Actor Ron Perlman is no stranger to playing larger-than-life roles, like superhero Hellboy on the big screen and tough biker Clay Morrow on FX’s drama series Sons of Anarchy. In Amazon Studios’ new series Hand of God, premiering this month on Amazon Prime (see Review), Perlman once again tackles a seminal role in the morally corrupt Pernell Harris, a politically connected judge who finds religion — and vengeance — after believing he has heard the voice of God through his comatose son.
Perlman spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about Hand of God (read our review), the current state of TV (and streamed) content and his SOA legacy. Here’s an edited transcript.
MCN: Were you concerned that Hand of God, which features a storyline dealing with touchy topics like religion and spirituality, would be shunned by content distributors?
Ron Perlman: I knew we were going to push some buttons — it pushed some buttons for me when I was reading it. But the takeaway is the genius of what [series writer] Ben Watkins was able to thread together. You are really never told what to believe or not believe. What you are watching is somebody who is making these choices based on their own survival. You are brought into this thing and questioning, would I do this, or would I do the same thing this guy is doing given the same set of parameters?
MCN: Do you see any of your personal traits in the character of Judge Pernell Harris?
RP: You bring what you have to bring. The character is not me, but the invention of Ben Watkins. But my job is to make it look like I’m him, so I have to constantly look inward to see what’s in myself that can be useful in depicting this guy. A lot of it is imagination, because there are things about this guy that I’m not even close to in real life, but that’s the fun of being an actor — taking something that’s abstract in real life and making it look like he’s been here all along.
MCN: How influential was Amazon in the creative process of Hand of God?
RP: Amazon has been a phenomenal entity to collaborate with because they recognized how dangerous this project was, and, rather than trying to compromise it, they embraced the uncomfortableness and the boldness of it. So on that level I’m in love with them because they have balls. No. 2, they gave us huge amounts of resources to make as good a show as we could. They seem to be real fans of what we were doing. They have been as forthcoming and creative as an executive organization has ever been, and I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a few of them. FX was phenomenal in that way too.
MCN: Judge Harris is a little different than Clay Morrow, your character in FX’s Sons of Anarchy. Were you surprised at the long-term success and popularity of SOA?
RP: I think we all were. I’ve been at it longer than any of the others at Sons — I’m in my 40th year in professional acting — and I know for a fact that that was the biggest success I ever enjoyed. It was the biggest game-changer, in terms of going around the world and being recognized and people wanting to have their picture taken with Clay. So it had to be the same for all the other guys. For most of us it will never get better. It really hit a nerve.
MCN: At this point in your career, would you rather do television shows or movies?
RP: The reason I was so insistent on finding another television show after Sons was that I really believe that we are now living in the most exciting period in television. First came the [premium] cable channels, which opened up the conversation — with HBO and Showtime you could show nudity, say anything and deal with any subject; then came the basic-cable channels with almost as much [creative] expanse. Now Hulu, Netflix and Amazon have come around. All of these new players have created a world in which the only thing that can get you market share to compete with what the other guys are doing is to be more original. Whenever you’re in a situation like that in a creative medium, that’s where you want to be, and television is there right now. I think in 10 years it will burn out and they’ll manage to [mess] it all up like they do everything else, but for right now that’s where we’re at, and that’s why I was so insistent on hopping from one TV show to another, because I knew I would never find that originality anywhere else.
MCN: Are you working on any other projects?
RP: Actually, in defiance of that reality, I’m in the process of launching my own movie studio. We have four movies in production now that I’m producing and three or four movies in pre-production. That’s the tail that wags the dog for me — I’m a movie freak. The fact that the movie business is in the state that it’s in right now, I take that kind of personally. I feel that has more to do with market forces, which are [weak] reasons to kill a distinguished art form. So, I’m starting this movie studio because it’s too beautiful to turn away from and see if we can make some nice movies that get a little resonance.