Ron Perlman on wielding wigs and flaming axes for Monster Hunter: 'It was elaborate'
Ron Perlman is used to being the monster, not the monster hunter. But after playing the titular Hellboy of director Guillermo del Toro's movies, Bular in Netflix's Trollhunters, goblin gangster Gnarlack in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and even the Beast of a '90s-era Beauty and the Beast, once upon a time, the veteran actor, 70, switches sides for Monster Hunter, a new videogame movie adaptation from Resident Evil's Paul W.S. Anderson.
Now, Perlman, although he's voiced a lot of roles in games over the years (see the Fallout games, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Halo 3, Justice League Heroes), isn't familiar with Capcom's popular Monster Hunter gaming series. "If somebody gifted me with all of it, I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to remove it from the box much less turn it on and use it," he says. But that's where an "elaborate" costume, complete with a big, blonde wig that was almost even bigger and blonder, comes in to help orient him around this new world of monsters and mayhem.
In Monster Hunter, Perlman plays the Admiral, a leader of a group of monster hunters, who forge immense weapons out of the bones and carcasses of the giant beasts that roam their world. (The Admiral gets a giant flaming axe.) Captain Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her military troupe are on a search for their missing allies when they find themselves traveling to this alternate dimension. Perlman hasn't seen Monster Hunter yet because of the pandemic, so he doesn't know how it all turned out. But he had fun doing it.
The actor speaks with EW about his amazing Admiral wig... and some other stuff. (Returning to film movies amid the pandemic, being skeptical of a videogame movie adaptation, and playing with massive flaming weapons that were actually on fire. That kind of thing.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How has your pandemic experience been?
RON PERLMAN: I am finally back home, which is Pasadena, Calif., after being on the road for three months. I was finally back to work on a couple of very well cared for projects, protocol wise.
How was that experience been like getting back into the day to day of filming?
I'm grateful that I'm able to work when so many people aren’t and [the productions] being incredibly careful. It means that they’re doing everything they can to protect the production, keep everybody working, make sure there are no incidences. I feel like this was a heavy lift, getting big studios to feel safe enough to send people out into the world again and do what we all love to do and make a living. I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled.
Everyone has to make the right decisions for them about what they're comfortable with. What made it comfortable for you to return to production?
I had a lot of faith that if the productions… I did two productions, one of which [Nightmare Alley] was for Searchlight, which is now owned by Disney, and they had so much to lose if anything had gone wrong. So, I walked into that feeling very confident that if they felt like they had it in hand, I could feel I was really being cared for and nothing was being taken for granted. It turned out I was right. These are not cheap films to make, and you know that there were hundreds of pages of protocols and things they addressed to get a production where there are upwards of 200-300 people working in kind of close contact with one another at all times. If it was good of Disney, it was good enough for R.P.
It seemed like you were involved in so many projects. Was there a period where you just had to pause and stay at home?
Like everybody else, I had that five-month lockdown. The film I just referred to was 40 percent shot by mid-March and started in late-January, and they had to put a pin in it. You knew that when they did resume that they would be very, very careful and mindful of how fragile these things could be. Mid-September we finally got to resume and they finished principal photography [a week] ago. It went off without a hitch. There was not one case of COVID on any level. It proves it can be done, but it can only be done with great humility and with great care.
Are you also still doing VO work? I know you’re in Pinocchio for Guillermo del Toro.
Been doing sessions all along the way for Pinocchio. The sound stages that you work on have their own protocols between artists coming in. They disinfect everything, make sure that you’re walking into as safe of an environment as you possibly can. I’m one of the lucky ones. As much as I have set fallow for five months, it wasn’t a total blackout. There were bits and pieces I was able to do along the way. And then to getting back to finish this picture and start a new one with Adam McKay [Don't Look Up] has been a godsend.
Videogames have been my salvation during this time. I know you’ve voiced roles in a lot of videogames over the years and now, obviously, you’re in Monster Hunter. Are you a big gamer?
I’ve never played a videogame in my life. I wouldn't know the hardware from the software. And if somebody gifted me with all of it, I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to remove it from the box much less turn it on and use it. But I do love acting. So, I get a chance to participate in these worlds from a different point of view, and it’s one that I relish and that, most of the time, I have a really good time doing. [Monster Hunter] is like the reverse, where I'm now being put in as an actor into a videogame that was new to me that I wasn’t aware of and that I had to immerse myself in order to figure out how to give it a performance, more so an homage to what the original game makers had in mind for this world than the creation of something new and original.
What were your first impressions of Monster Hunter and talking with Paul about this character, the Admiral?
I will tell you, when I heard the circumstances that this was an adaptation from a videogame, I wasn’t prepared to like the script. I thought it was gonna be lame, I thought it was gonna be one-dimensional, very bells and whistles, results oriented. I was really taken with how nuanced, what great storytelling it was. It was a real page turner for me, reading it for the first time. This is a tribute to the adaptation from Paul W.S. Anderson.
I picked up hints, as with all the characters, to a deeper history that isn’t explicitly laid out in the movie. Did you have a deeper backstory for the Admiral?
