I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed a more honest, appreciative, confident and hilarious person than Ron Pearlman, the star of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film opening this weekend, Hellboy II. Although he’s the star of the Hellboy series, he’s more than willing to take his hat off to all those around him who have made this project happen. When speaking with Ron, he seemed like one of the few people in the world that would actually give you an honest answer. He trusts in his Director, his ability, is able to find the joy in his art, and is a pleasure to talk to.
Ron does an amazing job with Hellboy at balancing the seriousness with the humor. It’s refreshing to see a man like Ron play the romantic, action lead in these films. Who says that 20 somethings, with statuesque bone structure, and cliched attitudes are the only ones who can play these roles? It’s all about the swagger and the personality that he brings to it. The thing about Hellboy is that you go beyond his outer red shell and giant fist and see what makes him a true hero, his heart.
So without further ado, LA.CityZine gives you Ron Pearlman.
What sort of challenges does a sequel bring to working on a project?
The challenges were the scope of what Guillermo was trying to do in this, and I think there was a huge amount of empowerment that took place by the whole Pan’s Labyrinth experience. I just think that he truly finally came to terms with the possibilities of cinema and now refuses to settle for anything less than exactly what he wants to do. He can think of things that he thinks is cool and worthy of shooting. So it was challenging because it was just bigger and more complicated and more our hours were really long and the time we spent shooting a scene was far longer, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the sequel. It was trying to realize this unbelievable epic world that Guillermo was depicting.
What did you feel that you were able to do with Hellboy in the second film that you didn’t get to do in the first?
It’s very much the same guy, except this time we’re seeing him circumstantially in a highly emotionally compromised state because the relationship is on the rocks, perhaps in danger of burning up, pardon the pun, and he’s faced with the idea of life without Liz and he’s emotionally compromised. And of course he does what Hellboy will do when he’s not sure whether he has a reason to live or not. He starts drinking heavily. And meanwhile, parenthetically, he’s gotta go save the Earth from complete extinction while he’s buzzed.
How much fun was that scene, getting drunk and singing with Abe (featured right)?
That whole sequence, from the time she decides she can never really own him because he wants the love of the world. By the way, that’s nuances, only Guillermo del Toro is that acutely aware of. He’s such a great husband. He’s so in tune with the dynamic of men and women interacting and all of the pitfalls. From that point, all the way through the beginning of the fight in the library, which includes a musical segue, I think that’s got to be my favorite little kind of aria in our opera. And then the, the Barry Manilow moment far and away my favorite moment. It was certainly everyone’s favorite day of the whole six and a half month shoot. I mean we couldn’t shoot that enough. He didn’t change angles nearly as many times as I would’ve liked. The more we did that the happier everybody got. It was like wrap party happiness. The good news is I liked it every bit as much when I saw it at the premiere.
Someone said that between takes you and Jeffrey were singing show tunes by Frank Sinatra.
Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I’m gay. (Laughing) A couple of show tunes. What are you trying to say? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It doesn’t happen to be the way I flow.
Was the humor something that attracted you to this role?
It’s everything. To me it’s far and away the most attractive thing about Hellboy â the fact that he doesn’t take anything seriously. He’s kind of like the Dean Martin of superheroes and if you’re a fan of Dean Martin, he actually says in his nightclub act “I don’t take nothing serious” â which is why everybody loved Dino so much is because he managed to find the absurdity, and the lack of reverence for absolutely every subject in the book, including just living his life. He was never drunk, but he acted like he was constantly swimming against the tide. And we love that guy. We love that guy because he manages to take the most serious thing and find the lightness, the unbearable lightness of it.
How difficult is it to do those scenes with the prosthetics and the make-up, and how long does it take to get into that?
I mean every job comes with it’s sub-structure of problems and obstacles. And in this case, the three and a half to five to six hour prep time in order to get on the stage and work. But once it was on, once I was on the set, aside from sometimes being hotter than everyone else in August and warmer than everybody else was in November, it didn’t alter anything. It was basically just the uniform, the look that made up the guy. There always is one, even if you’re wearing nothing at all that’s still the costume. So I don’t think it really changed anything. I will tell you that when they finally zip-up the last zipper and I tie up the last shoe lace and I start walking to the set, it’s like that last, what’s that line in the Travolta Saturday Night Fever, in the second one?
I’m gonna strut now?
Yeah. There’s a strut that I don’t have in real life and that’s all given to how evocative the whole costume and make-up is. I mean, I feel almost indomitable.
Speaking of which, you do a lot of hanging off of buildings and jumping on cars and stuff. Are a lot of those really you on cables?
Whenever it’s safe and he wants to get a good character reaction shot, it’s me. Having said that, they kept me able to fight another day. It was really important to make sure that I didn’t do anything too stupid and too compromising and too unsafe. After all I’m not equipped to handle myself in situations like that.
How was the fight sequence with Luke Goss (featured right)?
