It seems like only yesterday that Ron Perlman was just a “Hellboy” twinkle in his director/pal Guillermo del Toro’s eye.
Hell, it was only the day BEFORE yesterday that he was the soulful “Beast” on TV’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The day before that? He was making his first splash on the big screen in the prehistoric epic “Quest for Fire.”
But “The Perl” just turned 70. “Hellboy” is a piece of comic book movie legend, the iconic biker Clay from “Sons of Anarchy” but a TV memory, archived on Netflix.
It’s just you’d never know that from the man’s omnipresence on the screen. A month doesn’t go by without a Perlman pearl — some major studio feature or gritty B-movie — popping up on the big screen, some new series launching on this network or that streamer.
“Clover” came out in April, his birthday month. “The Big Ugly,” an action picture with Vinnie Jones, streams in July. “Monster Hunter” and “The Jesuit” are in the can, four Perlman pictures are in post-production.
This weekend’s Perlman pic is the Tulsa-set underworld saga, “Run with the Hunted,” where he plays a crime boss who “owns” runaway kids, from their pickpocket youth to their armed robber adulthood.
“I like all these guys that have these appetites that are...pronounced. Huge appetites for leverage and power, with this morality that is sort of ‘liberal’ in nature, where one plays by a set of rules that don’t really exist, that are created by their creator,” he says of “Birdie” in “Hunted.” “That’s kind of a delicious recipe for an actor to sink his teeth into.”
The COVID 19 pandemic hit just as he was sinking his teeth into Oscar winner del Toro’s latest, “Nightmare Alley,” a remake of a 1947 Tyrone Power film noir based on a seedy William Lindsay Gresham novel. That halted production “with about 40% of it in the can,” he says. But in his enforced down time, the Devil finds work for Hellboy, especially on Twitter.
Follow Perlman (@perlmutations) and treat yourself to some of the most scalding political commentary online, and some of the funniest feuds.
“I’m not playing a character on Twitter,” he says with a chuckle. “That’s as close to the real me as you’re gonna get. What I find there is because you have that (Twitter authentication as “real” Ron Perlman) checkmark, because you have a body of work behind you, that because of what you do for a living, that some assume you’re some sort of bleeding heart liberal who’s part of this thing that they can categorize and attack as “Hollywood Elite.”
“Give me a break.”
“When you show them, ‘No no no, mother-f—–r. You’ve got it all wrong. That ‘job description?’ Wrong. I had this exchange with that Matt Gaetz (“white nationalist” Florida Congressman). That f—–g tool, decides to use ‘Hollywood’ as some sort of derogatory dog whistle for his followers.
“I said ‘What is this dog-whistle ‘Hollywood’ thing? (Perlman is Jewish) Is CULTURE the thing that’s holding your fans down? And not all the greed and corruption of people like you?'”
“I had guys in my neighborhood that would challenge you to fight their friend,” Perlman laughs. “Those guys were the first guys to get ‘disappeared’ where I grew up. Never worked out for them. ‘Let’s you and him fight? What’s THAT about?'”
You see, he doesn’t just play a lot of tough guys on the screen. The big, square-jawed Perlman likes to model himself on his screen heroes — WWII vets-turned-movie-stars Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin, “guys where you can’t tell where their toughness ends and the character’s begins.
“But, you know, I’m a NEW YORKER. C’mon! I’m a lower middle class New Yorker. No private school, a lot of growing up on the streets, understanding that there’s a certain kind of a code that one embraces in order to move through life with the greatest New York swagger you can manage.
“Swagger, and dignity, or our version of it. A lot of that is the bull—t meter you develop. New Yorkers seem to know that moral and ethical corruption are part of every single person, down to their sinews.
“If you’re talking, you’re usually bull-sh—ing. And you recognize it in others, and you’re tired of it the minute you hear it. Call it out when you see it, keep everybody a little bit honest.”
“That’s the root of ALL these badass characters I play.” And he isn’t mellowing with age. “Now that I’m an old fart, technically past the age of retirement, I feel like the good thing about growing old is you can shit your pants and not give a s–.”
He’s navigated a career that’s taken him from TV romantic lead (“Beauty and the Beast”) to cult hero, comic book movie icon to screen heavy in scores of sometimes impressive B-movies. Perlman’s done with it with what director Marc Forster (“World War Z”), who cast Perlman as a casually corrupt judge who has a “come to Jesus” experience in TV’s “Hand to God,” describes as “a face that’s unmistakable, a career that’s indisputable, and a charm that’s irresistible.”
Guillermo del Toro was one of the scores of young, unheralded filmmakers Perlman’s lent his formidable presence to, early on. They’ve become so close that del Toro summed up his friend in writing the forward to Perlman’s memoir, “Easy Street (The Hard Way).”
“The Perl” is “the most unlikely of leading men,” reason enough for the the horror and sci-fi favorite (“The Shape of Water”) to hang onto as “my constant partner in crime,” del Toro says.
And Perlman can’t gush enough about their new project, which has him taking on a classic role once played by the hulking screen heavy Mike Mazurki. The movie has an all-star cast, with Oscar winners Cate Blanchett and Mary Steenburgen, along with Bradley.
It’s “so f—–g good,” he says, “that I can’t WAIT for this pandemic to let up, let us finish it and get it into theaters. That’s gonna be a honey, man — the greatest dessert you’ve ever sunk your teeth into.
“This is a piece of writing you do not want to improve on or alter in any way. It reads like a Chopin sonata or Mozart concerto — note for note PERFECT.”
After that, there’s a British TV series coming to the US via The Peacock Network — “The Capture” — which will premiere here just as he’s heading back to London for season two.
This week’s “Run with the Hunted” is of a piece with a lot of his recent work — a heavy with a poetic, self-aware twist.
“Since I’ve been in a position where I’ve gotten all these roles, not by laboring for them, but by coincidence or accident (or physique) or whatever, it’s been fun to explore every variation of that sort of character. I’m fascinated with the intersection of reality and art, that way. In Birdie’s case, he’s taken a whole swath the human race that’s desperate — homeless kids for whom there is no sanctuary. They’re just here for him to take advantage of, to be the his soldiers, plundering on his behalf while he doesn’t get his hands dirty. Where’s that guy, deep inside of you?
“With Birdie and especially with the ultimate tough guy, Clay on ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ you begin to become obsessed with that exploration. What part of you is this little s— actor, and what dark part of your own psyche informs this guy?”
A lot of that comes through in his book, an amusing, self-effacing autobiography which he wrote as himself, “this slightly tipsy raconteur with a few friends sitting around me, in rapt attention, as I was, you know, raconteuring.”
But should we worry? With all this down time, too much “time for tweeting,” if there’s a risk that the “Everybody wants Ron” moment, with all the work lining up ahead of him, will create a logjam he’ll never work his way out of? I mean, 260+ credits, and counting. Who SCHEDULES this workaholic, anyway?
“You watch ‘Better Call Saul?’ I live behind a manicurist, and she does all my scheduling for me. It works for Jimmy (Bob Oedenkirk), I figured it’d work for me.”