Actor gets choice role in 'Pacific Rim'

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Diamonds on the soles of her shoes, as Paul Simon once sang, are so last century.

In "Pacific Rim," Ron Perlman's character of Hannibal Chau sports gold on both his supersize shoes and teeth, just part of the florid wardrobe assembled by director Guillermo del Toro and costume designer Kate Hawley.

"When I walked in, there was a series of hugely garish choices, as if I was some sort of croupier on steroids in Vegas in some futuristic casino. We finally settled on magenta as the theme of this guy," he said recently by phone in that famously sonorous voice.

"It was cool because once I tied the tie and put on the jacket and walked on set, I had a pretty clear idea of what Guillermo's vision for this guy was going to be just by how he adorned him."

Hannibal, who also has a nasty scar and mutilated eye, has profited handsomely from the monstrous creatures known as Kaiju that have risen from the sea in the sci-fi adventure opening in theaters today.

He sells Kaiju remains on the black market and is mentioned by another character -- "A word to the wise, do not trust him" -- before he makes his appearance on screen.

"I knew this was not a particularly dominant role; I knew that this role was basically more for color and sort of a substory. And I also knew I was the last one on board because Guillermo insisted on putting all of the huge moving parts together before he got around to the Hannibal role.

"I have a notion that the Hannibal role was originally conceived for an actor of a different ethnicity, and so it took a while for Guillermo to convince himself, and then the studio, that if he was played by an overgrown Jew from Brooklyn with a name like Hannibal Chau, then we're talking about a character of multi-dimensional full of ..." well, you get the point.

"You can clean that up if you need to," he added, and we did.

The "Pacific Rim" character is a war profiteer and quintessential businessman.

"He has zero allegiance to any ideology or any political affiliation. He has zero morality. He has no moral compass whatsoever. He's basically profiting off the destruction and the misfortune of others, and he has no qualms about that.

"He's insistent on providing himself with a lifestyle to which he's grown accustomed and he aspires to, which is just pure self-indulgence."

Mr. Perlman and Mr. del Toro worked together on the director's first feature, the 1994 Mexican vampire movie "Cronos," and reunited on 2002's "Blade II." In 2004, Mr. Perlman starred in the filmmaker's big-screen adaptation of Mike Mignola's classic Dark Horse comic book series, "Hellboy," along with its sequel.

On television, he gained a cult following for his portrayal of Vincent opposite Linda Hamilton in the original "Beauty and the Beast" series and, more recently, joined his "Pacific Rim" co-star Charlie Hunnam in the FX hit "Sons of Anarchy."

It's been more than two decades since the actor, now 63, met the Mexican-born filmmaker, Oscar nominated for writing his original screenplay "Pan's Labyrinth."

"The more time that goes by, I think we're up to like 22 years at this point -- 23, 21 years -- the more time that goes by, the more it helps to solidify how right we were when we first became pals, which was immediate. It was at the first dinner we ever had together when he was preparing to shoot his very first film in Mexico called 'Cronos.'

"He invited me to participate in that, and then he came up to LA and we met. There was this instant kind of ease and affinity. We worshipped at the same shrines; we were turned on by the same things and we had the same heroes.

"Then our families got together and it just expanded into a friendship, which happens to be accompanied by six films and counting."

In fact, Mr. Perlman's daughter, Blake Perlman, sings (with RZA) the song "Drift," which closes the movie. "That's Uncle Guillermo giving my firstborn the best, biggest break of her career," he said.

"She happens to be a very talented singer-songwriter and he's been a fan of hers for as long as she's been doing it," he said, but she had to earn the sweet placement with the song she, RZA and Ramin Djawadi wrote.

If "Pacific Rim" rocks the box office, the director has a well-articulated idea about what a second installment would look like, and Mr. Perlman has a tip for filmgoers: "Stay until the final credits are finished rolling because the movie's not over when you think the movie's over."

In a world of prequels, sequels, remakes, retoolings and adaptations, "Pacific Rim" is an original. The idea originated with Travis Beacham, who shares screenplay credit with Mr. del Toro.

Mr. Beacham was walking along the Santa Monica beach one foggy morning, and "an image just kind of popped into my head of a behemoth, a monster, rising from the surf to meet this giant robot waiting on the shore to do battle," the production notes recount.

And that is how Kaiju came to battle Jaegers, massive robots controlled by two pilots whose minds are intimately connected.

Some industry observers wonder if original ideas are an endangered species or a bad gamble, especially in the summer.

"They're rehashing everything. Anything that has a brand name, they feel like they're halfway toward selling tickets. In a world of rolling the dice, it gives them as much of a guarantee that there's some sort of name recognition as they can possibly get, and they're redoing things that were mediocre when they were originally done."

How will Mr. Perlman watch the box-office ticker for "Pacific Rim"?

"I keep, like, a small toe in the water. It is valuable for me to know how the movie's doing, but it also terrifies me that something we've all worked years on is finally and capriciously either one thing or another.

"That's hurtful to me. I try to avoid investing myself in how things ultimately get received. I'm always looking at the long game, what this is going to look like 50 years from now."

They were pulling him away from the phone, but he squeezed in one more answer about the possibility of "Hellboy 3."

"It keeps coming up in conversation. I feel as long as I'm alive and as long as Guillermo is around, that there's a chance. There's a very compelling reason to complete the trilogy, obviously, and I'm pounding away at trying to move the ball slightly down field, but it's a heavy lift."


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published July 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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