There’s a 50-year-old man sitting across from me who looks like he could take my head off with one clean shot. Frank Grillo, who plays the supervillain Crossbones in Captain America: Civil War, compared with the veins on the right side of his neck: They look like the hydraulic cylinders that help the Terminator turn his head.

To compare Grillo to a machine, particularly a killing machine, is neither a swipe at the guy nor an embellishment. Consider that he gets up at 6 a.m. daily to travel to one of L.A.’s premier boxing gyms, where he’ll put in two hours of training, including sparring sessions with professional fighters. Then he’ll go film either his MMA-themed TV show, Kingdom, or the next installment of one of his huge movie franchises—The Purge series or Captain America—and then he’s back home at night to be a husband and dad to three kids. “My wife used to ask me, ‘Why are you always fighting?’ ” says Grillo with a smile. “I said, ‘I don’t know, but there’s a reason.’ ”

There are several reasons, in fact, and they started for Grillo in the second grade. “I’ll tell you what did it,” he says to me, pushing himself back a bit from the table as if bracing for impact after I ask him what got him interested in combat sports in the first place. “I had a fight with a kid named J.J. Morales. He beat me up. Then he beat me up again. So I said to myself, ‘I’m going to learn how to fight, and I’m going to beat up J.J. Morales.’ And I did.”

Grillo’s dad taught him to throw a single punch, and Grillo landed it on the bully’s face, ending his torment and beginning a lifelong love affair with all things martial. He wrestled in high school and began boxing in his mid-20s. In 1991, he discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu—two years before the rest of the world did when Royce Gracie effortlessly dominated the first UFC event. He trained under Rickson Gracie (widely regarded as the best jiu-jitsu fighter ever), ultimately ascending to the rank of brown belt.

Grillo was born in the Bronx (that much is evident as soon as you hear him speak) and raised an hour north in Rockland County. Apart from his blue-collar Italian roots and schoolyard fisticuffs, he says he doesn’t really know where he got the drive to push his body or his limits and that the last thing anyone expected was for him to become a movie actor.

Grillo went to New York University and landed a job on Wall Street. “I did it for about a year, but it wasn’t for me,” he says. “Wearing the suit? No.” He had dabbled in theater, performing in school and regional plays, and decided to move to L.A. to make a run at acting.

“Nobody in my family ever acted or was in the arts. It was like my dirty secret. Who would take me seriously as an actor?”

Casting agents did. They responded to his dark good looks and natural charisma, and he got cast on the long-running CBS soap opera Guiding Light. “And that’s when I didn’t have to work odd jobs any more,” he says. “They paid me $2,500 a day and guaranteed me three days a week. I figured I was rich.” The job had other perks, too: Grillo met castmate Wendy Moniz, and the two married in 2000.

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Train to Be in Fighting Shape

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