Total Film

Ron Perlman reflects on one Hell(boy) of a career and looks forward to going down Nightmare Alley with GdT.



Since his 1981 debut, Ron Perlman’s carved out a career in movie monsters – most famously in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy. But after swapping prosthetic­s for producing, he’s now unleashing a very different beast. As he brings us his conflicted oilman in The Big Ugly, Total Film meets an actor on the ride of his life.

Should I start the video?” says Ron Perlman, his sonorous tones booming through Total Film’s speakers. Ah, the joys of lockdown Zoom interviews. But, suddenly, there he is – the actor famed for playing Hellboy. Wearing a black T-shirt, with a silver chain around his neck, Perlman sports a crop of white curled hair and a neat goatee around those rock solid jowls. Looking lean and muscular, it’s hard to fathom he turned 70 in April.

Behind him, on his walls, are some artfully framed pictures – tasteful, though nowhere near as cool as the career TF has come to discuss. Ever since Perlman made his big-screen debut in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1981 prehistori­c tale Quest For Fire – gaining a Genie nomination for his tribesman Amoukar – he’s been a unique presence in cinema. “Playing a role is like solving a crossword puzzle, taking abstract words on a page and breathing life into them,” he smiles. “I dig it.”

Born in New York, Perlman’s mother worked at the Department of Health, while his father was a repairman after a brief career as a drummer with swing musician Artie Shaw’s band. While he was inspired by his father’s foray into the arts, he didn’t have the discipline to become a musician. “I had to find an outlet that required no discipline and no real talent, which was acting,” he smirks. Those early years were tough, until Annaud’s offer of the hunchback in 1986’s The Name Of The Rose gave him hope.

A year later he was back in prosthetic­s in TV drama Beauty And The Beast – which won him a Golden Globe and the admiration of a then-unknown Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro. Cast in del Toro’s 1993 debut Cronos, it was the start of a beautiful friendship that saw them reunite on Blade II, Pacific Rim and, most significan­tly, the two Hellboy movies. No question, Perlman was perfect casting as Mike Mignola’s comic-book demon, making the recent reboot without him all the more of a travesty.

Perlman has also seen his geek cred soar with his prolific voiceover work. Over the years he’s lent his gravelly tones to the varied likes of Disney’s Tangled, longrunnin­g videogame series Fallout, and various Star Wars, Transforme­rs, Marvel and DC projects, including a regular role as Slade in Teen Titans. He’s also The Lich in Adventure Time, and he’ll next be heard in del Toro’s upcoming animated take on classic fairy tale Pinocchio.

After his six-season long stint as Clay Morrow on TV’s Sons Of Anarchy came to an end in 2013, Perlman moved into producing with his company Wing & A Prayer Pictures – from comedies (Pottersvil­le) to crime thrillers (Run With The Hunted). Now he’s back with Scott Wiper’s Deep South drama The Big Ugly, playing Preston, a West Virginia oil man looking to launder some dirty cash belonging to Malcolm McDowell’s Brit kingpin. Far from being just another gangster flick, it’s a downbeat delight.

Credited as executive producer, Perlman fell for the role after reading the scene where Preston dresses down some local hoodlums for sporting a Confederat­e flag. While his character may be a mass of fascinatin­g contradict­ions, Perlman is otherwise: a father-of-two, a lifelong Democrat and outspoken Trump critic (just see his Twitter feed), he’s a straight shooter who chats freely, as if you’re shooting the breeze in the local watering hole. “I feel like I said too much,” he grins, when we finish. “Clean it up for me, will ya?” Where’s the fun in that?

How did you get involved with The Big Ugly?

Vinnie Jones. Vinnie [who plays McDowell’s enforcer Neelyn] and I go way back, and Vinnie produced the film. Turned me on to the script, told me the kind of production he was looking for. Just the idea that Vinnie was involved was 90 per cent of the way there for me, but then reading the role, the opportunit­ies that the role offered and the tone of the piece itself, the theatrical­ity of it, [made we want to do it].

The tone is quite melancholi­c at times...

I definitely felt that we might have been entering a world that was very hackneyed and overly explored. And then we see Wiper’s take on his version of this thing and realise we’ve never seen anything quite like this. That’s very true of the character Preston, who I played. He’s such a compendium of qualities that… what was the word I’m looking for? What’s the word? You’re the journalist!


Yeah, I mean, we meet a guy who’s from Virginia, he’s an oil man. And then come to find out he’s a conservati­onist and an ecologist and cares deeply about the land, and that’s why he’s in the situation he’s in, because the banks don’t feel they can depend on his aesthetic. Like they could if he was a convention­al oil man, which is a raper and pillager of the land [where] the only thing that matters is the bottom line.

