This article originally appeared in FILMHOUNDS issue 14.
Hollywood tough guy Frank Grillo has been in his fair share of action films from playing Brock Rumlow/Crossbones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as appearing in Warrior, The Purge and many others. But Grillo takes a little sidestep from action to star as Ferruccio Lamborghini in biopic Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend which is available now on digital platforms. Interviews editor Jed Wagman sat down with Grillo on Zoom to discuss fast cars, Italy and playing Lamborghini.
Are you a car person? Is that what made you join the film?
I am, I love cars, but that's not what made me join the film. For me, I joined the film because it was an opportunity for me to do something that doesn't come my way very often. And that's to play a real person. I'm Italian, my parents are immigrants, and it got me back to Italy to do a film about a great Italian icon. So it was like coming full circle for me.
Did you have to do much research into Lamborghini, both as a company but also Ferruccio as a person?
Well, I didn't have a lot of time, because [Antonio] Banderas dropped out and I had about 10 days. I did as much as I could without overwhelming myself. And then I used the script and my brilliant writer/director Bobby Moresco. who wrote Crash and Million Dollar Baby, and I trusted a lot in my director to help me get through it.
You mentioned how it was a rare opportunity for you to play a real person, does that affect how you approach the role knowing that it's a real person and not a fictional character that you're bringing to the screen?
That's a great question and yes, it does because although I never met him and he passed away a long time ago, I need to respect and honour this great human being. And his son, Tonino, wrote the book that the script is based on. So Tonino, was on set and so I got to ask questions, and I got to ask if I was doing okay, if he was happy with what I was doing. And he was happy, and he felt good.
So I knew I was in the right zone. And that kept me going and it was a lot of me remembering my old Italian uncles, who were kind of cool, and kind of using my imagination, and using the information that I had, melding those two together, and creating Ferruccio Lamborghini and who I thought he was.
Being Italian, but obviously not having the accent yourself, what was that like trying to do the Italian accent in the film?
That was the scary part brother because I had to have an accent and I had to have an accent coach. Fortunately, I grew up with people who spoke Italian in my house all the time. So they also spoke broken English. And they would go from broken English to Italian, so I have an ear for it.
It came very naturally for me to do the words with a broken Italian accent. Because I think I'm a pretty good mimic. And my dialect coach, would just kind of read it to me and I would really dive into it. And then it became fun. Then I couldn't stop for a while. When I finished the movie and I went back to the States, I was still talking with a broken Italian accent.
Did you keep up the accent the whole time whilst you were on set?
I did because it was too confusing not to. I spent a lot of time alone. I didn't do a lot of chit-chatting because I was in a lot. When my character's in the movie, I'm in the whole movie. So I didn't do a lot of chit-chatting. And what I did do is I was constantly listening to Italian people speak just so I could have it in my body.
So the accent itself wasn't too difficult then?
It was at first and I was worried about it. But then it became easy.
You're much more of an action guy known for your action films and this is quite a sidestep from that. What made you want to take on more of a drama than an action film?
You know, I'm an actor, and I'm a very physical guy. So I've been blessed with the ability to do these action movies, and they pay very well, I'm not gonna lie. And so, at the end of the day, I love acting, it's a job and it's how I support my family. But to have somebody like Bobby Moresco think outside the box and think this guy can be Ferruccio Lamborghini, it's not lost on me.
I want to act and I want to do things that I'm not comfortable with. I can play the cool guy with the gun, it's easy, right? I can be a tough guy. But to go and be a guy who's not a tough guy and who is arguably one of the greatest Italian industrialists that we've ever seen. It's a dream come true. And by the way, it sparked something in me in my old age, it sparked something in me that makes me want to continue to push which I think keeps me, and it keeps people alive; pushing.
In terms of your roles going forward in the future, are you going back to action or are you going to try more drama or something different?
I certainly am going to keep doing the movies I love doing which are thrillers and action, you know, movies like that. But I'm certainly on the prowl for other roles that don't include me killing somebody.
You mentioned before how being a tough guy is easy. Is it more difficult doing drama and putting emotion into a real character like Lamborghini or being thrown out a window and doing fight scenes?
No, it's really not. It's what I was trained to do. You know, you don't start out- unless you're Jean-Claude Van Damme or guys like that who were fighters that they made into actors, but I wasn't. I'm just an actor who really knows how to fight. I'm not a fighter who can act and so that's how I started my life.
I did a TV series called Kingdom and it kind of mixed the two, the world of mixed martial arts and drama, but I like drama. I feel good. I feel comfortable doing it and I feel comfortable being subtle. And I love doing it. Do I want to do it all the time? No, I don't. I've got to be honest with you. It gets boring. I love action. I love making the movies that I make. I love it. It's so much fun. It's like being a kid.
That's how it should be.
Yeah, I love it. I feel very fortunate to be able to play with guns.
So a few years ago we had Ford v Ferrari, and now Michael Mann's making a Ferrari film coming out next year. What is it about the car industry and legends like Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini that you think makes for such appealing films?
I just think sexy cars make sexy movies. And these are the sexiest of the sexy cars. People want to know where these cars came from in this story. And it's interesting and it fits perfect with Hollywood. You know, Lamborghini and Ferrari. They're movie stars. They really are. Those cars are movie stars. Those cars can be Clark Gable and Paul Newman. They're the most beautiful and very few are privileged enough to ever own them. So like anything, like being a royal- why are the Americans so obsessed with the Royals? Because we don't have kings and queens in that country. It's fascinating. So that's what I think it is.
