Ron Perlman talks Connery, Brando, and whether he's watching 'Sons'
As the title of Ron Perlman’s memoir Easy Street (the Hard Way) implies, the actor—whose Amazon pilot, Hand of God, recently got a season order and who voices a character in the Guillermo del Toro-produced animated feature The Book of Life now in theaters—has a life story full of ups and downs. “The book is very much about how every time something really, really bad happens, there’s a resolve that takes place as you heal your way out of it,” he says. “One of my favorite quotes, which is really representative of the book, is that I really never learned anything while I was succeeding; I always learned everything while I was failing, when everything was going bad, when the wheels were completely off the bus, and I had no idea how I was gonna get out of it. Somehow you do. And in doing so, you find out so much about yourself, so much about whatever spiritual thing you have going.”
The toughest chapters for him to pen with cowriter Michael Largo were those about the loss of his father at 19 to heart disease and the mental health issues in his family (including his own serious battle with depression). But he also makes it clear in the book that he struggled with how deep to go into his feelings about the isolation and discomfort he experienced on-screen and off during the end of his run on Sons of Anarchy. Did he give anyone a heads-up about that section of the book? “I don’t think any heads-up was necessary,” he says with a laugh. “We all lived through the same s–t.” And no, he’s not watching the show’s final ride. “I’d say there’s 15-20 percent of my work that I’ve never seen because I’m one of these guys that has a much better time doing it than watching it. And when I watch it, I’m not able to watch it objectively,” he says. “So the short answer to that is, I haven’t really watched Sons since season 4, or something like that. I didn’t even watch it when I was on it, so I certainly ain’t watching it when I ain’t,” he says with another laugh.
We got Perlman to share a few of our favorite stories from the book—spitting in Sean Connery’s face in The Name of the Rose and interacting with Marlon Brando on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau—when he visited EW for an installment of Firsts & Worsts. Watch the video and read the transcript below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First role you couldn’t say no to?
Perlman: I had just come from doing two jobs, both for Jean-Jacques Annaud, in Quest for Fire and then again in The Name of the Rose, but I was completely covered in makeup that made me unrecognizable. So I had this notion that maybe the world needed to see that there was an actual man behind all this rubber. And I said, “No more makeup jobs.” And the script to Beauty and the Beast appears at my doorstep the following morning. And I called my manager and I go, “I thought I told you,” and he said, “Hey, don’t yell at me. I’m just tryin’ to get you a job.” So finally I started reading it, and about page 20 of this pilot script to Beauty and the Beast, I called him back up and I said, “All right, who do I got to kill to play this role?” Don’t you feel bad for me?
I mean I had decades of bad auditions when I first got out of drama school in the ’70s. [Sings] “My boy..” And they go, “Thank you!” I mean I didn’t even get the third note out. Come on, guys. “Thank you!”
First stunt that really scared you?
Well, the first time I spit in Sean Connery’s eye was an unusable take because I refused to actually spit because I was so intimidated. I certainly didn’t have the chutzpah to spit in the guy’s eye. So I did a theatricalized version of that [mimes spitting] and nothing comes out. He goes, [in Connery’s accent] “Dear boy, if you don’t put something in my eye, I’ll have nothing to react to. Where will that leave me?” And I went, “Well, out in the cold, Sean?” “Exactly.” I just didn’t want to have to do it a second time, so I did it really good. And Sean agreed. He goes, “Yeah, that was pretty good spit there.”
Worst makeup chair faux pas?
The makeup artists I work with are the best in the business. I had one makeup artist who did Beauty and the Beast, and every once in a while, I would do this [doses off] and [punches himself in face] she’d smack me upside my head. But I won’t name ya…Margaret. You know if somebody’s like putting glue in your eye, you don’t want to go, [points to something] “Excuse me,” ’cause somebody’s gonna get hurt, and it’s always me. It’s always me.
First character decision that worked?
The best idea I ever brought to a character was playing the Sayer of the Law blind. And then they put these lenses in, and I said, “Wait a minute, I just want to appear like I’m blind. I don’t want you to actually make me blind.” And once they’re in, I literally could not see my hand in front of my face, which meant I had to be led around. Brando, after five days of working with me, realized that I was playing the character blind, and he said, [doing a solid Brando] “Geez, I wish I thought of that. Oh, that’s really good.” I said, “Marlon, I’ve had ’em in for five days. You’re just noticing it now?” “Yeah, kid, I got other stuff on my mind.”
Worst lifestyle choice after your big break?
Don’t buy a boat until after you get your second big break. (Laughs) In fact, don’t buy anything until you get your second big break. Maybe your third or fourth, because one big break does not a success make. Every time I thought that something was gonna happen that was a real game changer where I would be on Easy Street—which is why I call the book Easy Street, kind of tongue in cheek—is because I was wrong. I thought, “Okay, it’s gonna be good now. I’m gonna be coasting now.” And it turned out I was wrong most of the time—up until very recently…. Like I say, I got no complaints these days.
Sons of Anarchy
Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.