Hard as it may be to believe, it’s been nearly thirty years since actor Ron Perlman first appeared on screen in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire, and ever since, he’s become known for playing characters that require wearing heavy make-up like playing one half of “Beauty and the Beast” on the popular ‘80s television show and his best-known role, playing Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in the two movies directed by his long-time friend, director Guillermo del Toro. In between, Perlman appeared in European films like The City of Lost Children and Enemy at the Gates, but most recently, he’s earned himself quite a fan club as biker Clarence “Clay” Morrow on the hit FX series, “Sons of Anarchy.”
This Friday, Perlman can be seen opposite Nicolas Cage playing a knight of the Crusades sent on a mission to escort a young woman accused of being a witch to trial in Dominic Sena’s action-thriller Season of the Witch, a movie in which Perlman gets to deliver some of the funniest lines.
Crave Online spoke about all of these things and more when we sat down with the actor earlier this week.
Crave Online: I imagine with the show, you’re a lot more selective about what you do on your break.
Ron Perlman: I’m at a very, very good period. I think in the early part of my career, the roles were so disparate that it never gave anybody an opportunity to understand my essence and what I would be good at doing, as opposed to what I would not be good at doing, so these little moments of beautiful things that were happening to me were consistent, but very few and very far between. There were really only two filmmakers that understood how to use me to the best advantage and that was Jean-Jacques Arnaud initially, with whom I did three films, and then Guillermo del Toro with whom I’ve done four. It was only after “Hellboy 2” where I began to see things coming my way that I said, “I love this role. This is something I really, really feel comfortable playing. This is something I feel like I will be very engaged in, very challenged by, but also something that I also feel like maybe I can be successful at.” Which has basically always been my criteria. I don’t want to take a part that I think has somebody else’s name on it, so it’s only really been of late where there’s been some really interesting things coming my way that I felt very comfortable about saying “yes” to, and the opportunity to work with Nicolas and Dom Sena and Chuck Roven and that whole crew and then the rest of the people they assembled. That’s just been an outshoot of this late spate of blessings being heaped upon me.
Crave: I don’t to make either one of us feel old but “Quest for Fire” will be 30 years old soon, and Nic has been making movies about that long as well, so were the two of you immediately able to bond and connect because you’ve both been making movies for so long?
Perlman: Well, the interesting thing is that even though I’ve never worked with Nic, I met Nic on a couple different occasions, kind of in social situations, and there’s always been this wonderful warmth that I felt from him to me and me to him. I wasn’t surprised when we finally set out to do this together that the minute we hit the ground and started working on this thing that there was a real ease to forming a great working relationship, really good give and take. He’s an amazingly generous actor. He’s just as happy to see somebody else take their moment and be great in it and does everything he can to facilitate that, which makes him a great ensemble player as well as when it’s time for him to have his moment, he knows how to do that, too. Yeah, it was a very enriching experience on that level. I feel like we walked away from this experience that now we’re friends for as long as we’re both around.
Crave: I like how he has mentioned the influence of Lon Chaney Sr. on his work and how he changes his look, but you’re getting closer to how you really look these days while he’s trying to get away from that and do different hairstyles and things to make himself look different.
Perlman: Isn’t that interesting?
Crave: Over the years, you must have enjoyed doing some of that make-up and being able to disguise yourself but is that changing now?
Perlman: I think now that I’m in the autumn of my life, and I’m getting a chance of having an overview and looking at the shape of how things happen, when things happen, why things happen, I think it was fitting that I spent most of my early career doing mask work, because I just don’t think I was that comfortable in my own skin. The more that I was able to transform myself into these real abstractions, like a caveman that lived 80,000 years ago, that’s more of a flight of the imagination than it is playing kitchen sink drama. Or a hunchback from the 14th Century who is mentally-challenged but speaks six languages, but he speaks them all in a jumble in one sentence. Those were all abstractions. Those were all complete, total transformations, and I was much happier to do that than I was to just be me and naked and play something that was close to home, because I didn’t know who that was yet. Really, I was such a late bloomer, I really didn’t learn how to be me until I was in my late ‘40s, which is when I started playing roles that were closer to me. I felt like I got what I was supposed to get when I was ready to get it, and for that, I am extremely grateful to whomever it is that is looking over me. I don’t know who or what that is, but I know that there’s a force out there that had a plan, and I just have been the recipient of the good graces of that plan. That’s the way I look at it.
Crave: I think a lot of people might be surprised that you’re a classically-trained actor and that you started in the theater. When you first started acting, did you ever see yourself doing so many genre movies or action movies? Doing movies that require so much more than any actor could possibly learn in school?
Perlman: You know, I kept my expectations very, very low, and I can say that what’s happened in the last decade have far exceeded anything that I could have ever imagined, but I will also say that my father passed down his esthetic about movies. Still to this day, his ten favorites remain my ten favorites. He was the guy who turned me on to why movies were this transformative experience. They’re not only entertaining on a superficial level but that distill the human condition and make you walk away from them feeling like a better person having watched them. One of the first things he was fascinated by and made me sit and watch was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the Charles Lawton (one), and to this day, I remember every movement that he made from that very first viewing. That was somebody who completely transformed himself and played a character that was so far afield from his own persona. And then Brando began to do it on a regular basis, so those were my earliest real heavy-duty influences, (as well as) Lon Chaney. So I was really fascinated by transformative actors. I didn’t understand until recently that that’s where I ended up in the early going, and that was almost like getting what you wish for.
Crave: A lot of actors would never get out of that sort of thing so it’s great that you were able to do that but now you can do something else. What was the biggest challenge of doing “Season of the Witch”? You’ve done a lot of swordplay and action before so was there anything really challenging about it?
