For the last 20 years, Frank Grillo has made a career out of playing heavies. Detectives. Fighters. Villains. Men on the run. You probably recognize his chiseled features from Kingdom, in which Grillo plays the bad-ass trainer Alvey Kulina; the villainous Crossbones in Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War; as Leo Barnes in The Purge: Anarchy; and, most recently, as the antihero getaway driver in Netflix’s Wheelman. Grillo’s also an actual fighter. A hardscrabble kid from New York City he’s trained in boxing, jiu-jitsu, and MMA since he was 8 years old. But as a father, he’s a big ‘ole softie. Grillo recently moved with his wife and three kids to Los Angeles, after a lifetime spent in New York City. There they enjoy a pool, a grill, and a view. On a recent trip back to New York, he joined me for the Fatherly Podcast and sat for our Fatherly Questionnaire.
What is your name?
How old are your child/children?
9, 13, and 20
What are their names?
Remy, Liam, and Rio
When I sit them down and I’m in their face, they know they’ve done something. The rest of the time, I’m the fourth kid.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Yes, Rio is named after Rio de Janeiro. Liam is named after Liam Neeson and Remy is a name I heard as a young man and I thought, if i ever have a son, I’m going to name him Remy. I heard the name Remy in New Orleans and then I heard it again when Dennis Quaid played a character named Remy in The Big Easy. I loved it. I come from an Italian family. They expect you to name every kid Anthony but I named him a Remy and he is a Remy.
Do you have any cute nicknames for your child?
Their names are cool so that are their names.
What do they call you?
Daddy. Even the 20-year-old.
How often do you see them?
Not often enough. I try not to ever be away for more than two weeks in a chunk. But when I am home I’m with them all the time. I’ve started calling Family Dinner. We are eating dinner at the same time. It’s been fantastic.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Attentive, affectionate, and Disciplinarian. I sit them down and I’m very stern. I can be their best friend, most of the time. But they know when I sit them down and I’m in their face. They know they’ve done something. The rest of the time, I’m the fourth kid.
Describe your father in three words.
Confused. Affectionate and Unfulfilled. He had no guidance. He had almost illiterate immigrant parents from a farm in Calabria. He almost didn’t have a shot. He had a problem with alcohol with which he struggled all his life. We all contended with that.
What are your strengths as a father?
Humor, understanding and being there. Kids can live without money. Kids can live isolated from other people. They can’t live without their parents. I’ve got a lot of rich friends who grew up in boarding schools. They’re screwed up.
What are your weaknesses as a father?
Vulgarity —I have a dirty mouth — lack of discipline, and time management.
It’s important to me that my kids are compassionate and respectful of human beings and their condition.
Relatedly, what is your biggest regret as a father?
That I’m not there as much as I want. But they wouldn’t have the life they do if I didn’t work.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children, that is, your special father-kid thing?
Because it’s new, we had this built in Los Angeles, it’s being in the pool. We’re city kids. They didn’t grow up with a pool. They live on the bottom level of the house. They’re in the pool and there’s a hot tub. Maybe after dinner, the whole family jumps into hot tub. California living.
What has been the moment you were the most proud as a parent? Why?
Seeing them interact with each other. My twenty year old loves to be with his younger brothers. My wife and I have created an environment of love. These boys adore each other. To watch them lay on each other like cubs, and laugh together and kiss each other. I don’t follow a religion but to me that is God.
What heirloom did your father give to you, if any?
One thing about my father, no matter what condition he was, he went to work. He was disciplined about getting up and going to work. He instilled that in me. I don’t know what talent is in acting — it’s so subjective — but I work hard.
What heirloom do you want to leave for your children, if anything?
I do want to give them that this was Daddy’s, something physical. They will have something of me on them.
Describe the “Dad Special” for dinner?
We never had a barbecue in New York City. So now, the Dad Special is grilling. It’s like being on vacation.
Are you religious and are you raising your children in that tradition?
No, and I think the Hollywood cliche answer is, “But I am spiritual.” But I am raising kids to be compassionate. If you read the first ten pages of any holy book, they’re the same. That’s how you should live your life. Through martial arts, there’s a level of spirituality, respect the world, the trees, the sky. That’s how I’m raising my kids.
What’s is a mistake you made growing up that you want to ensure your child does not repeat?
I didn’t respect people around me enough, as an angry younger person. It’s important to me that my kids are compassionate and respectful of human beings and their condition. Don’t ever judge someone because you don’t know what their day and their life has been.
How do you make sure you kids know you love them?
I am physically on them, kissing them and protecting them. When I put them down at night, I say, “I love you . I love you. I love you so much.” Then I say, “What do you feel? And my sons say, “Protected.”