Interview Date: 01/04/2010
Run Date: 01/07/2010
Of all the actors to find themselves beloved among members of the worldwide nerd community, Ron Perlman is something of an original geek. A classically trained master thespian, Perlman's first brush with fame was under significant make-up as a prehistoric tribesman in Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1981's "Quest for Fire." A few years later, he was a deformed and deeply weird monk in Annaud's film version of Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose." Neither of those productions were nerd fodder in the usual sense. Then, however, a funny thing happened. The lantern jawed Perlman, still under a ton of make-up, became the heartthrob of millions of fangirls as Vincent, the suavely brooding leonine mutant who wooed New York D.A. Linda Hamilton on CBS's late 80s blend of science fiction thriller and florid romance, "Beauty and the Beast."
Since then, Perlman has become one of the most busy and reliable actors around. He has made his mark in non-genre productions as well as the other kind, though his enormous number of voice-over roles on animation and video games tends to make his IMDb page look like it came out of the Overstreet Price Guide. Clearly one of the more loyal successful actors around – he's a still-married father of two with one, yes, one marriage still ongoing after 29 years – he's a favorite of some of genredom's most popular directors. Jean-Pierre Jeunet famously relied on him in "The City of Lost Children" and "Alien: Resurrection." Perlman also helped a young Guillermo del Toro break out internationally by starring in his Spanish-language feature debut, "Chronos." Del Toro returned the favor by casting Perlman in "Blade 2" and, of course, the title role of "Hellboy" and "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," allowing Perlman to become a superhero in his 50s.
Now a bit older than you might think he is, Perlman shows off his considerable rough-and-tumble skills as a humorously cynical knight-errant in director Dominic Sena and writer Bragi Schut's "Season of the Witch." The film pairs Perlman with leading man Nicolas Cage as two sword-wielding men of action who become embroiled in violent and fantastical goings on while escorting an alleged minion of Satan (Claire Foy) to her trial during a low point of the Dark Ages. It's not the greatest movie, to be honest, but Perlman improves it, as usual. FX viewers can also see him as the much meaner motorcyclist, Clay Morrow, on the hugely acclaimed series, "Sons of Anarchy."Catching up with me via phone, the veteran actor turns out to be very pleasant and funny interview subject. There is, however, a small issue with Perlman's memory when it comes to one filmic non-masterwork in his past. All will be revealed shortly.
Ron Perlman: Nice to talk to you, Bob.
Bullz-Eye: Nice to talk to you, Mr. Perlman.
RP: Please call me "Ron."
BE: Okay. I do that sometimes because I think there's too much of everybody referring to each other by their first names. "I was talking to Marty the other day..."
RP: You should call him "Mr. Scorsese."
BE: Exactly. Or, at least "Martin" until you've actually met him. Anyhow, I was sort of pleasantly surprised in a way that "Season of the Witch" is kind of a swashbuckler. Obviously, you've done a lot of fighting in movies before, but is this your first proper sword-fighting film?
RP: No, I don't think so. I think that there have been others. I know that there's another that's going to come out in just a matter of months where there's a lot of sword fighting. It's the "Conan" movie.
BE: Of course. How could I forget?
RP: I just recall that I wield a sword in other..."incarcerations"?...no, that's not the word I'm looking for...
BE: "In other movies"?
RP: "In other instances."
BE: I see. Well, this was pretty impressive. I guess you've probably done a lot on stage as well.
RP: Yeah, but every project has its own set of parameters. It has its own mores. It has its own fighting style. It depends on what period you're fighting in, what type of weapon you're fighting with, what part of the world you're fighting in. You always want to pretty much start from scratch. We had a great swordmaster named Kevin McCurdy who gave us the style that we would be utilizing in this, and also rehearsed with us adnauseum, to the point where we were able to do these things pretty much in our sleep. That helped a lot.
BE: It paid off. A couple of the fights were very nice. Actually, [60 or 70 years ago] your part might of have been handled by somebody like Alan Hale Sr. or Robert Ryan, or maybe a young Robert Preston -- did you have fun kind of doing the heroically cynical comic relief character?
RP: Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. I'm a fan of that period more so than any other period in filmmaking history, and I really like being that guy. I like being the best pal of the lead. The guy who's got his back. The guy who has a completely different moral view of the world than the lead character does. He allows the lead character to do the thinking for both of them and he's just got this whole other set of parameters about how he wants to move through the world. It's a comfortable place for me to be. There have been so many great ones over the years, it's nice to be thought of in those terms.
