Many fans who have been following actor Ron Perlman’s career didn’t think he could top his performance as biker Clay Morrow in the critically acclaimed FX series, Sons of Anarchy. But the actor is receiving accolades for playing Pernell Harris in a new Amazon Studios original series from World War Z director Marc Forster and Burn Notice producer Ben Watkins.
Hand of God is set in the fictional city of San Vicente, which is located somewhere in Central California. Perlman compares the town to Cupertino right before Apple came in and transformed it. A transformation of similar proportions is about to change the lives of everyone in San Vicente. We recently sat down with the veteran actor to find out more.
“In his weakest state he’s lured in by this fledgling church.”
“Judge Pernell Harris is the straw that stirs the drinks,” said Perlman. “Probably 75 percent of the streets in San Vicente are named after his grandfather or his great grandfather, so he’s a man who’s used to wielding power. If you have money in San Vincente, it’s usually because he wants you to. If you have nothing, it’s usually because he wants you to. He’s a real old school, tough-as-nails judge whose nickname was Judge Maximum.”
As the series opens, however, the rug has been pulled out from under Harris’ perfect world, providing plenty of meat for Perlman to sink his sizeable jaws into. Harris’ only son has shot himself in the head, and is hanging by a thread on life support.
“This is a guy who has only known winning his whole life and who can’t even imagine a reality where losing is part of the conversation; and here he is about to lose something that’s more profoundly important to him than he ever realized,” Perlman said. “So he begins breaking down, and this causes a chain of events that destabilizes the whole community.”
And it’s more than Harris’ inner circle at stake – it seems the fate of the whole town hangs in the balance.
“If he is found to be unstable, this deal that was going to make everybody rich is going to go away and people will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in opportunities,” Perlman explains.
The two women in Harris’ life are having an impact on the drama, as well. Dana Delany stars as the judge’s wife, Crystal Harris, and Emayatzy Corinealdi plays his call-girl, Tessie. But it’s ultimately a preacher who is the catalyst that spawns Harris’ downward spiral.
“He makes a number of choices to try to do whatever he can to deny the possibility of losing in this situation, and in his weakest state he’s lured in by this fledgling church,” said Perlman. “The preacher of this church, coincidentally, is an ex-soap opera actor, so you can only imagine the controversy there. He’s invited to attend a mass at this church, and he leaves having been baptized and having written a $55,000 check. And it’s much to the chagrin of his wife and his friend the mayor (played by Andre Royo). This character getting religion is not even a possibility.”
And yet the morally-corrupt judge believes he’s on a vigilante quest from God to find the man who tore his family apart. He relies solely on visions and messages he thinks God is sending to him through his ventilator-bound son. In a variety of ways, the series throws more questions at the audience than answers.
“Whether the church’s relationship with him is based on something pure, or whether it’s based on something more Machiavellian, you begin to wonder that about everybody that he’s involved with in the town,” said Perlman. “His wife is just trying to keep him propped up to prevent everybody from realizing he’s having a nervous breakdown, as is his best friend, the mayor. So their choice to just keep up appearances, rather than get him the help that he really needs, ends up being something that they end up paying for.”
Ultimately, it takes the near-death of his son for Harris to realize what a bad father he’s been.
“He is rocked with something that he can’t fix, and he’s never been in a situation where he can’t have something fixed.”
“All of a sudden he looks at the reality of losing his son and he realizes he loves him in a way that he never addressed,” said Perlman. “He’s forced into coming to terms with what a piece of sh*t dad he was, and how he had his opportunity in this kid’s young life to be so much of a better pal to him, and a role model to him, and now he doesn’t have even the slightest ability to say ‘I love you where he can hear him,’”
“The depth of his sadness over this is something that’s even a surprise to him … So that’s the big dilemma. He is rocked with something that he can’t fix, and he’s never been in a situation where he can’t have something fixed.”
In addition to tackling this new role, Perlman has been busy with other projects. The versatile actor will be seen in virtual form in the new Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 video game, playing The Boxer in the Zombies mode story, Shadows of Evil. And he’ll be heard in Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 4, reprising his role as The Narrator.
But Perlman is still hell-bent on finishing what he started with Hellboy 3, stirring up Twitter with a Hellboy III hashtag campaign in June that took the world by storm. And he’s still hoping he can put the project together with the heralded director who started it all.
“It’s a movie that’s been in Guillermo del Toro’s mind ever since the beginning, and it’s probably evolved as he’s addressed the making of the first one and making of the second one, but by now he has a very firm grasp on what this resolve will look like,” said Perlman.
“And I also want to make it very clear I’m not looking to extend the franchise to a fourth movie or a fifth movie. I’m not looking to segue into having a TV series or a Saturday morning cartoon. I just want to give the fans the conclusion of what they spent two movies investing in. It’s like every month you go put $10 in the Christmas fund, well, at Christmas you want to come out with $120 god damn dollars! You don’t want to come out with $40. Otherwise, it’s ‘Wait a minute, somebody just ripped me off here…’”
One thing’s clear about any project Perlman invests his time in these days: audiences aren’t going to get ripped off. Fans of the brilliant and unique Hellboy series can only pray that Hollywood listens to Perlman’s signature baritone voice, and puts the final act of Hellboy in play. For now, we suggest giving Hand of God a long look.