In the film, Hunnam plays Frank Bartlett a seemingly ordinary young man who has spent his entire life being tortured, embarrassed and humiliated by his older brother Bruce (O’Dowd) who has a fondness for catching Frank on film at his very worst. As Frank begins a new phase of his life and hits it off with a girl, Lassie (Lizzy Caplan), he thinks that his brother is finally going to let him be. Before long, however, Frank finds himself, Lassie and Bruce involved in a situation that involves a sex tape, a feature film production and a 200 pound transsexual named Phyllis (Perlman).
ComingSoon.net spoke with Perlman, Hunnam and Caplan about the unique indie comedy and playing against type. Perlman and Hunnam also talked about carrying over their friendship from “Sons of Anarchy” and how they’ll again appear together in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.
ComingSoon.net: How did “Frankie Go Boom” come your way?
Ron Perlman: Charlie [Hunnam] was signed on to do it. I guess the filmmakers said, “How would you feel about passing this on to your pal Ron from ‘Sons of Anarchy’?” He said, “Sure, I’ll do that. Ron loves to read stuff.” Which I do. I knew by about page two and half that I wanted to be in the movie. I didn’t know until about page 55 where Phyllis first appears that that would be the incarnation that I would be assuming. It all happened in, like, one day. They sent me the script, I read and I signed on in one day. There wasn’t even a discussion with the filmmaker.
CS: It’s funny to think of you as a guy famous for intricate makeup roles. This is definitely a makeup role, but it’s a decidedly different approach.
Perlman: It is and it isn’t. Makeup roles create transformational kinds of characters that you don’t see in the everyday world. Nor would you see Phyllis, probably, very often.
CS: One of the funniest things about Phyllis is that it’s such a straight performance. How hard is keeping a straight face while doing a scene?
Perlman: Well, that’s basically what they pay us for. To find the reality of everything. What makes comedy funny is that people can be so serious about their reality to the point of ridiculousness. Therein lies the comedy. If you really deconstruct any comedic performance, you’re going to see huge amounts of earnestness to the point where it’s comical. I figured this was the best approach for Phyllis. Find the reality of who he was as a guy and find the reason that was compelling him to transform himself and how he feels about life now that he’s got his wish.
CS: It seems like you have a lot of range to craft Phyllis’ character. How much of who she is came immediately from the script?
Perlman: All of it. I didn’t alter a word. I thought the script was perfect. I didn’t think it needed improving upon or more explanation. It just needed to be digested and then spit back out on a performance level.
CS: This is a film that has attracted a lot of interesting talent and I’m curious if that might be because, on one level, the plot sort of plays like a microcosm of the film industry.
Perlman: No, it’s just funny. It delivers. Jordan [Roberts] is a great writer of comedy. He got me from page one. Like I said, I wasn’t even up to page three when I thought, “S–t, I’m going to be in this movie. I don’t know if it’s going to be for the role they’re looking at me for, though I’d love that role, too.” I felt as though I had kind of come close to playing that role on other occasions while I didn’t feel like I had ever come close to playing Phyllis. Nor would I ever feel the need to play a character like Phyllis again. This was going to be my lady. (laughs)
CS: You’re at a very interesting point in your career where the projects that you pick can be projects that truly interest you.
Perlman: That is true. I’m a really, really lucky point where I have this phenomenal day job with “Sons of Anarchy,” which is now finishing its fifth season and promises to have at least one more and probably two more to go. That enables me to not do anything else if I don’t want to and, if I do want to, to only do the things that I feel really strongly about. It doesn’t have to be about money. This is probably the happiest place I’ve ever been as an actor in my life. I get a chance to just do things for the love of it because the commerce part has been taken care of by the grace of God. I’m pretty fortunate.
CS: One of the other things we saw you in this year was the quasi-Punisher short film “Dirty Laundry,” which really seemed like a labor of love…
CS: And most incredible was the work you did with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, dressing as Hellboy again for a young fan.
Perlman: It’s just a real blessing to be in a position to help where a kid who’s struggling who has had his life a little bit lightened by something that you’re involved in doing. To be asked to participate in the amazing work of the great Make-A-Wish Foundation is an honor. It’s a blessing. If you don’t know why you’re here and that’s not the reason, you’re missing something. What good is doing a comic book hero if you can’t put a smile on a kid’s face who’s really struggling for his life.
CS: It’s also so great that that kid loved Hellboy.
Perlman: Yeah, he spent many, many hours in chemo watching those movies.
