Ron Perlman, star of The Capture, Sons Of Anarchy and much more over his five-decade career, tells Mark Layton why the best of Hollywood are moving to the small screen – and what it spells for the movie industry
The line between TV and film has grown increasingly blurred, with exploding scripted budgets and ambition leading to more A-listers making the move from the big screen to the small than ever before.
Movie star talent in Hollywood and beyond, both in front of and behind the camera, now embrace what only a handful of years ago was almost unthinkable – producing, directing and acting in series rather than theatrical releases.
It’s a trend that has been accelerated by both the streaming boom, particularly with US-based global services that have deep pockets to spend on top tier talent, as well as the pandemic. Cinemas closed worldwide, talent looked for work, and movies that would once have been theatrical releases went straight or swiftly to streaming instead.
Following the talent
Ron Perlman, a veteran US actor and producer whose credits range from blockbuster turns as devilish superhero Hellboy to a six-season stint as outlaw biker Clay Morrow in FX’s Sons Of Anarchy, tells TBI that this shift is nothing new, likening it to the exodus of writing talent from the stage to the silver screen at the start of the last century, and then, later, to television.
The 72-year-old has enjoyed a near half-century career straddling TV, movies and theatre and he says that right now, the small screen is looking more attractive than ever. It is where writers “dealing with the human condition” can largely be found, while the movie business has grown more about “Star Wars and comic books.”
Speaking to TBI earlier this year at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival, Perlman said: “Television is taking the opportunity to say: ‘OK we can be more original than ever,’ and so the great writing started to move there. That’s all I’m looking for – interesting smart original material.
“It’s almost better than ever right now, because there’s still the same amount of talent out there pushing ideas. There aren’t quite as many venues, but the ones that are doing it are taking more risks than ever – there’s some television out there that is mindblowingly cool and original and edgy, so thank God.”
Highlighting just how fast this change has come, Perlman says: “I just did a movie called Don’t Look Up with the most important film maker on the planet, Adam McKay, for Netflix. That movie would have been in 5,000 theatres five years ago, but it was on Netflix. Guillermo del Toro, Pinocchio – Netflix; Alfonso Cuarón, Roma – Netflix; Martin Scorsese, The Irishman – Netflix.
“You go where the talent goes; if Martin Scorsese is working with Netflix, that’s where I’m gonna fucking go.”
Adapting to the times
Streaming’s gain, however, is cinema’s loss, with the future of the traditional moviegoing experience looking uncertain after decades of box office declines. The pandemic was “the final nail in the coffin” for some movie studios in a business already beginning to “diminish” due to the growth of TV and streaming.
Clearly, cinema isn’t about to implode overnight, but, as Perlman noted, it’s hard not to notice that franchise extravaganzas are now dominating movie theatres. “I mean, there’s a new Spider-Man movie every 30 minutes; there’s a new Batman every 20 minutes. I didn’t go to school to wear spandex in a movie.”
Recently, Perlman joined an impressive A-list cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep – among other big Hollywood names – for Adam McKay’s apocalyptic satire Don’t Look Up, which debuted on Netflix last year.
If ever there was a clear indication that A-listers will follow the talent, even if means foregoing the traditional prestige of the movie theatre, that was surely it.
“Every fucking movie star in the world was in that movie; it could have very easily have been on thousands of screens with big premieres all over the world, but instead we had one premiere for Netflix in New York and that was that,” says Perlman.
“The way the business used to function, where you tried to get as many people as you possibly could into theatres all over the world before it went to television and streaming, that’s gone.”
Nevertheless, Perlman remains pragmatic. “If you’re a guy like me, who is a student of history and who has a hard time adapting to change, you could get a little bit wistful about it. You can’t though – if you want to keep working you just gotta keep shucking and jiving and going with the flow.”
As his bustling IMDb page can attest, Perlman currently has plenty of irons in the fire. The second season of BBC mystery thriller series The Capture, in which he plays CIA boss Frank Napier, recently concluded in the UK, with Peacock due to stream it in the US next month.
Perlman will also be back on Netflix in December voicing the Podestà in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. He is a regular collaborator with the Mexican filmmaker, having starred in several of del Toro’s films including Cronos, Pacific Rim, Blade II and Nightmare Alley, as well as being directed by him in two outings as the titular Hellboy.
Perlman is full of praise for the Oscar-winning director. “I just enjoy watching how the world experiences his genius. Every time he releases something you see another slice of this amazing artist that’s like no other,” the actor says.
“His movies don’t look like anybody else’s, they don’t play like everybody else’s, they don’t deal with subject matter like anybody else’s. I’ve known that from the beginning. Watching him evolve and watching how the world appreciates him with every passing moment more and more and more is a big thrill.”
As for what awaits beyond Pinocchio, Perlman sees plenty of opportunity ahead, whatever format or screen size that might be. “I’m in good form; I’m as part of the game as ever before and at 72-years-old – still the old vaudevillian, still slipping on banana peels.”