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Ron Perlman’s ‘Easy Street’

Is there a character actor with a face as memorable as Ron Perlman? Even when covered in makeup or prosthetics in TV’s “Beauty and the Beast” or films like “Hellboy” and “Name of the Rose,” one look tells you that yes, that’s Ron Perlman.

With a long-running starring role on FX’s critically acclaimed “Sons of Anarchy,” Perlman is more famous today than he has ever been before. It has been an up-and-down, difficult path to success, but the actor’s offbeat charm has never diminished.

Perlman brings such full-on personality to his work that it’s no surprise to see him put pen to paper. And the resulting memoir, “Easy Street (The Hard Way)” is appropriately colorful, if a tad innocuous. Mostly, innocuous, that is.

There is one section that makes “Easy Street” a nearly essential read for those fascinated by Hollywood drama. Perlman had a front-row seat for one of the strangest, most tumultuous major productions of the last two decades: 1996’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

Like most cinematic disasters, things began promisingly. New Line Cinema was flush with success, and it had been some time since Hollywood took a crack at H.G. Wells’ classic tale. Plus, there was a certain Marlon Brando involved:

“[T]he number one reason why one would deign to drop everything and put on four hours worth of makeup again, which, at this point, I was sure I’d sworn off doing, was that this newest retelling had the incomparable Marlon Brando playing Dr. Moreau.”

Brando had recently co-starred with Johnny Depp in New Line’s surprisingly successful “Don Juan DeMarco,” and while he was still considered a risky hire, to some degree, the man who played Vito Corelone was back. At least, that was the hope. For Perlman, that was enough.

“What they didn’t know was that they didn’t even have to pay me,” Perlman writes. “I would have showed up for free just to f*****’ observe the guy, analyze him, breathe the same air.”

However, the production was problematic before Brando even hit the set. Val Kilmer was being Val Kilmer, and the first disaster. Director Richard Stanley was quickly fired, and the job went to John Frankenheimer, the filmmaker who memorably helmed “The Manchurian Candidate” in 1962. Following a “twelve-year exile,” Frankenheimer had rebounded with some strong made-for-TV movies, and jumped at the chance to direct Brando in a feature.

Was “The Island of Dr. Moreau” back on track? As Perlman explains, it most certainly was not.

“[E]very night we have a welcoming party for Brando ’cuz every day he was expected to arrive. The only problem is, with each passing day, no Brando.”

Things did not improve when the actor actually arrived. Frankenheimer was soon exasperated by Brando’s behavior, which memorably included an on- and off-screen friendship the then-world’s smallest human being, Nelson de la Rosa. Perlman says Nelson was “a sexaholic” and “totally out of control,” but to Brando he was essential to his performance as Dr. Moreau:

“Marlon became so fascinated with this character that he elevated him to being a kind of mini-me. He became Dr. Moreau’s alter ego. And every time you saw Dr. Moreau on the screen, Nelson was there, dressed in the exact same outfit as him, only tinier.”

Now that’s a great Hollywood story. And Perlman includes many others in “Easy Street.” If they are not all as memorable as his time with Marlon Brando, they are still of interest. And they make his memoir a brisk, enjoyable read for “Sons of Anarchy” fans, “Hellboy” obsessives, and, most of all, Marlon maniacs.

Christopher Schobert is a frequent contributing book and movie reviewer for the Buffalo News.

Easy Street (The Hard Way)

By Ron Perlman

Da Capo Press

297 pages, $26.99