CS: You’re working with Charlie Hunnam and Guillermo del Toro again on “Pacific Rim.” How was reuniting for that project?
Perlman: It’s in the can now and we’re all curious to see how it comes out. I don’t have any scenes with Charlie in the movie. All of my scenes are with Charlie Day, who plays a scientist. It’s a great character. This is a movie that Charlie Hunnam and I both appear in, but separately.
CS: Was that the opposite of this one? Did you bring him along?
Perlman: No, actually. Charlie came onto Guillermo’s radar because he’s best friends with Alfonso Cuaron and Charlie did “Children of Men.” Alfonso was singing Charlie’s praises ever since then. Guillermo had this longstanding curiousity about the notion of working with Charlie and, when “Pacific Rim” came along, he felt like this was the opportunity for us to join forces. It had nothing to do with me.
CS: You mentioned that you wanted to do this because it was a comedy. What else is out there that you still have a particular urge to embrace as an actor?
Perlman: Comedy is what I did first and foremost. Way back in the beginning, I was part of a Black Out sketch group. We did the shows and sketch shows that we had written ourselves. We went around and performed them all over schools in the Bronx and Manhattan when I was going to college at Lehman College in the Bronx. I just loved doing comedy. I don’t get a chance to do it that much because Hollywood doesn’t see me as funny. I have to be a bit clandestine about my comedy roles and sort of find it on my own. I have to do it in the dark of night. It’s my first love and it’s what got me into acting. But I also just love great writing. If it’s comedy or drama or something in-between and they’re interested in having me take a look at it professionally and it’s something I’ve never done before and I feel I have a chance to explore new, fertile land and look good doing it because it’s smart material, you’ve got my attention.
CS: It’s sort of unfortunate that Phyllis does come into the story so late. As far as interacting with the cast members that you did get to work with, what was the experience like?
Perlman: The only people I really got to work with were Charlie and Chris O’Dowd and it’s mostly Charlie. I get to meet Lizzy [Caplan] in situations like this and I have a little moment with Chris Noth. A delicious little moment. Very delicious! But it was a fun-packed day. I did all my stuff in one day.
CS: Do you think that knowing Charlie and having worked with him on “Sons of Anarchy” enables you both, as actors, to take the performance to a place you couldn’t with a stranger?
Perlman: No, but the fact that he and I are friends probably helps with everything we do. Jumping into Frankie and having to on the one day shooting everything I have in the movie–which includes slow-dancing while I’m shotgunning hooch down his throat–it probably helps that there’s a comfort zone. You can say, “I’m going to go for it here. You don’t mind if I grab your ass, right?” So yeah, it really helped that Charlie and I have this ease between us when you’re doing something as intricate as the relationship between Frankie and Phyllis.
CS: There’s a very sweet history to Frankie and Phyllis, too. Is that something that you sit down and work out in advance or is it better left to the imagination?
Perlman: It’s one of those things where you kind of miss it when you’re reading it and in the preparation of it. But when you actually go to play the scene, you realize the commonality of the awkwardness he’s feeling about the world experiencing his shortcomings–which all exist on this sex tape–and the shortcomings that I feel as a human being to the point that I need to completely reinvent myself. We discovered that in the playing of it and it added a dimension to our relationship which led Jordan to rethink the phone conversation that happens later in the film where he’s hiding out in the desert. That call was supposed to come from his mother and that’s how they filmed it but, when they put the movie together, he said, “It’s better if it comes from Phyllis.” I had to come back a couple of months after the fact and shoot that one scene with me talking to Frankie. Because nobody understands him better than I do. We both understand shame like he would never be able to share with his own mom.
CS: What else is coming up for you outside of “Pacific Rim” and more “Sons of Anarchy”?
Perlman: A bunch of stuff that I’m about to sign onto for the hiatus. I don’t really think I can announce anything yet, but there’s going to be a major body of work coming out over the next year.
CS: Ron mentioned that you brought him to this one. Where did it start for you?
