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Frank Grillo tries to survive the night in 'The Purge: Anarchy'

After “The Purge” opened big in June with $34 million (the film’s budget was $3 million) in its first weekend, it was inevitable that there was going to be a sequel. This time around, “The Purge: Anarchy” is an improvement compared to it successor. Instead of confining the story in one location, it shows the concept of the Purge in an open-world environment. It also features an impressive performance from Frank Grillo as a man who seeks to take advantage of the Purge in order to gain a measure of revenge against the man who killed his son in a hit-and-run. Grillo, who had memorable roles in films like “Warrior,” “End of Watch” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” was on hand for interviews last month when “The Purge: Breakout” experience made a stop in Miami and had the chance to speak with him about his latest role.

Sergeant (Frank Grillo) aids a waitress, her daughter and a couple as they try to survive the Purge in "The Purge: Anarchy."
Universal Pictures

How was it being the hero because last time we saw, you were the bad guy in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”…

Frank Grillo: More like misunderstood (laughs). I wouldn’t say I was the bad guy.

But you were trying to kill him!

Grillo: Who says he’s the good guy?

He’s Captain America.

Grillo: So? We were on two separate sides of one ideology.

Very good point, but you were trying to knock down the symbol of America and now this time, you try to knock down the American government in this movie and you are the leader of this pack of people. How was it for to play this kind of role?

Grillo: It was great. It is fun to be THE guy and not the guy getting the guy. I love the idea of “The Purge” and how this movie is on a much bigger scope. It was fun to have this character take this journey and end up somewhere where he didn’t think he was going to end up.

You played a variety of characters over the years from being Joel Edgerton’s trainer in “Warrior” to surviving the wilderness with Liam Neeson in “The Grey.” What intrigues you the most: the character or the project?

Grillo: That’s a great question. It’s the story. It’s the script first because my job as an actor is to serve the script. If I’m looking at it as to see what the best character is, then it’s not really looking at the big picture. I look at the script first and who’s directing it and then talk to the director to find out what his vision of the movie is and if it matches my vision and then we go after it.

What specifically about the script intrigued about this project?

Grillo: I met with James DeMonaco, who is so passionate and so clear about where he wanted “The Purge” to go. This little movie that they did with the first “Purge” was a big hit and they weren’t really expecting it. Now, he had the chance and the opportunity to expand on what I kind of think is an interesting idea.

If you were actually in the Purge and you were going to kill someone and you say to people struggling, would you save them?

Grillo: Yes. I think anybody who has a soul would themselves and their needs aside to help other people. I think there is a level of altruism that wants to help fellow human beings.

You were talking earlier how you were drawn by the script and the characters, but how would describe the character you portray in this film?

Grillo: I think this is a guy who, in his normal everyday life and before this tragic incident, is a good guy and a law-abiding citizen. Something catastrophic happens to his son and he feels wronged with the results. He uses the Purge as a mechanism to fulfill what he thinks is justice. Otherwise, I don’t think he is a bad guy and I think he proves that by stopping the car in the very beginning. Imagine that for a year, this is all he has thought about and when he gets the opportunity, the first time he sees somebody in need, he pulls over.

Do you think that saving those people changed his objective?

Grillo: I think what happens is that he creates these relationships while he is running away and trying to get these people to safety, specifically with the young girl. I think she touches and opens up his heart. By the time he does have the opportunity to do what he set out to do, he can’t do it. He just cannot do it. For me, that what was so intriguing about taking the role.

Which scenes were the hardest to do: the physicality aspects or the emotional aspects?

Grillo: It was the emotional for me. I’m physical person and I work out all the time. I fight, I box…I get to do all those fun things. The end of the movie where this guy opens himself for the audience to see was probably the most difficult thing. Fortunately, we shot this at the end of the shoot so I had all this time to go through this as he did and have that in my mind.

What would you say is the message of this film?

Grillo: I think the message of this film is twofold. The first message is that we should all be very conscious on how we treat each other regardless of your economic status or your social status. We should all be conscious of who we are as people. I think if we live with more compassion globally, I think we would be in a better place. We’ve had more then we have had as human beings technology wise. Theoretically, we should be getting along. We should be further along in not wanting to kill each other. The other message is that we all need to question our own motives about how we behave in times of crisis, times where we feel wrong and that’s what I love about the movie. It’s not just a scary movie; it’s makes you think a bit.

Could you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?

Grillo: I’m off to go do a movie called “The Raid.” It’s a remake of the original “Raid.” We are going to shoot that in January in Malaysia. Patrick Hughes is directing it and he just directed “The Expendables 3.” Right now, I’m shooting a TV show called “Navy Street,” which is kind of like a movie I did called “Warrior” and it’s similar to that where I play a guy who owns this gym with a dysfunctional family. It’s very dark, it’s DirectTV’s first series and I am shooting ten episodes of that.

“The Purge: Anarchy” opens in South Florida theaters tomorrow.

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