I, Hellboy: An Interview with Ron Perlman

Looking at the recent DVD release of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, we present this interview with actor Ron Perlman. As to the actor's casting, director Guillermo del Toro explains, “Hellboy’s a guy you could hang out with and kick back a couple of six packs with, and then all of a sudden he has to go out and kick some monster ass. Ron has that nonchalant, very aloof attitude, but has a very powerful voice and presence, too."

TITLE: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
EXTRAS: “Hellboy: In Service of the Demon”: A two-hour behind the scenes look at the making of the film; Director’s Notebook, Production Workshop Puppet Theatre, Image Galleries, Deleted Scenes, Feature Commentary with director Guillermo del Doro
INTERVIEW: Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”)

For Ron Perlman, whether he’s liked it or not, make-up has played an integral role in his acting career. While he has certainly appeared as himself in a wide variety of roles – Colonel Jessup on Broadway in A Few Good Men, for one – he has achieved the most acclaim for the way he has brought characters in extensive make-up to life. This is true whether one is speaking of his interpretation of a prehistoric man in 1981’s Quest For Fire, the hunchback Salvatore in 1986’s The Name Of The Rose, Vincent, the noble lion-man in the live action 1987-1990 television series Beauty And The Beast, which co-starred Linda Hamilton; and, of course, 2004’s Hellboy and last summer’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
Based on the comic book character created by Mike Mignolia and published by Dark Horse Comics, Hellboy is a super strong, red-skinned demon summoned to earth by the Nazis during World War II, but rescued and raised by the Americans, where he helps to fight the full spectrum of supernatural creatures. In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Hellboy is having a tough time with his relationship with pyrotechnic girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and is forced to deal with demonic forces threatening the world.
In the following interview with Ron Perlman, he discusses his feelings about make-up intensive roles and the new Hellboy film.

DISCWORLD: How did it feel stepping back into Hellboy’s…er, horns?
RON PERLMAN: I think I’ve reached a point where the idea of putting on extensive makeup doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I’m crusty, I’m curmudgeonly. It begins to hunch my shoulders, the idea of it. I’m not against it – look, it’s been one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had in my career and some of the greatest projects I’ve had to work with were heavily make-up laden. But I’m older now and maybe a little more impatient and it’s not as easy to sit in the chair. Having said that, when a project has a glow to it, like a Hellboy does, there’s nothing that one has to do that’s too much or you feel put upon in any way. I hope Hellboy will be the one-and-only that I ever have to sit in the makeup chair for three or four hours before I get on the set. This character is worth whatever pains one has to go through to play him, and always has been.
DISCWORLD: I remember when we spoke about the first movie, your enthusiasm really was there right from the beginning.
RON: On many occasions when I was talking about the first movie, I was saying that this is a character that I could play for the rest of my life and could never tire of, because he’s got so many qualities that float my boat and spark my complete engagement and enthusiasm. In fact he’s got all the qualities: the wit, the perpetual adolescence, the lack of pretension that you see riddled in most superheroes. And he’s got this unbelievable human and warrior heart all rolled into one. What more could one want from a role? The idea that I ever got to play him to begin with was way outside the realm of reality, because I never thought that Guillermo would be able to convince a studio to commit the kind of resources that they needed to commit to a film of that scope with basically a friend character actor who’s never really been known to be a box office draw. Much less get a chance to reprise the role. It’s a complete blessing and a complete pleasure.
DISCWORLD: I have to be honest: when I’m watching the Hellboy films, you certainly give the impression that you’re having a hell of a time beyond just acting.
RON: I am. Guillermo had this task that comes along with the character’s transition from comic book to comic book movie, whereby you take a character who speaks in one or two word grunt-like sentences, and you put flesh and bones on to the guy and create a multi-dimensional human being. When Guillermo handed over his take on the material [in the script], there was so much in the Hellboy character that wasn’t in the comic book. The comic book was more of a sketch of a human being, whereas the screenplay was more of a living, breathing guy, who had such an amazingly cynical and deliciously devilish wit about the way he approached the world. It was all over the page that this was going to be the coolest movie one ever got to work on, especially if you got the chance to play Hellboy. Everybody accused me of improvising my way through the first Hellboy, but everything I said was scripted by Guillermo and it just sounded like me. I don’t know how he did it, but I had this gift bestowed upon me and you never want to look a gift horse in the mouth.