I really, really deferred to Paul with regard to the work he had done. He really immersed himself in the original genesis of the theatrical elements of the game and got together with the guys who created the game and put together real biographies for these characters — which is maybe not something they first intended when they made the game. But, in making a film, it became a necessary step. I knew that Paul was obsessed with having these guys who made the game be really happy with his adaptation, not a jumping off point for him to do his own thing as a filmmaker. More like an homage to the world they originally created and figuring out how to put it onto the screen. Whenever I approach the scene with the Admiral, I went to Paul and I said, "Tell me what you’re thinking here." "Tell me what he’s thinking here." This is more of a collaboration between the filmmaker and the actor than it was anything else. That’s not always the case. Each time you give a performance, there are different parameters.
Do you have any other comparable experiences working with a filmmaker?
If I look back on the last few years of my work experience, I've been very lucky to be on a lot of sets, both TV and movies, and I've been much more interested in being an interpretive artist than being an original artist. Meaning, I spend a lot of time with the filmmakers, most of whom have also written the scripts. So, I'm working with a lot of auteurs. It’s really essential for me to honor all the dynamics they were infusing it with when they were conceiving it on paper and making sure that I was hitting all those notes. Not too big, not too small. Just exactly how they imagined their roles to be. You talk about a gazillion worlds coming together when you get into the autumn of your career or your life. I'm not a young man anymore, but for my entire life I’ve been listening to Sinatra and being obsessed. It turns out his genius was exactly what I just described. He felt it was his job to figure out exactly what the writer intended before he interpreted it. It wasn’t his interpretation. It was his interpretation of how this thing needed to be sung in the manner in which it was conceived. So, I'm obsessed with being that guy as of late.
Do you think that’s helping inform which roles you gravitate towards moving forward?
Not necessarily. The criteria for that has always been the same. I have to feel really engaged in the writing and the intelligence of the world. I have to feel as though I'm reading something I've never seen before and that I can’t wait to find out what happens. And then the final thing, which is the Big Kahuna for me, is I have to feel as though I can play the part. I read a lot of things and I say, "I don’t know how to do this guy," "I don’t get his rhythms," "I don’t get his way of moving through the universe." It's essential that it relate to the guy in a way that I recognize him, I understand him, and I feel as though I can filter his quirks through my own field of experience, which is basically all you're trying to do at the end of the day.
One of the more fun elements of Monster Hunter is your wig. I'm kind of obsessed with it. So I wanted to ask about your wardrobe. it felt like a weighty piece of costume with all the different details.
It was very elaborate. It was very layered and very detailed. It was all in trying to bring the guy that you see in the videogames to life, to find the humanity of this guy rather than the form and function of him as he appears in the game. It took about a half hour to dress me. He's a man of authority, he’s a man of gravitas, he’s a man of letters, but he’s also a warrior. So, there had to be a pragmatic aspect to all the ways he adorned himself. He had to always be ready to move freely and exhibit great force and focus. The wig was... We were just trying to capture how this guy looked in the game. We went through a lot of changes. The wig, if you can believe, was bigger and blonder in the early go. It went through an evolutionary process in order to get it to where it was. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I don’t know how it all plays and how it all looks.
Paul had mentioned there were some initial concerns with all the giant, flaming weapons you had to wield. Were those weapons actually on fire or more CG?
They were on fire as much as it was possible. Probably, if i had to put a number to it, 50 percent of the time. Paul, like all the great directors I’ve worked with who do a lot of CG, feels as though the more you can have practical elements at hand in the actual filming of it and then use the CG as the enhancement rather than the entire sentence, the more seamless [it looks]. It’s more connected to the real world that’s depicted on screen. There were a number of times when the axe was on fire. Then there were times when it wasn’t safe. I had to do too much with it that for it to be flaming. It was a beautiful combination of the two, but it was done with great care and always taking in mind not putting the actor into a particularly compromising situation where the performance was compromised by safety concerns or the inability to practically wield these things.
Did it take special training to wield those props?
They were big and they were heavy. I had to make the audience believe like this was an extension of me, that I've been wielding this thing my entire life, this was my own creation. So, it couldn’t look foreign. It had to look like something that was second skin. I spent a lot of time just trying to look like it was mine and look like it wasn’t working me, I was working it. I think that was true of all the cast members because everybody had a different modality. They were all very cumbersome. The monsters we go after require things that are larger than life because the monsters themselves are that formidable.
When you talk about the weapon being an extension of the character, was that a similar approach to Hellboy, being that your arm was an actual weapon?
Yeah. Once again, you’re taking something that is coming from a source material, the Mike Mignola interpretation of Hellboy. Guillermo had a similar approach. He wanted to do it as an homage because he loved the comic books so much than do it as a statement of his own creativity. It was essential that I immersed myself in this guy’s unique qualities — the right-hand of doom, the tail, and all the other things that he has that are supernatural — and made them look like they were my second skin.
I wanted to ask about a member of the Admiral’s team, the cat-like Palico. I was curious what your first reaction was when you found out this would be one of your co-stars and if there was anything standing in for him on set to act opposite of.
We had an actor stand in for Palico. He gave a performance. He was hysterically funny. He almost ruined a few takes because he kept cracking us up, me and Milla. We all knew that he was basically going to be a model for a completely computer-generated image that we wouldn’t see until it was completed. Having not seen the film, I haven’t seen the final version of Palico, but I can tell you the filming of those sequences were a lot of fun. It was like a well-needed moment of comic relief and whimsy.
Monster Hunter is now playing in theaters.