BE: And I think you uphold the tradition very honorably there.
RP: Thank you very much.
BE: I should have looked this up beforehand. Is this your first time working with Nicolas Cage?
RP: It's my first time working with Nic, yeah.
BE: Had you met him before?
RP: We had met socially, but very, very briefly. There was always a great ease to our little time that we spend together. There was an instant comfort to the time that we spent, both in pre-production and especially when the camera started to roll. He's really, really good to work with. He's very generous. He's very enthusiastic about acting and creating a role and finding a scene. He's just a phenomenal partner.
BE: Speaking of phenomenal partners, I didn't even know he was in the movie until the end credits and I wasn't sure who he played in it until I read it in the press notes, but Christopher Lee is in this. It's just one scene [as a Black Plague-stricken Cardinal under a lot of gruesome disease make-up]. I don't think you've worked with him before. Have you?
RP: I have worked with Chris Lee in the early 90s. We got to spend a lot of time together during that period. When we finally reconnected on this, because we haven't stayed in touch in real life, there was a real good friendship that developed as a result of that time, 18, 17 years back.
BE: Now I'm terribly curious. What were you doing together? I can't think of anything.
RP: I will not tell you.
BE: [Laughing] Why not?
RP: If Christopher Lee were with me right now, I'm sure he wouldn't tell you either, but it was great catching up with him, seeing that he's still nimble and spry and up for the challenge and enthusiastic about the business as he's ever been. God, he's a true gentleman. He's a knight of the realm and he's every bit the part. He's the real deal.
BE: He is a fascinating guy, and you've given me an interesting research challenge. [Note: It wasn't hard to find out that the movie was "Police Academy: Mission to Moscow." Strangely enough, it also appears Perlman performed some swordplay in the film...] Segueing a little bit, I noticed in the press notes that Claire Foy says you can't go anywhere without being recognized as Hellboy. I found that really interesting since you're under such a lot of make-up there. People really recognize you and say "Hey, Hellboy!"?
RP: I think "Hellboy" was the first time I ever had to do a major press junket. People were able to say "Oh, that's the guy that played Hellboy because I saw him on that talk show."
RP: I think maybe she overstated the case. I get stopped as Hellboy maybe a couple, three times a week.
BE: That's pretty good.
RP: I'll take it.
BE: It's interesting. I was going over your films. Putting aside that you're famous for being in heavy make-up going all the way back to "Quest for Fire," the roles that I was remembering you from were things like "Chronos," "I Sell the Dead," which I saw not that long ago. For some reason, I was surprised to see that you were in "Happy, Texas" which I actually maybe liked more than "I Sell the Dead." Yet, I didn't remember you were in it. Why do you think we so often identify you with genre films?
RP: I think maybe the genre films that I've done, and the genre directors that I've worked with are a little bit more high profile than some of the more fringey, more independent films I've done. But there's nobody whose work is more celebrated than Guillermo's. So, having done four films with him and worked with Joe Dante, Mick Garris... So, yeah, the more high profile stuff has been in genre films, so maybe that's what it is.
BE: And I guess you leaped into everyone's consciousness with "Beauty and the Beast" way back when.
RP: There you go.
BE: By the way, it's a silly question. but I've got to ask you. I'm sure you've seen the Phil Hartman sketch [spoofing "Beauty and the Beast"]
RP: I finally caught up with that well after the fact. In fact, I worked with Phil Hartman on a cartoon. Towards the end of that, somebody made mention of the fact. "Ron, don't you feel like punching Phil in the mouth?" And, I go, "Well, why?" I was completely unaware and then they got me a copy of the sketch, and I said, "Oh, I see why." Phil was a great guy and a real fun guy to be around. He's sorely missed. Everyone loved him.
BE: Yeah. The sketch, by the way, is up on NBC.com now and you can see it in all its glory. It's still very funny. And speaking of Guillermo -- my friend, Guillermo -- now I'm calling him by his first name...
RP: Uncle Billy.
BE: [Chuckling] Right. I know it's looking like "Hellboy 3" is going to be a long way off, but are there any more collaborations coming up between you two?
RP: Well, there's talk of this film, "At the Mountains of Madness" [based on the novella by H.P. Lovecraft]. If that ends up getting done, and I end up being free, there could a fifth collaboration in the offing in the very, very near future.
BE: We mentioned "Conan the Barbarian" before. So, that is going to be coming out this August, is that correct?
RP: I'm told August 19th.
BE: And you will doing sword fighting in it [as Conan's father, Corin].