Charlie Hunnam: Jordan, somewhere through writing the script, decided that I was the guy who he wanted to play his character. He sent me the script with an offer and a lovely letter, which you don’t normally get. You normally just get a cover letter from your agent saying, “You’ve been offered this thing.” But it was a lovely letter saying how big a fan he had been and listing some of the connective tissue we have. One of the guys producing this I almost did a film with a few years before. He established who he was and the connections we had. I read the script and thought, “Man, this is a huge stretch for me. I don’t quite understand how he came to the conclusion that I’m the guy who should be playing this role. There’s so many great, unemployed comedic actors out there who would just kill this. I’m not a comedian. I don’t really have any aspirations to be.” But I was kind of intrigued and I did a little due diligence and everybody spoke so highly of him I said, “Let’s go and have a coffee and you can talk me through this. Listen, from reading the script, it reads like he’s this very dorky, meek, passive guy who can’t possibly stand up to his brother. That’s a really interesting stretch for me, but it’s not really who I am and it’s not really what I’m known for.” He said, “That’s interesting and I assumed it’s what you would say because that’s what everybody says when I talk about you and when they read the script. I think that’s been seen a thousand time before and it’s not very interesting at all. What I think is far more interesting is if this dude is just a regular dude. A guy that every male member of the audience can relate to and finds successful. He just happens to have this super-dominating, completely psychopathic brother who could dominate everybody. It’s not that you’re weak at all. It’s that he’s a total lunatic.” When we started talking about it in those terms, it started to feel more accessible to me and less of an impossible challenge. The comedy scared me, but the more I talked to Jordan, I felt somehow compelled to do it. I really loved Jordan and felt like he was such a true, honest artist. I was also at a point in my career where I was finally well-known enough that I could help make a tiny movie like this get made. For all of the above reasons, I decided to just do a palette cleanse and try something that was the total opposite of all these things I had done the past five years. I went and just had some fun with my friends. On that first day on set, I was really glad that I had taken the role.
CS: It’s funny you mention that because as much as you don’t seem like a pushover, Chris O’Dowd as Frankie’s brother is a bit of unusual casting, too.
Hunnam: Yeah, Frankie is a guy who has a strong mother and an overbearing brother. But he’s a good guy. A strong guy. He’s a guy who has definitely punched a dude in the face before and who has got the girl in the past. He’s out there trying to make something of his life, but he’s got this wacky, crazy overbearing family making life impossible for him every step of the way.
CS: Is it a tricky balance for you knowing that the audience both wants to sympathize as well as see bad things happen just because they’re funny?
Hunnam: This was an exercise in trust like no other I’ve every experienced in that I went into this with the awareness that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how comedy worked or how to do it or how to make it funny if it wasn’t working naturally. So I just really surrendered myself. I said to Jordan, “Look, I’m putting all my trust in you in a way that I never have with a director before. I don’t know this world. I need to trust that your barometer of what’s funny and what’s working is going to be true.” It really did come down to that, specifically to landing the jokes. If I made Jordan laugh, that was good enough for me. Everything I did I didn’t think was funny. It was really about trusting him completely. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. (Laughs)
CS: And, of course, you get some interesting scenes with Ron Perlman’s Phyllis.
Hunnam: Chris O’Dowd was the first guy to be cast because that was really the lynchpin of the whole film. You could argue that I’m the lead, but I would make a strong counterargument that the film is really about him. You follow my journey because it’s an easier journey to follow, but he’s really the central energy of the film. Chris O’Dowd joined and then they hired me and then I got a little involved in the casting process. We went through a slew of girls and Lizzy [Caplan] was just so clearly the right choice. Then we had a week to cast the rest of the film because, for reasons that are just too boring to get into, we had a very finite amount of time to make this film. So we sent Ron the script for the Chris Noth role. He said, “I don’t want to do it. But who’s playing Phyllis?” I said, “Ron, you’re f–ing crazy.” He said, “No, seriously bro. Seriously. I don’t want this to get out, but I’ve always secretly wanted to play a woman.” I said, “Alright man! It’s on your head.” I realized, after the fact, that what he actually secretly always wanted was to make out with me. That was the inspiration for the whole thing. We got him and, boy, it was just the best day of filming that I’ve ever had. Really, truly the day that I’ve had the most fun in my whole career was that day working with Ron. Ron and I have a bit of a weird relationship normally. Because of me. Ron has been doing this for 35, 40 years. He’s brilliant and effortless in his ability to turn on and off the goods. I have to work at it a little harder. I don’t have that experience and that same bag of tricks. When I need to hate someone, it’s a lot easier for me to hate them than to act like I hate them. I keep Ron, because of that, at a real arm’s length. And I love Ron so much as a man and respect him so much as an actor. I think he’s extraordinary. But our relationship on “Sons of Anarchy” is pretty contentious. Most days I don’t say good morning to him. I’ll say good morning to the rest of the guys and then just give him a nod. That’s just the way we are. I’m not sitting with Ron at lunch. I really hold him at arm’s length, which is difficult for him and difficult for me at times. On this, we just got to be pals and enjoy each other’s company. We could collaborate and have fun. It’s just a really beautiful palette-cleanser to the atmosphere we have on “Sons.”