I live in LA in Beverly Hills and there are so many Lamborghinis you'd think they were about $1,000 each. There are just so many of them. Sometimes you're at a stoplight and there could be three Lamborghinis in a row, and you're like, wait a minute, these are $400,000 cars. It's really mind boggling. There's so many, it's crazy.
Having done some on screen driving before in films like Wheelman, what was it like for you to get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini?
It was amazing, but I didn't actually drive- oh no, I did drive one, I did drive the Countach. The other Miura they wouldn't let me drive because that's a rare car. That's worth a lot. But they're amazing. They're tiny though. I don't want to drive those, they're so small inside, it's like a rocket ship. I drive a big truck, I need space. I need a condominium. I want to drive in a condominium. No, they're not for me.
So you don't want a Lamborghini then?
If they give me the Lamborghini SUV, the Urus, I'll take that. But no one's given me a Lamborghini.
That's a shame. After playing him in the film I think you deserve one.
I know. C'mon [laughs].
What was it like working with Gabriel Byrne, trying to get that chemistry right between these two automobile industry titans?
Unfortunately, he's in the movie for such a short time, but he's an amazing actor. I'm a huge Gabriel Byrne fan, and he's a beautiful human being and we fell into it right away. Day one. He was there about a week and he's just a great actor, you know, so it's so easy. He's so prepared. He played Ferrari perfectly for the short time that he was in it.
Did you feel there was any pressure trying to bring both your character to life, as well as this relationship? You mentioned before having Lamborghini's son on set and having the book that he wrote, but did you still feel that was a pressure to get that right?
No, I think everything that we were doing, it's our interpretation of it. Nobody was there. You know the story, it's a very famous story, about how Ferrari told him to get lost. But nobody was there. So we get to take a little creative licence and we were having a ball, and it really wasn't a difficult film to make.
Everybody got into it. We were in Italy. We were wearing the suits. We had the cars around us. I often say it's kind of actor-proof. I did a movie called The Grey where I was in, 30 degrees below weather in the snow in Canada with wolves. You didn't have to act, you were cold all the time. You didn't have time. And so it becomes actor-proof, the actor can't screw it up. And this was kind of similar. It was a great script. We were in Italy, we were wearing the clothes, driving the cars. Just don't screw it up.
That was going to be my next questions, what it was like being in Italy, driving the cars, having fun.
It was a dream. I'm in Italy right now. I'm in Rome because we just had the premiere of the film at the Rome Film Festival. And that was a dream. It's a dream to be in Italy doing a movie about one of the great Italian sons. About Lamborghini, and it's something I'll never forget.
What was one of your favourite moments on set?
I think one of my favourite moments for me was when I was with Mira Sorvino. And it's when I was banging on the table. I was banging on the table, and we were having a great time. And her and I were going back and forth, back and forth. And I banged on the table, and I broke the table.
And it turned out the table was like 500 years old. Everybody came rushing into the room and said ‘cut' and we had to remove the table. We were laughing and then we weren't laughing. The table was worth tens of thousands of dollars.
But nobody told me, because I was banging on the table [Frank starts banging on the table where he's sat]. And we had a great laugh, it was a great night, it's a great scene. And yeah, it was fun. Everything about the movie was fun. We started in Emilia-Romagna, which is in northern Italy, where Lamborghini's from and where Ferrari's from. And then we worked our way down to Rome. So I got to travel and do this movie, it was crazy.
It sounds like such a great time! But what was one of the biggest challenges of shooting the film or was it all just fun and games?
Time. We didn't have a lot of time unfortunately, I would have liked to have twice as much time to do what we did, but we didn't have a lot of time. I was very prepared which was good, but we had to move along at a certain pace that you never really want to do with a movie. Because sometimes you miss things. But other than that, it was bliss.
You've already mentioned how you just want to take roles that you enjoy doing and films that you want to be in. So what's next for you?
I'm going to be taking some time off because I've done three movies in a row. And then I'm going to New Mexico in January to do a film with my friend Liam O'Donnell, who I did the movie Beyond Skyline with, which was a sci fi movie with Iko Uwais.
So is it more acting for you or more producing or have you considered moving into directing or other roles?
I produce a lot of movies. I produce a lot. Because that's what my partner Joe Carnahan and I do, we produce movies together. But I am going to direct in 2023, we're looking now to find something that's very manageable, you know, not crazy as far as locations and stuff and I'm definitely going to direct this year. I love producing and I love putting movies together but I'm going to give it a try. And if I'm decent at it, I'll do it again.
Brock Rumlow appeared briefly in Avengers: Endgame and What If…?, is there any chance we can see you appear once more in the MCU or is that off the cards now?
I have no idea. Nothing's out of the question. I mean, I have no idea because it seems like everybody's going back. I'm waiting for the phone to ring and I'm going to pick it up [Frank picks up the wired phone next to him] and I'm going to say ‘yeah Kevin Feige'.
It's at this point that Frank's Zoom freezes almost as if Kevin Feige heard his name being summoned and has decided to intervene. Shortly Frank comes back online with no signs of Kevin's interference.
The phone's right here and I'm just waiting for the call!
Now that the film's finished and premiered, what are you most proud of about it?
I'm most proud about the way the movie looks. It looks old. It looks like an old epic film. And I just think everybody did a terrific job and it's a great story. I'm proud of how Bobby Moresco put the movie together, as it's two separate movies. It's the beginning of his life and the end. And then he kind of meshed them together in a way and that's not an easy task for a filmmaker and I just think he did a really nice job.
Signature Entertainment presents Lamborghini: The Man Behind the Legend on Digital Platforms now. Read our review here.