Ron Perlman gets Guillermo del Toro's drift again on 'Pacific Rim'
Acclaimed actor always happy to get in sync with frequent collaborator
There's a fascinating new concept in director Guillermo del Toro's new sci-fi extravaganza "Pacific Rim" called "The Drift." It's neural bridge where the left hemisphere of one pilot's brain synchronizes with the right hemisphere of another to operate a monolithic robot called a Jaeger in order to fight the Kaiju -- a race of terrifying monsters that emerge from under the sea to wreak havoc on Earth's inhabitants.
Effectively, the drift enables the two people of the robot craft to think as one. And if such a "Drift" exists in real life, you'd almost have to believe one exists between director Guillermo del Toro and actor Ron Perlman given all the times they've worked together.
"A 'Drift' needs to take place between an actor and director anyway, even on the most fundamental level," Perlman told me in a recent interview. "But there's also a question of degrees, and sometimes it doesn't take place at all and you wish you hadn't done that film, and it was a horrific memory. But sometimes you're in the zone, it's sublime, you're really completing each other's thoughts and that's the way it's meant to be. That's the way it's been with me and Guillermo for six movies."
"Pacific Rim" stars Charlie Hunnam (Perlman's co-star on the hit FX series "Sons of Anarchy") as Raleigh Becket, a former Jaeger pilot who must overcome a personal tragedy as he's called on by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) to get back into the suit to take on the deadliest Kaiju threat yet.
Opening in 2D and 3D and on IMAX screens Thursday night at 7 p.m. nationwide, the film also stars Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi as Raleigh's co-pilot, Mako Mori, and Charlie Day as Kaiju researcher Dr. Newton Geiszler.
Perlman plays the pivotal role of Hannibal Chau, a powerful black market dealer of Kaiju remains -- the brains of which hold the key in the humans' efforts to defeat the beasts.
Perlman first worked with del Toro for the director's feature film debut, "Cronos," in 1993. And while Perlman's career was well-established before he met the writer-director, the actor credited the filmmaker for taking his craft to the next level.
"Every decision to work with Guillermo is the easiest -- he's had such a profound effect on so many aspects of my well-being," Perlman said, humbly. "My career would never have looked the way it does now without him. The collaboration with the roles that I've been able to put my own stamp on, would never have been given to me if it wasn't for him."
Among those roles, of course, is the title role in 2004's "Hellboy" and the film's sequel "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" in 2008 -- a role that was clearly tailor-made for the 63-year-old film and television star.
"The way he sees me, no one else sees me that way, and he's able to imagine ways of getting the best out of me," Perlman said. "It's a phenomenal state of grace when you're working on a role that Guillermo has designed for you with him, and how he guides you through it because there's an amazing mind at work there. He has an amazing, huge boyish enthusiasm for blowing people's minds via cinema."
Perlman said the reason he loves working with del Toro is the filmmaker's openness to his thoughts about the role, and "Pacific Rim" wasn't any different.
"Guillermo is the most-prepared filmmaker I've ever worked for, and on the same hand, he's also the most open to seeing something he hadn't planned on and completely changing the trajectory of his day in order to accommodate an idea that he's just fallen in love with," Perlman observed. "You usually get one or the other, not those two very disparate concepts existing in one heart, but that's one of the things that makes him extraordinary."
Perlman's role of Hannibal required some make-up, but really only a smidgen in comparison to what he had to wear for his transformation into Hellboy. Plus, Perlman said, the physical rigors of the role were far less demanding.
"Hannibal Chau is like a busman's holiday for me," Perlman said. "I don't do any heavy lifting and I don't ever remember breaking a sweat. I only worked for a little under two weeks on the seven-month shoot. I was basically there as just a salt-and-pepper shaker, just to add a little spice and color."
And color he brings. Guillermo asked Perlman to play Hannibal as larger than life, and he was happy to oblige, since it allowed the actor to tap into his roots and sensibilities as a stage actor.
"He said, 'We're looking for a certain kind of theatricality for this role, so go big or go home,' so it just turned into a party. There was not once piece of scenery standing when I got finished," Perlman beamed. "In the years when I was exclusively doing theater, I never knew that I'd ever be invited into the movie milieu. So I found the roles that I comfortable doing were the guys slightly larger than life -- guys that had a certain kind of panache to them, a certain kind of a swagger.
"It was easier for me to glom on to big personalities for me, especially in the early going, than it was to find the subtleties," Perlman added. "That came more with me aging and maturing."
With any luck, Perlman will get to play larger-than-life at least one more time as Big Red for del Toro in a third "Hellboy" film. It's something the actor definitely wants to happen, but anybody involved in the movie business knows that making a film -- much-less a superhero action film -- involves a tremendous amount of time and money.
"'Hellboy III' has to be the biggest of all the movies so it needs the most resources," Perlman explained. "There's some work going on behind the scenes. We haven't given up hope on it. It's going to be a heavy lift and I wouldn't be surprised what happens either way, but nobody is walking away from finishing this trilogy."
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