Frank Grillo sat down with us to chat about his latest roles in "Hell on the Border" and "No Man's Land."
The veteran actor has a wide range of credits, but C&I readers might know him best as the deadly outlaw in Hell on the Border or the father in No Man's Land.
Cowboys & Indians: You’ve got quite a diverse résumé, with credits ranging from Captain America: Winter Solider and The Purge movies to the Chinese-produced Wolf Warrior 2, one of the highest grossing internationally released films of all time. Lately, we’ve seen you in Hell on the Border — a drama about legendary lawman Bass Reeves — and the contemporary drama No Man’s Land. Should we be thinking of this as the western stage of your career?
Frank Grillo: [Laughs] My career is funny, because it’s kind of based on whatever presents itself at the time that I either need to work or want to work. You know what I mean? And it just so happened that those two films included horses. And they’re both little, tiny movies, but they’re both scripts that I really dug because they were based on either true stories or true facts. And I thought they were both interesting. So I said, “I’m going to do this and get on a horse.” I actually bought a horse after I did Hell on the Border, because I used to ride and I thought I might start again. So I bought a quarter horse — and I never rode it. And I had to sell it like eight months later, because I’m an idiot.
C&I: Were you able to spend much time in the saddle while you were growing up in New York?
Frank: When I was a kid, I used to ride horses every weekend. And my younger brother became a champion barrel rider in New York. He was amazing. So I’ve grown up with horses, and I am pretty good. And I don’t have any fear of horses. I know a lot of actors say they can ride horses — but then you get them on set, and they really can’t. So the wranglers in these films were kind of amazed that I wasn’t full of s**t, and I could actually ride a horse.
C&I: In No Man’s Land, you play a farmer near the Tex-Mex border whose adult son accidentally kills a Mexican youngster while the boy makes an illegal crossing into the U.S. It’s a suspense drama, in the sense that we follow your character’s son as he flees into Mexico to escape arrest. But the movie also focuses on the real-life problems of immigration and cultural clashes.
Frank: Well, I thought it was a fascinating story, given what is happening on that border, and how it affects not just people from Mexico, but how it affects U.S. citizens who are kind of caught in the middle of it. And I just dug these two young filmmakers, Conor and Jake Allyn, who have their own company, and are trying to do things that are interesting, and that matters. I think they did a really good job, given their budget, with the subject matter. I’m impressed with them.
C&I: There’s an interesting arc to your character, who winds up appreciably more empathetic and understanding. And while the ending of the movie certainly isn’t tragic, it’s realistic.
Frank: Yeah, I really dug that. It wasn’t wrapped up with some Hollywood ending, with his kid coming back and he gets away with it. He’s going to go pay the price, and his family’s learned a lesson from this whole thing. And hopefully they’ve become more compassionate, which is what we need in this country right now. This movie is very timely, because that is what we need. We need people to be compassionate, to feel empathy and sympathy for people who are struggling, whether they’re on our side of border or not. I’m not trying to get on my high horse — and believe me, I’m not like a bleeding-heart liberal. I’m really not. But movies like this, I think, are important.
C&I: There was a time when small-scale movies like No Man’s Land and Hell on the Border might get lost in the rush during their initial releases, and never get heard about again. But nowadays, with so many digital and streaming platforms, there’s always the chance that almost anything you do will eventually find an audience, right?
Frank: Look, man, I have this series, Kingdom, that’s now playing on Netflix, which is originally a DirectTV show. For my money, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It was four seasons of the best work. But no one had seen it. And then Netflix bought it. And guess what? It’s as if we just made the show. I have gotten more offers because of that show. And I’ve had more people — and more women, an audience that I normally don’t have — come up to me going, “Hey, I love your show on Netflix.” And it’s like three years have gone by since I made that show. Things like Hulu and Netflix and Apple TV, they’re opening up a whole new world for things that maybe we didn’t do today, but people are discovering right now because, well, a lot of them have to stay at home. It’s phenomenal.
No Man’s Land is available for rental on major VOD platforms.
Illustration: Jonathan Fehr
From our April 2021 issue