The DirecTV original series Kingdom, which airs on the AT&T Audience Network, sees Alvey (Frank Grillo) having to face his past and deal with the impact of what’s happening with his family and loved ones. At the same time, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Ryan (Matt Lauria) are preparing for their upcoming championship bout with each other, Nate (Nick Jonas) is determined to return to the cage and prove he has what it takes to make it as a fighter, Alicia (Natalie Martinez) is preparing for her first professional fight, Christina (Joanna Going) is trying to find her footing after overdoing on heroin, and Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) makes a life-altering decision that will forever change her relationship with Alvey.
Back in February, Collider was invited to the North Hollywood set (which is also a working MMA gym) of the intense and visceral series for an exclusive set visit to hang out, watch filming and chat with the cast of Kingdom. While actor Frank Grillo was too sick during the shoot to chat, he did get on the phone with us to chat about all things Alvey Kulina. During the interview, he talked about Alvey’s mental state, how he’s dealing (or not dealing) with his sons, being a bit misogynistic when it comes to women, why nothing could ever really make Alvey happy, his own similarities with the character, and why he thinks there’s still so much story left to tell and explore. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Alvey has been through a lot. He watched his friends kill himself with his own gun, and he watched his woman drive away with his child. What was his mental state, going into these episodes?
FRANK GRILLO: The good thing about playing this character is that he’s always a fray that he’s gotta get into. He’s always at the service of somebody else, whether it’s his sons, his fighters, the women in his life, or his friends. He’s always having to be of some kind of service to somebody else. I think he’s so used to operating in chaos that anything other than that, I think he would shoot himself in the face. There are levels of the chaos, though. He needed to regroup a bit, but he’s a survivor. He’s a reactionary, so I think he’ll be okay. Something tragic is on the horizon with him and Lisa and their baby. That will weight heavily on the future of their relationship and how she’s involved in the gym. And there are constant struggles with his sons, with Jay and his addiction, and Nate struggling with his sexuality. That will be exposed a bit, in these episodes, but not fully explored yet, at least not with Alvey. I don’t know how [Byron Balasco] fits it into 10 episodes, but as I talk about it, I realize how much shit is going on. On TV, when somebody fucks up too much, they disappear. They die off, or they’re written off. We’re all steadfastly damaged people, but that’s what we all are. We all struggle through life, or at least the people that I know. The interesting people struggle through life, but they don’t disappear, die or get written off. They just struggle through it.
Joanna Going told me that she thought Christina would be sympathetic and supportive, if she ever found out about Nate’s sexuality. How do you think Alvey would react to learning about that? Do you think it’s something he’d have trouble with?
GRILLO: I think Alvey is a bit more evolved than people give him credit for. I think he loves that boy. Having two sons of my own, one of them not far from [Nick] Jonas’ age, I’m a guy that grew up in New York City in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and now I have lots of gay friends, but before, I didn’t. I was still very sympathetic and empathetic toward the prejudices. I think Alvey is similar. I think he would be gut-punched at first because he’d get nervous about your kid’s future and about what the fight world holds for his kid. He doesn’t want to see his kid struggle. I don’t know how it’s going to be written ‘cause it hasn’t been written yet, but I would like to think that Alvey is a better father than he is a coach or a husband. But, we never know. Byron could write it that Alvey is a maniac and flips out. Who knows?
This is a world that you already knew, understood and were a part of, but many of your cast members weren’t. What’s it been like to watch them through themselves into this and learn about what it really takes to be a part of this world? Is it fun for you to see the torture that they’re putting themselves through?
GRILLO: It’s fun, but at times it’s frustrating. I live my life outside of acting in gyms. I don’t golf, I fight. I sparred this morning for eight rounds with an Olympic boxer. That’s what I love to do. Sometimes it’s frustrating because I want them to be better fighters, but it’s silly to think they should be. They’re actors. But, they’ve thrown themselves into it and are doing as best as they can to make it look as real as they can. They’ve got the emotional aspect of what these fighters go through down, which is more important. It’s a television show. They do the weight cuts, so they torture themselves and they’re competitive with each other. It’s great drama.
Alvey has his sons by blood, but Ryan is also very much a son to him. With the fight between Ryan and Jay, where does Alvey loyalty really lay?
