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Hellboy - Ron Perlman Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Yet again in the make up chair - how does Hellboy make up experience compare with previous ones?
A.
It’s typical! It’s typical in a world of the fantastical. The very first movie I ever did was Quest for Fire, that was a four-hour make-up job. The second movie was a four-hour make-up job and then I did a TV series for three years [Beauty and the Beast] which was a four-hour make-up job every day. So come to this one, and there are no surprises.
The difference is that working with Rick Baker is very annoying, because we had a full year between the moment the project was greenlit and I was finally approved, and when we started filming. 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.
Or in a chair completely covered in white goop making impressions of me and 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.
And if you go back and watch the movie again, you’ll see that you always know what Hellboy is thinking without me doing anything extra. So that annoying year has been long forgotten – even though I remembered it to tell you – but the movie lives on!

Q. Have you developed a useful shorthand on set after working with Guillermo del Toro three times?
A.
Oh yeah. I mean Guillermo knows that I have a rather over-the-top bag of tricks, and loves me in spite of it. He says, ‘you’re a whore with a past, and I love you!’. I mean that’s an endorsement right there.

Q. Did he champion you for the part?
A.
Unbelievably so. I mean it took him seven years from the moment he acquired the rights to this, to the moment when someone actually submitted to his single-minded, uncompromising vision of this film. Seven years!
And it went through one studio for five years, where he could have made the movie ten times over if he had just changed that one little idea of his as to who was going to play Hellboy. The fact that he prevailed in this quest, which I always believed was absolutely undo-able, is an act I’ve never witnessed before in my 30 years as a professional actor, and probably never will again.
I’ve never, ever seen somebody willing to sacrifice something that was as important to them as Hellboy was to him for the sake of an idea. He made it very clear: ‘I would rather not do the movie than do it in a way that’s not the way I see it’.

Q. I saw Hellboy as a loved-up, hormonal, misunderstood teenager, how did you see Hellboy?
A.
Same way!

Q. Would you like to expand on that?
A.
No, not now that you’ve given me a choice! [Laughs] That’s what makes him so easy to play, and what makes him so recognisable to me, is the fact that we’re dealing with a guy who’s completely undisciplined, totally self-indulgent, will do anything to entertain himself at anyone’s expense.
He takes the piss out of all of his mates, as you guys like to say over here, across the pond, and he’s like a 14-year-old whose parents have left town and he’s left to the refrigerator. And there’s no limits to his appetites.
Where his 14-year-old mindset is most well articulated is this relationship with Liz Sherman, where he loses all of his swagger and it’s replaced by him being a quivering mass of jellified flesh. He becomes completely inarticulate and unable to close the deal, as it were, because he loves her too much!

Q. What’s the attraction with these genre movies, these fantastical characters, because I get the impression that playing a guy in a suit doesn’t interest you that much?
A.
If he had horns....he’d be my agent! It seems as though I have a rather extreme body of work. I’m either the very good guy, or the very bad guy, and nothing in between. I don’t know what to attribute that to.
I do admit that there has been a proclivity of me being separated by an inch and a half of latex from the camera. 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.
What I really enjoy is the collaboration with people like Rick Baker and Christopher Tucker and Stan Winston and the Westmores and the other great make-up artists that I’ve worked with – because the exercise at that point is in reserving judgement on how to play a role, until you find out what that other artist’s vision of that person is.
So there’s an extra layer of collaboration that takes place.
And since the best thing about being in the movies is the collaborative nature of the art form, where it’s 250 people playing a role rather than one person playing a role, the more collaboration I add to the mix, it seems the more challenged and engaged I am.

Q. Are there any strategies you’ve developed to deal with the tedious process of four hours in the chair?
A.
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.

Q. There's no trepidation about the sequel then?
A.
Not at all. I’m eager to get back and play this guy.

Q. You’re a busy man – how do you enjoy the pressure of being a headline star?
A.
If it weren’t for the fact that the character was so incredibly delicious to me, for the reasons I’ve already listed, I probably would have been very intimated. But that was completely overshadowed by enthusiasm. I couldn’t wait to get to the set to play this guy, because I thought he was such a cool dude, and so deliciously devilish, and so funny.
His take on every situation was entertaining me, and I wanted to share that with the world. So I was never intimidated.
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.