It was dazzling. I think Brad Allen was a phenomenal addition to our film. Our new stunt coordinator â he spent 14 years working under Jackie Chan and that whole Hong Kong opera approach to fighting and especially to the purposes of cinema. And he just brought all these beautifully imaginative elements to the fight scenes, and he’s a great fight choreographer. I just thought the two big fights between Lucas and the prince and Hellboy couldn’t be better. They were really dazzling and worthy of the moments that they occur in the movie.
How long did it take you to learn the fight sequences?
The fights? I spent most of them in an armchair. I didn’t have to learn anything. I was basically there eating popcorn. Ron? Yes.
Well you get thrown about a bit.
I get thrown about a bit but it’s a question of was it really me. Seamless, though, wasn’t it? It looked like it was me. (Chuckling) Yeah, it was me.
Was is difficult to work off the other actors, such as Abe, when they have so much prosthetics and make-up covering them?
Well, you know, if you ascribe to Guillermo’s way of thinking, which I do â you know the monsters are more human than the human. I look at Abe Sapien and just see the heart of the guy. I just see this beautiful being, you know. I don’t see the outer trappings and I guess that’s sort of the point in all this, but it’s so easy to do because the humanity of our core group of people, Abe and Liz and Hellboy, and then, I guess, even by the end of this film Johan comes around to saying “maybe I don’t have to do everything by the book.” Maybe I don’t have to be a ‘glasshole’ â as I call him in the movie. There’s a huge amount of humanity and that’s what we’re all drawing from when we have to play these scenes.
Can you see yourself returning to this role in four years?
Let me see, I’ll be it’ll be four years before pre-production. By the time we shoot it’ll be five, maybe six. Are you a praying woman? If you are and you want to see a third movie you better pray. I pray every day that I have the strength to just get through today, much less like what’s gonna happen when I’m 63.
What was your reaction when you saw the final shot of the film? Were you expecting that freeze frame?
No. I didn’t know it was going to be a freeze frame. In fact, Saturday night was pretty revelatory for me in so many ways. First of all when you finally see a movie in real time, all cut together and finished, you either live up to the potential of what was already there, or if it was really good, sometimes surpass what you thought was kind of. The playing of a film is kind of like a living, breathing organism and you never know by the sum of its parts whether it’s going to be a good living, breathing organism, something that works. Because you shoot these things in such a piece meal fashion, but does it add up? Will it play? And how is it in juxtaposition to one another? I was thrilled when I finally saw it on Saturday night. There were so many great choices that were made in terms of after it was said and done, and the post-production. There were so many great, great beautiful additions. Danny Elfman’s music is sumptuous and so happy and so full of mood and so reflective of what Guillermo had in his heart when he wrote the piece. I was just pleased with so many things. That freeze frame, I didn’t know it was how he was going to play it or end it. I’m a real happy camper right now.
Did you have any favorite creatures that Guillermo made? Were any that you particularly liked or enjoyed?
That fish guy. I couldn’t stop looking at him. In fact I had fish for lunch that day. I think, probably in the whole movie the think I marveled at most was the Angel of Death (featured right). That was just tremendous design and execution and just the great imagination of Guillermo del Toro in full bloom. And then the fact that it was Doug Jones playing him was the bonus. He’s the Peter Sellars of our day. That’s the last guy I know that played multiple roles in movies.
When you were a kid were fantasy creatures or supernatural figures something that you enjoyed?
I loved of all the things I read “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” was the thing that had the most impact on me. I was a big fan of Jack London’s when I was a kid. I wasn’t much of a comic book guy and I certainly wasn’t drawn to science fiction literature very much, but those two things really stand out in my mind, literature-wise.
What else are you working on right now?
Right now, I just finished two films back-to-back. One called The Job, which is based on a play that played here in Los Angeles, written by Shem Bitterman. Low-budget film, but really great writing, maybe one of the most theatrical performances I’ve ever had the opportunity to give. And then right after that a movie call Bunraku, which we just shot in Romania, which is a very stylized post-apocalyptic look at man’s inclination to be violent and brutal.
What do you play in that?
I play the most violent and brutal man in that movie (laughter), and prior to that I did this thing called Mutant Chronicles which we’re trying to get into the market. In fact, we’re going to have a screening of it at Comic-Con and allow the fans to sort of have their input as to what the movie does well and what it needs to work on. If you keep checking it out, it’s going to be like on the 26th of July â it’s either a midnight screening or ten o’clock at night. I don’t know the venue yet.
And you’re soliciting input from the fans?
We’re soliciting input from everybody who is a fan of movies.
So you’ll be going to Comic-Con?
I’ll be going to Comic-Con. It’s being hosted by Thomas Jane and myself. The two co-stars of the film ’cause we both love this guy Simon Hunter and we think that the movie is really, really good.
We look forward to seeing you there! Thank you very much for your time.