Ron Perlman on ‘Sons of Anarchy’, How Makeup Helps His Acting and His Father’s Influence on His Career

Ron Perlman

Sons of Anarchy star Ron Perlman certainly has not had what one would call a typical Hollywood career. He was a bit of a journeyman actor up until he turned fifty, when roles like Hellboy and the fan-favorite outlaw motorcycle series turned him into a recognizable star. In an interview with NPR, Perlman spoke why his early roles in heavy makeup helped make him a better actor and his thoughts on his run on Sons of Anarchy. Finally he touches upon the influence that his father had on his career.

Perlman tells a funny story about how he was an overweight teenager, but he points out that being overweight actually helped him inhabit his roles in heavy makeup when he was older (and thinner). He explains, “Having a physical layer between myself and the outside world that I was performing to really enabled me to kind of free myself up and not worry about all of the things that my inner voices were saying were in the way of giving the kind of free performance one wants to give. It was kind of like a pattern. I mean, it was one heavy duty prosthetic make-up transformation after another, you know, starting with the very first one, which was Quest For Fire, then Name Of The Rose, then Beauty And The Beast. Those things happened in succession and gave way to The Island of Dr. Moreau and Hellboy and a number of others.”

Next Perlman moves onto Sons of Anarchy, the television show which Perlman played outlaw motorcyclist Clay Morrow. In fact, Perlman discloses that if it wasn’t for him the show might not have ever been aired. He says, “I did have to audition for it. They had already shot the pilot with another actor playing Clay Morrow. And the network decided that they weren’t getting what they were hoping to get and that they were willing to – they loved the series enough to – if they thought they found the right actor, they were willing to reshoot the pilot and start – restart the clock and green light the show for a whole first season, which is 13 episodes”

However, Perlman is fair in giving the original Clay praise. He adds, “The original actor is a brilliant actor. I won’t mention his name, but he’s – I’m a huge fan of his. But he’s a very subtle guy. And he has a very kind of a quiet, understated presence about him, which, in terms of this particular guy, Clay Morrow, they were looking for way more dynamic. They were looking for higher highs and lower lows and a lot of very, very kind of [resonance]. So I understood going into it that, you know – that they were looking for a more operatic version of this guy. And it just so happened – you know, I happened to be free that week” (for those curious, Clay was portrayed by Bourne Identity actor Scott Glenn in the original pilot).

Of course, Sons of Anarchy fans know that Clay didn’t make it to the seventh and final season alive. Perlman admits that letting go of a character he played for six years wasn’t easy. He explains, “Well, what you’re thinking is let me get this moment right, you know? Did I like the fact that I was shot in the jugular, that Jax readjusts his aim to make it even uglier than it needed to be? No. I mean, you know, Ron and Clay are two separate entities. But Ron is hired to play Clay. And so Ron doesn’t exist in that moment. All that exists is getting it to the point where everyone who’s playing that scene is on the same page and you make it look as – as realistic as possible. It’s a brutal moment. Is it fun? No. But is it inevitable? I mean, the minute you start something, it’s going to end. And if you get a chance to go as long and make as much noise as we did, then, you know, there’s – the good far outweighs the parts of it that you’re probably hearing in my voice right now, which is that it’s difficult.”

A little over a year ago we featured a clip of Ron Perlman speaking emotionally about his father’s influence on his career as an actor (Perlman’s father was a jazz drummer, but he put that career aside in order to raise his family). Turning back the clock in the interview, he talks about his father’s influence, revealing, “Well, he was wary of any noise that either of his sons made to sort of pursue a life in the arts because he knew how precarious it was. And he knew what the odds were of success or of just even scratching out enough of a living to, you know, be able to use the word security. And, you know, him having grown up as a Depression baby, security was really paramount to that generation of parents. And then this thing happened where he saw me in a play in college. And he came the first night with my mom and, you know, the whole rest of the family and then came back the second night by himself. And then the following day in the car, he pulls over as he’s driving me someplace and he goes, you know, I just came back last night to see if what I saw the night before was an illusion or whether it was reality. I said what are you talking about, Pop? He said I think you got to do this. And I said do what? He said I think you got to be an actor. I think that’s what you’ve got to do. And I came back a second time to have another look at it because it’s a very hard thing for me to say because I know how hard it is to make a living, but I think this is what you have to do. And a year later he was gone, so this was the ultimate, like, almost like a deathbed wish, where he gave me permission – not only gave me permission, but gave me a certain resolve that only a father can give to a son. It was beautiful. And it’s taken me to where I am, you know, to this day.”

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