When showrunner Byron Balasco began writing Kingdom, a gritty family drama about ultimate fighting, he knew that tattoos played a major role in the MMA world. So he sat down with each actor and a tattoo designer to come up with the fake ink that would tell their characters’ stories. The final designs were elaborate, and required the makeup team to apply them daily as decals — think wet paper towels and a blow-dryer. Though as soon as the guys got sweaty, it was time for round 2.
Frank Grillo, who stars as gym owner Alvey Kulina, was the first actor cast, and the easiest to tat. Tattoo designer Ken Diaz says that Grillo had a ”clear vision” for his character, including a flaming skull, his ex-wife’s name over his heart, and a cross on his other arm.
Jonathan Tucker, who plays Alvey’s older son, Jay, asked that his chest tattoo feature a picture of his character’s troubled mother in the form of an angel flying out of clouds.
Band of Surfers
Ryan’s (Matt Lauria) Polynesian tribal tattoos on his shoulder and forearm represent two things: For Balasco, it’s the look of expensive ink, something a champion would have. For Lauria, it’s capturing the surfer-esque identity of local SoCal fighters.
Ryan’s MMA name was the tattoo Lauria wanted most. ”Who’s the guy willing to walk into a fight with ‘Destroyer’ emblazoned on his chest and say, ‘I’m going to back that up’? It’s an unfathomable amount of swagger,” Lauria says.
Ryan’s final tattoo came together at 11 p.m. the night before shooting. The team first envisioned a pit bull ripping through the skin — Lauria felt the ”primal” image paralleled his character. That morphed into a self-portrait of Ryan leaving a fight with blood on his gloves, something Diaz thought screamed ”arrogant badass.” But Balasco found it too on-the-nose, and remembered seeing a fighter with a sword on his chest. He brought the idea to Diaz, who inverted the sword and added a skull handle. Lauria liked that the tattoo ran down his spine, a placement known to be very painful. Plus, that late in the game it was either a sword or no tattoo, and as the actor had heard from actual MMA fighters, ”usually the guy with more tattoos is going to be a tougher fight.”