With the release of Guillermo del Toro’s monster epic, PACIFIC RIM, on Friday 12th July 2013, we’ve a whole host of interviews with the director and cast.
In this interview, actors Ron Perlman and Charlie Day talk about their roles Hannibal Chau and Dr. Newton “Newt” Geiszler in Pacific Rim.
Ron, How do you keep your working relationship with Guillermo fresh after all this time?
RP: Well thank you, I didn’t realise I was fresh! Hannibal Chau is such a standalone character. And Hellboy was such a standalone character and the man I played in Blade. Cronos was our first association and every single time I’ve worked with him he’s asking me to reach for something else and be a different invention of myself. So these are the things we long for as actors, new challenges, to be presented with a variety of different forms of humanity to explore.
Was there anything about Hannibal that wasn’t in the script, that maybe you brought to the table?
RP: Everything you see about Hannibal that you see on the screen was all conceived by Guillermo. The performance we came to together. He told me he wanted this guy to be very theatrical, with a lot of flare. Guillermo has accused me of channelling Burt Lancaster my entire career. (Impersonates Guillermo) “I think I finally found you the ultimate Burt Lancaster role…” And we tried that and he said, “That’s very bad. Let’s think of somebody else.”
When you first worked with Guillermo, did you think this would be a collaboration that would shape your career for years?
RP: The feelings were intense, having met him. Really intense. I was coming off of a real mid-life crisis where for two years I was not answering my phone, I was completely directionless, and I was without energy. I was thinking about getting out of the business. Everything that had driven the first half of my life had died like a candle going out, so there was nothing. Then out of the blue, this package came, which included a letter and the script from Guillermo del Toro, who no one had ever heard of, and it jump-started the second half of my life and created this amazing enthusiasm that led me to where we are today. There was a passion for independent cinema, because that was truly the first independent movie I’d done. There was a passion for working with first-time filmmakers who have nothing to lose, had no fear of failure. A passion about seeing the world – the trip to Mexico was so exotic. He changed so much in my life. And then I started seeing footage of stuff we were shooting on Cronos and I said to myself, ‘wow, this looks like Kurosawa, this looks like Fritz Lang… These frames are not like normal movies, this is like real cinema with a capital C. And this was this kid’s first movie. So obviously I was in the presence of a savant. I don’t have any idea where he’s going, but it sure would be nice to go along with him…’ I didn’t know I would go along with him! I loved him from the minute I met him, but the levels of admiration, because he’s such a humble, sweet, ordinary, regular guy, which is a thing about the Mexican culture, they just assimilate without calling great attention to themselves, they have humility. This skillset of his unfolded like peeling an onion. Not only was I in the presence of a terrific dude who I want to have a beer with, but then holy sh*t, he’s Kurosawa, he’s Spielberg. He’s read every book that’s ever been written. I kept finding things about him that sucked me in more and more.
Charlie, are you a sci-fi fan?
CD: No, not really. I like it when it’s good, I liked Alien, I loved ET as a kid or Close Encounters. But I think I’m with Ron in this, in that I’m much less like Guillermo or into his world of things, and I’m really appreciative that he brought me into his world and culture. If a real sci-fi fan came up to me and started asking me about the inner workings of the Kaiju, they’re going to be hugely disappointed.
What do you look for in a character when you take on a role?
CD: It has almost more to do with whom I’m working with, for me. With this movie it was a no-brainer. You look at his movies, such as Pan’s Labyrinth, which is a perfect film. So to get a chance to work with him was very exciting. As to a character, any aspects I can use to identify with myself and bring to that. Also still at this point in my career it’s a combination of what opportunities I do get at all. I wasn’t totally sure about Horrible Bosses when I first read it, but as it came together I got more excited and it was a good opportunity. I look for a good chance to shine.
How did you find the balance between comedy and drama?
CD: I knew they wanted me to bring some comedy to the movie and my greatest fear was that they were going to start filling the script with a bunch of fart jokes and that I’d seem out of place in the movie. But Guillermo was always pushing me to play it as straight as we could, and to let any humour come out of me being who I am in this circumstance. Just sitting next to Ron there’s some comedy, just in how different we look…
RP: See? Made you laugh. That was us Drifting…
CD: We’re like the Sunshine Boys! For me the challenge was never making it feel out of place in the movie. Mostly I was excited to not be seen as funny all the time.
Ron, when can we see you as Hellboy again?
RP: I mean, if I have anything to say about it… Every time I’m with Guillermo, it certainly occupies a small portion of the conversation. When we walked away from Hellboy II, we’d had the snot beaten out of us to the degree that neither of us wanted to see Hellboy again. Then about a year went by and I realised we had asked the fans to invest so much in this saga, and the saga really is all about how it evolves, because this force of nature has been summoned into the universe, and he’s going to destroy the Earth. Yet he’s been nurtured to be this force of good, so the third instalment, everything was about that and I said, ‘Guillermo, I know what a heavy lift it’ll be, I know it’ll have to be twice as expensive as the first two put together…’
CD: Maybe you could do it as a radio play.
RP: Kind of like what I’m doing now! I think there’s a chance. Both Guillermo and I want to do it, and Selma and Doug want to do it, it’s just a question of finding somebody who thinks there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow./
How did you prep for your roles?
RP: Cottage cheese and capers. I’ve no idea why.
CD: A lot of the strong, handsome men in this movie had to do some physical training. And Guillermo wanted me to listen to punk rock music and read the writings of conspiracy theorists that believe in aliens, so I didn’t have to do too much. I’m glad I didn’t go through a boot camp or anything.
Guillermo is obsessed with the monsters, so did you talk about that for your character?
CD: Yes. He would talk about it ad nauseum. He can talk to you longer about monsters than anyone else on this planet will ever talk to you. So he did educate me on these creatures and what he thought they were made of, the purpose of them, and most of that made it into the film, though large sections did not. I retained only a percentage of it. But when we were filming I felt like I had a really good knowledge of these things.
Did you have to see any Japanese Kaiju films? And which Kaiju did you end up liking best?
CD: I didn’t see any Kaiju movies before the movie. This movie had to exist on its own level and I didn’t want to be influenced by any performances or outside ideas. In terms of which I like the most… They’re all so great in different ways. His skills is in infusing personalities into these things, they’re not just giant mindless lizards that are wrecking everything, you can tell there’s some intention and strategy behind their motions. You do wind up enjoying them all.
RP: I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t comment on which Kaiju I enjoy! I have to agree with Charlie, though, the thing that separates this tent pole movie from others is that even the robots have swagger and personality and attitude and so you feel like you’re watching characters rather than inanimate objects. It’s not just eye candy, it’s something you can invest in. It’s a struggle for the future of humanity and this is the A-team, the Navy SEALs.
Ron, a lot of your characters have makeup. Here you have scars and tattoos. Is that a help for your performance or is it ever a hindrance?
RP: Well there’s nothing that’s ever applied to me on a del Toro movie that’s random or gratuitous or just for effect. The tattoos on the fingers are all birds, which means flying fists, which means that at one point in his life this guy was a gangster. So it gave me this backstory to work on, every tattoo had some meaning. The scar was because of some sort of thing that happened where I got a little close to my money pit, the fallen Kaiju, which maybe hadn’t fallen enough yet. And the dark glasses are to hide that from the world, I don’t have any vulnerability. A guy like Hannibal Chau refuses to ever believe he’s wrong or weak. So it was all placed there for me to inform the performance.