Pacific Rim Set Visit: Ron Perlman and Charlie Day talk the humanity behind monsters and robots, in theaters this July
(From contributing writer JL Watkins.)
The long-awaited Monsters and Robots mash-em-up Pacific Rim is finally coming to theaters on July 11th. And while most fans are going to see the movie for its epic battles, which play out between an army of manmade machines known as Jaegers and the giant Kaiju that have sprang from the bottom of our ocean to tear this world apart, director Guillermo del Toro's latest thriller also has a very human side. One that is personified by its earth-bound actors, two of which were on set the day we visited this mammoth production.
In Pacific Rim, Charlie Day, best known as the bar janitor on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, plays one of the world's smartest living men, Dr. Newton 'Newt' Geizler, a scientist trying desperately to figure out a way to beat back and kill the Kaiju. On the other end of that spectrum is Guillermo del Toro mainstay Ron Perlman who plays Hannibal Chau, a black marketer dealing in Kaiju organs. This oddfellow pair comes together with their shared knowledge, and proves to be a worthy opponent against the city devouring space creatures, with both men becoming heroes in their own right.
We spoke with each of them from the set in Canada. First up is Ron Perlman, who delves deep into the character of Hannibal, offering a look at this shady, yet extremely useful man.
What can you tell us about Hannibal? Why is he so secretive?
Ron Perlman: Well, he's a black marketer. He's got this arrangement with these government guys, these anti-Kaiju fighting guys. Whereby, whenever a Kaiju falls and the government is done doing with them whatever it is they need to do scientifically or research-wise, Hannibal Chau has the rights to sell these Kaiju parts to his bevy of collectors who have nothing better to do with their money except to buy exotic, illegal things or illicit things. So he's kind of a pirate, a black market guy. He worships money and the turning of a dollar. He pretty much wears his heart, which is his wallet, on his sleeve. He's just adorned with the accoutrements of somebody who puts his things that he owns and that he's managed to collect through his meanderings in bold display. He's rather garish and larger than life. More style than substance.
How does he play into the larger narrative? What other characters do he interact with?
Ron Perlman: Well, Newt [Geizler, Charlie Day], the scientific brain of the Kaiju fighter operation gets the notion that if he had access to a certain part of the Kaiju anatomy and if he was able to explore it, that it might give him a key as to how to predict what it is they do and why it is they do what they do and then perhaps show the Achilles heel; so that the guys who are trying to eradicate this play may get a little bit of the upper hand. So he's sent to my private lair by Stacker Pentecost [Idris Elba], with whom I have the arrangement. So when Stacker sends somebody I've got to entertain them, and he's sent there and asks to have access to some of the parts that I have in my library, and I tolerate him but I don't like him. I certainly don't like his mission. Because if he does eradicate these things I'm out of business. But I think that he's such a nerd that there's no way he's ever going to pull this off anyway, so I tolerate him and I indulge him.
Bouncing off of that, how did these two characters play together? What is an example of the dialogue that you have together?
Ron Perlman: Well he shows up kind of unannounced and he's got this secret code thing that lets me know that he's not just busting in, that he's been sent by somebody in the chain of command. And after a rather uneasy introduction to one another I begin exploring what it is that he wants of me and I give him as little of what he needs as I possibly can because his interests don't serve mine. But I begin to admire his tenacity, his single-mindedness of purpose, his willingness to not take no for an answer. I keep sending him on these death missions but he keeps coming back scratched up and messed up, it's almost like the Wily Coyote or Yosemite Sam.
How did Hannibal cut this deal to have the rights to do whatever with the remains?
Ron Perlman: Your guess would be as a good as mine. I would only be guessing if I answered that question because that's not anything that's explained in the screenplay. But my guess would be that he cuts the government in on a percentage of what it is he makes and that he guarantees them certain things that they don't want to have do themselves - which is the aftermath of a Kaiju falling and the cleanup. He takes care of all that. And the amount that he's profiteering off these things is through the roof, so it's kind of a win-win, I would imagine, for both parties.
Are the majority of your scenes in your lair?
Ron Perlman: No it's probably split up between the lair and the latest site of a Kaiju, or a pair of Kaijus, falling. That's the sequence we're filming now, so you've got all this rubble and you've got these two very exotic things that we're exhuming and collecting and getting ready to process to put on the market. So Newt, the scientist, is along for that ride because he feels like he's going to get that organ that he's desperately in need of during this episode. That's what we're filming all this week.
Does your character get his hands dirty? Does he throw a punch?