Perlman: I think the challenging thing about this movie was knowing that you were in a completely different time and place, culturally, behaviorally, mindset-wise, and then you also had this thing in the back of your head that you’re doing a genre film that’s a supernatural thriller. The biggest challenge was to make it be as real as it possibly could be, and I think that when people say “It sounded contemporary,” that was our attempt to put a reality to these events that would ultimately become out of control and fantastical, so as long as all that stuff is based in reality and something that an audience can relate to, it’s that juxtaposition that makes the crazy sh*t that happens down the road, even scarier.
Crave: What about “Conan”? Does that have a similar ethos, because I know in the original stories, people talked in a very specific way. Have they maintained that or have they altered it to make it work for modern audiences?
Perlman: No, I think they also worked hard to remove all of these external trappings that are mostly a distraction, that people spoke the way they speak and you’re hopefully immersed in this world and you don’t have to worry about any of that.
Crave: I was curious about that because we haven’t seen a trailer or anything yet.
Perlman: Yeah, I guess you’ll start to soon.
Crave: “Sons of Anarchy” has been an amazing thing because it’s your return to series television for the first time in ten years, and you get this great role in a show that’s become an enormous hit. Have you started shooting the fourth season yet?
Perlman: No, we get back probably in April or May and it starts to air in September. The third season just finished airing a few weeks ago.
Crave: Are you going to be able to make another movie before then?
Perlman: I just did three after we wrapped from “Sons” and I’m waiting to hear about a fourth that could start up in the next two weeks, depending on whether we get all of our ducks in a row. I have a pretty small window to fit something in right now, so we’ll see.
Crave: That’s great, since there was a time when we’d see you in a “Hellboy” movie and then maybe in another movie the following year and that’s it, buts now…
Perlman: Oh, you’re going to be sick of me real soon.
Crave: I doubt that. Have you been keeping in touch with Guillermo del Toro? I know he wanted to shoot “Mountains of Madness” this year sometime, possibly staring in June. Do you think you’ll be able to do that still or will he work around your schedule?
Perlman: We’re going to wait and see what that schedule looks like. What he originally intended, we would have had to do some maneuvering, but everybody seems to think we were going to be able to make it work. I haven’t heard any real updates. Guillermo has been away, I’ve been away, so we haven’t really connected through the holidays. I don’t know what the current timeframe of that is.
Crave: I have to assume he’ll work around the show to find some way to get you into the movie.
Perlman: I sure hope so, because he let me read the script and he really did fashion this role for me, again. He has a fantastic part, and a very colorful character, and something that I can have a lot of fun playing.
Crave: They just re-released “Cronos” on Blu-ray, which I remember first seeing at Lincoln Center after seeing “Blade 2” and “The Devil’s Backbone.”
Perlman: Yeah, “Cronos” really served notice to the world that there was a new brilliant mind at work, who also had this devotion to genre, that he was going to kind of set it on its ear and reinvent and make very cerebral and closer to the early human impulses of why we tell these stories around the campfire. Why we tell vampire stories, why we tell ghost stories and stuff, and how it’s an exercise for our own well-being. I don’t like to throw the word “genius” around but he is…
Crave: Definitely. I remember watching him work on set while he was shooting “Hellboy 2” and I was amazed that he would come over and talk to us and it would never throw off his frame-of-thinking about what he was shooting.
Perlman: An amazing and gracious human being.
Crave: Do you think there’s any chance of there ever being a “Hellboy 3”? Does he want to do it, do you want to do it? Are there too many variables you have to take into consideration?
Perlman: There are a lot of variables I’m sure. He’d have to find time in his schedule and I know he’s got other things that he’s got lined-up and when he works on a movie, it’s usually a two-to-three year endeavor by the time he gets finished writing it and then he usually does a very long pre-production, gets everything ready, and he does rather long shoots, and then he does a pretty ambitious post-production as well. He can only do but one movie like every three years.
Crave: I do like that he’s producing all these other movies in between and that he was able to do a couple of those while writing “The Hobbit.” What about “Sons of Anarchy”? Do we know what we might expect with the new season? I think they were going to jail at the end of the last season.
Perlman: We’re on our way to jail at the end of Season 3, and I do know that we spend some time there, but Season 4 is supposed to open with us being released, and then beyond that, I have no idea.
Crave: So maybe we’ll see some flashback to them in jail?
Perlman: Mmmm… yeah, or else just a bunch of guys who are a little older maybe, a little bit more muscular, because what do you do in jail but pump iron?
Crave: Do you have a lot of bikers come up to you
Perlman: I’ve had biker clubs reach out to me whenever they knew I was in their city. I’ve been moving around a lot over the last few years, and the response from the biker world is purely positive to what we’re doing. They’ve embraced us, they endorse us. They’re eager to get together and tell us their stories and share their lives with us. So that’s about as good a review as you’re ever going to get. Me telling a story about a world that borders on the nefarious but is a secretive world and they really don’t want to have the light of day shined upon, but they like the fact that we’ve kept it very nuanced, very family oriented and very internal.
Crave: I know you’ve filmed in Eastern Europe a lot over the years, so has the show actually gotten over there yet?
Perlman: Yeah. I mean, a lot of people are seeing it over there on Hulu or however else they get movies. There’s a million ways to get stuff if you’re eager to get it, it’s not that hard to get. But yeah, I ran into a lot of people in Budapest who go (doing what we think is a Hungarian accent) “Eh, Clay Morrow!”
Season of the Witch hits theaters this Friday, January 7th!