Q. Was there any pressure from the fan-base, who differed from the Spider-Man fans, in that there's fewer of them, but they're very passionate?
A.
Spider-Man has been read by millions and millions of people, and Batman likewise, are icons in our pop culture. And Hellboy, which has a readership of 28, is a very different exercise.
We had to introduce this character to the entire world. Nobody had seen him before, except from those 28 people; nobody knew who he was, nobody had seen anybody that looked like this, and not a whole lot of people knew who I was.
So it wasn’t as though we had anything to hang your hat on, except for the movie and how good a job we did with it. I guess the studio grappled with how you market this film. I think they did a really good job, and the fact that we opened at number one proves that they succeeded.

Q. Are people now seeking out the comic?
A.
The readership tripled to 66.

Q. What was the reaction of those 28 people?
A.
I think they really appreciated the effort, and the fact that they had the biggest Hellboy fan in Guillermo leading the charge. That he was not looking to improve upon the world of Mike Mignola, but that he was looking to do an homage to it. And to show the world why this is such a cool comic-book character to celebrate on film.

Q. Is it true that you broke a rib on the train scene?
A.
Yes, but it was just one rib. I have lots more. 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 fucking 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!’.

Q. When did you encounter Hellboy?
A.
Guillermo introduced me to the comic book that very night, which was eight years ago. He took me to a comic book store and said ‘Hellboy – Ron, Ron – Hellboy, at some point you guys are going to be one and the same’. He said, ‘I’m going to buy you a comic book’, and I said ‘please don’t’.
I avoided Hellboy for all that time because I didn’t want to become emotionally involved with a character that I didn’t think I would be playing, because I really didn’t think I was going to playing him. To this day, I still think ‘did that really happen?’.
But I’m not gilding the lily, I truly thought it was impossible, and I refused to address myself emotionally.

Q. So for a long time this was just an image – when did it change?
A.
The day he told me that Joe Roth had plonked down the money to do it. At that point, I drove myself to that same comic book store and bought every comic, which was a stupid idea, because the following day a box of ‘em arrived, and I was out about $125. Tried to exchange them but they said, ‘sir, we don’t do exchanges on books’.

Q. What do you get recognised for?
A.
It’s funny. I’ve sort of made a game out of it. You see that moment when somebody goes, ‘hey, that’s...’ Most of the time they think I’m Tom Waits, especially in Europe. I’ve been here for the last two weeks on this tour, and 50 per cent of the time it’s been, ‘I don’t mean to bother you, Mr Waits, I love your music’.
I’ve made a game out of saying ‘this one is going to say Name of the Rose, because he looks incredibly intellectual and bookish. And this one’s going to say Police Academy, because he looks like a total degenerate.

Q. Do you still get Beauty and the Beast fans?
A.
Yeah, very much so.

Q. You were a sex symbol for that?
A.
Well thank-you. Everywhere but at home.

Q. Have you ever aspired to lead a film?
A.
No. I was very realistic about it. Grateful that I’d ever been in movies at all, because it’s such an important aspect of my background, my love for movies. But I love being under the radar. I love being the guy that the movie didn’t hinge on to be successful.
I like being a character actor, I like more extreme explorations into humanity, which come with usually not the star of the film. He’s generally more neutral and everything happens around him.
I like being in that periphery. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it.

Q. Who are your own heroes?
A.
My favourite actors were Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy. Then, when I was old enough to have a more well-articulated aesthetic, Marlon Brando, when I really realised how amazingly complex his talent was. And Gene Hackman. All the icons everyone else reveres.

Q. Did you read comic books?
A.
No, I was never a comic-book guy. I read Jack London books when I was a kid. And Dickens. When I realised that theatre was my passion in my high-school everything moved to play-writing, then screenwriting. So I’m not the most well-read reader of novels.

Q. Did you ever think about playing Hellboy with a Scottish accent, given that he was 'born' on a Scottish isle?
A.
I did, but it was dubbed.

Q. Did you keep the horns?
A.
I put the horns on every once in a while when I’m near a singles bar.

Q. Does it work?
A.
On certain nights.

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