Frank Grillo Turns Leader, Leading Man in The Purge: Anarchy
Unlikely hero Frank Grillo
Sirens blare and an eerie voice announces it's best to remain indoors if you don't plan to participate. While others make safety arrangements and some sharpen their knives, one man loads his steel-armored black car with plenty of guns and begins cruising. Fires erupt along the street, and gunshots and piercing screams fill the air.
In the black car is a man with a mission, and his stern expression means nothing will get in his way. Cue a flicker in his rearview mirror — a beautiful woman and her young daughter held at gunpoint on the street behind him.
After cursing himself for what he's about to do, the man gets out of the car, aims his gun, and pow. One shooter down, then another, then some fancy punches and kicks and some more pow-pow, and he has just saved two innocent lives.
The night of the purge was designed for society to release its harbored angst during a 12-hour period, when all crime is legal — go out there and kill some people! Saving people? That's not right.
With its second installment and a new leader in charge of a merry pack of victims, The Purge: Anarchy sets up Frank Grillo to be the leading man he always knew he could be.
Unlike his most recent onscreen persona, Brock Rumlow (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), whom Grillo describes as "misunderstood," the nameless Sergeant is more of a "good guy, a law-abiding citizen who was wronged."
Sitting inside a large, air-conditioned RV away from the Miami heat, Grillo laces his fingers together and furrows his brow intently as he explains the motivations behind his character. Once a normal, everyday kind of guy, Sergeant finds his life one day tragically changed, "so he uses the purge as a mechanism to fill what he thinks is justice. I don't think he's a bad guy, and I think he proves that by stopping the car at the very beginning [of the film].
"He goes on to create these relationships while he's running away trying to get these people to safety that he ends up specifically creating a meaningful relationship with the young girl in the group," Grillo says. "She touches his heart and opens him up."
That depth and roundness in a character is something one rarely sees in this sort of quickly produced, niche thriller film, and that quality is exactly what intrigued Grillo about the role. Though there might be some visual indications that Sergeant isn't the nicest of people — such as his black wardrobe and suspicious talent with weapons — his trustworthiness is never questioned.
Sergeant is an unlikely hero, and after years of playing the supporting role, Grillo graciously demands to be taken seriously as the protagonist in The Purge: Anarchy.
He smiles with the modesty of a rising leading man and says, "It was great, you know, to be the guy."
Yet the promise of a prominent spot in the movie was not why Grillo agreed to the project. It was the script. As he explains it, part of his job as an actor is to serve the script. After reading the story for The Purge: Anarchy and being a fan of the first film, Grillo sat with director James DeMonaco and chatted about their corresponding visions.
"If I'm looking at it for what the best character is, then that's not really looking at the bigger picture," Grillo says. And the bigger picture here is a film that has the potential to frighten people, entertain people, but most important, make people think.
Grillo divides the main message of the film in two. For one, "we should all be very conscious of how we treat each other... Theoretically, we should be getting along better and be further along as human beings and not wanting to kill each other." And second (though it's more of an add-on), "we all need to question our own motives about how we behave in times of crisis."
Despite the plausible argument that the film is really led by an ensemble cast, Grillo's Sergeant is clearly the unspoken frontrunner. He becomes conscious of how he treats those around him, and he not only questions his motives but also re-evaluates them.
"That's what I love about the movie: It's not just a scary movie; it makes you think and wakes you up a bit," he says.
Much like the Paranormal Activity franchise or the Saw series, where each film can stand alone and entertain audiences just the same, The Purge: Anarchy tells a unique story while throwing in some winks and nods to the original. Whereas Paranormal Activity boasts five (going on six) films, and Saw has seven installments, The Purge has some catching up to do.
Does that mean audiences will get to purge roughly every 365 days? Maybe.
"James DeMonaco, [producer] Jason Blum, and I have all started to talk about it, and if the script is right and if the story holds up to this story, which I really love, then I'll absolutely come back."
Sergeant is the kind of guy who can take care of himself and reluctantly also take care of others, Grillo says, adding how "he's the type of guy who can ride the revolution." He stops, eyes widening like a kid on Christmas morning, and exclaims, "Maybe that's the name of it; maybe we'll call it The Purge: Revolution! We just came up with the name of Purge 3!"
Perhaps The Purge: Uprising would be more fitting.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.