Copshop Star Frank Grillo Says Jiu Jitsu Saved His Life [Interview]

Actor Frank Grillo can fight. When he's on-screen, he's bringing over 30 years of experience from wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, and boxing. He even trained with one of the greatest fighters of all time, Rickson Gracie, who's a master of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Grillo knows how to carry himself, which is why he's one of the more convincing action stars tearing up the screen these days. 

Now, he's fighting to survive once again in another Joe Carnahan film, "Copshop." It's one of the many projects Carnahan and Grillo have produced together, and it'll be far from the last. The two are friends and collaborators, but as Grillo told us, that doesn't mean they always see eye-to-eye. Recently, the actor and producer told us about their partnership, the films they want to make, and how Jiu Jitsu saved his life. 

But first, he noticed the art over my shoulder during our Zoom call.

Frank Grillo: Is that your painting in the back?

Yes, it is.

I like it.

Oh, thank you. I just paint and see where it goes.

Yeah, I do that too. I like it.

It's therapeutic, right?

It is therapeutic. I've got them all over my house. Me and my kids, I put music on and we did a whole kind of Pollack thing. It's very meditative.

Gotta ask, have you read Rickson Gracie's "Breathe" yet?

I just ordered it. I started with Rickson in 1991. Man, am I old. That whole breathing thing, he was doing it then. The way he would move his body and contort his torso, and again, speaking of meditative ways, I'd never seen anything like it. I've never seen anything since. It was amazing the way he taught us how to breathe and control your heart rate, so I'm excited to read the book.

Because of your background, people very experienced in Jiu Jitsu have told me you're more convincing in action scenes than most actors.

That's good. I do it and I play to the judicious. I want the guys who are black belts to watch this and be able to watch it, right? When we did "Kingdom," all of our guys, Tucker and Jonas and Matt, trained with some of the best Jiu Jitsu and MMA guys so that when they watched it, they are believed. It's important.

It takes so much discipline, too. Has that helped you as an actor?

Absolutely. Listen, martial arts, specifically Jiu Jitsu, for me, the discipline, the gentleness, the breathing, everything, I incorporate all of it. The way I carry myself into how I work. How I move in front of the camera has a lot to do with how I've trained in the martial arts and how comfortable I am inside of my body. A lot of actors are not comfortable. You can tell they're not physically comfortable. They don't know what to do with themselves. Martial arts, it's changed and saved my life. Without martial arts I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you.

"I Could Kill All of the People"

One of the great tenets of Jiu Jitsu is winning a fight through understanding, not strength. I know you and Joe have your creative battles with others.

[Laughs] With each other. Yeah, we can with each other.

[Laughs] Exactly, So, how does that mindfulness help you there?

It really does. Also, knowing that I could kill all of the people. I'm kidding you [Laughs]. I think you're right. Look, I think it's natural for men when they get aggressive or they get passionate about something, it's ego. But when you train in Jiu Jitsu, it's exactly that; it's you learn to flow like water. You learn to be the palm tree, as he used to say. It's 80 mile an hour winds and the palm tree is not going to fight the wind. It's going to bend that way, then it will bend that way, and then it'll get straight, right?

It's the same thing. I can sit here and argue with this guy for 10 hours about who's right and who's wrong. It doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter, so try to be the palm tree. Now I fail sometimes and I become rigid. Then I realize I'm not breathing or I'm breathing short breaths and I'm rigid. Nothing good is going to happen from it. So things like that are great lessons in life. When you take what you learned in the martial arts and Jiu Jitsu, for instance, and you apply it to your life, it really, really does work.

Saves lives, yeah. For "Copshop," how'd Teddy read on the page?

Teddy on the page wasn't the greatest character that I've ever played. On the page, I couldn't figure it out. It's supposed to be a little weasley guy. Joe and I decided that doesn't work for me, so make him a guy that people don't like. Who don't you like more than a guy with a man bun and snakeskin boots and flashy suit, right? So it was fun trying to create someone that wasn't necessarily written on in the script. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but it was fun to put the man bun in, I got to play that.

Like you said, you and Joe don't always see eye-to-eye. What was a disagreement on this movie, and how'd you both resolve it?

