Frank Grillo is out for revenge in 'The Purge: Anarchy'

The movie mantra of "The Purge: Anarchy" is still kill or be killed, but the claustrophobic confines of a suburban neighborhood have been traded for the wide open, nighttime and temporarily lawless spaces of Los Angeles.

The sequel, like the original starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey as a couple who tried to make their home a fortress, is set as the New Founders of America have sanctioned an annual 12-hour "purge" to ensure that the crime rate stays below 1 percent the rest of the year.

For one long night, any and all crime is legal, which means it's like the wild West but without fear of sheriffs, posses, the hangman's rope or modern-day executioner's needle.

Frank Grillo, an actor who has one of those familiar faces and resumes -- "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Warrior," "The Kill Point," "The Shield" and "Guiding Light" -- plays Leo, a sergeant "who you learn early on is out for revenge, revenging something that happened to a child and using the purge to do something I normally wouldn't do.

"But along the way, I wind up helping somebody, and it deters me from my journey and so we all learn a lot about ourselves by the end," he said in a recent call from a Philadelphia publicity stop.

The thriller was filmed at night in downtown Los Angeles, more of a daytime magnet for workers and visitors than residents.

"There are a lot of homeless people, actually, in downtown LA," he said. "So we would be shooting guns and running away from cars chasing us, and many times there were people who had no idea what was going on, and I think they thought it was the end of the world."

The weirdness spilled over to cast and crew, too. "When it's night time and your body's not really acclimated to staying up at night and you're doing this crazy stuff, you start to believe that you're actually running from someone," he said.

Is "The Purge: Anarchy" a message movie or a summer film that just happens to have a message?

"It is entertainment, and it is a film first, but there is -- and the director and I talked about this a lot -- a political statement that we're making. And I think it has to do not only with violence, and specifically gun violence in our country, but our country being a little obsessed with violence.

"And also with the status of the poor in our country, and how we see them. Do we really see them as people who are disposable because they don't have money? It should ask those questions, but at the same time, it's entertainment."

Although just the fact that people wonder, "Do you think this could ever happen?" says something about what writer-director James DeMonaco created in both films.

Or would you like it to happen? Although maybe not to that exaggerated extent.

"Have you ever been cut off or been in a grocery store and someone was rude, have you ever said to yourself ... I wish I could just punch that guy in the face and I wouldn't get in trouble? I think everyone at some point has said that, and I think that's why people relate to the idea of the purge. We've all, as human beings, said, 'If I could just get away with it.' "

At the time of the interview, he had seen the movie only with his wife, actress and fellow "Guiding Light" alum Wendy Moniz, "who's not a fan of genre movies or violent movies in any way, and I brought her specifically to use her as a bellwether.

"From the beginning of the film, she was on the edge of her seat. The movie starts off with a bang and right until the end, which has a really atypical ending for a film like this, she absolutely loved the movie. She said, 'I didn't even see you in the movie, I was really that involved.' So I take that as a good sign."

Once "Anarchy" opens, he might sneak into a theater and watch it with a real audience, not one seeded with industry types. He did that with "Captain America" with his 17-year-old son, who is a comic book fanatic, and "it was just great to watch it through his eyes."

He hopes to return to "Captain America," in which he plays Brock Rumlow, code named Crossbones, a world-class fighter, pilot and marksman.

"That's the plan, but you never know. You make a commitment to them for a certain number of films but you never really know because they don't let you know about story until it's time for them to knock on your door and say, hey, you're in this one, you're not in this one. So, we're hopeful, but you never know."

In the meantime, the actor is busy with DirecTV's new one-hour drama series "Kingdom" starting in October.

"Kingdom" is similar in tone to "Warrior," he says. "I play a guy who's an ex-fighter, I have a couple of sons. It's very dark and real. It's about the subculture of that world, at a very low level. It's kind of like the 'Donnie Brasco' of MMA; it's a struggle at that level."

Mr. Grillo, 51, is no stranger to Pittsburgh, having worked with writer DeMonaco on Spike TV's "The Kill Point" about a bank heist and siege, and returning here for "Warrior." He played the trainer of Joel Edgerton's character, a teacher, who ended up in the MMA cage with his brother (Tom Hardy). Nick Nolte earned an Oscar nomination as the men's father.

"I loved Pittsburgh. I lived in The Cork Factory when I shot 'Warrior,' for four months," he said, happy to hear how the Strip District complex is enjoying occupancy rates of close to 100 percent.

Yes, he is always training, whether it's boxing, jiujitsu or just keeping up with his three sons, the eldest of whom wants to be a screenwriter. "Obviously, that's the family business. He's got a lot of 'uncles,' like Joe Carnahan, who wrote 'The Grey' and ['Warrior's] Gavin O'Connor, who keep him on the path."

Mr. Grillo, however, was not to the manor or occupation born.

His father is the sole member of his family not born in Italy, and Mr. Grillo's Italian mother is (naturally) his biggest fan who is "constantly critiquing movies and telling me how much better I am than the actors."

He added, "We're first-generation, second-generation and a very European family, very Italian and very blue collar. Acting is for the other guy, some other person who's got a father in acting. They scratched their heads for a while but not anymore; now they're happy, they get good seats in restaurants," he joked of his parents who reside in Nyack, N.Y.

The New Yorker will tangle with the tyranny of the box office this weekend. More and more movies open on Thursday nights, and experts not only predict what picture will be No. 1 but also how much it will earn in North America or overseas.

"I wish I could tell you I was one of those really cool actors who really don't care about ratings or box office or even reviews. But I am not that guy, and I am very much interested in if people are showing up.

"If I didn't, I might as well do this in my basement for myself. I do care if people are showing up and if people respond positively to the movie and to myself. It's important because that's how you get your next job."

And feed your family and make your parents proud.

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