Ron Perlman discusses playing the villain Nicola in Bunraku, working with such a diverse cast, Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy 3, and more
Ron Perlman is an actor who never seems to stop working. He manages to find time between his hit FX series Sons of Anarchy to fit in movie projects such as Conan the Barbarian and Drive. He has even recently provided his trademark voice to animated TV shows such as Adventure Time, American Dad!, and SpongeBob SquarePants. The actor will next be seen on the big screen as the villain Nicola in the stylish action project Bunraku, which is currently available on VOD formats and will debut in theaters September 30. I recently had the chance to speak with Ron Perlman over the phone to discuss Bunraku and much more. Here's what he had to say below.
I spoke with Josh (Hartnett) and Kevin (McKidd) for this movie, and they both said (director) Guy (Moshe) showed them an extensive storyboard presentation. I was curious if you had the same kind of introduction to this project?
Ron Perlman: Not really. I was the last one in. Everybody was already in Romania, and, for some strange reason, they hadn't cast the role of Nicola. I think when my manager heard about the project, unbeknownst to me, put some calls in, floating the idea of me playing the part, it was met with some positivity. They put me on the phone with Guy, who was already in Bucharest. We talked more about character than anything else. In reading the script, I was really able to intuit the style of storytelling that he was going to employ, even with the name Bunraku. I never knew what that meant and found out it was a form of very stylistic storytelling that involves paper mache and puppetry and all the elements they utilize in comic books. I knew this was going to be something very stylistic and content-driven.
Were they actually shooting before you signed on?
Ron Perlman: They were close to shooting, but most of the cast had already been assembled. I don't know what took them so long to get around to the role of Nicola, because he's such a key role, but I'm really grateful it was still available when we had our inquiries.
With this, and your performance in Drive, is it cool to get to play these bad guy roles every now and then? Is it more fun for you?
Ron Perlman: Well, I like playing roles which are rendered in an interesting manner. Good guys, bad guys, it really doesn't matter to me. I'm interested in smart characters in smart stories told by smart people. I really felt like Nicola had colors that weren't so obvious. His lust for power and domination is very obvious, but he inhabits this incredibly lonely world and has these horrible bouts of insecurity and loneliness, because there is no one he can unburden himself with. He has no equals. There is always this unspoken awareness that his days are numbered, that somebody better, smarter, faster, and younger, is coming down the pipe. Everybody goes for the guy who's on top of the hill. No matter how well-guarded and insulated he is, he'll never be able to avoid the inevitable, and that makes for a rather melancholic bad guy. Those things don't usually go together.
I was really impressed with the style employed for the fights. It was a very unique to portray sequences like that. What was your initial reaction to watching these fights on the set, and how he was capturing them?
Ron Perlman: Well, the only fight I was involved in was the final scene between me and Josh, and that's not really a fight as much as a dialectic, who's right and who's wrong, but there are elements of confrontation in it. In reading the script, I could just see that everything was going to be stylized, especially the fighting. It's like a dance of violence. It's like those highly-stylized moments of A Clockwork Orange, it's like that throughout the whole movie. It's cinematic, it's not something that can exist in reality. It's only something that can exist in an art form.
Can you talk a bit about working with Guy, and how his style is set apart from other directors you've worked with?
Ron Perlman: He definitely knew what he was looking for in this movie. This is something that sprung from him and his personal experience. It's not really for me to talk about, but I will mention that he was an Israeli commando and that he witnessed certain things in his life that were so horrific, that he needed to tell a story which shined a light on man's inhumanity to man, and the horrific nature of what man will do, for no reason at all. You just wanted to give him what he was looking for, at all times, because it was such a personal expression on his part. At the same time, it's his job to stylize the storytelling, to add the Bunraku nature of it in post. It was our job to add the reality to playing these characters. That's what actors have to do, we have to find the reality and the truth of the situations we're in. It's interesting to see these elements coming together, as all films should be.
You said you came on late in the process, so did you have much time to get to know the cast before shooting?
Ron Perlman: I worked closest with Kevin McKidd. I did a lot of work with Josh and a few things with Demi (Moore). I never met Woody (Harrelson), because we never had any scenes together in the film. I also worked with Gackt, and yeah, we spent enough time together to bond really well. I really enjoyed the experience a lot, especially with Kevin McKidd, who has become a lifelong friend. Hopefully you take one lifelong friend away from every job, and he's one of them. He's a phenomenal human being and such a talented actor. I have nothing but the utmost regard for him and his ability, and the way he moves through the world. I felt the same way about Demi. She's been a movie star for as long as I can remember, a big, iconic movie star. When you hang with this girl, she's the most down-to-earth, unpretentious, just fun-loving girl. You have no sense that she has any kind of major history behind her. She's just another cast-mate, who approaches everything with a wide-eyed wonder, enthusiasm, and phenomenal generosity. She's just a great, great girl. That was probably the biggest revelation for me, because I had no idea what to expect. I was so pleasantly surprised.
I was wondering if I could ask a quick Sons of Anarchy question. There is a story going around that this season will see SAMCRO dissolve. Can you talk a bit about what will be coming in the next few weeks?
Ron Perlman: Well, I would say that after this season plays out, I can't imagine what there is to tell (Laughs). So much is dealt with and so much is unearthed, it's mind-boggling. It feels like the end, but, hopefully, we still have three more years to go. (Series creator) Kurt (Sutter) is a whole lot smarter than I am. He uses something that feels like a denouement, but it really is the jumping-off point for the next chapter. The things that Clay does in this season, boggle even my mind. All of the filters are off, all the gloves are off. This is hardcore stuff that is about to happen, and has happened since the minute they got released from prison. As for where it goes... I can only say stay tuned.
You have a number of projects which are in various stages of development. Is there anything you can say about any of these movies, and which ones you're most looking forward to?
Ron Perlman: I'm really excited about this project I did with Charlie Hunnam in the off-season called Frankie Go Boom. Hopefully it's going to be playing at the Sundance Film Festival. It's the funniest script I've read in 30 years. I play a character who used to be called Phil, and is now Phyllis. He's not just a transsexual, he's a complete transgender. You'll see me be the ugliest broad you've ever seen, in the history of womanhood. I can't wait to see it. I have not seen it yet, but it's quite funny. Charlie is the lead, he plays Frankie. If I only play a woman once in my life, it will be in this one.
Is there anything that you're looking to sign on for that you can talk about?
Ron Perlman: There's nothing I can really talk about, because there are a lot of things which are in various stages of discussion. Until they're announced, I'm not at liberty to say, but things are looking good for the Perl.
That's great to hear. Is there any movement on Hellboy 3? I know Guillermo del Toro is very busy, but do you think there's a chance for this sequel?
Ron Perlman: I wait patiently. Write your Congressman.
Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who might be curious about Bunraku about why they should check it out in theaters on September 30?
Ron Perlman: I think it's a good movie. It's nothing like you've ever seen before, and the people who have seen it seem to really dig it. It has a phenomenal cast and it's just real cinema. It's not anything you can see in any other art form but cinema.
Excellent. That's about all I have. Thanks so much for talking to me, Ron. It was a real pleasure.
Ron Perlman: All right, man. Thank you.