gutto on why she had to direct Paradise Highway