Hellboy: Ron Perlman

Hellboy: Ron Perlman
"Hellboy" himself talks about prosthetics, Del Toro, and his affinity for the imperfect hero.
Updated: 04-03-2004

"Ron Perlman is Hellboy," director Guillermo del Toro is quoted as saying. Most people probably wouldn't consider that a compliment, but for an actor like Perlman, who enjoys hiding himself within prosthetics and creating a totally new persona in every role, it certainly is.

In fact, I'm thinking maybe Perlman is taking the role a little too seriously. There is one memorable scene in the movie when Hellboy literally stops traffic by banging his stone fist on the hood of one of the cars, sending it flipping through the air. I asked Perlman if he ever wished he himself could stop traffic like that, and he said, "I do!" paused a beat, then laughed. So it looks like the Los Angeles MTA is safe. For now.


Q: Hellboy is a very makeup and prosthetics-heavy character. Did you ever have any reservations about playing him?

Ron Perlman: Are you out of your mind? This is what you work a lifetime for. You work a lifetime to have that moment at the top of the mountain. Whether it lasts or not, you have no control over. Try playing Hellboy for a day. You'll have the coolest time you've ever had in your life.

So it was fun?

It was as tripped out an experience as I've ever had, and ever will, because a lot of it has to do with the fact of how hard it was for Guillermo to pull off -- to get the movie made on his terms, with his actors. It took six years. I've been friends with Guillermo for fourteen years now, so he's someone I adore and love as a brother, and have an amazing working relationship with for a compendium of reasons. He has an incredible heart, which is in exactly the right place as far as his reverence for the art form of cinema. He has a formidable intellect, and he has exquisite good taste in filmmaking. What he saturates the screen with in terms of imagery and color and juxtaposition of humanities is very, very evolved and very eloquent. So you know you're going to be involved in something that is well worthwhile. How it's going to be received is anybody's guess, but it is very worthwhile people's time. He created this character that is, like, delicious. Delicious! Delicious to be, even for a moment. But for six months? Wow. There is not one scene… I wish I could go back and do it all again. I had that much fun being this guy.

So, I take it the prospect of having to go into four hours or more of makeup every day didn't give you pause.

To be transformed into somebody is the kind of challenge that I'm not a stranger to. I've had a great deal of enjoyment solving those problems over the course of time. And then I have been incredibly lucky that most of the transformation or work that I've been asked to do is not one-dimensional or exploitive, or crassly commercial. It's always in quest of a piece of humanity that is well worth spending time with. Well worth trying to solve, and Hellboy is the penultimate experience in that. Making the transformation everyday to become that guy was the opposite of tough. It was the springboard that set me aglow, that got my adrenaline flowing, that challenged my intellect, that sparked my imagination in ways that you hope to have as many moments on this planet of reveling in as is humanly possible if you're a guy who's committed to the arts.

Why, do you think, are we seeing so many comic book characters coming to the big screen now?

Well, you know, it's innately splashy. The universe of the comic book character is somewhat fantastical. It springs out of a place that is a jumping-off point from reality into a world that just loans itself to cinema. It's kind of a no-brainer. To put your imprimatur on something that's already released in an incredibly fantastical and sort of innocent and naive kind of way -- the creation of a new universe which allows for the existence of Batman, Spiderman, Superman, The Punisher, The Hulk, Hellboy. Guillermo is as poignant in articulating what attracted him to this as anyone I've ever heard. Which is, in our monstrousness we get a sense of our humanity. A great way to discover one's humanity, is to juxtapose it against what is most monstrous in us. It's especially true of Hellboy.

It's been said how similar in personality Ron Perlman is to Hellboy -- do you agree?

Let's put it this way. Let's examine, if you will, what Hellboy does in this film. He drinks beer. He smokes cigars. He fucks around with the guys he works with to the point where he drives them up the wall. He's a wiseass, he's a wisecracking dude. He trash-talks the people that he's fighting against for life or death. He's constantly in this "Is that all you've got?" mode. And he likes chocolate. There's nothing similar to him in me at all [laughs].

Do you ever wish you could stop traffic like he does?

I have! [laughs]

What was it like seeing the movie, finally, on the big screen?

Wow! How cool. You know, it's always a pleasure to see a Guillermo Del Toro film. It's more so when you're involved in it. It's the most it can be when you're the title character. This wasn't Wesley; this was R.P.

Is this the kind of movie you would go see, if you weren't in it?

Oh, yeah. I think I would go see it just from the trailers alone. The trailers are great.

You have some great one-liners in this. Were there any you came up with yourself?

Yeah. There's a couple lines in the movie.

Do you remember any?

Yeah. Which ones were mine? Well, when he throws me the gun belt toward the end and I say, "Gee I didn't get you anything." And when Clay is referring to his implants and saying, "It doesn't look like doll hair. It's growing in good, don't you think?" And I say, "I'm thinking about doing it myself."

What was the most enjoyable scene for you to shoot?