You say you go way back with Vinnie. How aware of his football career are you?

Only anecdotall­y, I’m not a guy who follows the Premier League, or English football, but I know his reputation. I know what he’s famous for! I know the reputation he got! And… as somebody who is a fan of gangsteris­m as I am, that

makes it more endearing to me than your average footballer, let’s say.

You’re credited here as an executive producer. What led you into producing and forming your company, Wing & A Prayer Pictures?

It’s a combinatio­n of a lot of different things. It’s a culminatio­n of a lifetime of observing the way things are done, wishing they were done differentl­y. All the while building up a voracious respect for cinema. And always feeling as though there’s got to be more to the way I can contribute to a cinematic legacy than just putting on a series of roles on a resumé. And so the starting of this company was something that I was toying with for a way longer amount of time, [although] it wasn’t until 2013, when we actually got the resources we needed to hang up the shingle and say we’re open for business. But I’ve been trying to do this thing for 20 years, because, like I say, I hate some of the things people choose to put the resources into, and I feel the best stuff isn’t always well represente­d, because of political reasons, or because of the capricious nature of who is anointed and who’s not in our business. I feel like the best work doesn’t always make it to the light of day. And so the whole idea was to just say, “OK Perlman, you can’t have these opinions unless you can back them up.” And so the way to do that was to say, “Well, if I had a studio, what would it look like?”

So it’s a little bit like a mini-Ron Perlman studio?

Yeah, yeah, it is! And I have now produced enough movies to realise nobody always gets it right. There are a lot of ways to go wrong. In fact, the need to compromise is constantly around every corner. It’s tough. It’s tough stuff. But every once in a while you end up with something you’re really proud of like The Big Ugly, so that makes it worthwhile.

You also got to work with Malcolm McDowell on the film. Do you still get excited when you go head-to-head with legends?

I still get excited. I hope to never stop being the fanboy. I still have a pretty long list of guys that if I was in their presence, I would become a flailing ball of inarticula­te pus.

Anyone you would care to name?

So… Tony Hopkins. I mean, he’s one that I know I would not be able to put a sentence together if I was in his presence, because I was just so awed by his [work] and I know that, because I have had the opportunit­y to work with a couple of guys who I revere to that level and I was a flailing ball of inarticula­te pus! Marlon Brando, Sean Connery… some of the guys that I’ve had the good fortune to be around.

Did Brando take you under his wing on

The Island Of Dr. Moreau?

He might have but I didn’t feel worthy. I avoided him more than I encouraged the notion that maybe this could turn into a friendship, because I just literally did not feel worthy to be in the presence of [him]. I mean, what I have built up in my head – based on the experience­s that I’ve had by watching his work – puts him on a level that… it’s like talking to a god. And what


would that be like for the average guy who has any kind of humility at all, to talk to a god? Would he avert his eyes? That’s what I did.

Was he one of those guys you grew up watching who inspired you to start acting in the first place?

Yeah, it’s 15-20 years after his death, and I’m still watching his movies, the same movies that made me freak out when I didn’t know anything. And now I know everything there is to know about how tough it is to put together a perfect performanc­e. And I’m still, “How the fuck did he do that? How the fuck did he get to the place where he was able to do that scene that way?” So if I had another crack at Marlon – maybe because I’m 70 and I’ve stopped giving a shit – I wouldn’t avert my eyes as much as I did. But I still think I’d be a little bit humbled out.

Your time with Connery was on JeanJacque­s Annaud’s The Name Of The Rose, of course. You were younger then, but were you similarly in awe?

I was, but Sean bent over backwards to quash that shyness. He could see that there was a reticence for me to contribute when he was around because I felt the need to defer to him because he was the movie star. He was larger than life, and he wouldn’t have it. He just said, “No, no, no, we need to know what you think about this scene, we need to see what you’re going to do.” And then he would encourage me to go full-bore with my interpreta­tion of the performanc­e and then encouraged me to go even more bore with it because he was like, “Oh, that’s fucking great. We can actually do something.” And then we would have this beautiful back and forth that developed into a relationsh­ip that was kind of characteri­sed by relaxation and ease, and then he started to realise that I was a cinema buff. I couldn’t get enough of the stories that he had to tell about Hitchcock and about John Huston. All kinds of stuff. I mean I sat at his knee basically and just listened to these… the best stories I’ve ever heard. One-on-one about Hitchcock and [breaks into a perfect Connery impersonat­ion] the experience of shooting Marnie!


