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<i>Season of the Witch</i>: The Ron Perlman Interview

Nicolas Cage may be the star of the new medieval action-horror movie Season of the Witch, but he wouldn't last through the opening credits without his wingman, played by Ron Perlman. As a pair of Crusaders escorting a witch to trial through plague-infested Europe, Cage and Perlman's characters make great use of their shared history as soldiers, and Perlman steals his scenes with his wit and charm. We talked exclusively to the Sons of Anarchy and Hellboy star about the role, his co-stars, and what's next for him as Clay Morrow and as Hellboy himself.

TWoP: You and Nic Cage have a great back-and-forth in the movie as old friends and comrades. Is this the closest you'll ever get to a traditional buddy cop movie?
Ron Perlman:
I don't know -- maybe, maybe not. But I sure enjoyed having that as the primary component to what I do in the movie, which is being Nick's back-up, being the guy who's got his back. And developing that relationship that makes that trusting towards one another in real life-or-death situations. That was the primary lure for me, I just loved who Felson was in relation to Beyman. When I read the script, I was just like, wow, a stroke of really good fortune, because Nic Cage doesn't have a bigger fan in life than me.

This was Nic Cage's first real period film, and he had to learn to ride a horse. As a veteran of these sorts of films, were you able to give him any advice?
Perlman:
Oh, I taught him everything he knows. [Laughs.] No, he was to the manner born, you know? Once you strap on the stuff -- I heard a story that somebody asked De Niro, "How do you get into the character?" And he says, "The shoes." He says, "The first thing I do after I accept the role is I meet with the costume director, and we try on shoes until we get the pair that we know is the guy. Then I just wear them until we start filming." And I kinda now know what he means. When you strap on the armor and you strap on the boots, and you strap on all of these layers that the knights would wear for protection, both from the elements and from the dangers that lurk, you become somewhat transformed into someone who has different concerns than what our 21st century ones are. And Nic walked on that set, and he was that guy.

Horror legend Christopher Lee has a small part in the film. Are you two friends?
Perlman:
I had worked with Chris in the mid-'90s, on a project that shall remain forever nameless. [It was Police Academy: Mission to Moscow. Sorry, Ron! -- Zach] But it was a project that we made in Moscow, and he and I had the good fortune of never being called to set. I mean, we spent 90% of the time living on our own devices, waiting to be called for the few scenes we had. So we had lunch together every day for like three months, and spent long, long afternoons together just talking. And we became really, really good friends. You know, not to the point that we kept in touch with each other after the film was over, but during that time... "Are you ready for lunch?" "Yes, I'll be right down." We'd walk together, eat together, talk...

Did you ever discuss your similar careers in horror and fantasy? Your frequent use of make-up effects?
Perlman:
We'd while away entire days, and I don't remember ever talking about movies or acting with him. I remember talking about World War II, because he was a very elite guy in World War II, he was very valuable to the realm. He had unbelievable skills, he was fearless. And he's as well-read as anyone I've ever hung out with, except maybe Guillermo Del Toro. So we'd talk about literature, and he'd take me to these museums in Moscow and point out the crown jewels of this Tsarina, and that ring that was worn at this coronation, and he was the coolest dude to be around. And we never, ever talked about the business. I was just hanging out with this phenomenal English gentleman, who was one generation past mine, so we were close enough in age that we had some stuff in common, but he had a whole different realm of experience from me. So when we got back together again, on the set of Season of the Witch, it was this big hug, "How've you been?" and we caught up with each other -- we spent about an hour and a half just catching up, talking about our families and our lives -- and again, never talking about our careers or movies or anything like that, other than the fact that, "Are you still at it? How's your health?" and this and that. And he's as enthusiastic at being an actor as he's ever been, and he's a beautiful, pure force of nature, and I'm so happy to be able to say that I had that time with him.

