He’s been a beast, a biker and — always — a bad-ass, but when Ron Perlman went looking for his next project, post-“Sons of Anarchy,” he ended up someplace unexpected: in judges’s robes, on the Internet.
The new Amazon series “Hand of God,” created by Ben Watkins and directed by Marc Forster, stars Perlman as a rough-living judge who has a crisis of faith. It marks a new approach for the actor, who was drawn to the project because, as he says, it represents a “really special” moment in the current state of television. An edited transcript of our conversation is below.
So how’s the day treating you so far?
Great, great. I’m talking about “Hand of God,” which is a pleasure to talk about, so all good.
Yeah, it’s funny. I feel like sometimes you can be talking about a show, and it can be a really light, pleasant show, but then a really hard experience. But this sounds like it was kind of the opposite.
Yeah, it was such a pleasure from the very beginning to the present. I keep waiting for the honeymoon to be over, but in this particular case we’re still in it.
Cool. So I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how the project first came to you.
I made it clear, when I found out that “Sons of Anarchy” was coming to an end, that I was interested in a segue, almost immediately, to something else. Reading some stuff, this came really early in the process. My response to [the script] was dramatically positive and Marc Forster who was already attached to direct and Ben Watkins who wrote it, their response was also dramatically positive, so we joined forces and went out to find a buyer.
To back up just a little bit, why did you want to segue immediately into something else?
I just came to realize, working on something as original as “Sons of Anarchy,” there was this moment of time where there were so many new players in the realm of television and the best storytellers were taking place in television right now. And more new players came into the arena, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon streaming; people were just trying to outdo each other in terms of the originality of the material that they were greenlighting. So this was an extraordinary moment, being in television, and the maze of the best storytelling that was taking place which usually happens in cinema, was happening in TV. So it was a probably a period that was not going to last forever and that I wanted to be a part of.
When you say you don’t think it’s going to last forever, what do you mean by that?
I just mean that anything really, really special that happens historically has a shelf life to it. It sort of morphs into something else for one reason or another. Maybe it’s my cynicism, but I just feel like it probably is unique and won’t last forever.
One of the things that’s really interesting to me about the show is the fact that it’s not based on a book; that it’s not from another property. It’s completely original. I’m wondering, do you encounter that a lot when you’re going through scripts?
Yeah, I find that the very, very best writing I’ve ever encountered to be written on spec; a byproduct of some sort of inspirational notion that comes out of the imagination of a great writer. I listened to Ben when he was writing the show and we were in the filming process and he was aware of the fact that the world he was depicting was not one that he could sell by just describing it. He wouldn’t be able to just walk in and pitch the idea. So he went out and wrote the script on spec, so without anyone assigning it to him, without anyone paying him to do it. It was just because it was some thing that he needed to get down on paper. And when you see this world as drawn out as it is by Ben, it’s the only way you can really truly admire and appreciate the scope of what he did.
This was a world I’d never really seen before, a facet of the human condition that I’ve never seen on screen before. This is the subject matter that is fresh and new and I’ve never seen components like this all over the place into one story. And it didn’t resemble anything else we’d ever read.
Was there a specific element that you really connected with?
I connected with the moment that the judge is going through. He’s not a young man, so he’s not going through a trial that takes place in the course of one’s evolution. This is a rather extraordinary moment which triggers huge amounts of pain, of humility, of self reflection, of anger. Like a bad accident you can’t take your eyes off of.
One thing I’ve heard is the idea that the show is going to be constructed, season by season, on the stages of grief. I was wondering if there were any aspects of that — did you know about that, I imagine?
Yeah, that’s basically the one thing that Ben was willing to share with me. He never told me what what was lying ahead. The only thing we had to go on, initially was the pilot. It took a long time after the show was greenlit for us to get back into production, the other nine episodes. And he never told me what was coming. It was like a script-by-script thing. I was happy to conform into those parameters. The one thing he said was that if we were lucky enough to go five seasons, each season would be an exploration of the stages of grief. You have denial, anger, despair is three, depression is four and acceptance is the fifth stage.
So, knowing that Season 1 was about denial, is there something key to having that knowledge that helps focus the performance?
No. As an actor that’s a rather useless piece of information in terms of what my job is: Act whatever it is in front of me. But that’s something that’s more useful for the writers to wrap their heads around. I also feel as though that a statement like that comes with its own shadow and light and its own shades of coloring. There’s plenty of anger in Season 1 to go around.
I’ve talked to some actors I feel like prefer to know where the story is going, and some actors who prefer not to. It sounds like you’re in the latter camp.
Yeah, I’m happy with just trying to figure out what’s in front of me, and with regard to how rich and dense these installments are, the way Ben writes them, that’s plenty. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because I’ll probably get overwhelmed. There better be trust, because if there’s no trust, you don’t really have anything to build on. If you look at this pilot and you don’t trust that Ben has the ability to take you on this journey, then you should not enter into it. And so my level of trust in Ben is such that, wherever he takes me, I know I’m in good hands, and I know that I’m going to be given things that are worth the effort.
“Hand of God” Season 1 premieres this Friday on Amazon Prime.