Ron Perlman: Yeah, you actually see that he's got these tattoos of birds on his hands, which is a symbol of, "These fists will fly if need be." He's got these remnants of places that he's tangled, and we're not quite sure how he has become as damaged as he is, but that would tend to intimate that yeah, he's a guy that's gotten his hands dirty and he's raised to the station in which he finds himself.
So he's kind of worked his way up the ranks to get where he is?
Ron Perlman: Probably like all self-made men. You know he started off in the mailroom.
You mentioned that your character doesn't want Newt to rid the world of Kaiju because your character is trying to turn a profit. So is that implying that he hasn't ever been hurt or damaged or lost any loved ones? Or even stores with all these battles? How is that possible?
Ron Perlman: Once again that's a question that's not really addressed in the script. You know we could speculate all we want but it's not part of the story so I can't really be authoritative. Whatever answer I give you, it would be bullshit. Which you know, if you want some bullshit come to the right place...
That's fair enough. I'm just wondering if he's a bad guy. I mean he's a war profiteer.
Ron Perlman: You know I never put a value of judgment on any of the characters I'm playing. Are they good? Are they bad? I just try to understand what their objective is and why they do what they do and how they evolved to the place where we find them. So...that's for other people to categorize as to whether Hannibal is good or bad or what his motives are. He's a hedonist. He's a guy who has vast appetites and he worships at the throne of hedonism and of materialism. That's who he's patriotic to. He probably is apolitical. He'll make appeals with whoever it is needs to make appeals with. Whatever the regime is or the political bent is at any given time.
So to him the Kaiju issue is really just a practical issue?
Ron Perlman: Yeah and he has no opinion about the victims. War is an ugly thing and people are going to get hurt, and some of us do well from it and some of us run from it. [My character] is one of the ones who welcome it.
What does Hannibal wear?
Ron Perlman: I look like a croupier in Las Vegas. I wear a burgundy suit and the jacket is very, very rich brocade. Lots of silk and felt, with a gambler's red vest and a very smart tie. I wear dark red glasses that are covering an injury that's part of this set of injuries, this eyeball that's damaged. And I wear shoes with gold wings on them that are made out of real gold. And I have a gold grill, both uppers and lowers, that are probably there for decorative purposes.
Do you have a like a "snake oil" spiel that you give [in the film]?
Ron Perlman: Yeah there's this one scene where I'm trying to understand what Newt is really after, so I put on a little bit of a show for him. Sort of tenderize him before I go in for the kill. But it's a kind of like a barker in a carnival. "This is my world! And here it is! And we've been working on that thing for two years." I'm razzlin' him and I'm dazzlin' him to get him to relax so I can find out what he's after and whether he's conflicting with my interests and whether he's an obstacle, or someone who I really don't need to concern myself with.
It's interesting that you may think he's a criminal because he's got a lair, but he's not really because it's sanctioned. It's under the table.
Ron Perlman: You know I'm sure nobody really wants to explore his books. "You do your job, and we'll turn the other way and let you do your thing as long as you don't do anything that's going to embarrass anybody." Which [Hannibal] would never do because that would blow back on [his] ability to function in this world and take advantage of this freak of nature detour that the world has taken. But clearly he's a smart guy and he's figured how to exploit misery and destruction. Guys who do that have a different sort of gear. There are people that figure that shit out all the time because we live in a world where you can make a profit out of anything if you reserve the right to have no scruples at all and make no judgments; just simply see the logic of things on a very detached level. But he's incredibly colorful. And, I think it's okay for me to say this, but I'm pretty sure that when this character was written he wasn't written with me in mind, I think was supposed to be an actual Asian person. But Guillermo del Toro, when he took over the project, decided that he'd be even more full of shit if he was a Brooklyn Jew who turned himself into this very exotic character with this really, really weird name and is operating out of Asia. So that would add this layer of theatricality to him that wouldn't exist if you had a real guy that looked like he was called Hannibal Chau.
Next up was Charlie Day, who had this to say about playing Newt.
What's it been like transitioning from comedy to an action film?
Charlie Day: It's been really fun, insofar that if a take's not funny then that's not an issue because we're not going for funny. I mean occasionally we go for funny here and there. But for my personal career, I mean, what we're doing in there is unprecedented. Running as they flip over cars and trying to time it out perfectly; and flying around. It's been really enjoyable, it's been fun to be a part of something so massive and action-packed and every time you go look at the play back it's a dynamic, interesting shot, which sometimes big comedies don't feel the need to shoot quite as narratively with the camera. So it's really been fun to be a part of something like that.
Have you been doing your own stunts on the film?
Charlie Day: Yeah! I'm doing as much as I can, which isn't a ton. There's not a ton of stunts for me to do in the movie. But my elbow is certainly regretting it.
