“I just remember when it happened, I was sitting on my front stoop and started crying.”
You would not expect those words from a tough guy like Frank Grillo. Born in The Bronx, raised outside of the city in Rockland County, one of the most sough after character actors in Hollywood today…he has EIGHT films coming out this year, leading off with “Boss Level” on Hulu next week…a guy who boxes every day, and even in his fifties does his own STUNTS in every film…crying on the steps?
Well, it was before the lifelong Yankees fan left Pelham for greener pastures, and it was the day Thurman Munson died. We recently caught up with Grillo as he took time out from his crazy schedule, even with COVID restrictions, as he talked about his new action film with Mel Gibson. However, it was the Yankees captain that made him pause in his usually enthusiastic approach.
“Hey, I’m a New York guy, born and raised, I have seen all the bright lights around sports in my time in LA (he has been California bound since graduating from NYU and leaving Wall Street in the early ‘90’s) and the Dodgers had their year last year, but Thurman, was, and is my hero,” Grillo said. “I never met the man, but you always saw how he carried himself, a little gruff, very tough, and that toughness brought respect in our neighborhood. I think that respect never ceased, and frankly it carries on in the Yankee mystique to this day. Jeter, Mattingly, even Reggie…loved them, but Thurman he was the man for me, and always will be.”
One of the great losses we had this year was the annual Thurman Munson Dinner, which was held virtually this year, but every year the honorees, and those who came to support during the February winter, would talk glowingly of the Munson mystique that I got to know when I was young. It was refreshing to hear someone who is not just a fan, but an influencer and tastemaker in Hollywood, to hold Thurman in such high regard.
Grillo, who fans know most recently from playing artist Nico Tanner on “Billions,” or in “The Gray” with Liam Neeson, or “Kingdom,” or “Captain America Winter Soldier,” is a guys guy, a proud Italian who is long on loyalty and family, two traits which also resonated so well with the Munson mystique and its lore. “Here was a guy who took flying lessons to spend time with his family in Ohio, can you get any more loyal than that,” he added. “Thurman, either for his family or for his teammates, I felt was the master protector. He stood at the plate, or behind the plate, and he never wavered, stood up to everyone and anything, that for me, is the Yankee way.”
In his current role in “Boss Level,” Grillo, in the lead role, plays the tough guy literally just trying to stay alive, and his scenarioto get through the day plays out over and over. It is a fun film, with lots of action and fight scenes (which he does himself for acclaimed director and business partner Joe Canrahan), but there is also some great humor in a film that will appeal not just to his fans, but to a wider audience of thrill seekers as well. “It has a little bit of everything, and that’s why we wanted to make it,” he added.
And while Grillo has played all sorts of action roles, he has never taken on baseball, at east not yet. “I’ve worked with bats,” he joked, “but playing a baseball player, I could but I’m a little too old. Maybe a manager or a coach these days, but hey, coaching Thurman Munson in a film about the Yankees, that would marry all my worlds together.”
For now, Grillo will keep to his busy schedule with an eye on the coming MLB season. He hopes that Aaron Boone’s crew will make the fall run this year, even as he is watching from the west coast. “I was spoiled to have grown up a Yankees fan during those glory days, and then to have again really stayed in tough with the team during the Torre years with a lineup not just of great players, but of guys who did it right,” he added. “Their preparation and attention to detail, that’s the Yankee way, and frankly it’s how I believe you have to take up any task, acting included.”
Would Thurman have approved of the way he goes about his job? “I have played many protectors, and I enjoy mixing it up, it’s why I box every day as well,” he concluded. “Do I think that’s the way Thurman Munson played, and lived? Absolutely. It’s what made him a great Yankee, and me a loyal fan. I owe his legacy a great deal.”
Don’t we all. It’s nice to hear that the Munson legacy continues, in fans far and wide. Once a Yankee, always a Yankee fan.