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Hellboy - There were a lot of people standing on the sidelines saying ‘he’s got to fail'



Feature by: Jack Foley

RON Perlman may not be the most instantly recognisable actor on the Hollywood block, despite bagging the lead in Hellboy, but that’s just the way he likes it.

The 54-year-old actor seems to have made a career out of appearing in heavily made-up roles, whether it’s appearing as Vincent, in long-running TV series, Beauty and The Beast, or as supporting players in movies such as Cronos, The Name of the Rose and Star Trek: Nemesis.

"I do admit that there has been a proclivity of me being separated by an inch and a half of latex from the camera," he remarked, candidly, while being interviewed, in London, for his latest film, Hellboy. "And I also have come to realise, even though I didn’t know this when I set out to do it, that we all kind of travel the path that’s open to us.

"For me, the first film was Quest of Fire, and I became known as the guy who, almost like Lon Chaney, transforms himself. So every time that exercise re-appears, I’m on a shortlist of people considered for those roles.

"Having said all that, I enjoy it, and I enjoy mask work because it’s very freeing. When there is this kind of layer between me and the rest of the world, it somehow opens me up, and allows me to be more expansive than I might be if I was not hidden."

For Hellboy, Perlman was required to undergo four hours of make-up each day, although any notion of becoming bored, or restless, is something he quickly dismisses.

""Let me just set the record straight - I really love sitting around doing nothing. And I love that more than anything. So if you put me in a chair and you say I’m going to be here for four hours doing nothing, I’m a happy guy.

"Please don’t pity me. I have great cappuccino, we get cigarette breaks every 15 or 20 minutes, if I want ‘em – and since I’m Hellboy, I’m the guy who decides when I’m gonna get up and stretch. There’s amazingly good music being played in the Hellboy trailer, and I’m with a bunch of guys who are the trashiest human beings on earth. The testosterone flies."

That said, there were times when the actor confesses to wanting to kill special make-up effects artist, Rick Baker, during the painstaking process of getting the look of the film right.

"We had a full year between the moment the project was green-lit and I was finally approved and when we started filming," he explained. "And he used every single day of that year process to either measure a spot from my forehead – from here to here – or have my entire arm in a vat of Plaster of Paris, which ‘didn’t go well enough’, so I was back the following day in there again.

"I really wanted to kill the guy and everyone that was a part of the process until I finally saw the first make up test of Hellboy.

"The camera came on and we were watching this the following day after we did it, and some girl was standing with me, who didn’t know that the camera was rolling, and she was asking me if I knew where my car keys were, because my car was blocking Rick Baker’s car and he wanted to leave. And I was looking at this girl and you could see the 11 ways I was thinking of killing her.

"And I wasn’t speaking, I wasn’t mugging I was just wanting to kill her. And I looked at this and I went ‘Jesus Christ this is the most expressive make up I’ve ever worn!’. And it was an epiphany, because it allowed me to play Hellboy as if I was wearing nothing at all, I mean I just basically played the idea of the guy and the feelings of the guy, and I was confident that it would read through."

That confidence was born out in the critical and commercial success that Hellboy enjoyed following its release in America, which marks something of a personal success story for Perlman, given that it has become his most prominent role in a career which spans some 80 film entries on the world-famous IMDB (Internet Movie Database) website.

The film has even spawned a sequel, putting paid to the early scepticism surrounding the project from just about everyone involved.

Perlman, himself, confessed to believing that it would be impossible to make, while the studios initially dismissed the idea of casting the actor in the lead role, opting for a more recognisable action-hero, such as Vin Diesel.

But thanks to director, Guillermo del Toro’s single-minded determination to do the film exactly as he wanted it, Perlman is now basking in the brightest limelight of his distinguished career, and didn’t even feel the pressure of taking on such a prominent role.

"I was cognisant of what Guillermo risked in the seven-year quest he was on to win me the role, and I was cognisant of the fact that he was trading in all of his reputation and good will – that there were a lot of people standing on the sidelines saying ‘he’s got to fail. He’s gonna screw up. You don’t make a movie with Ron Perlman as the star, you just don’t do it!’.

"So I maybe put a little extra oomph into what I was doing to ensure that we were going to make the nay-sayers have to stand up and take notice."

As for the character, himself, Perlman describes Hellboy as ‘such a cool dude, and so deliciously devilish’, that he could not wait to play him.

Yet, while the ensuing shoot proved to be as fun as Perlman had envisaged, there was the odd painful moment, such as when the actor broke a rib while performing one of the many stunts he was required to take part in.

Concludes Perlman: "The sequence was me chasing Sammael, the monster that I’m chasing through the whole movie, onto a moving train; but the train was moving towards us in this case. In most movies, it’s moving away. So I had to jump onto a train that was coming toward me, in one take.

"I usually timed it so I hit the train before the train hit me, but there was one take where I took an inordinately big leap, because I was tired of shooting the sequence – and I thought, ‘okay, maybe if I am really a good boy, and I do it so dramatically that Guillermo will finally move on’. But the train hit me before I hit it.

"I was perfectly willing to keep acting, even though I smarted, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see the DP was operating one of the four cameras, and it was distracting to me. Finally I heard ‘Cut! What’s wrong?’. And the DP said, ‘I don’t think he’s supposed to be crying in this sequence!’."

The tears have long since turned to laughter for Perlman, though….

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