Ron Perlman on Hellboy, Nicaraguan Cigars, and His Next-Door Neighbor Selma Blair

Courtesy of Universal

Ron Perlman’s three-decade career has been as consistently charming as it is veiled. To all but the most hard-core of cinephiles, he was “that guy”: the lion-faced beast of TV’s Beauty and the Beast, Wesley Snipes’s skinhead nemesis in Blade II, and yet another “manimal” in The Island of Dr. Moreau — not to mention his extensive career as a voice actor courtesy of Perlman’s distinctive northeastern baritone. But it was not until the first Hellboy film in 2004 that the now-58-year-old actor finally got a taste of the Hollywood spotlight. The film made Perlman something of a bona fide action hero, despite being outfitted in prosthetics, latex, yellow contact lenses, and fake teeth. Now, Perlman will appear this week in the much-anticipated sequel, which promises more of the Dalí-esque Surrealism of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan Labyrinth than the pulp of the first film. Vulture caught up with Perlman to discuss Hellboy, Selma Blair, and the joys of a finely rolled Nicaraguan cigar.

Where does the Hellboy performance come from?
So much of my aesthetic was formed by my dad. He was into Cagney, Bogart, and Errol Flynn, Gabel, Spencer Tracy and John Garfield. To this day, I have one TV in the room that I occupy most in my house exclusively on Turner Classic Movies — when it’s not on MSNBC, because the political process is quite epic and entertaining at this juncture.

So … Cagney’s a model?
Not Cagney, though there is somebody that Del Toro accuses me of channeling. But I prefer not to name him because once I do, you’re going to start looking for it and everyone’s going to go “Perlman’s a plagiarizer!” So, I’m just not going to go there if it's okay with you. But he was an Academy Award winner and he was truly my favorite. He was tied for first. He’s tied with Cary Grant. You’ll never think of it in a million years. Although you might — all you have to do is look at Hellboy and you’ll see it everywhere!

Our first thought was Ernest Borgnine.
That’s not even close! Although I do love Ernest Borgnine.

It seems as if this specific character was made to make you an action star. That’s certainly how it feels when we watch it. We heard the studio wanted Vin Diesel…
I just think I’m really lucky that at the end of the day it was me. That Guillermo cared enough about his vision that he wouldn’t compromise or do it any other way. I thought that was a battle he was going to lose, frankly, so I just relish the triumphant aspect of winning that fight.

What’s it like trying to enunciate with that cigar in your mouth?
That was nothing compared to the teeth. Hellboy has uppers and lowers. They look so good and painless and so well executed that you don’t even know.

We're guessing Hellboy’s trademark cigar isn’t actually made of tobacco. Is it one of those herbal “stunt cigars” they use on TV?
Oh, I’m smoking a real cigar! Real cigars and real good cigars. I smoke the same cigars in the movie that I smoke in real life. Just because I smoke a lot of them and you may as well … you gotta get your little pleasures through while you can.

Really. What kind of cigar?
These days I’m smoking a Nicaraguan, which is beautifully blended and rolled.

Maybe we're a lightweight, but how can you do take after take smoking a cigar without puking?
Dude, I smoke so many cigars in the course of a day that it’s not dramatically different.

We heard you’re neighbors with Selma Blair. May we ask what kind of neighbor she is?
I was neighbors with her in Budapest. They had just renovated this building so a number of beautiful apartments had just become available for the six months we were going to be there, so we were neighbors then. But she’s so frickin' quiet and keeps her curtains so frickin' drawn! I wish I had juicy stories not only to impart to you but to keep me going on those cold, lonely nights. No juice, pal.

In this film, Selma Blair’s character is the superheroine to your superhero, right?
This one, it’s much more even-handed. The focus is spread out among four, maybe it's even more than that, four … five freaks. And each of these characters is given almost identical amounts of screen time so it's no longer any one single character’s film. Particularly Selma: I must say having seen the film a couple of weeks ago, she is sensational. Liz is so well realized and well drawn in this film, and so knows her own heart that she’s completely fucking Hellboy around. Which precipitates him starting to drink. He’s a heavy lover of cheap Mexican beer.

We’re going to see Hellboy get wasted?
Yes, you’re also going to see him fighting the forces of evil in a slightly compromised physical condition. We’re seeing Hellboy in kind of a much more emotionally vulnerable capacity than in the first film.

We interviewed Del Toro earlier this week, and he said Hellboy III was contingent upon you staying healthy and taking your vitamins. What’re you going to do to stay in shape?
I think at this point in my life, when you’re talking about numbers, the thing I have to do most is pray.
—Connor Kilpatrick

Earlier: Guillermo del Toro on ‘Hellboy II’ and Impressing a Girl on a First Date