Variety sat with Ron Perlman at the Monte Carlo TV festival, where he served as president of the 55th edition and prexy of the miniseries jury. The veteran actor candidly talked about his upcoming Amazon show, “Hand of God,” a thriller drama helmed by “World War Z'”s Marc Forster and his endeavor to produce and direct movies through his shingle Wing & a Prayer Pictures and Film House, a studio that will soon launch, backed by the State of New York and Suny Polytechnic College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Perlman, who is now repped by Empire Agency in Europe, also revealed he will make his directorial debut with “Wooden Lake,” a small indie drama that will lense in Syracuse.
Variety: How did you get involved in “Hand of God”?
Ron Perlman: “Hand of God” was an amazing coming together of me looking for something, not knowing what I was looking for and it coming and finding me. So I knew that when “Sons of Anarchy” was coming to a close for me, I wanted to stay in television because right now it’s such an exciting moment in television.
Why do you think TV drama is such a fertile ground for innovation today?
RP: There is so much competition out there. Right now the only way to grab the attention of the audience is originality. We feed ourselves with franchises that’s the opposite of what makes our culture multidimensional and interesting. All you have to do is look at the people who are coming to television today. Twenty years ago you would never have seen Ridley Scott, Ang Lee or Guillermo del Toro — all these great filmmakers — actively put themselves back into TV. That’s because the environment is very encouraging for bold storytelling, storytelling that you’ve never seen before.
You’ve said “Hand of God’ was the most compelling project you’ve undertaken. What makes this show stand out?
RP: I’ve never seen something like “Hand of God.” I’ve been reading material for 45 years, and when I was gearing up find a TV series to do after “Sons of Anarchy,” I particularly read a lot of great, great, great scripts but there was this one which was not only great but very… there was no playbook or rulebook for it, it didn’t resemble anything I had done before. And the character I was being asked to consider was in an incredibly dangerous state emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.
Tell us about the character you play in “Hand of God.”
RP: He’s a judge and he does the things that powerful and privileged people do, like bending the rules and regulations that apply to others. The only thing he’s ever known is winning, and when we meet him, he’s in the process of losing the one thing he couldn’t ever imagine losing: his son, his only child, the heir to his fortune, all of himself.
His son is now on life support because he shot himself in the head. As a result of this, our main hero, the judge, is in the middle of a complete breakdown and disappears for three days, and when he comes back he’s baptized, saved and he’s donated $50,000 to this new startup church run by a former actor who used to be on daytime television. We don’t know if this guy is for real — if he’s truly inspired or he’s just a snake oil salesman — but we know that the judge has put all of his chips on black. And suddenly he begins to hear voices through his son who is in a coma and cannot speak. He begins to think that these voices are sent to his son from God.
Does your character actually talk about those visions or keep them to himself?
RP: He not only talks about the visions, he acts on them and he takes people out. And it turns out that everyone that he takes out was guilty. So you start to say to yourself, “Holy shit, is he insane? Or is he really inspired?” So the whole show is basically a discussion about: insane or inspired? And you never know. At the end of our 10 episodes, you’re left with more questions than answers.
But does “Hand of God” have a critical stance toward religion?
RP: Well, religion is explored differently in this show than you’ve ever seen it before. It’s not as if we are making our own value judgment as to what it is. But we are opening it up and exploring it in a very kind of micro way. Where we’re really dissecting if for how much of it is opportunism, how much of it is purely for commercial, monetary gain, how much of it truly rooted in spirituality, how much of it is truly the promise of eternal life, how much of that is real?
Could it be a show that makes religious people even more religious and atheists even more atheist?
RP: It could very well be, I mean I don’t think any of us who are working on the show feel as though we’re trying to send any particular message or act in such a way that we’re trying to alter people’s beliefs or behavior. But we are like all great dramatists exploring a universe as fully and as objectively as we possibly can so that you as an audience can make your own conclusions about where you stand on all of this. But it is a discussion about god and religion unlike you’ve ever seen before without ever intending to be conclusive in any way.
Are you religious?
RP: I’m not religious, but I am spiritual. I have my own relationship with a being that I consider to be everywhere. All and everything. I don’t need a church or a synagogue or a mosque. I don’t need to kneel down, I don’t need to stand up, I don’t need to be hanging from a thread. I could do this while I’m sitting here talking to you.
None of us are any better than anyone else and none of us are any worse than anyone else, and we’re all equal and whatever we can do to celebrate our commonality rather than our differences, which is what religion does, to me… religion just compartmentalizes people and makes everybody into a box… for me there is no use for that in this world; all I want to do is tear down the boxes and the borders and just be a brotherhood of mankind.
