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The Surprising Effect Billions Had On Frank Grillo's Life - Exclusive

Frank Grillo is one of the stars of the recent IFC Films release No Man's Land. The riveting drama finds Grillo as Bill Greer, a steely rancher whose son accidentally kills a Mexican immigrant child. It's not surprising to see Grillo portray a character with rough edges — he's wowed audiences in a variety of projects where exuding ruggedness was key, whether he was playing Alvey Kulina on the TV series Kingdom or supervillain Brock Rumlow, a.k.a. Crossbones, in the Captain America franchise.

Grillo also appears Showtime's Billions as salty New York City artist Nico Tanner, whose artwork is coveted by Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). It was the addition of a prickly side to Tanner's personality that ultimately sold the actor on taking the role, as he told Looper during our exclusive interview.

"I know the executive producers of Billions, who said, 'We want you to come and play this artist.' I was like, 'Well, that's really not my thing,'" Grillo recalls. "'Yeah, we want you to play an artist who's a little bit rough around the edges.; And I said, 'Okay.'" Though he's friends with Billions star Paul Giamatti, Grillo had never seen the show. Once his episodes started airing, he was surprised by the recognition it brought. "People have come up to me that would normally not watch the things I do –- like 50-year-old women –- and say, 'Oh my God, I love you on Billions,' and I'm like, 'Wow.'" 

Grillo remains pleasantly surprised by the unexpected attention. "The power of television," he adds. "It's amazing."

How Frank Grillo knew high finance wasn't for him

Billions takes place in the high-stakes arena of New York high finance. It never hesitates to highlight just how competitive and cutthroat the players in that world can be. Playing an artist on the show is a new challenge for Grillo, but maneuvering through the realm of big business isn't. In his early, pre-acting days, he did a stint in professional finance. "It was maybe 35 years ago," he explains.

Immersing himself in that kind of work showed Grillo all he needed to prove to himself that it wasn't his true calling. "I knew as a very young man that it was not for me. I never had any intentions of making it a career -– it was just a day job for a minute," he tells Looper. For those who thrive in that setting, the frenetic energy focused on monetary gains is addictive. Not Grillo. "I'm not a big money guy, like where everything is about money," he says, "and that's what Billions is –- that's what Billions is about."

You can catch him on Billions on Showtime. No Man's Land is currently in theaters.