GRILLO: I think Alvey’s loyalty lays with Alvey on this one. He sees Jay as a bit of a liability, like he was in Season 1. He can’t count on Jay, and this is a business. So, Alvey is looking out for Alvey in the gym and he’s gotta go with the fighter that’s working the hardest and has the most chance of winning. If you asked him to make a choice, it’s Sophie’s choice. You’ve gotta pick one of your kids.
Ryan, Jay and Nate are all struggling with various things, and it seems like Alvey really only knows how to deal with any of them when they’re winning.
GRILLO: Yeah, he does not know how to communicate with these kids, at all, when they really need a mentor, a father or a coach. He’s a better coach than he is a father. I’ll give him that credit. He really knows how to get to them, as far as being a coach. At the end of Season 2a, when he rallied Ryan from the bathroom floor, to go out there and fight, he’s good at that. But once it comes to the deeper emotional, fatherly objectives, he struggles. He’s not good at it. But, he loves them. That’s what I love about him.
Alvey’s relationship with Christina is a mess, and his relationship with Lisa has turned out similarly. Does he realize, at all, the fact that he’s probably not the best at dealing with women?
GRILLO: I think Alvey is misogynistic. I really do. I think he comes from that world. I grew up surrounded by guys who were from immigrant families from Italy and Ireland, and first generation immigrant men. I saw a lot of that misogynistic, men are the rules kind of an attitude. I don’t think it’s his fault. I think he’s a product of his environment. I don’t think he gives a shit, as much as the average guy does, when it comes to women. He’s like, “Let’s have fun. Let’s have sex. Let’s drink a little. Let me do my thing. Leave me the fuck alone. And we’ll all be good.” And that’s not the way life is. If you came to my house and watched how my wife rules the roost, you would see how life is. That’s why it’s so fun to explore what life would be, if I was a different kind of a man.
When you signed on to play Alvey, were you given any of the bigger ideas for where he would be headed or who he would become, or has all of this development been a surprise for you?
GRILLO: I had an idea of what the first 10 episodes were, and then we sat back and watched. Byron, who’s a great writer, listened to our voices and started to write for us, as opposed to just writing for characters. And I have input. Byron and I talk about what we think will be interesting for Alvey, in future episodes, with the relationships. It’s the greatest opportunity for me, creatively, since I’ve been an actor. Byron Balasco has become a dear, close friend. I think we’ll do future things together, based on how successful this has been for us.
Do you think there’s anything that could ever satisfy Alvey or make him happy with his position in life?
GRILLO: That’s a great question. I don’t think so. I think we’ll see some of that this season. What would make Alvey happy? That’s a really great question.
Alvey seems like the kind of guy that whenever something goes well for him, he’s thinking about the next thing that isn’t.
GRILLO: That’s absolutely right. It’s funny, there are some similarities with me and this guy. That’s how I am, in my life. I have some big movies this year. I’m up for a bunch of big movies, and I’ve been offered big movies. But still, I go to bed at night wondering, “What am I doing wrong? Why am I not doing this? Why am I not doing that?” It’s like, “When are you ever happy? When are you ever going to be satisfied with what you have, as opposed to worrying about what you don’t have?” And that’s Alvey. I don’t think his DNA understands happiness, so I don’t think he could recognize happiness or contentment. That’s what keeps the guy going, and that’s what makes it interesting to play him.
And that’s what makes him interesting to watch.
GRILLO: That’s most important. I would never compare myself to [James] Gandolfini, who’s phenomenal, but it’s like Tony Soprano. I tuned in every week to see what he was going to do. What he was trying to do was hold his family together, but he kept fucking up. It’s a similar thing.
Does this feel like a character and a story that you’ve only scratched the surface of and you want more time to continue exploring it?
GRILLO: That is a phenomenal question, and the answer is yes. We’re only doing 10 episodes at a clip, and a network TV show is 24 episodes. I feel like we’ve just introduced this guy to the world. There’s so much to reveal. There’s so much more story that we have in our pocket, that we want to tell. I could see this thing going for seven or eight cycles of 10 episodes. Byron and I talk about that all the time, so that’s an awesome question.
Kingdom airs on Wednesday nights on the AT&T Audience Network on DirecTV.