Ron Perlman has become one of the iconic actors of this generation, with his powerful presence, gravelly voice and rich character work in genre classics like Beauty and the Beast, City of Lost Children and the Hellboy series. He's been particularly active this year, appearing as Conan's father in Conan the Barbarian, the sad villain Nicola in Guy Moshe's inventive action film Bunraku, and as the crime lord Nino in Nicolas Winding Refn's critically-acclaimed Drive. He called me up personally to talk about what makes his latest roles so special, that Beauty and the Beast remake, and whether Hellboy 3 is really happening.
CraveOnline: You’ve had a really busy couple of months with ‘Conan the Barbarian,’ ‘Bunraku’ and ‘Drive…’
Ron Perlman: Yeah, and Sons of Anarchy.
That’s right! You have an impressive work ethic. Can you just not sit still or do you just keep getting great parts?
Well, I actually love the work. I love everything about the work. I love having a challenge in front of me, and having a reach to be part of my daily routine. And you know, it may look like I worked from the time I was born, non-stop, but I had a lot of periods where I couldn’t get a job for two, three years at a time. I’m just trying to make up for lost times, and I have total awareness that when the work is coming it doesn’t mean it’s going to continue to come, so I’m taking advantage of this phenomenal period that I’m in now, to its fullest.
It is phenomenal, and I’m enjoying all your work in your most recent stuff. Although I haven’t seen ‘Sons of Anarchy’ yet, sorry…
That’s alright. I forgive you.
Thank you sir. That’s nice.
Ten “Hail Marys” and call me in the morning.
I told Jason Momoa that I hadn’t seen ‘Game of Thrones’ yet and he made me punch myself in the head.
Uh-huh. Well I’m not going to be that Draconian. Say twelve “Hail Marys.” Give me a call.
So when you were approached to play Nicola in ‘Bunraku,’ were you just sent the script or did Guy Moshe have to describe the style of the movie to you?
I have to give credit to one of my managers. He heard about this project and got to know the material, and came to understand that there was one role that hadn’t been cast yet. I was the last one to the party. That was the role of “Nicola,” and before he even made me aware of the project he called around to the producers and floated the idea. “What do you think of my client, Ron?” And it was met with a lot of enthusiasm. Guy was already in Bucharest, Romania, which is where he was shooting. He was already in pre-production on the movie. We had a phone conversation which went quite well, and merrily we rolled along.
What made Nicola a distinctive character for you? Because someone else could have played him as a straightforward badass, and you brought a melancholy to him I didn’t expect.
I get the sense that… First of all, I love the circumstances in which Nicola is existing. You know, it’s hundreds and hundreds of years in the future. All conventional weaponry have been banned because of these horrific displays of man’s inhumanity to men, and so people are still fighting with like the legs of chairs, and piano strings and playing cards and whatever they can use to screw up the next guy. The impulse has never been taken away. You can change the circumstances but you can never change man’s inner nature. So that’s why I thought it was a very smart world that he created, and I thought his execution in the storytelling was also quite smart, and quite not obvious. The thing that I found about Nicola was how he pulls himself up into this world where he’s untouchable, which makes for an amazingly, personably, lonely existence. There’s no one he can call an equal and no one he can unburden himself to, and he’s got this constant knowledge that there’s probably someone faster and better coming down the pipe, like there always is, and that he’s on borrowed time. Ergo the melancholy.
There is one person with whom you do have a close relationship, and that’s Demi Moore’s character. I’m just going to be polite and call that relationship “unhealthy.” What was that working relationship like?
Well, she’s a joy to work with. She fast became my favorite, favorite movie star of all time because you’d never know of it, the kind of constant success she’s had, by hanging with her and getting to know her. She’s the most down to earth, unpretentious woman that I’ve ever worked with. Period. I had a lot of fun. A total joy, very, very collaborative. We just had a great time packing the story with scenes together. Come up with an idea, come up with an idea, the director would come up with an idea, and little by little we had these scenes. The backdrop of that story is that I’ve stolen her from the Woody Harrelson character. So she’s with me, but not with me happily. She’s with me because she needs to be, because I’ll kill her if she’s not. But I’ve never been able to win over her heart. So it’s a relationship that has an uneasiness to it.
How were your wood chopping skills before you started filming?
Not great. Not great before, during or after. Thanks to the part of editorial skills on the part of Guy Moshe, yeah, he made me look like I knew what I was doing. I’m a city boy. I never chopped wood as a kid. I chopped fingernails, that’s about it. I chop celery.
Well that’s close enough for me.
You play a very different kind of villain in ‘Drive,’ Nino, but both of the films have this fable-type quality that I liked. How do you approach that sort of iconic character in such different contexts?
You really have to figure out what your sort of place is in the storytelling, and why you’re in there to begin with. What the author had in mind, how you’re juxtaposed against the other characters, and the unveiling of the story. What is your function? With Nino, that wasn’t on the page when we set about making the movie. We had a lot of wonderful catered little meetings in the residence of Hollywood Hills where we’d just have these great discussions about who these guys were, and what their backstory was. So he’d been created on the fly. He was a skeleton. He was a sketch. We ultimately put a little meat on the bones, and I really… And then at some point I realized what the psychological sort of flaw in the character was, that motivated him to be like he was. And that is that he is an angry Jew that had always been passed over, and so was going to invent himself in a way that he could not be ignored. Which is his undoing, as is typically when you go against The Fates.
Let me just ask this, because I have to. There’s been some rumors going around that ‘Hellboy 3’ might not actually happen. Are you still up for that?
I would be up for it. Practically speaking, Guillermo’s about to start a rather magnanimous production, Pacific Rim, and that’s going to take up at least two, three years of his life. I won’t say how old I’ll be when he’s finally finished with that, but with every passing day the chances of Hellboy 3 happening are a little bit dimmer. But I have not given up hope.
I don’t know if you heard, but apparently they’re redoing ‘Beauty and the Beast.’
Yeah, some people have been kind of forwarding me these blurbs, these announcements, because they think I’m kind of interested.
No, I’m not. I’m not interested. That’s so far in the rearview mirror. It was a phenomenal experience, but it was twenty years ago. Twenty-one years ago [that] the show got cancelled, so why would I be interested in anything that’s happening with it these days?
You were great in that series…
Yeah, I’m very proud of the work that everybody did. I’m very proud that it was unlike anything anyone had seen before on television, and that something as esoteric and frail as that concept was able to exist in primetime, in kind of a mainstream, conventional manner. I’m very proud of that. But I’ve moved on.
You do seem to have moved on, but you still seem to do a fair amount of work under a lot of makeup. Have you got used to that at all?
Some of the great characters that I’ve played had to be transformational. Characters more abstract than real, monstrous, or inventions like The Beast, like the Cave Man, like the hunchback that speaks seven languages in one sentence. So I’ll never reject the idea that great work can come out of working behind the mask, but it’s very exacting, and it takes a lot out of you, just in terms of you’ve got to invest four hours before you get a chance to go to the set and work. And I think that’s something that I have to do more sparingly these days, because I’m not as young as I used to be. I can’t take as much abuse as I used to take.
Well, I think my time’s almost up but I would like to ask one question that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind: is war ever going to change?
Is war ever going to change?
War… What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again, y’all. What did I say in [Fallout]? No, war never changes. That’s what I said. War never changes. I said it a lot, didn’t I?
You did. It’s become an iconic line.
Yeah… War never changes. I say amen!
I say amen back, sir.