No one forgets the face of actor Ron Perlman once they’ve seen it. It’s a big, long one, with a jutting jaw and two rows of very large teeth.
Yet, for years, no one knew what he really looked like. For his breakthrough TV role as Vincent on “Beauty and the Beast,” it was impossible to recognize him under a long mane and all of that disfiguring makeup.
There was considerably more makeup, all of it bright red, along with a couple of sawed-off horns on top of his head when he landed his biggest film role, starring in “Hellboy.”
His real face is on display in his current hit TV show, “Sons of Anarchy,” on which he stars as bike gang president Clay Morrow. But it was back to the makeup room for the scars and tattoos, along with the accompanying earring and dark glasses for Hannibal Chau, the amoral war profiteer he plays in the science-fiction action film “Pacific Rim,” which opens next Friday.
It’s hard to picture Perlman in his early acting days, up on the stage, doing Shakespeare and Chekhov, even singing and dancing in a production of “Pal Joey.”
He made his jump into film, under a lot of makeup, with “Quest for Fire,” and has rarely slowed down since.
With Hannibal Chau, he’s made his fifth film for Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. The movie tells of a near-future in which our planet is under siege by huge Godzilla-like creatures that are fought off by human-controlled giant robots. His extremely flashy and no doubt dangerous character makes his living on the black market.
“Hannibal Chau is a for-profit-only guy,” said Perlman, speaking slowly with that deep, mellifluous voice. “He has absolutely no idealistic allegiances, he has no political affiliations, he has no moral compass whatsoever. He is a slave to his unending infinite appetites. He’s a natty dresser, knows how to accessorize, and he wears 24-carat gold shoes.
“When Guillermo made the choice to use me to play the part, he added a layer of kind of P.T. Barnum onto the guy. This is a guy who probably grew up Howie Schwartz, in Bensonhurst (laughs), then went on to study at the feet of Adnan Khashoggi, and learned the ways of profiting off other people’s misfortune.”
Perlman, 63, had no thoughts of acting when he was growing up in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
“I was on the swimming team in high school,” he recalled.
“The whistle blew, the coach said, ‘Perlman, get out of the pool.’
I said, ‘What did I do?’
He said, ‘You’re going with this guy.’
I said, ‘Who’s this guy?’
He said, ‘He’s the drama teacher. He’s putting on a play, and 35 girls auditioned, but no boys.’
Then he said, ‘Maybe you can do the drama department a little bit more good than you’re doing the swimming team.’
“So I did it. It was ‘Thieves’ Carnival,’ a French farce by Jean Anouilh. It’s a very stylized way of working when you’re doing your very first play. So I was kind of thrown into the fire, and I loved it, immediately.”
He studied acting at college, worked steadily on the stage, crossed into small parts in TV and film, then met Guillermo del Toro.
“It was at a point in my career where I didn’t think anybody knew I was alive,” said Perlman. “Guillermo wrote me a beautiful letter that chronicled almost everything I’d ever done, and told me that he was about to make his debut into cinema, and that it would be wonderful if I would consider [working with him].
“It was accompanied by the script ‘Cronos.’ I began reading it and it was a genre movie but it was almost as if William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway had written it. It was this elegant, sophisticated, very human, very vulnerable movie about people who happened to get into circumstantial things where eternal life came into the conversation.
“I immediately said yes. He came to Los Angeles and we had dinner together, and I didn’t know how great that yes was until I’d met him and I realized, ‘This is a very special dude,’ and in 15 minutes it felt like we were friends for 15 years.”
Although Perlman played the lead in del Toro’s two “Hellboy” movies, he feels that Hannibal Chau was more of a stretch for him.
“I needed to actually understand Hannibal,” he said. “He was a guy whose psyche was not in line with my own, so he was a bit of a reach. But he was the guy who we could build from the outside in.
“When I saw the accoutrement – all of the things that Guillermo adorned him with – I began to build a value system about what it is he admires, what it is he would live or die for. Those are important questions to answer when you try to create a psyche.”
With that role done, and now being ensconced in shooting season six of “Sons of Anarchy,” which he promises, with a big smile, will make audience members “very uncomfortable,” Perlman finds himself in a good place.
“I love, love, love working as an actor,” he said. “I love being on movie sets and I love the people I work with. I’m happiest if I’m spending time with my family – my wife and my two great kids. And when I want to recreate, the only thing that floats my boat is I play some golf, get some sunshine, hangout with the boys, drink some beer.”
post dedicated to the flawless superdogbiter tbh