Do you think it’s important that you found auteur directors – like Annaud and Guillermo del Toro – to help build your career around?

Well, the two that you mentioned are responsibl­e for all of the good fortune… whatever people’s impression­s of me are, if there’s any kind of positivity to them at all, it’s all due to the amount of faith that was put into me by Jean-Jacques Annaud first and Guillermo del Toro second. And to this day, whenever they work, I’m working with them. They always find interestin­g uses for me. So I ended up being pretty good in their movies, because they come up with a really, really cool take on… what would this role be like if Ron Perlman was playing it? And so we’ve ended up having this phenomenal fun in the rendering of these performanc­es. But there’s also this appreciati­on of, “Oh, my God, I don’t know why you picked me but I owe you my life,” and that has developed into kind of a familial thing, which I always admired.

Do you remember that first meeting with Guillermo for


I remember that first meeting like it was yesterday. It was just a couple of guys meeting for the first time who seemed like they knew each other forever. [He was like] this little kid who just got off on the same things he was watching as I did, just giddily laughing at this image or that filmmaker. And we’re talking about how he’s channellin­g it all into what would be his first film, which was Cronos, and I’m going, “Holy shit, what a beautiful party this is to get invited to!” And I was head over heels.

At what point did he mention

Hellboy? It was a while after Cronos. I think it was shortly before Blade. But I do know that... we had dinner in LA, one of the few times where he was in LA. And then after dinner, he said, “I need to show you something.” He brought me to this comic-book store on Sunset Boulevard. And there was this life-size maquette of Hellboy along with a whole shelf full of all the Hellboy novels [by] Mike Mignola. And he said: “Ron Perlman meet Hellboy. Hellboy meet Ron Perlman. In a perfect world, you two would be one and the same.” I thought that was hysterical. I was still a little drunk from dinner! But to answer your question… from that moment, to the moment where the

playing of Hellboy was actually something that was melded with the large – what was the word I used? – inarticula­te ball of pus, it took years! He first got attached to the project at Universal. And it took seven years to get the movie made with me. But the meeting of me and Hellboy at that comic-book store was even before that. So it was a long journey and ‘del Toro’ [means] ‘of the bull’. I mean, the bull in del Toro came out in those seven years: “Well, you may want to do this movie with so-and-so, but I’m not doing it until it’s with Ron.” And that had never occurred to me, that this was even within the realm of possibilit­y – that somebody would fight for you and not do his movie rather than do it somebody else’s way.

When you did Hellboy, did you feel like A-List fame was a real possibilit­y?

I mean, it was a great ride. And it was how you hope for it to be received, which was the critics loved it. My peers loved it. It was not a blockbuste­r and it did not move the needle of my career, one inch. One inch! And anybody who thinks it does, doesn’t walk in my shoes. Hellboy II began to move in my career a little bit because this is Guillermo del Toro after Pan’s Labyrinth. And whatever this guy is going to do next is of amazing import. He chooses to do the second Hellboy movie. And I’m the recipient of this amazing attention. But also I’m somebody in a film that… now that they’ve seen the second one, they said, “Oh, you know, that first one was better than we thought it was. We love this franchise. We love this Hellboy character.” And so things started to rebound off of that… when I hit my fifties, there was this jumpstarti­ng of some real momentum. OK, I’ve done all these things… does it actually ever lead to anything? Finally, with Hellboy II, it caused a rolling stone that was gathering a lot of momentum for me.

Do you wish you’d got the chance to do a third film as the character?

I wish we would have finished the trilogy… [that] is what I wish we would have done… because the thing was set up to have it resolved in the third film. You know, the second film is a little more than halfway through what we came to show you. And so by not finishing the trilogy, I feel as though a disservice has been done to the saga. And I feel as though knowing what the third film was going to entail dramatical­ly, that the audience was robbed of something pretty special. So I regret not having done the third. But I was never interested in doing anything –

especially at my age – other than finishing the trilogy.

You also developed strong ties with Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Did it feel like a formative time to work with him on which he did with Marc Caro, and

City Of Lost Children, Alien: Resurrecti­on?

Yes, very much so. Walking onto the set of City Of Lost Children… First of all, reading the script and then walking onto the set, having already watched Delicatess­en, which was their foray into what they were foisting on the world in terms of, “Holy shit, I’ve never seen a movie that looks anything like this before,” it was a pinchme moment. It’s another one of those times where I thought they made a mistake when they said, “We’re asking you.” I was like, “You sure this wasn’t meant for Nick Nolte?” But I took it and ran with it anyway.

