Raising Hell

HellboySince Star Wars rewrote the rule book for movie marketing during the American summer of 1977, dozens of actors from all walks of life, from Carrie Fisher to Jeff Goldblum, Tobey Maguire to Hugh Jackman, Natalie Portman to Ian McKellen, have had the distinctive honour of being able to walk into a toy store and buy an eight inch high plastic doll of themselves.

Ron Perlman, one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood and quasi-famous thanks to cult films like Cronos, City of Lost Children and Blade 2, never seemed the type to end holding a weapon the size of a matchstick and staring vacantly out of a plastic wrap. A longtime fixture of the indie, foreign and arthouse film world, it’s hard to imagine him playing a superhero.

But in a world where a character actor as great as Sam Neill can come in a box (with only a passing resemblance to his face, enormous biceps and a 4 wheel drive dinosaur chaser — as he did during the release of Jurassic Park 3), anything’s possible — although it must feel strange.

‘There are thousands of Hellboy dolls,’ Perlman says from his native Los Angeles. ‘I walk into a comic book store because I have a 14 year old son who’s a comic book freak thanks to [Hellboy director and frequent collaborator] Guillermo Del Toro, and there they are. I’ve had figures of myself made for other movies but nobody ever bought them. These ones are really moving off the shelves, and it’s kind of surreal.’

It must be just as surreal for the small but dedicated clique of Ron Perlman fans. After a career spanning over 25 years, in which almost every film he’s been in has been outstanding, Perlman seems to have a Midas touch for picking roles, but he just puts it down to providence.

‘I’ve pretty much taken everything that’s come my way and I’ve just been very lucky that it’s been laced with so much good stuff. It looks like I’ve picked roles very carefully, but it’s just not the case.’

Ironically (and a little sadly), his first starring role — as Hellboy — was the first of his films in a long time to generate a lacklustre reception among critics and fans. There seemed as many people who thought it was one of the weaker efforts of the comic book genre as there was people who liked it.

Not that it bothers Perlman. Terms like ‘freaks’ used in marketing the film invited comparisons to the X Men franchise, but he takes such comparisons (together with the far from earth-shattering release) in his stride. Like all true artists, he acts to please himself, not you. And the work itself is the reward.

‘I never worry about what people are saying about me,’ he says. ‘I certainly have my fair share of opinions about stuff, but I guess comparisons are going to be inevitable. I know why I think Hellboy is unique and I certainly understand how unique it was as an experience, so that dwarfs any discussions about anything else.

‘There are so many ‘I just won the lottery’ moments in my career. Getting over there and realising that you’re one of 175 people trying to realise this dream and you’re one part of a big paintbox; the collaborative nature of the business is filled with stuff like that. Very often you’re 17,000 miles from home in a brand new community learning to work and play with others, and the dimensions of your existence just expands a hundred fold.’

And while he has one of those faces that makes the average movie goer click their fingers say ‘Oh, God, I know that guy, he was in that one”, he wouldn’t change places with anyone. Not even Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, Filmink ventures?

‘I wouldn’t mind having their money,’ he says with a sparkle in his voice. ‘It’d be nice to know that 14 generations of Perlmans are taken care of. But I’ve had as engaging a time as I possibly could have. In fact I never would have dreamed things have gone as beautifully as they have.’

And if he keeps picking roles the way he has been (aside from the occasional blip like Hellboy), things for Perlman can only get better.