Ron Perlman stars in writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s big screen adaptation of Hellboy, based on Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Comics series. Born in the flames of hell, and brought to our world in a pagan ritual, the fierce red hero, Hellboy, was saved by his friend and mentor, the benevolent Dr. Broom. Raised in Broom’s Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy joins the likes of the “Mer- Man” Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman, the woman he loves who can psychically control fire, and Myers, the FBI agent who is his rival for Liz’s affections. Together, our heroes must come to terms with fantastic powers that prove to be both a blessing and a curse.
Perlman says that del Toro is the one who introduced him to the comic books. “Guillermo had dinner with me moments after he had dinner with Mike Mignola for the first time and said, ‘I just acquired the rights to this comic book that I love called Hellboy, and I’d like to introduce you to him because in a perfect world, you’d be the guy playing him.’ I said, ‘Well how big a movie does it need to be?’ He said, ‘Ninety million dollars.’ I went, ‘Good luck to you. I’d rather not meet Hellboy. I’d rather not know any more about Hellboy because I’m probably never going to play him. And you don’t wanna fall in love with a girl only to see some other guy walk down the aisle with her. So, he, having impeccable respect for my opinion, immediately brought me to Meltdown, which is a comic book store on Sunset Blvd. and said, ‘Well you’re going to look at Hellboy whether you want to or not.’ He grabbed me by the back of the hair and said, ‘Look! Look! There he is!’ And I met Hellboy and I went, ‘Hmm, interesting.’ And then forgot it. It took six years before Guillermo goes, ‘Well, my friend, I have some interesting news for you.’”
He says that there wasn’t as much pressure as he thought there would be, with the director only wanting him for the role. “The only thing I can say in response to your question is that I would’ve thought that I would’ve been much more intimidated upon hearing the news that there was going to be a movie called ‘Hellboy’ and I was going to be him. However, the way he constructed the character in the screenplay, in the adaptation, was so cool and so deliciously like, humorously accessible, that rather than being intimidated, I couldn’t wait to get to the set and sink my teeth into this guy. And it’s been as effortless an effort as I’ve ever participated in.”
Perlman starred on the TV series Beauty and the Beast and he says the fan-base is similar. “There’s a very, very strong parallel to the devotion of the Beast characters and the ‘Hellboy’ characters, and not surprisingly, they’re very small in number, both the Beast fans and the ‘Hellboy’ fans. The readership for ‘Hellboy’ is miniscule compared to the Marvel comic book characters that come to mind. The Beasties were voiciferous but tiny in number, which is ultimately why we couldn’t get more than 2 ½ seasons on the air.”
There’s more to Hellboy than just his unique look. “His humanity is probably as recognizable and accessible as any character that I’ve ever played,” says Perlman. “So the adjustment to play him was irrelevant. There was no adjustment. There were certain things that happened where at the end of the 4 ½ hour process, you get the make-up on and the coat on and those sexy leather pants that he wears, and that belt that carries all his paraphernalia that he uses to prevail upon the monsters that he pounds into submission, you know, that adds to the swagger and attitude of the guy. But Guillermo created a character as human as accessible and as close to my own wiring as I’ve ever played. It was so obvious that there was never a question that this was going to be hard. This was just going to be, ‘Are you kidding I get to do this everyday for the next six months and perhaps longer?’ So, this guy is a pizza eating, beer drinking, cigar smoking, wisecracking degenerate who loves to watch the Marx Bros, ‘Family Guy’ and cartoons and Preston Stugeous movies, you know. That’s who he is. How hard is that to play?”
What you seen on the screen is not all a costume, there’s a lot of Perlman in there. “The body part of it? That was me. Yeah, I did a lot of sit-ups and I pumped a lot of iron. You like it? I thought I looked kind of bad. I was born under a bad sign.” The make-up process has improved, he says, but it still takes quite a while. “The foam is better and stands up to more punishment and blends with the face better. The technology is just evolved, and I caught it in the last phase of the evolution to where it is now, because I started putting the stuff on in 1980. But it’s four hours because you wanna be able to put the camera right here. And in the case of Hellboy, there’s close-ups up the ying yang, and you can’t see that it’s make-up. It takes a long time to achieve that – the ability to photograph this make-up in any way, shape or form that you can imagine and not be limited or impeded by the limitations of the make-up.”
Perlman says that he doesn’t at all mind the attention he’s getting for Hellboy around the world. “Well, you know, it depends. If this was a project where I felt like it was mediocre piece of gunk, I’d probably mind it and it’d probably be hard work, but there’s this boyish, wide-eyed enthusiasm that I have, and I know Guillermo has for the material, for the fact that we have this amazing, wonderful, blessed working relationship together that is the culmination of six years of him saying, ‘No, I won’t do it this way, no I won’t do it that way. This is the way I’m going to do it.’ And he pulled off this almost un-pulloffable dream. There’s a great story to tell here and I haven’t, as of yet, tired of telling it and I hope I never do. I certainly know that without equivocation, Hellboy is a character I could play everyday for the rest of my life and never get tired of him, the way he’s built. He’s a beautiful being. He’s funny, he’s bad-ass, he’s got a warrior heart, yet he’s got the heart of a 14- year-old, innocent, naïve, pre-pubescent geek. It’s all wrapped up into this guy. He’s sexy, isn’t he? Yeahhhh.”
As you’ve seen from the trailers and clips, this was definitely a physical role for Perlman. “I happen to be a guy who the harder it is, the bigger the challenge, the more adrenaline I summon and the more engaged I am. So I really got off on the fact that there were these incredible mountains to climb. It kind of widened my eyes and got my juices flowing. I thought that was a good place to be in the process of turning this into a film. Putting the make-up on was the very opposite of an imposition. It was an honor. It was working with the greatest make-up artists in the business and wearing, as evolved, a piece of art on my face and body as has ever been invented for the cinema. And I understood along the way, every inch along the way, that I was blessed with collaborating with a brilliant a bunch of artists as the good people at Rick Baker and the imagination and genius of Mike Mignola. It was the coolest thing I could ever think to do.”
The movie required a lot of wirework for the stunts. “It’s hard to get hooked up. Especially when you’re wearing 15 layers of stuff to make you look like Hellboy. They’re like sticking their hands up parts of your body you save for your proctologist. But once you’re hooked up, you look at the stunt guy and you go, ‘Is this safe?’ You look at their eye, not whether they’re nodding their head yes or no. You look in their eye and you can pretty much tell. And the minute they say they’re safe, you go, ‘Okay, fine. Let’s go. Fly me. Fly me to the moon and let me play among those stars.’
Perlman gives high praise to his co-stars, Selma Blair and John Hurt. “Well Selma’s like – you read in the comic book and off the page steps Liz Sherman. Selma has something behind her eyes that makes it as close to that character that Mike intended for her to be – as humanly as possible. The relationship between Hellboy and Liz was sort of parallel to the relationship between Ron and Selma, this protectiveness. There’s this recognition of sort of, there’s a vulnerability to the way we move through the world that is precious and that requires care and nurturing. So it was easy to be around Selma and to perform this piece. John Hurt was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to meet John Hurt, and not only am I gonna meet him but I gotta actually look him in the eyes and deliver dialogue. I mean he’s iconic. He’s a true hero, and has been for many years of my life. So the challenge there was to knock him off his pedestal and get down and start dribbling the ball with him and try to score. But it was an honor having John Hurt be the guy who’s Hellboy’s guy.”
Hellboy hits theaters on April 2.