The issue of religion is an important one in the U.S., where some right-wing politicians appear to be highly “inspired”?
RP: I don’t know, I mean are they or are they just trying to pander to some sort of base. Are they just trying to tell the voters that “I’m with you”? And the thing of it is, I consider myself to be a pretty savvy guy, but I don’t trust one word they say. I see how they conduct their lives. You know on the one hand they’re talking about family values and on the other hand they have three or four mistresses over here. And on the one hand they’re talking about going to church on Sunday and the other day they’re making all these under-the-table deals about putting money in their pocket… What kind of spirituality is that? And how dare you ever intone the word “God” when you behave that way? To me that makes my blood boil. Like don’t claim you have some sort of special right for your sanctimonious f–king bullshit, when you’re as corrupt as the motherf–king day is long.
Are you addressing that double standard in the series?
RP: Well, I’m playing a guy who’sused to behaving this way. But when you see him, he’s having his legs chopped under him one inch at a time. So that by the end of the first season, he’s completely a combination of: “I don’t know anything any more” and “whatever I know, I know I don’t ever want to feel this way again.” So he’s being asked to rethink all of his positions. And that’s a journey for an actor that’s really worth taking. Because I come to the party with almost, like, supernatural powers.
Would you describe your character in “Hand of God” as a superhero?
RP: I’m not wearing a cape, I’m not wearing a mask, I don’t have a big “A” on my chest for Avengers or whatever the f–k, but I’m a f–king badass superhero motherf–ker. And then you find out that, every single thing I’ve built my empire on is in question because I’m losing the only thing that matters. And so, who am I? Who am I to my wife? Who am I to my mistress? Who am I to my friends? Who are they to me? Am I just a guy who makes everybody… the wheels greased so everybody that they can do well and live in a big fancy house and drive a big motherf–king car? All this is called into question. So it’s loyalty, it’s fidelity, it’s infidelity, it’s trust, it’s love, it’s power, it’s the lack thereof, it’s what happens to the little guy when the big guy moves them around the chess board like they’re just little pieces. All of that is kind of looked at in this story, which is why I say it’s the greatest story I’ve ever been involved in.
At what stage did you get involved in this show?
I’ve attached myself to the show before it was sold to any network. I became one of the producers of the show and then me and Marc Forster — the filmmaker — and Ben Watkins — the writer — the three of us went all over L.A. and we pitched it to every network we thought it was appropriate for. And then we gave them one weekend to decide, do you want it or do you not want it?
And what happened?
RP: Monday morning we accepted phone calls. And the place that seemed really, really unafraid of this subject was Amazon. In exploring what it is about this show that excited them and what it is about this show that excited us, we found this was the right place to be.
What was the feedback you got from other networks and/or streaming services?
RP: They were a little scared. Some asked, “Can we take the word ‘God’ out of the title?”
We’re talking about, you know, a very slippery slope. You start talking about God and a lot of people are going to become very defensive. So, it took a company that was willing to look beyond just the surface and see what we were trying to explore and understand it and love it as much as we did and then start doing the things one needed to do to make 10 episodes. That’s a big commitment.
In terms of budget, would you say that what Amazon gave you is on par with what a network would put?
RP: Oh yes, very much so. Very comparable. Even generous, more generous than a lot of networks would have been. I really, really love working with these guys — they’re completely fearless and they’re not afraid to put their asses on the line and make a real bold investment when they believe in something. There’s no equivocation. We’re going to go all in or not at all. And those are the kind of guys that are good for the business.
And what’s next on the movie side?
RP: So for many, many years, I’ve dreamt about having my own movie studio called Wing & A Prayer Pictures. It’s now a reality. With a structure, with a constitution, with a major fund behind it that I’ve raised over the course of the last two or three years.
Tell me more.
RP: We now have three movies in various phases of actual production. One is “All I See Is You” with Mark Forster directing and Blake Lively starring. It’s shooting in Thailand. Another one is called “The Runaround”; that’s about to start shooting in about a week with J.K. Simmons and Emile Hirsch. We’re co-producing both. And then I have three movies that we’ve developed from the ground up that we will produce separately, no co-production. Starting the minute I finish my vacation here.
Are you partnering with anyone on those three movies that you are producing?
RP: I just signed a deal with the State of New York to be the first tenants in this $15 million movie studio that they’re in process of building. By the end of June it will be open for us. That’s where we’ll shoot our first three films.
How did this partnership with the State of New York come together?
