When it comes to underrated American actors, Ron Perlman should be near the top of anyone’s list. Over a career spanning 30 plus years – often in roles where he was buried under such heavy prosthetics that he was rendered unrecognizable – Ron has always delivered the dramatic goods. But while doing so, either as a lion/man (TV's Beauty and the Beast) or demon raised by humans (Hellboy), he makes it look all too easy. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and it is high time Ron was recognized for the talent, good humor, and professionalism he has brought to his craft for decades.
Ronald Perlman was born in Washington Heights, New Jersey on April 13th, 1950 to a middle class Jewish family. Ron’s father was a repairman, and former drummer for the Artie Shaw band; his mother, a municipal employee. Ron attended George Washington High School, where the overweight student had a terribly low self image. Years later, after he was established as an actor, he would say that the trauma of being a sensitive fat kid in high school attracted him to “playing these sorts of deformed people who are very endearing.”
In 1971, while attending New York City’s Lehman College, Ron auditioned for, and was cast as the lead in a production of Guys and Dolls. After his father saw the play, he told his son, “You have to do this. You understand? You’ve got to do this.” “So,” Ron later explained, “he gave me permission to be an actor. Wow.” (For more on this, watch the video above.) Later, Ron enrolled at the University of Minnesota, and, in 1973, would graduate with a Master’s Degree in Theater Arts.
In 1981, Ron appeared in his first feature film: Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire. After following this with appearances in television fare like The Fall Guy and MacGruder and Loud, and such feature films as The Ice Pirates and The Name of the Rose, Ron got a HUGE break when he was cast as Vincent in Ron Koslow’s re-imagining of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. In this telling, the Beauty, Catherine Chandler (played by Linda Hamilton) working as an assistant District Attorney in New York City, is rescued by a man/beast who lives in the subterranean tunnels under The Big Apple – a Utopian society that offers sanctuary to those outcasts who no longer wish to dwell above. The show ran for three seasons – 1987 to 1990 – and was a huge success. At least until the final season, which would see costar Linda Hamilton leave the show in order to give birth to her first child (her character was killed off), and viewers lost interest. In the years since, Beauty and the Beast has developed a massive cult following, and is finding new fans all the time thanks to its release on DVD. Ron was magnificent in a part that very easily could have come across as silly – a golden-maned, velvet-voiced, poetry-quothing lion – yet Ron was able to emote so much under Rick Baker’s remarkable make-up, he was never anything less than what was intended: a noble, heroic, monster with a heart of gold. Woman of all ages from around the world swooned – not too shabby for a man who in real life resembles the love child of Will Farrell and Tom Waits. In 1989, Ron earned a well-deserved Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series.
After Beauty and the Beast, Ron would never again have to look for acting jobs, be it in television, films, animation, or voice work. His work during this period would include (but is not nearly limited to): Sleepwalkers (1992), Batman: The Animated Series (1992-93), Romeo is Bleeding (1993), Animaniacs (1993), The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), When the Bough Breaks (1994), The Last Supper (1995), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Alien: Resurrection (1997), The Outer Limits (1998), Happy, Texas (1999), Titan A.E. (2000), Enemy at the Gates (2001), Blade II (2002), and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). For an exhaustive list, see Ron’s IMDb page.
In 2004, director Guilermo del Toro (who had worked with Ron on Blade II), went to the producers of his new film, Hellboy, and fought to get Ron cast as his lead. The producers balked at first, eventually relented, and Ron Perlman found another signature role. As a cigar-chomping, cat-loving, sarcasm-spouting, horn-sawing demon – raised to be good by a benevolent American professor after a failed Nazi experiment opened a portal to Hell – Ron is pitch perfect as the character known as Hellboy. Ron prepared for the role by reading ALL of the Hellboy comics, and by working out three hours a day, five to seven days a week. The film was a moderate success, earning nearly $100 million on its $66 million budget. Four years later, Ron would star in the sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which would make over $160 million. Ron was 58 when the sequel was shot, officially making him the oldest actor to ever appear as the main superhero in a comic book adaptation. Though Hellboy 3 has been rumored, and all involved with the previous two have expressed interest, it is not known at this time whether it will ever be greenlit.
