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Interview, Audio: Actor Frank Grillo is ‘Wheelman’ on Netflix

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CHICAGO – Actor Frank Grillo is on the rise, as evidenced from his high profile supporting role in Marvel Studios “Captain America: Civil War” and portraying Sgt. Barnes in “The Purge” series of horror films. He recently has partnered in a production company (WarParty Films) and is the title character in their debut movie “Wheelman,” which is distributed and available now on Netflix, as part of their film group.

The “Wheelman” is also the debut film for writer/director Jeremy Rush, and currently has an 88% favorability rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In this tense thriller, Grillo portrays a getaway driver who is double crossed, and suddenly has to protect his family from retribution. The film’s scenes takes place mostly in the vehicles that the Wheelman drives – similar to the movie “Locke” from 2013 – and features Grillo at his action star best.

Grillo1
Frank Grillo is the ‘Wheelman’
Photo credit: Netflix

Frank Grillo was born in New York City, and graduated from NYU. He began as an actor in commercials, and made his film debut in the “The Mambo Kings.” He has moved up the show business ladder since then, and broke through in 2014 with his role as Brock Runlow/Crossbones in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and Sgt. Leo Barnes in “The Purge: Anarchy.” He has repeated both roles in the subsequent films in each series.

In August of 2016, Grillo announced his partnership with producer/director Joe Carnahan (“The A-Team”) with WarParty Films. HollywoodChicago.com spoke to Frank Grillo when he was in town a couple weeks ago, about this next phase of his career and “Wheelman.”

HollywoodChicago.com: What is the origin of your production company WarParty, and what makes ‘Wheelman’ the perfect ‘vehicle’ to launch the company?

Frank Grillo: Joe Carnahan and I met on the film ‘The Grey,’ which he directed The mission statement of WarParty Films is to make action/thriller films in the 10-20 million dollar budget range, with also a smaller focus on the horror genre. We also want to be boots-on-the-ground producers, to be proactive creatively. The films we’re looking to make and have made are throwbacks to 1970s anti-hero movies, lean-and-mean character driven stories with good scripts, with good characters over flash.

HollywoodChicago.com: The script and action is unique in the film, as – like the 2013 film ‘Locke’ – it mostly takes place inside the car. What were the challenges for you and writer/director Jeremy Rush in formulating this type of setting?

Grillo: Both Jeremy and Joe figured out some very unique camera angles, so the action always felt tense, because I don’t get out of the car that much. The camera was inches from my face during the production, and I had to prepare the film like a play, because we did it in chronological order. I had to be seriously ready – psychologically, emotionally and spiritually – so anytime that camera was in my face, I had to forget it, and truthfully inhabit that guy. It was a Herculean effort.

HollywoodChicago.com: Rush said in the production notes that he wanted to create a type of action film that harkened back to the 1970s anti-heroes. How did that inform you as an actor, into how to approach the character of the Wheelman?

Grillo: The films that I loved back in the day, like ‘Bullitt,’ ‘Death Wish’ and ‘Escape from New York,’ showed characters that were not necessarily all ‘good guys.’ They were good in some ways, but they also had bad traits within them. They never said that much, but the motivations were in their faces, how they carried themselves, and what they did in the situations they encountered. That was the template on how to approach it, all in the aura of the character.

When you look at Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin, those guys didn’t have to say much in these roles, and they were men before they were actors. I’m a working character actor, with a few years to pull those type of roles off, and with a small legion of fans… so I know what they dig from me at this point.

HollywoodChicago.com: What is easier about working with a director who also had written the script? How fluid was his ability to improvise once you were on the set?

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Frank Grillo of ‘Wheelman’ in Chicago
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Grillo: A lot of what Jeremy brought to the set was guided by Joe, who is an A-list director, and myself. There were some rough patches, but everything that Jeremy had in his mind about the Wheelman – the camerawork in the car, how to shoot it and how the film should look – we followed. We all helped each other through it, and I think Jeremy was a better director by the conclusion of the shoot.

HollywoodChicago.com: You noted that ‘Wheelman’ was a real put-me-in-coach moment as a lead actor in a film for you, and that you felt ready to make it your own. What was your personal favorite moment in the film as far as that feeling was concerned, one that you left all on the field?

Grillo: I’ve been a lead actor fairly recently, most notably in the Purge series and in a TV show in 2014 called ‘Kingdom’ [Audience Network, DirectTV], so I understood the responsibility. But this movie was all on my shoulders, there was no other actor. I knew if I could pull it off, make it believable and authentic, then people would look at me as an actor differently.

My favorite scenes were with my daughter in the film. I knew I could pull off the tough guy thing, that’s what I’ve doing all along, but to switch it to the guy who might not ever see his kid again, and as a father myself, that was the challenge. Wheelman is a character that doesn’t know how to be a father, and to project that feeling of uncertainty in my eyes and through the character, that was it for me.

In the audio portion of the interview, Frank Grillo talks further about being part of a new production company, and being part of the Marvel Studios universe.


“Wheelman” is available for download NOW on Netflix. Featuring Frank Grillo, Caitlin Carmichael, Garrett Dillahunt and Wendy Moniz. Written and directed by Jeremy Rush. Not Rated.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2017 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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