The outrageous comedy Frankie Go Boom, from writer/director Jordan Roberts, tells the story of Frank Bartlett (Charlie Hunnam), who tells himself that he’s holed up in the desert to write, but in reality is just hiding from his family, namely his brother Bruce (Chris O’Dowd). A reckless but charming addict, Bruce has always enjoyed secretly filming Frank in all sorts of compromising positions and sobriety isn’t making their relationship any better. And as much as Frankie tries to move on with his life, family just keeps sucking him back in.
At the press day, actor Ron Perlman – who plays the movie’s humor, heart and voice of reason, Phyllis – spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how he ended up playing a woman in the film, his first impression of the script when he read it, discovering Phyllis’ look, how quick of a shoot this was for him, and how he thinks his Sons of Anarchy fans might react when they see him in character. He also talked about what it’s like to be a part of such a successful TV show, how surprised he’s been by the direction of Season 5, and how bittersweet it is that they’re closer to the end now, with only two seasons left, as well as his longtime collaboration with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
RON PERLMAN: No, they were asking me to read the script with the idea of playing the role of Jack, which is Chris Noth’s role. I loved that role, but there was something about Phyllis, when I got to her. First of all, it answered the irking urge to try everything once before I die. You know, the old bucket list. I had never played a woman before and, if there was ever going to be a woman that was safe to play, it was Phyllis, for some strange reason. I think it was because of Phyllis’ background as Phil, the computer hacker. There was this outlaw, “Fuck you society!,” thing to begin with, and then it was just incredibly executed on the page. I knew, from page three of reading the script, that I wanted to be in this movie because it was so funny. I just didn’t know if was going to be Phyllis, until she washed over me. I was awash in Phyllis.
What was your first impression of the script, when you read it?
PERLMAN: It was the funniest script I’ve read, in memory. I don’t get a lot of comedy scripts, so there may be funnier ones out there, but this really delivered for me. It was really, really, really funny. It was the perfect thing to do, between Season 3 and 4 of Sons of Anarchy. It was a way to cleanse the palette, after playing Clay Morrow for five months of the year.
PERLMAN: No, it never crossed my mind. It is true, though, that I love to continue to challenge myself and put myself in situations that are slightly uncomfortable. I just didn’t conceive that it would be Phyllis that would be the order of this particular day.
Have you wondered about what fans of the show will think about seeing you as this character?
PERLMAN: (Writer/director) Jordan [Roberts] told me that there has been prolific amounts of feedback already, from Sons of Anarchy fans who have seen the film on VOD. It’s mixed, but it’s skewing toward the positive. I’m not sure if there’s any truth in that, or if that’s just something he said to make me feel better about it. It’s a bridge that the typical SOA fan wouldn’t normally be asked to cross.
Did it bring an added layer of pressure, knowing that Phyllis was based on Jordan Roberts’ brother who’s now his sister?
PERLMAN: I don’t think he told me that until we were done filming. Like everything else in the movie, I thought that this was just something that sprung out of his imagination. But, it turns out that there’s a whole lot more in the movie that parallels Jordan’s own life experience, particularly Phyllis, than I could have ever imagined. The film is just so filmed with imaginative characters and [scenarios] that it almost had to be made up, but truth can be stranger than fiction. The fact that Phyllis wasn’t just a transvestite helped. She was a transgender. My whole mantra is, “Go big or go home.” I don’t want to just play a guy who dresses up. I want to play the person who threw down.
PERLMAN: They said, “What color lipstick would you like?,” and I said, “Hellboy red.” That was the only part of the decision-making process that I was invited to participate in. They did have three or four wigs, and the one I ended up with probably was the most boring of all, but probably was the most realistic of all. I actually think that, when we chose the most realistic wig rather than the most flamboyant or comical, we went a long way toward defining what approach was going to be taken with the playing of Phyllis. Somebody who goes to all that trouble, to actually change the plumbing, is taking this rather seriously. There needed to be some gravitas. There was nothing frivolous about how Phyllis views her sexuality and her place in the universe. Now I’m getting all Nietzsche.