Every one of them. But my absolute favorite scene is when I'm writing Liz [Selma Blair's character] a love letter and I can't get it right. Then she actually comes in in the middle of that and I have to, like, hide 300 pieces of paper. My second favorite is the sequence on the roof with the kid.

So the little human moments, obviously.

Yeah. The reason why I'm as truly enthusiastic about this character as I am is because of the humanity of the character. The heart of the character. Not his abilities, not his super-human aspects at all. It's certainly because of his humanity.

What was the hardest thing to get right?

The scene with Selma, where I say "I understand what you don't like about me, what makes you uncomfortable about me." I actually express that I wish I didn't look like this. That was a terribly important scene to get right because that defines what we don't know about Hellboy. Which is that he's capable of profound self-loathing and that he pays a price for his existence. It's a heavy price, it's a steep price. But that he longs for things in an also equally profound way, and what he longs for most is for her to just love him. That's to me the reason to do the movie.

When you look back at the character you played in Beauty and the Beast, do you see a similarity between him and Hellboy?

It's weird that I got to play The Beast, and it's also weird that I got to play Hellboy. Although, maybe not so weird because, you know, there's my whole life -- in the real early years, growing up, was finding a way to manage what I felt was monstrous about myself. To either suppress it, or overcompensate for it to the point where that wasn't the most obvious thing one saw when one looked at me. In grappling with what I thought was monstrous about me was ultimately the most defining thing about who I ended up being. I have a true attraction to the people who are grappling with that problem, and I have no interest in anyone who doesn't see the monstrousness in themselves. I have no interest in a guy who thinks his shit doesn't stink, or he's entitled to live outside the rules of humanity because he's better than everybody else. It's the monstrousness, or the sense of what is monstrous in you that actually is more defining than any other aspect of performing who you are as a person.

So getting to play Vincent and exploring that dilemma, that dialectic, everyday for three years was like therapy. It was as personal a statement as I could make and I didn't wake up in the morning and go, "I'm going to play The Beast." It just fell into my lap. What an amazing opportunity it was for me, personally, to get to celebrate somebody who loves the world so much and yet is so limited from participating in it. Who is capable of loving as much as is, and yet prevented from doing the thing that he wants the most. There's a poignancy to that resonates in me.

In this movie, we see your face all the time. Hellboy doesn't wear a mask. There was really no way to hide behind stunt doubles for most of it, right?


No. [laughs] No computers were used, either. No wires. That was me jumping. That was me being thrown into walls and coming down like I was Wile E. Coyote. Yeah, there were stunt guys -- I can't tell a lie [laughs]. Much as I'd like to credit for it all.

But that was you hanging off the back of the train, right?

Yes. I hang off of the train.

When they did switch to a digital Hellboy, did you have to do any kind of motion capture, or anything?

Guillermo tries to use visual effects and computer graphics imaging purely as a punctuation. Not as a sentence. So whenever it was humanly possible, he used real time, three dimensional photographing of objects. Like Sammael [the Lovecraftian monster] was always a real person. I actually shook hands with him. And Hellboy was, almost all the time, as well.

Obviously, you take acting as a very serious artistic endeavor. How did you first get interested in it?

I was on the swimming team in high school, and I was doing laps and the whistle blew and I looked up, as did every other member of the team. And the coach said, "Perlman, get out of the pool." I said, "What did I do now?" And he said, "Well, this is the drama coach. And he's having auditions for the school play." And I go, "Well, what does that have to do with me?" He said, "Thirty-five girls auditioned and no boys." And I said, "Well, again, what does that have to do with me?" He said, "Maybe you could do the drama department more good than you're doing the swimming team." And I actually tried to get out of it. I said, "I have no desire to go audition for the play. I'm really having a good time on the team." He said, "You don't understand." So the poor drama teacher went to every place in the school to try to round up boys and was only able to round up, like, four in all. And of course I got the lead by attrition alone. And that was that.

And you liked it.

I liked it a lot.

You've expressed an interest in getting behind the camera, right?

Yeah. I'm putting the elements together right now to shoot a picture, my first feature, in the fall. It's called Wooden Lake, and it is a beautiful, small, low-budget film. It's basically a character study of a family.

Where are you going to shoot that?

It's kind of a rural, kind of America, USA kind of feel to it -- a house on a lake. So I have a couple of places in mind, but I haven't settled on anything yet. But we will shoot it here in the United States of America.

Are you done with Prague, then?

I have no problem with Prague. I'd love to work more in the United States.

What do you think this role will do for your career?

Anybody's guess.

Do you think about it?

I do not allow myself to entertain those thoughts. I just basically go where the wind blows me.

You don't have a career plan?

Why would I have a plan? Everything that's happened to me is far greater than I could have ever imagined.

Do you ever think about not being the guy they call to be in heavy makeup?

No, I want to be asked to everything. I mean, I want everybody who's making a movie to call and ask me. And I hope I have the good sense to do the stuff that I should be doing rather than what I shouldn't. That's not always been the case... You can look at IMDb.

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Interview by Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com.

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Latest User Comments:
Ron Pearlman in Quest For Fire, the first I ever heard of him.
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05-27-2004 by JUNE610 discuss