If not Lee, is there an actor whose career you look to as a template? Or is your career fairly unique?
Perlman:
I don't think that I've had a career like anyone else's, but there are hosts and hosts of actors whose careers I admire. Probably the one I admire the most, in this generation, is Clooney, because he's taken all of his mainstream good fortune and used it for projects that I find so interesting and so provocative and so artistically driven. And I don't see many guys using their fame and their leverage to that end, like I do with Clooney. He also seems to be a real stand up guy; everything I hear about him is just very down-to-earth, very generous, very kind. I admire De Niro, because he didn't really care if he was being the lead in a movie or the most colorful character in a movie and it was only one scene, he was an actor's actor because he took the role that was most interesting to him, and never worried about stature or status or how he was being regarded by the general public. He did it for himself and his own reasons. And then most of my heroes died in the 1960s, you know, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Cagney, Bogart, those are my real heroes.

Some of the landscapes in Season of the Witch look unreal. Was this one of the most scenic sets you've been on?
Perlman:
The very first scene we shot is just as we're approaching the Abbey Severac, just as the movie is winding down, and we're on a mountaintop in the Alps in Western Austria. Very exotic, very high, very hard to get to. And there's this drop-off, at the bottom of which, which must have been a thousand feet down, was this crystalline lake, and everything surrounding it was snow-covered. And then you could see snow-covered peaks as far as the eye could see, and finally the horizon, which was just these low clouds and blue skies. And Nic and I were doing this scene, where we're kind of walking along on our horses, and we're reminiscing about what we've seen and where we've been, and he says, "Ron." "Yeah, what?" [Nods to the horizon.] And I look, and I see what he's seeing, and he says, "They're gonna think this set was painted in, because this is too beautiful to be real." And we were constantly in places like that, at least in the first month of filming, as we were making our way through these Alps, moving through Austria, 'til finally we got to Vienna and were filming in this castle for two weeks. So, yeah, it was real easy to imagine the wilderness of the movie, because you weren't imagining it at all, it was right there.

It seems like so many of your roles call for you to be in the dark, in the rain, wearing heavy leather clothing. Is it a pleasure to wear a T-shirt to work on Sons of Anarchy?
Perlman:
And no make-up? It is. It's a pleasure for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that one you just alluded to.

Next season seems like it could be a minefield for your character. Any thoughts?
Perlman:
What do you know that I don't? I haven't been told anything.

Well, it seems like some details of your history may be about to come to Jax's attention.
Perlman:
[Gemma and Clay's] complicity in John Teller's demise?

Exactly. So you have no idea?
Perlman:
I don't. And it's kind of been like that for the first three seasons, where we would get the script and that's when we'd know what was happening next. And I kinda like it like that. I don't like getting too bogged down in knowing what's gonna happen way in the future because it may influence what I'm doing right now, and one doesn't need that. You know, you're just there to play the moments and the truth of the moments as they happen. So ignorance is bliss, in a sense. So if you do know what's gonna happen, please don't tell me. Keep me stupid.

Will do. Do you think you still have one more Hellboy movie in you?
Perlman:
If Guillermo was involved, absolutely. He always thought of Hellboy as a trilogy; he had a well-mapped-out version of how to deal with the absolute oracle of destiny, this demon sent to Earth to destroy mankind, and there's no negotiating that, and yet he's been raised to unearth this kindness, so there's this dialectic between nature and nurture. Well, everything was gonna play out in the third Hellboy, including the emergence of these two twins that [Liz Sherman] is pregnant with at the end of Hellboy 2, and you don't know whether they're gonna be demons or humans, whether they're gonna be more her or more me. And Guillermo kinda sketched out what the third one would look like, and if that's not made, that would be one of the great indignities, because it's so theatrical, and so epic in scope, like a real Greek drama. There's so much that's being dealt with head on, it's explosive in nature. So I hope there's a Hellboy 3, because it's a story that really should be told.

Season of the Witch opens Friday. In the meantime, check out our gallery of Nic Cage's witch-hunting tips!

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