How long of a shoot was this, for you?
PERLMAN: I did pretty much everything you see in the movie, in one day. But then, there was this phone conversation where Charlie’s character is out in the desert, trying to figure out what to do with his life, and that phone conversation was written to be had between his mother and him. And then, when Jordan played the film, after it was cut, he realized that Charlie’s character had a more honest relationship with Phyllis than his own mother, so he decided to reshoot that scene with Phyllis in it instead. By that point, we realized a lot more than we had realized, in the early going. There was a real evolution of who these people were to one another, and one affect they had on one another’s thinking and behavior. It started out being a rather one-dimensional comedy, and then suddenly, there were these layers of nurture. Phyllis recognized the pain that Frankie was going through because, if anyone has lived through the pain of being perceived wrong in the world, it’s Phyllis. So, we saw that little vein of gold and started to mine it.
PERLMAN: It’s definitely the most successful thing I’ve ever participated in. I’ve been a professional actor for almost 40 years. I’m fully aware that things that resonate and become real hits are the exception to the rule, so much so that I’ve wired myself for failure. I expect that everything I do will be not watched or not seen. That way, I’m never disappointed when I become flooded with that reality. So, when something actually resonates, and then continues to, in its fifth year, I’m fully aware of what rarified air I’m breathing and how exotic that success is. Over 40 years, there’s been nothing like it, for me. I’m trying not to fuck it up. Being wired for failure, you’re always looking for ways to fuck shit up.
Now that viewers have a sense of where things are headed this season, what can you say to tease what’s to come?
PERLMAN: People cannot see where things are headed. I couldn’t, even while we were doing them. I was reading these scripts and I just was so uncomfortable this year because I never knew where things were heading, and still don’t. I have no idea how it will end up and where we’re all going, but we’re on some sort of journey that’s very different from the original dynamic of the show. All the roles have changed. Everything is turned on its head. It’s made for a very uncomfortable time on set, for all of us, because the rules have changed and the sands have shifted under our feet. That’s probably why we are as enduring as we are. The unpredictability combined with a very volatile, dynamic world makes for compelling viewing, perhaps. I’m just theorizing.
PERLMAN: It does, in a way, because it’s so intoxicating. I don’t know if I’ll ever find another thing, in the rest of my quest to entertain America and the world, that is received in this way again. So, to see it come to an end is a little bit sad and a little bit scary because then you’ve gotta go back to your day job. But, there’s another part of me that understands that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. These things have to end and you have to learn to appreciate what the ride was while it was happening. I’m fully appreciative of what a fantastic ride it’s been. Going all over the world, people yell out, “Hey, Clay, what’s going on?!” The show has really affected people, on seven continents.
You have such a great collaboration with Guillermo del Toro. Have you talked to him at all about doing a voice for Pinocchio?
PERLMAN: We have not [talked about that], but he’s one of those guys who calls me up the day before and goes, “Okay, you’re coming in tomorrow at 1 o’clock.” “For what?” “Come on, you fucking asshole! You’re playing Pinocchio’s uncle.” “I am? You didn’t tell me this.” “I didn’t?! Well, you are! At 1 o’clock. I have to go. Bye!” He doesn’t like to put me in the middle of what’s going on, back behind the scenes. Because he’s having to make all these moves and gyrations, why should the two of us be worried? He’s protective, in that way. And then, when he finally is successful in winning me a role in something, only at that point does he mention the fact. He’ll say, “I have been working for seven years to do this, but today I will tell you, the part is yours.” That’s what happened with Hellboy. Seven years, it took him, and he made a lot of enemies. They were like, “You’re crazy! This guy is not a bankable movie star. Are you nuts? We’ve got nothing against Ron, but come on! We’re doing a $100 million franchise here! What are you, nuts?!” And yes, he is. In the most amazingly beautiful way, he’s a big dreamer. That’s what makes him the filmmaker that he is, and that’s his fingerprint. He just things outside of the box. He’s a true iconoclast, and a true original. He’s content with knowing that there’s no reason to do it, unless you do it right.
Frankie Go Boom is now playing in theaters.