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The Many Mutations of Ron Perlman

The Many Mutations of Ron Perlman (photo)

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Ron Perlman has done Ibsen, Chekov, Pinter and Shakespeare, but since his burly physique first filled screens in 1981’s “Quest for Fire,” the 59-year-old actor has become known as someone who can give strong performances under layers of facial prosthetics. (See also: “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and the TV show that launched his stardom, “Beauty and the Beast.”) It’s almost strange to see the demon hero of “Hellboy” without all the make-up, as Perlman can currently be seen au naturale (above the neck, anyway) as Clay Morrow on TV’s biker drama “Sons of Anarchy” and his new film, “Mutant Chronicles.” Based on a pen-and-paper RPG, director Simon Hunter’s post-apocalyptic horror actioner co-stars Perlman — alongside Thomas Jane, John Malkovich and Devon Aoki — as Brother Samuel, the leader of an ancient monastic order in a steampunk-esque future where four warring corporations rule all. Hideous, bloodthirsty “necromutants” have escaped from a portal below the earth, and Perlman must help lead a charge of soldiers to destroy the mutant-making machine. I spoke with Perlman about the intelligence and terrifying prescience of “Mutant Chronicles,” whether he likes cartoons, and how he ended up starring in Spanish and French films when he didn’t speak either language.

You’re a classically trained thespian, but the screen projects you’re most well known for tend to be genre works. Do you ever feel like you want to break away from those kinds of roles?

No, no, no. I don’t want to change anything. I’m really happy with the way things are going. Even though there’s been a huge amount of genre, it’s all been treated with intelligence and integrity. There’s always a larger sort of issue than the one-dimensional, obvious trappings of the world that we’re looking at. There are always great deals of humanity in the characters that have been offered to me. Yeah, Hellboy is big, he’s red, he’s got horns, he’s a demon, but you’re never able to describe his heart [so simply] because it’s so human, nuanced and admirable. It’s something to aspire to. As an actor, that’s what we do this for.

In a movie like “Mutant Chronicles,” that’s set in an otherworldly time and place when you’re grounded in the real world, do you ever just lose it and crack up when your dialogue concerns something called a Necromutant?

The thing that was so attractive about the “Mutant Chronicles” script was that it was smartly rendered. You didn’t find yourself having to fix hokey shit, you know? Sometimes you look at something and realize, “Holy shit, I can’t say this. I have to find a new way to express this same thought and hopefully make it more intelligent.” With “Mutant Chronicles,” I never had that problem. [It’s set in] this theoretical world some few hundred years in the future being divvied up into corporations. There are no more nationalities. Patriotism is only reflected in a pure economic sense. That’s the way the world was headed when we made this movie. The corporations were winning. We found out in the last few months, as our new president took office, that was a bankrupt set of values, and we’re paying for it now. Hopefully, it’ll be a wake-up call that you can’t forget the guy with the lunch pail. His needs will eventually kill you.

04242009_TheMutantChronicles.jpgSo you no longer see the world of “Mutant Chronicles” as an ominous disaster in the making?

I thought it was very prescient when I agreed to do the film three years ago. If you’re going to theorize what a world might look like a few hundred years in the future, it was as smart a guess as I thought could’ve been made. Then there’s the perpetual warfare element — these corporations are constantly at war with one another, [and] this “Machine” buried in the bowels of the earth unleashes this truly diabolical force that’s even more impersonal than the corporate one. [laughs] This soulless, bloodless corporate mentality is trumped by something even more soulless and bloodless, and I found that rather compelling.

The film made me think of Ewan McGregor griping about acting against a tennis ball in a “Star Wars” prequel. You’re no stranger to CGI backgrounds and effects, so is it challenging for you to stay focused when you’re performing against green screen, or is it like some Brechtian stage play?

Every time you get on a stage or in front of a camera, the whole exercise is about imagination. You’re constantly depicting something that doesn’t exist, and trying to find the reality of it. Once you settle on that premise, everything else is a matter of degrees. We’re working against green screen, so what? You’re still going to be imagining this world. After all, if it’s a $12 million set, which I’ve been on in big studio movies, you’re still using your imagination because you’re still just standing on a set. I don’t think it’s that big a stretch. Would Ewan McGregor prefer to be shooting this thing on Mars? Maybe that’ll help his work? It wouldn’t help mine. I need the craft service table nearby and an air-conditioned trailer to go take a nap. [laughs]

As much time in your life as you’ve spent in a make-up chair, how do you not get bored out of your mind just sitting there for hours?

Generally, I like the guys I’m hanging out with. All the guys who put make-up on me are salt-of-the-earth people where the conversation flies, the music is cool and we take a lot of cigarette and food breaks. We’re getting ready to do something that most people wish they could do, so it’s never been a problem. It’s always been a joy.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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