CS: There’s a sweet relationship between Frankie and Phyllis. Can you talk about building that with Ron?
Hunnam: I think that just innately happened because me and Ron have so much history. It is something that, in the past, I’ve been conscious of and have worked towards. On “Sons,” I’m really conscious of that and how really working closely for five years has intensified the performances on screen. But yeah, it’s something that one, as an actor, really thinks about. I did a film some years ago, “Green Street Hooligans,” and there’s an actor in that, Leo Gregory, who plays a kind of Judas character. In the beginning of that film, we only have three scenes together where we’re best friends and you can see how much we love each other before the relationship goes bad. You have to feel that lack of friendship and hostility. Between two actors that don’t know each other that well, it’s very easy to play the hostility, but to play the friendship within the hostility requires you to know that person a little bit better. To find the intricacies. I was very aware of that and I said, “Listen, this isn’t going to work. We have three scenes to show how well we know one another. If we don’t show that, it’s going to fall flat on its face.” So I reached out to him and said, “Dude, I think that we should spend a month together before shooting. Why don’t you come to LA and live with me for a month? Or I can come to London and live with you.” He still lived with his mum in London and he said, “F–k that. You ain’t coming to live with me and my mum. I’ll come to LA.” He came to LA and we just hung out. We smoked together every day and went to the gym and trained and talked about s–t. We went back to England together. We went to football matches. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of because, if you watch for just that moment on screen, he does something where he lights a cigarette, before he puts his box away, he pulls out a cigarette and hands me one. Without even looking, I just take it. It’s those moments that tell such a huge story on screen. It’s a huge challenge, always, as an actor.
CS: What do you look for now in terms of roles?
Hunnam: I feel every bit as much a writer as I am an actor. I’m actually probably more a writer than I am an actor. So I’ve been writing a lot. I have a film that I want to direct. A very, very small film that I want to direct in two years, starring Tommy Flanagan from “Sons of Anarchy.” I actually got Tommy the role of my brother in “Green Street Hooligans” and then, long story, he ended up not being able to do the movie. But I’ve had a long relationship with Tommy and I just think he’s one of the most extraordinarly gifted actors out there. He’s going to play the lead in this film that I want to direct. Then I have three other films that I’m writing. One is for me to star in and two that I just want to set up and get out there into the world. That’s a lot of the plan for myself in the future. To try and evolve into a writer/director. Specifically, though, there aren’t so many roles that I’m looking for as much as the opportunity to work with great directors. I feel like I have so much to learn. I feel more and more proud of the work that I’ve been doing, but I feel like getting to work with those A-list directors will really kind of kick my game up and allow me to turn in performances that I want to. I really care about acting and want to be as good as I can be. That is not always just down to the actor. You need a strong director and a strong writer and a strong editor.
CS: How does something the scale of “Pacific Rim” fit into that?
Hunnam: That was epically difficult. Guillermo [del Toro] was a slave driver and the only reason you don’t hate him for it is because he works harder than anybody else. But it was a really difficult process, but really fun and rewarding to make. I think we’re all going to be really proud of the movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear great things.
CS: Where did this one begin for you?
Lizzy Caplan: It started in a very exciting way. I received the script and I read it and it was funny and then I went in and auditioned for it and read with Charlie. Then I got the part. Really groundbreaking stuff!
CS: Was it specifically the humor that drew you in?
Caplan: Yes. It was a really funny, funny, funny script. It made me laugh aloud, which I don’t do. Ever. In my life. I just thought it was one of those things that was just so zany and strange. It was a risky movie, but all these cool actors were signing on for it. That encouraged me to want to swing the bat as well. But with these little baby movies, if they’re really bad, they just disappear. It feels sort of safe.
CS: It’s an interesting movie because Charlie is really the only straight man in it. Everyone else has some craziness to them.
Caplan: Thank you. Everyone else has been saying I’m the straight man. I think I kind of become a little straight man-ey for the second half, but I think you’re absolutely right. Charlie is the straight man.
CS: What is the process for building these characters?
Caplan: It was pretty easy. We all got along really well from the get-go. It was a very low-budget movie. It was very, very no-frills. There was no retreating to one’s trailer. I love making movies like that. I think it really bonds people. Most of my stuff was with Charlie, so I really just had to butter him up and try to make him like me. Which was easy enough.
CS: How much room was there for improv?