RP: I will be doing a good deal of sword fighting in the movie. Of course, I'm only in the movie for about 15 minutes, but I'm usually fighting with a sword.
BE: Very good. I want to get back to some other stuff in a second if we have time, but another project that keeps getting delayed but, according to IMDb, still exists is "Bubba Nosferatu," [the sequel to Don Coscarelli's comic cult hit, "Bubba Ho-Tep"] What's going on with that?
RP: We all want to make that movie. We're waiting for the financing to finally come through and then I'm sure we'll all drop what we're doing and I'll get my shot of being Elvis Presley for a minute. Who wouldn't want that shot, right?
BE: Yeah. Can you sing at all?
RP: You'd have to be either in my car or my shower [to hear me]. I don't think you'd actually want to be in either.
BE: I'll tell you, if they can still get Paul Giamatti to be Colonel Parker in it, that's a pairing I couldn't wait to see.
RP: Well, Paul is the one who brought me the project. I guess Bruce Campbell for whatever reason decided he had his lick at Elvis. They started wracking their brains. How they came up with me, I have no idea, but I heard from Paul, and that's how I found out about the project. I hope it gets made because I'm a huge Paul Giamatti fan. More so than ever now that I've seen this movie, "Barney's Version."
BE: I'm going to see that tonight, actually.
RP: It's a tour de force by him. He's phenomenal. It is among the greatest acting of the year.
BE: I'm looking forward to it. This is kind of an odd question, but I saw that your dad was a drummer for [swing era band-leader] Artie Shaw. Did I get the instrument right, he was a drummer?
RP: He was a drummer and he played during the period of Artie Shaw. I don't think he actually played with Artie Shaw.
BE: This is how rumors get started. Somebody on IMDb actually has him working for Artie Shaw.
RP: There's an awful lot of stuff on IMDb that's questionable.
BE: Okay. I talked to an actor, [Tony Cox], who was turned into a vegetarian against his will, so don't feel too bad. Was it a creative household that you grew up in, then?
RP: Yes. Very creative household. Everyone on my father's side of the family did something. They were either musicians or singers. None of them ever did it professionally, except my dad for a very short period of time. Then, when he got ready to start raising a family he kind of segued into something that would put food on the table on a more regular basis. It was a very culturally active family to grow up in. Then, when I realized I didn't have the discipline or the patience to actually learn and practice an instrument, I found acting, which required no skill and no discipline.
BE: [Laughing] Yes, but...
RP: You laugh, but hey.
BE: We'll get [famed acting teacher] Uta Hagen in here to set you right, but anyhow...
RP: She doesn't want to kill her own career. She'd never admit to that.
BE: I don't think she's alive. [Note: She hasn't been since 2004.]
RP: She'd certainly never admit to it under those circumstances.
BE: Yes... Speaking of that, though, the sacrifices of your craft, I haven't had a chance to see it yet, but everybody raves about "Sons of Anarchy" and I think even Guillermo del Toro kind of teased you in print about the fact that you're getting to do more roles where you're not under a lot of make-up. Is that a relief for you, to just be Ron Perlman, or just look like Ron Perlman?
RP: It took me a long time, just as a human, to become comfortable being me. I think it was great that I had the opportunity to transform so often in the early part of my career because I don't think I was all that comfortable in my own skin. Then, you get older, you become a parent, you start shedding these insecurities and they turn into something else. The timing was right when I actually started getting more roles where I didn't have to disappear under a mask. I'm quite comfortable that way. That's not to say that I'm done putting on the make-up if the role is compelling enough.
BE: But maybe now it's part of the equation. You obviously don't have a problem doing genre material, but considering that you are classically trained, have you looked into doing some work, like Shakespeare, really classical type stuff, either onscreen or on stage, lately?
RP: Hell, no.
RP: Hell, no. But, listen, if somebody wants to make "Richard III" and says, "Ron, you're our Dick," I'll put on those uneven boots.
BE: I could see that. I'd pay to see that. "King Lear," I could see you as that, too.
RP: You'd be quite lonely in that audience.
BE: Oh, I don't think so. [At this point I started to ramble on about something, but the publicist broke in with the "one more question warning"]. We'll go back to "Season of the Witch" for the last question. I thought that demon at the end was pretty amazing looking. Were you surprised with the way it came out?RP: Actually, they were showing me renderings as they were developing it. But, yeah, when I finally saw the whole thing compiled and moving at the same rate we were moving, it was pretty titillating.