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How Frank Grillo's Bronx Roots Inspired His Character In The Gateway - Exclusive

The new Lionsgate film "The Gateway" is one full of rich, complex characters. It's a story about being trapped within the confines of your own circumstances, and the herculean (and sometimes fruitless) attempts we make to escape those circumstances.

The film is focused primarily on two figures: Parker (Shea Whigham) and Dahlia (Olivia Munn). Parker grew up inside the foster system, a victim of a world that didn't have room for him. His solution is to become a social worker and to try and prevent other kids from finding themselves in similarly damaging circumstances. But like many people on deeply personal missions, Parker struggles with his own temperament and his own problems — like substance abuse.

Dahlia is among the people Parker is trying to help. She's a mother raising a daughter whose father is incarcerated. Dahlia has her demons, too, but she has very little time to focus on them with a kid to raise — and things get a lot worse when her former partner gets out of jail only to immediately find himself in the middle of a drug deal gone awry.

At the center of all this strife is Duke (Frank Grillo), the man operating the deal and threatening the safety of everyone around them. Looper sat down with Grillo to talk about how he built a character around Duke, and made him feel as dangerous as he does.

The clothes and the neighborhood make the man

Everybody in "The Gateway" seems to have a reason for the mistakes they make, but Duke (not unlike Grillo's MCU character Crossbones) often feels cold-blooded, like he's a man who excels at and enjoys being bad. So what makes him that way?

"For Duke, he's a guy who is a hustler, who is a street guy, has been a survivor since he can remember," Frank Grillo explains. "And I know guys like this. I grew up in the Bronx in New York City, and some of the cruelest guys were these street guys, who also looked cool. And they just did what they had to do with the resources that they had. You know what I mean? It's not a matter of bad or good, it's a matter of, 'This is what I'm presented with. These are my options. I'm either going to starve, or I'm going to be really great at what I have to do.' And I think that's what this guy is. I think he could have run his own company if he was on the right side of the wall."

These ideas even extended to the clothes Duke wears. "When I read the script, it reminded me of the Scott Glenn character in 'Urban Cowboy,' who was kind of flashy and cool," Grillo says. "He didn't say a whole lot, but he was in control. He stole the girl for a little while, he did his thing, and then that was that. And then he turned out to be not such a good guy. But Scott Glenn was my inspiration for how I looked."

"The Gateway" is in theaters beginning September 3.