Caplan: A lot. I mean, we were on a very tight schedule and so it wasn’t like we could do infinite takes but, if there were ideas or things we wanted to try, Jordan was super-into hearing them always.
CS: It does seem like Lassie has some interesting one-liners.
Caplan: Well, I’ve gotta give credit to Jordan and his script. I can’t remember anything specifically that I improved. I’m just gonna say he wrote the whole thing and make him sound like a real genius!
CS: Lassie’s a character with a very interesting backstory. How much of that do you know and map out just for your own edification?
Caplan: I think I knew a lot. I really knew what she was crying about the first time we meet her. The gay fiancee thing, sure, is sort of a joke, but the adult child of an alcoholic thing, that’s some dark s–t. There’s a reason that’s so bad with men. If we want to get all “Psychology Today,” it’s because she’s been raising her father even though she’s the daughter. That’ll screw you up. I like to think that the breakdown she has at the beginning of the movie is the first real breakdown of her life. It had to be about everything. It’s an interesting thing to meet a character on a day that is so unlike how she is in the rest of the movie and winds up being more like she was before that moment. But I think it’s an interesting filmmaking idea.
CS: It’s also interesting to think that Frankie would identify with her at her most extreme because of the extreme people that he knows.
Caplan: Yeah. Exactly. They both have close relationships with addicts.
CS: I know it was a brief shoot. How many days were you on set.
Caplan: I think it was like 19 days. Like real run-and-done.
CS: What about the rest of the cast? How was working with them?
Caplan: I really liked Chris Noth. Really high-energy and fun to be around. But everyone was playing against type. You don’t see him doing that type. You see him as the real professional. He’s not necessarily straight-laced, but he’s always in control. This guy is obviously always out of control. Chris and Ron, of course, play badasses all the time and now they’re playing a lady and a pussy guy, kind of. I think all of us were excited to swing the bat on something that was simultaneously so outside of our comfort zones.
CS: Chris O’Dowd, too, isn’t someone you think of as playing a bully.
Caplan: Yeah, he’s always such a sweet, sweet angel in things. But here he’s a sociopath. But he’s so good in the movie. That’s probably the character that made me really want to do the movie. Chris is awesome in it.
CS: Do you look at it at all as a parody of the filmmaking process?
Caplan: I guess I’ve never really thought of it that way. You can’t really say it’s a true parody of internet fame because it’s showcasing the s–ty part of internet fame. I think it maybe shines a bit of a light on Chris O’Dowd’s character. Why isn’t he a filmmaker? Why can’t we call him a filmmaker? He makes dumb sh*t and puts it on the internet. That could be a filmmaker these days. Maybe it skews that in a weird way.
CS: What’s next for you?
Caplan: I have another little indie coming up called “Save the Date” with Alison Brie and Martin Starr and other amazing actors. That one comes out in a month or two, I think. Then I start my TV show soon which will be on sometime next year.
CS: You’re also a character in the cinematic Marvel Universe now thanks to “Item 47.” Are you going to have any involvement with the new series?
Caplan: I can’t, really. Maybe I could do some little thing, but I have my own show now so I can’t be regular on the Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. show. But I think people are really excited about that and it’s a really good idea.
CS: There’s also the future of “Party Down.” Has there been any word on it returning in some form?
Caplan: I wish I had more concrete details, but the interest is through the roof from us to make a movie. We are all pushing to make a movie. I don’t know when it will happen, but I have very high hopes that it will happen.
CS: What’s a dream project for you?
Caplan: The “Party Down” movie. It really is. To be able to hang out with those people again for two months and to wear those stupid bowties. I love that show so much. I’m really proud of it and I think it just perfectly straddles that comedy/drama line. I want to make more of that. Especially because I got to do a lot of cool s–t recently.
CS: It seems like your output lately has been incredible. You’re everywhere.
Caplan: It’s weird. I haven’t done anything, really. It’s just timing with release dates, I guess. I’m very excited about my TV show, too. I think it’s going to be really challenging and I think it’s going to be very, very good.
CS: But you’ve got TV shows and short films and feature roles. Is it important to you to cast a wide net?
Caplan: I think it’s important to everybody, especially these day. You look at great movie-only actors and there’s not that many of them anymore. There are a lot of actors, great actors, Academy Award-winning actors, who are doing television shows now. I think television now — certain televisions shows in particular — are just as good as some of the movies they’re making now. So yeah, I think that, as an actor, you should try to do everything. Plus, I love being a guest star on stuff. I have commitment issues.