DISCWORLD: Was there a difference between shooting that first movie and this one?
RON: The character hasn’t changed. The circumstances are way different, but the guy is the same. The major difference in the exercise for me is the vulnerability that’s being explored in the second movie. It starts out with Hellboy and Liz living together; they’re essentially married and they’re not getting along. What’s called into question is what life for him would be like without her, which presses this button of insane vulnerability in him. That’s something you never saw in the first movie, because in that one what you saw was more swagger and one-line quips and wisecrack remarks. Whereas in this movie he’s in trouble emotionally from the beginning to the end of the film. And he’s drinking and he’s really looking inside of himself to find out if he has what it takes to keep the relationship together, which is the dearest thing to him. That was a way different exercise for me as an actor, to play the same guy but with completely different stakes.
DISCWORLD: All of which is told against the insane backdrop of the film’s storyline.
RON: Exactly. The main plot has him pitted against a villain of compelling ability, so you get to see the hero aspect of Hellboy like you did in the first one, but the emotional backdrop is much more complex and it required a lot more collaboration between Guillermo and I so that I could find these very soft spaces in this guy. A real pleasure to be able to go so much deeper the second time. It wasn’t just a function of, “Okay, we’re going to do a sequel here, how big can we make this?”
DISCWORLD: In shooting this movie, has Guillermo changed as a filmmaker at all?
RON: I think he’s always evolving as a filmmaker, and I think the most empowering moment for him in his career was the making of Pan’s Labyrinth, which turned out to be epic in the amount of resolve he had to have, because he lost his financing for that movie twice and he had to doggedly -- in the most determined way possible -- move through this thing until he finally got the resources to film the movie. And then he ended up making what I believe is one of the hundred greatest movies ever made. I think that film goes in the time capsule, and I think the world received it in that way. Which was as empowering an event in his career as has ever taken place. As a result, he came to Hellboy II, which was the very first movie he did after Pan’s Labyrinth, with a sense of sure-handedness. Not that he wasn’t sure-handed before, but now there’s no question that his approach to filmmaking is pretty profound and recognized by the world finally. I think he was determined to raise the stakes of Hellboy II, to try new things and to take all of the progress he had made as a filmmaker and to up the ante. That’s my sense of it. Standing on the sidelines, watching him make the movie was awe-inspiring. Then, of course, having to get off the sidelines and participating in it was challenging, daunting and pushed me right to the wall of where I’ve been pushed before. Which is where I want to be. I do this for that very reason. I don’t ever want to repeat myself, I don’t ever want to be in a place that’s comfortable, because you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be boring. I want to be right on the edge and tumbling.
DISCWORLD: Is it different providing the voice of Hellboy for the animated movies compared to playing him on film?
RON: You’re only as good and as engaged as the writing is good. I missed Guillermo’s voice in the animated films, frankly. I think it was a big mistake that they didn’t at least have him as a consultant to get Hellboy to sound like he does in the movies, to get that kind of swagger. What’s really delicious about Hellboy is how big an underachiever he is, fundamentally. Given all of these amazing supernatural gifts, he’s basically a slob who would rather sit around watching Marx Brothers movies, eat pizza and drink beer than go save the world. When he stops being that, when he starts being more true blue, he loses his distinctiveness. I thought that, frankly, the animated movies could have used a little bit more of the voice that Guillermo found. He was a little bit too true blue in the animated writing. But there will be more ahead and hopefully it will be a learning curve.
DISCWORLD: Is Guillermo involved with the Hellboy video game?
RON: That he was involved in, and that was Hellboy’s voice, so it was much easier to do, because there was no transition necessary. There was no kind of dumbing down or alteration. When you have this great character, you want to preserve him to the degree that he can be preserved in all media. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to cross over, not only as the movie character but the animated character and God only knows what other permutations there will be over time, then you want to mine the gold.

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