RP: We’re part of this stimulus package from Governor Cuomo in New York which will hopefully move movie production to very depressed areas in central New York like Syracuse and Rochester. Communities that used to be thriving manufacturing hubs, that like all manufacturing hubs in the United States are now ghost towns, because of outsourcing and corporatization and things. So we are part of a movement to put industry in a place which didn’t have that industry before, and the governor has been amazingly forward-thinking and generous with providing tax incentives to make our work so much easier and so much more effective. And we’ll be working with the University of Syracuse, which has a great film school to build a new generation of filmmakers.
Why did you want step behind the camera?
RP: I’ve always wanted to have my own studio because this is a way for me to finally take all things that I’ve always dreamt about and actually put them into action. I feel very strongly about the state of movies right now and I feel very strongly about being a voice in an ever more quiet forest. Where the trees are falling and nobody is hearing them.
Yes, so the idea is to bring jobs back into those areas and possibly build a school?
RP: There is a school, that’s part of the plan. The company there that we’re joining forces with is building a film school as well.
What’s the name of the company?
RP: That company is called Film House. And our company is called Wing & A Prayer Pictures. So we’re all part of the same sort of umbrella, that Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, who is the chairman of SUNY Polytechnic, which is in Albany. Dr. Kaloyeros runs a $3 billion nano-tech operation, and he is the one who talked Governor Cuomo into creating an environment to bring all of these new minds of scientists and creative filmmakers etc. into central New York to kind of lift the place up. So Dr. Kaloyeros is the one who… this is his brainchild, and when we met, I understood what he was trying to do, he understood what I was trying to do and we got together very quickly on this.
Regarding the movies that you want to produce through your companies, do you have any editorial line?
RP: There will be no CGI in my movies. There will be no caped crusaders in my movies.
No caped crusaders?
RP: Yeah, the period we admire that we would kind of like to model our aesthetic after is the period from the mid-1960s to the end of 1970s. The ’70s. Which gave way to Coppola and Scorsese and Haskell Wexler and Hal Ashby and Brian De Palma and on and on and on. That was a period in filmmaking very much like the period we’re seeing right now in television, where originality was the king.
We’ll have comedies, we have psychological thrillers, we have straight dramas, we have stuff that’s kind of action.
Can you tell us anything about one of those three movies?
RP: One of the film is about an assassin that I’m going to be the star of. An Israel-trained Mossad assassin living in New York.
It’s one of the three movies you’re producing from the ground up?
RP: It’s one of the three. And the first movie I’m going to direct is called “Wooden Lake,” I can tell you that. It’s a really small drama. We’re casting that right now and that will be the first movie that we shoot in Syracuse.
Are you going to star in “Wooden Lake”?
RP: No. I refuse to act in the movie that I direct because I really don’t like working with me.
But are you going to star in the ones you don’t direct?
RP: I will star in the one that I described to you with the Mossad assassin, and then the third one I have a smaller role in it. But I’ll produce all of them.
But since you say it’s really about series right now, why do you want to make movies and not series?
RP: Because I’m a movie guy. We’re in a period where making movies is not as it used to be, but for me that’s an artificial kind of reality. It’s only driven by market forces, and I refuse to give in to market forces. Cinema to me is like a religion. If I was going to have a religion it would be cinema.
Now regarding “Hellboy.” There’s been a lot of headlines in the last couple days about you saying you would love to have a sequel to complete the trilogy…
RP: Well yeah I mean, it started off with my little tweet… as a little goof like all of my tweets and within 48 hours I had 20,000 new followers on Twitter and 60,000 new friends on Facebook and I found out I hit a nerve that I didn’t even know was a nerve.
How have you reacted?
RP: The discussion has now overtaken me rather than me overtaking the discussion. And here I am in Monte Carlo, working on my suntan, and people are still asking me about “Hellboy 3,” so I guess it’s still news. But I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve been telling everyone else, the Hellboy saga was meant to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and that, if you were loyal enough to us where you came and watched both those two movies that we made, we owe you a resolve. And there will come a time where he will have to live up to his destiny, which is to be the beast of the apocalypse, or if he has to suppress that destiny by sacrificing himself in some way so as to not destroy mankind but do the opposite. And that’s the discussion of the third film; I think it’s a discussion worth having, and I think it’s something we owe the fans and I’m being very clear about that with…
Did you hear from Guillermo del Toro?
RP: I hear from him intermittently.
Yeah. Did he say something though about “Hellboy 3”?
RP: Uh, no comment. I haven’t heard from him since I started this latest round of insanity.
But is the “Hellboy” sequel written?
RP: It’s in Guillermo’s head. And he’s shared enough of it with me to know that it will be mind-blowing. I mean it will be mind-blowing. It will be great cinema. And if you are somebody who followed the first two movies, it will be even more mind-blowing because we have something… if you liked the first one and the second one, we have something really rock ’em, shock ’em in the third one.