We had a couple of disagreements, mostly about how to play a scene or him wanting me to do it one way, but I was not feeling it. Like, it just doesn't make sense based on how I've been playing it. Sometimes he's right, and sometimes I'm right. But when you spend a lot of time collaborating with another person, and there are a lot of egos involved and it's creative, the creative processes, sometimes you have arguments. Joe and I have had our share of arguments.

It helps you two have similar taste, right? Joe has said you two bonded over the movies you like.

Yeah, we have very similar tastes in film and we don't shy away from what people think of as B-movies. I don't judge the quality of a film based on what somebody might call a B-movie or an A-movie. There are a lot of movies that I see that I read reviews about how amazing they are, because you're "supposed" to say that. I watch the films; okay, I'm never going to watch it again. If it's on TV again, I'm never going to watch it. But it's the movies that people sometimes pooh-pooh, I'll watch 50 times when they come on. Put on "Escape From New York." I guarantee you I'll watch.

What other movies can you not turn off if they're on TV?

Maybe Charles Bronson, any kind of "Death Wish" movie. Any old Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western. I loved those movies. I loved those movies.

Joe's "Death Wish" script was very good.

The script was far superior than the movie. Look, that's a studio putting their spin on a great script and destroying it, and putting some people in the movie that probably didn't belong there and took his script. Then he wasn't going to direct it, and that's been Joe's journey. That's why you got to respect it. He's done it with "Bad Boys" and "Mission Impossible." If he's not feeling it he's out. Sometimes I tell him, "Maybe shut up and don't get out. Just play dumb."

Do you and Joe ever talk about making "White Jazz" together? Again, another good script.

Yeah. To me, "White Jazz" is Carnahan's chance to get trophy attention. It's beautiful, it's an amazing script and we've been trying to get it off the ground, but if there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen... There are a lot of people involved in getting the movie made. Then you have to move away. Some of them move away so it's a bit complicated. We will make that. I guarantee we will make that.

"It's Joe's Baby"

What are some other ones you're looking forward to making with him?

We have another script called "Leo from Toledo." I think Mel's going to lead that one. Then this is a script called "Xeno," which is about two brothers. It's similar to "The Raid" in tone. And then whatever else Joe comes up with or I come up with, or we can get offered. The "Cop Shop," we were just sitting around on our asses during COVID and they presented us with this script. It was not very good. Joe rewrote it. He did a page one rewrite, did what Joe does. Butler signed on after that and we were on set. We were one of the first people making a movie during COVID.

I know there's another cut of "Copshop." How does Joe's director's cut vary from the theatrical version?

Yeah. There are two cuts and this happens in the film business. I'll say our cut because Joe's my partner. I think his cut was superior. I think some of the life, the breadth of the characters is chopped out. I know my character, I was happier with the way it was before, but I'm just an actor in the movie. But yeah, there are two cuts.

Look, at the end of the day, it's Joe's baby. He's far more attached to what he's done, and rightfully so, but this is the way things go. What Joe does, and maybe he does realize that he can't make a bad move. So even if some other subpar editor... I don't even know who the editor is, and it's not fair to him either because he's just coming on trying to please people.

But even if they cut the movie in a way you don't like, there's no way that Joe Carnahan movie is not going to come out good. It's just not going to happen.

It still turned out well.

Yeah because he made a great movie. So no matter who's fooling with it or tinkering with it, it's still Joe's movie. Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely. To go back to fighting, you've gotten to train in many different countries. Where's your favorite country to fight?

One of my favorite gyms was in Israel. It was a boxing gym in Israel. The reason why it was one of my favorite gyms, it's because there were Palestinians, there were Israelis, there were Christians all boxing together. I found it fascinating. Religion had nothing to do with it. This is the great thing about fighting in the martial arts, it transcends religion or race or political views. These were just dudes boxing together, and normally they would be enemies. But what the UN and governments can't seem to accomplish, which is peace, fighting does.

I found the gym in Israel fascinating, but I have to tell you, this is what I love about my life. Every place I go to and every gym I'd go into, people kind of know who I am now. I get to see the gym for what it is and to meet the most amazing people. I got to tell you, every gym I go into, I take something really positive from.