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March 2004
Hellboy: An Interview with Ron Perlman

Hellboy: An Interview with Ron Perlman

Ron Perlman is one of those actors who brings an emotional and dramatic flare to his characters. Remember how good he was as the Beast on the TV show "Beauty and the Beast"? He brings a certain charisma to the characters he plays. Well, coming out on April 2nd, Ron will bring his flare to another character that comic book folks have been dying to see on the big screen as HELLBOY opens up nationwide. In a recent discussion with blackfilm.com, Ron discusses the joy of playing different characters in the sci-fi market as well as his relationship with Hellboy director Guillermo Del Toro.

What led you to become an actor?

RP: I was a student at George Washington High School in New York City, which is where I grew up and I'm on the swimming team, doing laps, and the whistle blows, and the teacher says, "Perlman, get outta the pool." I then go, "What did I do?" He goes, "You see this guy standing right next to me, he's the Drama Coach They are having auditions for the school play." I then say, "What does that have to do with me?" "Well, 35 girls showed up for the audition and no boys" Again I asked, "What does that have to me?" "Well, you can do the drama dept. more good there than you could on the swimming team." This was a direct order to go audition and so they manage to get three guys as you can imagine. Of course, all three of us got lead roles and there was a chemical response for me and the audience and I never looked back.

How did you feel knowing that Guillermo wouldn't do this film without you?

RP: He had downplayed that me. He announced to me the moment he achieved the rights from Mignola to adapt the comic book to the big screen that in a perfect world it would me but we both saluted the fact that we live far less than a perfect world and that's pipe dreams. The film by nature had to be a studio monstrous machine and possible franchise kind of thing. That wasn't with a realm of possibility. What I didn't realize was the campaign he mounted over the course of 6  years. He really could have made the film on 20 different occasions if he had used this actor or that actor or this actor. The list was long and varied according to who was the hot thing at the moment. He didn't want to include me in this battle of his simply because he didn't want to blow smoke or get my hopes up and depress me on the feedback he would get when he mentioned my name in a room full of executives. Of all the things I have prepared myself for as a professional of some 30 years now, the one things I could have never imagined was the degree a human being would sacrifice himself at a project for the sake of another human being and I don't say that lightly and I don't say that because it's an interesting press story. It's the most generous gesture I have ever witnessed and certainly been the recipient of. Something characterized this project that was unique and singular and very humanistic.

Can you talk about the difference between the human qualities versus superhero qualities?

RP: Well, all you play is the human qualities, and the rest of it is, "Whom am I punching?" and "Where's the camera". The beauty of the way Hellboy fights is that he's closer to John Wayne than Bruce Lee. There's nothing elegant or certainly steep in discipline about him. He's a brawler. I didn't have to do any preparation. It's not like I'm like Tom Cruise going to shoot "The Last Samurai" with 6 months of sword lessons and classes. With me, all I had to do was put my shoes on and show up on the set. But the real lack of adjusting came in was the character that he created was so accessible and so recognizable, and so human, and there were places where he and I vastly intercepted that Hellboy is a lazy underachieving kind of guy, who much rather hang out on his bachelor pad drinking beer and smoke cigars and watch Marx Brothers movies than go out and save the world. When he does ride to the level of his amazing potential, it's reluctantly and tongue and cheek and trashing talking all the way through it. Those are things that you don't have to research to play. You just learn the lines in a superficial way because you want to stay as close to your instincts and spontaneity to play with Scotty. Having done lots of roles where there are months and months of research, reading and learning new skills, this is as far from that as you could imagine.

Can you talk about working Guillermo Del Toro?

RP: This is our third collaboration. I worked on his very first film called "Cronos", which was really guerilla filmmaking. It was really low budget. He says it was $2 million but it's all lies. I was there so I know. The joy of being around Guillermo is seeing how much he's changed and how little he's change. He still applies himself to the exact same degree with the exact same compendium of characteristics that makes him unlike anybody I have ever worked with. First and foremost, from the moment we met, even before we started shooting "Cronos", there was this instant friendship. Regardless of whether we ever worked together or will work together in the future, this friendship will endure. So, working with your best pal on something that you both are such geeks over which is moviemaking and cinema in general is as good as it gets. There's no downside to it.

Was there ever an age issue with you in playing the lead?

