Wheelman hits Netflix this TODAY and it stars one of my favorite actors currently working in genre cinema Frank Grillo. I’ve been a fan of Frank since he singlehandedly rescued the Purge franchise in The Purge: Anarchy thanks to his turn as the anti-hero Sergeant Leo Barnes. Unlike most using the Purge for fun, Barnes was out using the night to avenge his son’s death, when he reluctantly becomes a protector to a group of people stranded during the night when all crimes, including murder is legal. It’s a film I often describe as Escape from New York meets The Warriors with Grillo as sort of Snake Plissken-esque character.
After an explosive turn in Captain America: Civil War as Crossbones, Frank is once again in the lead. This time as a getaway driver in a robbery that goes sideways and puts his skills to the test when he receives shocking orders from an unknown caller. Wheelman is a great heist film and has cemented Frank as a one of the most exciting actors working in genre today. As you can read below we chat not only about Wheelman, but some of his future projects as well like The Raid remake and Beyond Skyline, that has him teaming up with Iko Uwais from The Raid to kick some alien ass.
Thanks to your turn in Purge: Anarchy you’ve begun to carve out a great niche for you self as one of the more interesting up and coming action stars, what kind of roles attract you as actor?
For instance for Wheelman what attracted me, the story has to be grounded in something; like a father daughter relationship. That to me was the through line of the film and then the fact that it was in a car was kind of a cool experiment. I know Tom Hardy did something called Locke, similar not in tone, but in execution. You know it was Joe Carnahan’s first movie that him and I were producing so it was a challenge.
All these movies, the guy has a secret or a journey he is trying to make at a certain point in his life. To maybe answer some questions that weren’t answered, as he’s getting older, you know.
Our agents took the movie to Cannes to sell it, you know you sell foreign film rights for financing and Netflix came in and gave us more money than we wanted and said go make the movie. If not for Netflix you go through this antiquated system that usually doesn’t pan out. So its good that they have come in and disrupted everything, these streaming companies. Because the guy that wrote and directed this movie was a PA for 13 years. Carnahan wrote the script, gave notes, met with me, and in two months he was on set directing his first movie. So that’s hats off to Netflix.
The tension in the film is intense to say the least, when you first got the script for Wheelman since so much of it takes place in the car with you on your phone, what were you first thoughts when you read it? And were you worried that tension would translate to the screen?
Look I’m not a movie star, so when a piece of material like that comes across my desk and I’m like if I have the opportunity to do this it’s a risk for me. I’m not Brad Pitt.
But it’s a risk, if I pull it off, it we pull this off as a unit then we can make something that is a throwback to a Sidney Lumet movie or French Connection the films that we love, that I grew up with, that were lean and mean and character driven. It didn’t have to be fancy, but the story was compelling and so was the guy. We took a chance and I feel like it worked.
We don’t find out much about the Wheelman in the film, did you create a backstory for him?
Yeah I do what they call a character bible on everything I do whether it’s really fleshed out in the script or not. I don’t know if I have a modicum of talent, but I work hard or harder than most. I don’t know that talent is, but I am very disciplined in my approach. We shot the movie in sequence and I had to drive the car 90% of the time and I had a reader so someone is reading to me on the road, I’m not getting a performance from anybody.
So I really needed to know where I was psychologically, spiritually, intellectually at every given step of the way, so it was a lot of preparation.
Well I notice watching you interviews the word “Authenticity” comes up a lot in terms of how you project yourself as a human being and the roles you play. Can you share a bit the authenticity you brought to this role?
Look I was a man before I was an actor; I say this all the time. So I can experience what it is for a guy struggling in his life, I know guys like that and dive into that world. There is one thing I do know about myself and that is when it’s not right I can feel it, when I am manufacturing something I can feel it. Being authentic in everything is a matter of not judging who the guy is, just kind of getting into him and understanding what’s motivating whatever the hell he is doing and just keeping it real.
What I like about your character is he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. What do you think about the code of the wheelman in the film and what makes him decide when to resort to violence?
You know, his daughter. Realizing his family is in peril especially his kid. Here’s a guy who’s been in jail doesn’t know how to be a parent, the one thing he has left. He’s a middle aged guy now, the hustle thing isn’t working anymore, but they can get to his kid. I think once that happens its like The Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood, he’s trying to live a life after the war and they come and burn down his house and they kill his family and he becomes the baddest man in the land.
Its that thing. Ordinary guy put into an extraordinary situation and you see who this guy is. Me as a film watcher, I love those characters.
Finally I have to ask about Beyond Skyline, the trailer looks amazing and you’re paired up with Iko Uwais from The Raid films. Given the reception to the first film, how did you become involved with the project and is there anything you can share about the character your playing in the film?
I didn’t see the first one because it was made for like a million and a half bucks and my agent said if you look at the first one, you’re not going to want to do this. But they have a bunch more money, and here’s the idea. So Iko and I fight each other, we have an epic fight in the beginning of the film. I haven’t see the film finished, but we fight and then we fight these aliens and its in South East Asia. Like in Cambodia or Vietnam, so it’s got these political undertones, going on as well.
I’m not a big sci-fi guy, but I kind of love the concept, I love Iko. It was a bit endeavor and we went down to Jakarta and shot it, which was like two and a half years ago. It’s a heavy CGI film. I don’t know what the movie looks like, I haven’t seen it, but people seem to really like the trailer.
What was it like squaring off against Iko?
We choreographed our own fights and all of that stuff, which was great working with him. Carnahan and I have company, War Party films that genre driven, action, thriller sub 20/10 million dollars. We are going to remake The Raid, we just did a film El Chicano in Calgary, I am doing a show for Netflix call Fight World, where I am like Anthony Bourdain, but I embed myself in different fight cultures in instead of food cultures and we’ve been to Africa, Thailand and Mexico so far.
Did Iko impart on you any advice or taking over his role in The Raid?
We actually just finished the script on that one.
Not Iko, but XYZ is our partners and XYZ made the first two. But Carnahan and I spoke to Gareth at length about what he didn’t want to see and he doesn’t want to see us remake his movies. I’m not interested in those movies; “I’m interested in what you guys are going to do”. So the bones of it are the same. It takes place in Karakas in Venezuela, but there’s a very strong story, between my character and my brother whose in the building.