Ron Perlman's "Perls" of Wisdom
From obese teenager to acting icon, the Sons of Anarchy star is a true success story.
Few actors have enjoyed careers as diverse as Ron Perlman’s. Playing the ruthless Clay Morrow in the FX mega-hit Sons of Anarchy is only the latest highlight of a deep filmography which includes two turns as Hellboy in the blockbuster film series, a starring role in the late '80s TV series Beauty and the Beast, and a critically-acclaimed performance in the French-made City of Lost Children, a role for which Perlman learned to deliver his lines in French. Still, that’s just a smattering of Perlman’s varied body of work. And with a résumé that long comes a free pass from ever having to explain yourself—whether you’re voice acting for a video game or electing to do a straight-to-DVD movie like Scorpion King 3 (on sale now). Perlman recently caught up with Men’s Fitness to talk about his many roles, and why he just might be the ultimate MF success story. You say you were overweight as a kid. How heavy did you get? I was 14 years old and over 300 pounds. I guess as a kid, I just did a lot of comfort eating. This is what I did to make myself feel better or feel safe or whatever. I’m able to manage it with enough success that I’m always in shape to do a movie. I feel like I’m really lucky to have become an actor and stay busy as an actor because I’m not sure I would have stayed in great shape. But in this profession, you have to. How did you lose it? Going from a public high school to a public college in New York, there was actually a physical to take in those days and I flunked it. I had high blood pressure. Doctors put me on a no-salt diet and I lost 95 pounds. It was kind of an aberrational condition for a fella my age back then because you don’t see kids with high blood pressure. What got you into lifting? I started lifting for a role, I’m not sure which one, probably in the late '80s. I got addicted to it around then. Now I lift at least four to five times a week, just because it makes me feel better. For gym rats, the gym is where we learn about ourselves. What did the gym teach you? There have been occasions where I really needed to get myself in very good shape very quickly, and you’ve got to go get yourself a trainer. You’re actually paying that trainer to push you way past what you would normally do. Now, once you start to reach back and get in that other gear that you didn’t even know you had, that really translates into a mental state that is usable in a life situation, particularly in a movie-shooting situation. You know, you’re on your 60th take, you want to kill the director, and you want to say to yourself, “I just don’t have this anymore.” But then you go back to that moment where you do that 28th rep that you thought you couldn't do. So you learn how to bust through negativity. It’s incredibly valuable. Speaking of roles, Clay Morrow in Sons of Anarchy—he was always a bad guy, but he was endearing in some ways. But the way Season 4 ended, he just seems so completely horrible, how is he supposed to achieve any measure of redemption? I’m not really sure. I didn’t know that [creator] Kurt Sutter was going to take Clay down the road he did in Season 4 until we were in the middle of doing it. At the end of Season 4, he’s in a weakened state—he’s been dethroned, he’s been humiliated, he’s had all of his mojo taken away from him, physically and spiritually. He’s completely alone. The only one who’s still in the fold is Tig. I would imagine that he’s probably in the state that we found him in before he rose to power. I always imagined that it was him and Tig against the world. Maybe that’s where we’re headed. But as to what Kurt’s plans are for that character going forward, I’m as curious to find that out as anyone.
You’ve been involved in so many small projects throughout your career and now you’re in a movie that’s not going to theaters. What appealed to you about the Scorpion King 3? The same thing about any other job that I take, which is first the script, which I thought was very well-rendered, and second, the character, who I was interested in exploring. A king who has so many different forces pulling at him and his heart and mind is revealed in making these decisions. I admire his decision-making ability and his insistence in doing what is best for the greater good rather than his own personal agenda. I wanted to play that guy, so I did. You’ve been asked to play so many characters who are like monsters or who are actual monsters like Hellboy. Do you ever get a complex and say, “What the hell—I’m more than a monster”? You can never judge the people that you play on that level. That’s not your job. Your job is to basically understand them and find out why they do the things that they do psychologically. I’ve played some amazingly compelling characters and they’re just a joy to play as an actor because there’s so much there. I’m just hoping and praying that I have what it takes to be believable and to cause whatever it is supposed to stir in the hearts and minds of the audience.