Ron Perlman has been a major player in high-profile movies and TV shows for more than 30 years, but until recently, he could probably have walked the streets of Washington Heights in Manhattan where he grew up without anyone recognizing him. Perlman has performed his largest roles — the Neanderthal Amoukar in “Quest for Fire”; the leonine creature Vincent in “Beauty and the Beast”; the red-skinned demon in “Hellboy” — buried under thick masks of prosthetic makeup. Only in the past decade have mass audiences seen Perlman sport his distinctly blocky mug on a regular basis, most notably on the motorcycle gang drama “Sons of Anarchy” and in the neon-slick crime noir “Drive.”
On the evidence of his discursive but disarmingly candid memoir, “Easy Street (The Hard Way),” the no-nonsense dese-and-dose persona he put on screen in “Hellboy” isn’t much of stretch from the real Perlman. That’s why his friend Guillermo Del Toro (who has directed Perlman in five films) fought to cast Perlman even though the studio wanted a bigger star to fill Hellboy’s, er, hooves — as Del Toro himself recalls in the foreword.
Of course, Hellboy probably would be less forthcoming about his long struggle with depression. The 64-year-old Perlman’s recollections of his most creatively nourishing jobs are punctuated by esteem-flattening periods when — even after he’d won a Best Actor Golden Globe Award for “Beauty in the Beast” — his phone didn’t ring for years. Or so it seemed to him: As he acknowledges, depression made riding out the highs and lows to which any creative profession is prone feel like utter failure, even though he’s mostly worked at a pace that 99.9 percent of the Screen Actors Guild would envy.
Perlman goes admirably easy on self-actualized actor-speak about his “journey,” but he interrupts his story for a three-page-character-reference from his psychiatrist of 23 years, Dr. Phil (not that one) Stutz. Stutz claims Perlman’s chapter about working with the by-then-looney Marlon Brando — whom Perlman continued to idolize despite his outlandish behavior — on the famously crappy 1996 version of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” is “one of the funniest things ever written in the English language.” No. But it is one of the highlights of this book.
So is Perlman’s fond recollection of acting (under heavy prosthetic makeup, naturally) opposite Sean Connery on the 1986 film of Umberto Eco’s whodunit-in-a-14th-century-monastery, “The Name of the Rose.” Watching Connery perform a scene was an epiphany, Perlman writes. “It was the first time I realized the glory of language when it is loved and respected as if it were a beautiful woman you wanted voraciously, for that is how Sean caresses his every word and every syllable.” How one responds to clunky-but-heartfelt prose like that is a good predictor of whether you’ll enjoy his book. I did.
Klimek is a freelance writer based in Washington.