Exclusive Interview: Ron Perlman talks The Book of Life, Hellboy 3 & more!

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Ron Perlman is an amazing presence. Whether he is heavily buried under FX make-up or leather jacket clad on a Harley, he can certainly draw attention the second he walks in a room. Even in his latest, the wonderfully charming and visually stunning animated feature THE BOOK OF LIFE, the actor gives his character this incredible sense of bravado. He is a force to be reckoned with.

Recently at the junket for the film, I had a couple of opportunities to talk to Mr. Perlman. The second time, we were surrounded by cameras and a crew. But the first time, it was in the comfort of one of the rooms at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills without the crew. Once I walked in, he asked me to sit and he made himself comfortable as we started our chat. This conversation included HELLBOY 3, THE BOOK OF LIFE, acting without pants and more. Mr. Perlman is certainly a damn fine individual, and he happens to be a funny guy as well.

Make sure you check out his latest, THE BOOK OF LIFE when it opens in theatres this very night! Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro, this is a thrilling animated flick that is as much fun for the adults as it is for the young ones.

It’s impressive to look back at the on-screen relationship you and Guillermo del Toro continue to have. How has it progressed for you as an actor over the years?

It has always been kind of too good to be true from the get go. Our first physical meeting was a dinner, and about an hour into it, it was one of those rare instances where you feel like you’ve known this guy for twenty or thirty years. There was just this ease and comfort. We both completely felt relaxed with one another’s presence. We kind of realized that we both worshipped at all the same shrines and had the same kind of heroes. You never know what that is going to translate to on a working level, but we walked away from CRONOS – which was our first, sort of, collaboration together – and it was pretty clear for me, and I think for both of us, that this was going to be something that lasted. However there have been things that have transpired over the years that went beyond anything I had ever imagined possible. Like the seven year struggle to get somebody to finance HELLBOY with Ron Perlman starring in it. That took seven years and it was something that I thought was out of the realm of possibility. I advised him that it was an exercise in folly. He should move on and use a real movie star. The way to get Guillermo to do anything is to tell him that he can’t.

And now fans are waiting for HELLBOY 3.

Which we are discussing… I think there is an agreement between the two of us that it’s something that is worth pursuing actively. It’s going to be a heavy lift and it’s going to be an expensive film. It’s going to be huge. So there is some work to be done, but the first stage is to agree that it is a fight worth fighting for.

Your latest collaboration is a very unique film. THE BOOK OF LIFE is a celebration of something that I’ve never seen done in a children’s feature regarding Day of the Dead. What was your approach with creating this character and taking in the folklore and the history behind it?

One of the fringe benefits of starting this collaboration with Guillermo back in 1991 was that I was introduced to all this Mexican culture. It differentiated itself from United States culture. Probably one of the more prominent is the celebration of the Day of the Dead, and the magic and positivity and the spirit that is behind that. My take away from it initially when I was first introduced to it was that it performs two functions that are essential. First of all, to demystify an event that is inevitable and take away the negative, fear aspect of dying, and make it something that is accessible and celebratory and positive. And secondly, it forces you to actively honor your forbearers and think about them and remember them as part of your routine and your daily life. And realize that it is their shoulders you are standing on. And all the things that they did to make your way possible, and the minute you do that, they live inside of you. Their spirits live on. It’s something worth sharing with United States audiences. And the way they figured out how to do it in terms of the colors and the vibrancy – the actual execution of this film – it’s pretty cool.

And it is a difficult task to show death to a young audience…

And it’s inevitable. You have to. They are going to see it and they are going to experience it. It’s going to touch them in some way, even if it is not through you. They are going to want to know what your take of it is because you are the ones that let a kid know what is okay and what is not okay, how the parents respond to it. The parents are the very first kind of educators. So you better have a very well-articulated answer to a question that is going to be inevitable because that is one of the ones that is gonna come up fo sho!


Fo sho! Can I say fo sho?

I’ll make sure to put it that way in the article.

F O, S H O.


I’m making sure your spell check doesn’t f*ck me. Can you say that in the article too?

Yes, I can. Well you know what we have to do is put a little asterisk in it.

F and a whole bunch of asterisks…

Exactly! You know your stuff. Well man, I liked the character you play quite a bit. He may be a villain, but he is not necessarily a full-on villain.

He is a little bit Machiavelli. He is kind of deliciously manipulative even though you could see he’d sell out anybody in order to get his way. But he does it in a way that is kind of captivating, and charming. That’s how he gets everything. That is the only way he can get over with La Muerte who is his counterpart – his wife of a few thousand years whose world he covets to preside over. Because she presides over the Land of the Remembered and he presides over the Land of the Forgotten. He’s got something to aspire to.

Coming from theatre, do you enjoy doing animation and playing with characters like this? Does it present a different sort of challenge?

When you are creating a character, the only thing that changes are the external trappings of [whatever the role]. The creating of a character and the playing of a character is the same whether you are doing it in theatre or on film, or just with your voice. You have to fully understand that persons’ humanity and embody it. That is basically it. The reason why I like working in animation and why I do a great deal of it is because it’s a performance arena that requires you to work on a very primal, instinctive level. You are going for the performance immediately rather than sitting around rehearsing it, discussing it, disseminating it. The closer you are to giving that performance as early as you possibly can, the better the things are going to go. So I love it for that reason. I love jumping in and working on a first instinctive level.

It seems like it would be very freeing.

And you can do it without pants on.

[Laughing] Yeah. You could do it naked.

Well, I wouldn’t go that far.

I had to take it there.

You did, didn’t you? Fo sho!

You are starting a production company, and you are directing as well. What can you tell us about that?

We created a production company called Wing and a Prayer Pictures. We’ve raised the film fund that will finance what we hope to be ten films in the first five years. One of them has been identified as something that I want to direct. We are just putting all the finishing touches on it, getting the cast that we need for that. So there is that. And then there is “Hand of God” which is a new TV series which we just shot the pilot, which I act in and executive produce. So there is that. Then there is THE BOOK OF LIFE. So I’m having a really good time right now.

You are busy.

I’m busy, which is how I like it and its all stuff that is really, really cool and fun to do… which is ultra how I like it.

What is going on with PACIFIC RIM 2 and working with Guillermo on that?

Yeah, as they say in Hollywood, it’s “in talks.”

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.