RP: In fact, if we do Hellboy 3, God willing, I did the math, I'd be 62. Thank God I healthy and in decent condition, and was able to handle it. Talk to me after Hellboy 3. That will be your superhero in a walker.

Were you a fan of the comic book?

RP: Well, I'm a film geek, never so much a comic book geek. He and I are alter egos and the alter part comes in where comic books come in. I'm not a high tech guy and Guillermo is, but our level of enthusiasm for the media that we are so graced to work in is quite comparable and I think w e both thank God everyday that we have to do that; to make movies. I couldn't possibly articulate the impact that movies had on me in the course of my life. It's one of those few things that make life worth living. It's being able to see something that blows your mind. It resonates inside of you because it's the human condition that's the medium is celebrating.

Did you do a Hellboy crash course before shooting began?

RP: No, there was little adjusting to play this guy. I thought it was important to read every single comic and study every singe frame that Mignola created because clearly we were not trying to use Mike Mignola's Hellboy as a jumping off point. We had to totally immerse ourselves in his vision of Hellboy. That's my source material. I want to see how he holds his head and what his shoulders feel like. You can see that by his art. I wanted to see what his walk was like and what his attitude is. You want enough of Mignola's vision to make it second skin.

What's your interpretation of Hell?

RP: Doing something for your whole life that you hate or you really don't like or get anything out of. That's hell.

With as many films that you have in the sci-fi genre like Blade 2, Star Trek: Nemesis, Cronos, and a few others, do you have any love for it?

RP: I wish I could say that I had any control over the roles I have done. I was always the guy who had trouble paying the rent. Any job that comes along, I take. So, the entire shape of my career, if there's one, is purely by chance or coincidence and having said that, there's an awful lot of about it that were really tripped out with incredibly ridden individuals who were determined to do something of good taste and high caliber intellect along the way. There have also been these year and a half gaps were the phone doesn't ring, so during those times, if someone comes along with a really piece of shit exploitation movie, I have to take it cause the rent's due. So, there's a lot of stuff there that I'm not proud, but I don't apologize. I'm raising kids and putting them through school and you got to do what you got to do. You take the good with the bad.

What personality traits do you share with Hellboy?

RP: Hellboy has clearly decided that since he is so limited in his ability to participate in society that he is owed the right to entertain himself in the way that he sees fit. He's chosen to do with this rapier sense of humor that he has. Everything that he does, he processes it as something humor or fun, and I think it's more for his own enjoyment than anyone else's cause he could give a shit what anyone thinks, which is also part of his charm. The first time I ever asked a girl out on a date and she thought I was kidding and laugh, that when humor became an important buffer between me and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. There's that, and there's this underachiever, lazy, kind of hedonist. If he wasn't in such good shape, I would be 700 pounds eating bon buns. That's his psyche. So, we share that as well.

Can you talk about the makeup?

RP: It seems to be like a running theme. The very first film I did, I spent 4 hours under makeup, which was "Quest of Fire" and the second film I did, "In the name of the rose", and the third is what led to "Beauty and the Beast", and there's 4 or 5 in between, and now this. Luckily I happen to see incredible positive aspects of creating a character that I'm just not creating, that other artists are creating with me. In this case, it's Rick Baker. He's a genius; unequivocal genius. The guys who work for him are genius, so they have the first shot of who Hellboy is going to be. I have to find my humanity and meet him somewhere in the middle and that's a collaboration that gets my juices flowing. It engages me in a more interesting way than if it were just me and a character. I have always felt that from the very first time I put the stuff on. Luckily, because I have doing this stuff so much. It would be horrible if I did it and hated it and it was just a living.

What's next for you?

RP: Well, I'm directing my first film in the fall. We're looking at actor to cast the film. It's a beautiful little movie that probably resembles in scope a small film called "You Can Count on Me", which starred Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. It's the ultimate low budget film. It's a film that you shouldn't shoot for more than a million and a half and more than 24 days. I've been in 22 movies like that so I can recognize when you're in something that lends itself to low budget. This does and it's something that I've been interested about. It's an itch that I've never really quite scratch. So, I'm excited about that. I also want to play Tevye one day. That's the character from "Fiddler on a Roof". People look at me like I'm nuts but that's a role I really want to sink my teeth into. Other than that, the things that have happened to me far exceed the things that I have ever dreamed about so I stop aspiring and I'm here to see what God has in store for me.

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