How did you prepare for the stunts? Did you do any preparation physically for the stunts?
Charlie Day: I had about three tacos and a coke. And just tried not to break my arm. But no, there's really no preparing for it and I think because my character can't -or shouldn't- look too cool doing it anyway. So preparation might go against what I'm trying to do.
How do the other characters respond to your character?
Charlie Day: You know it's funny I don't have a ton of interaction with the rest of the cast. I'm sort of this little quest of my own in the story. I have a lab partner who I'm at odds with a lot and most of the other characters just sort of tolerate me. There's not as much interaction with them as I would like but I think for the story it's a good thing.
So is Newt like a punk rock scientist?
Charlie Day: I think Newt is a scientist through and through who is dying to be anything but a scientist, so he's adorned himself with a punk rock look and style, which I don't think fits him perfectly but it makes sense for the character. I think he would love to be the rock star and the action hero, but at the end of the day he's sort of a brainy guy. But then as the movie progresses he gets thrown into the fire and he gets his opportunity to rise to the occasion. Which is nice, it's always fun to see more of the everyman, "can't all be the tough guy saving the world." Us nerds can do it too.
There's a scene in the film where you meet up with Hannibal Chau and Ron [Perlman] said he got to put your character in his place. How was it working with him?
Charlie Day: Yeah, I think day 1 he put a butterfly knife up my nose! You know, Ron Perlman always plays these big, tough action guys and he is tough down to his core, but he was a bit clumsy on the day, so I was a little worried that the knife was going to go through my nose! But we ended up getting the shot...But he's great. That's a guy whose face the camera just eats up and it's been really fun to do scenes with him.
One of the best parts about interviewing and watching Guillermo del Toro work is that he's just so open and honest and he cuts through the middle man. What's it like as an actor working with Guillermo del Toro?
Charlie Day: Which one is he? The director? [Laughs] No it's great. You have the feeling that you're working with a true visionary, because he's doing more than just trying to get a great performance out of you. He's trying to get a great performance out of you but he's also trying to paint a great picture out of every frame in the movie. And you really are trying to just fit in to that painting and give him his proper color. Some of the things he does with the camera, with the art direction, with the set design, you're really stepping into a world. There's certainly been green screen around, but almost every set I've been on has been completely constructed and then you sort of look off into the horizon where the skyline would be and it might be green. I've found that the amount of detail and thought and intention that goes into every single decision he makes is a really lucky experience for an actor to be a part of.
I read that Guillermo called the film "a poem to the monster movies" that he loved from Japan. Were you a fan of those kind of movies growing up?
Charlie Day: No, not really. They certainly weren't around when I was a kid and if they were I would have really had to try to sneak them out. Because in 1984 or something the number one movie in America wasn't Japanese Godzilla: 1985, it was Ghostbusters. But to me the fun of being part of a movie of this scale feels like you're in an Indiana Jones or you're in a Ghostbusters you're in something big and fun. So for me the excitement and joy is getting to be a part of a big movie that centers around thrilling moments and action. Which is something I always really hoped I'd do, but I thought maybe one day I'd get a phone call, you know 10 years from now after I'd really established myself, so to stumble into it so quickly is really a lucky thing.
Can you give us any context for what you're shooting today?
Charlie Day: Today one of the monsters has been taken down by Jaeger and I'm with Hannibal Chau and I'm trying to retrieve a brain. One of the monsters is loose on the streets and coming within inches of eating me, so I'm running for my life and I fall and I'm crawling around the ground, narrowly escaping being eaten. So that's today.
What's it like working with something that's not there?
Charlie Day: I think because [Guillermo del Toro] has built a giant set full of rubble, it's on fire, there's leaking fire hydrants and every car I run past flips over into the air. To me there hasn't been too much of something not being there. I mean I'm running and chaos is actually happening behind me. As soon as I hit the ground and turn around I guess yes, something is not there, but sometimes you work with actors who aren't there so you figure out how to get through the day.
What's it like working on a film that's going to have a huge promotion, it's about monsters fighting robots, and you can't talk about it any of it?
Charlie Day: There's a sarcastic part of me that doesn't really understand why I can't talk about any of it. Because it's monsters fighting robots and guess who wins? But I'm not going to say. I mean, it's not the The Usual Suspects. But it's great! It's fun just to be a part of something that is a huge, massive movie. Maybe other actors don't aspire to that but it's something I've always wanted to do.
Are you going to be an action figure?
Charlie Day: I'm nervous that the action figure will be two inches tall. [Laughs]
Will these two survive the monster apocalypse of summer 2013? Find out this July when Pacific Rim storms into theaters worldwide.