You recently popped up in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Was it eyeopening to be in a film of that scale?

It was like a kid going to Disneyland for a guy like me. Even when I’m doing studio movies, they still feel like indies but most of the time, they are indies – made for less than $5 million, and you show up on the set of a Harry Potter movie and it’s on the most expensive soundstage in the UK, at Warner Bros… and J.K. Rowling is kind of lurking in the background… you realise, “I am not in Kansas anymore!” But yeah, I took note of what something of that scale and scope looks and feels like. I feel out of place. Actually, I feel out of place in a world that’s that big. Thinking back on it, maybe that’s why I’ve always returned to indies and smaller stuff that I feel like the artist has more control over. I don’t know. Or maybe I just don’t feel like I’m worthy. Like the original Marlon Brando moment.

Talking of beasts, you’re in Paul W.S. Anderson’s Monster Hunter. What’s that about and what’s your role in it?

It’s based on a videogame of the same name. It’s futuristic. I play a character called The Admiral. And I’m called to action because these monsters that we thought were handled, never to be seen again, re-emerge and everybody gets into all-hands-on-deck mode. And chaos ensues and I’m one of the team of people that tries to put them back into their little hole, for the safety of humanity.

You’re also working on Nightmare Alley with Guillermo, right?

We’re in the middle of shooting Nightmare Alley. Once the Covid thing resolves itself

we should be back in production. That movie’s about halfway shot right now.

How’s it looking so far?

As you would expect! The original Nightmare Alley is my favourite noir film ever. But it was done in a way that… there weren’t a lot of resources. The studio wasn’t really behind it. It was kind of like a favour to [star] Tyrone Power, who was in love with it. So they gave him a little bit of money to do the movie, and they said, “OK, if you want us to do this thing, you’re gonna have to do two more movies for us.” This is 20th Century Fox. So I always thought the film was one of the most brilliant, huge ideas that had never reached its true potential in the one shot it had on screen. And if there’s anybody that can augment, and finally realise the true scope and size of the ideas of this film, it’s Guillermo. So I think you’re in for a pretty cool ride when this thing finally comes your way.

Who do you play?

I’m the strongman in this carnival, who was originally played by Mike Mazurki. His name is Bruno.

Are you a fan of those classic gangster films from the 1930s and ’40s, with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney?

I mean, just look no further than Eddie G., Jimmy C. and Humphrey B. And there’s all the crime films you’re ever going to want to see.

And are you also working on Pinocchio with del Toro as well?

time. So I was able to give my first performanc­e on Pinocchio about six months ago, now it’s off being animated. And then it’ll come back and I’ll do a second take of it and probably that’ll be it for me. Whereas Nightmare Alley requires months and months of being there and meticulous­ly shooting scenes.

Are you sort of surprised when you look back on your career, how far you’ve come?

Well, I never thought I would be where I am now. I mean, where I am now is beyond even my wildest of dreams when I was young. It seemed as though things were going a whole lot better than they actually were. Up until my late forties, I would do these really cool jobs like Quest For Fire, and then the phone wouldn’t ring for three years. And I would be driving a taxi. And then I would get a call from the same guy saying, “Hey, come and do The Name Of The Rose” – the coolest, most trippy, motherfuck­ing thing you could ever think of. And then the phone wouldn’t ring for three years and I would be driving a taxi or a limo or whatever. And this was the first 20, almost 30, years of my career, from my early twenties to almost my fifties where there were these jerky moments of splendour juxtaposed against years and years of not knowing how I was going to pay the rent. So I would take everything that came my way just to survive, just to keep my kids in school. And then it got to be a thing where I just said, “Well, I get a lot of pleasure out of this.” I get a lot of pleasure out of doing [voiceovers for] video games or doing Saturday morning cartoons, which sometimes will translate into big films like Pinocchio. I started to dig it all. I started to depend on it. And I still do it because I don’t take for granted that this little ride I’m on is gonna last forever.



 ??  ??
 ??  ?? RED, ALERT Perlman got the role of a lifetime in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films.
RED, ALERT Perlman got the role of a lifetime in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films.
 ??  ?? CHEQUERED PAST Perlman’s principled oil man strikes a deal with a British crime kingpin in The Big Ugly.
CHEQUERED PAST Perlman’s principled oil man strikes a deal with a British crime kingpin in The Big Ugly.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? BIG BREAK Ron Perlman got his first big-movie break as a hunchback in The Name Of The Rose.
BIG BREAK Ron Perlman got his first big-movie break as a hunchback in The Name Of The Rose.

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