After doing more film, TV, animation, video game, and voiceover work – including the 2006 adaptation of Stephen King’s Desperation, and a number of Hellboy animated films – Ron, in 2008, was cast as Clarence “Clay” Morrow, the leader of a biker gang called Sons of Anarchy – an FX network series about outlaw bikers. The series is currently in its fifth season, and has spawned a devoted fan base.
Ron has been married to the same woman, Opal Perlman, since Valentine’s Day 1981 – they have two children: Blake Amanda Perlman, born in 1984, and Brandon Avery Perlman, born in 1990. Nice to see success never tainted Ron, and that he has stood by his family. Seems like his Hollywood peers could learn a lesson. See Ron and his brood HERE.
Ron enjoys jazz, golf, pool, watching New York Yankees games, and smoking good cigars. He is also good friends with his Beauty and the Beast costar Linda Hamilton – the two reunited in the play Love Letters in 1991, and in 2005’s post-Vietnam War drama Missing in America.
Whatever Ron does next – whether he is appearing as himself, or is buried under pounds of old-school prosthetics (fingers and toes crossed for Hellboy 3) – his already large fanbase is sure to grow even larger.
Ron Perlman Quotes:
Thoughts on acting: "It's nice to get paid for therapy rather than having to pay $240 an hour for it."
“I've done millions of mediocre movies. I've done way more than my fair share. You do what you gotta do. This is not heart surgery. I'm not curing cancer. I'm just trying to put my kids through school.”
“I will not do a role that I don't think I can do, that I'm not interested in, where there's no humanity, that doesn't have any kind of handle for me at all because I know I'll just stink the joint up.”
Regarding his idea of Hell: "Working at a job that you hate. Having a career and a life that you have no passion for. That's hell."
Regarding being a director: "I don't like working with me. I would punch myself in the mouth if I had to take my direction."
“I'd be dead without my sense of humor. I can't imagine processing the shit we are slogging our way through in life without it. In a twenty-four-hour space, you get an acute sense of how all of this injustice and outrage is absurd. There are things that are truly serious, like when one loses his health or gets into a life- threatening accident. But the rest of it … if you can't laugh your way through life, then you are f**ked. Humor was the first form of armor I ever wore to counteract my self-image. The first girl I ever asked out on a date laughed at me, because she thought I was kidding. While I didn't cry on the surface, inside I was weeping. But outwardly I made a joke out of the situation. So humor has always been my shield against the slings and arrows. I turn them into something satiric.”
Regarding Guillermo del Toro: "It seems as though we are like brothers. After knowing the guy for five minutes, it was one of these instances, where you felt, that you've known him for twenty-five years. This instantaneous friendship and recognition. Very very similar way of viewing the world. And then we found, that working with each other, there was a real simpatico. And I think you could even say, that we are alter egos for one another. Like if he was and actor he would be me and if I was a filmmaker I would be him. We seem to be trying to make the same statement in the world."
“I've always felt there were aspects of me that were monstrous, and you can either hide from it or confront it, embrace it and understand that those are aspects that make you unique and define you and motivate you. You can either overwhelm or overcompensate for them –- but they truly define you as a human being. So that life became a question of either dealing with this monstrousness in one way or another. One finds a way to understand and make friends with that monster and understand that that's the very thing that makes you who you are. That's your emotional and spiritual fingerprint.”
"I was not dealt the best physical hand in the world. My nose didn't fit my mouth. My forehead didn't fit my cheeks. And those are traditionally the years when a boy is judged primarily on his looks. So, consequently, I suffered from very low self- esteem. In a sense, I had a beast inside me. That beast was fear and insecurity."