When Charile Hunnam presented his “Sons of Anarchy” biker dad Ron Perlman with Jordan Roberts’ script for the feature film “3,2,1 … Frankie Go Boom,” Perlman had only one logical response:
“Who’s playing the chick?”
Hunnam thought Perlman was asking about the role of Lassie, a woman devastated by her boyfriend’s infidelity. But Perlman had another role in mind:
Phyllis, a transsexual ex-con who serves as Hunnam’s “fairy godmother.”
“As I’m reading it I’m imagining all these people who follow ‘Sons’ and this dynamic of these two high-testosterone, bad-ass, macho-men outlaws,” Perlman told TheWrap.
“The door opens and the first thing that happens is Clay Morrow [his character on ‘Sons’] is a chick. I said no matter what I do with the performance, it’s worth it just to get that reaction from our hardcore fans.”
"Sons" returns for its fifth season on FX Tuesday night. Due in theaters Oct. 12 and already out on video-on-demand, “Frankie” is actually one of two movies to get the two stars together out of their biker leathers. Next summer, the pair co-star in Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim.”
"I didn’t know I would be working with Charlie outside of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ as much as I have,” Perlman said. “He’s a great castmate, someone I can depend on. I love his heart, love what he stands for, what he believes in, what he fights for. Now to see him in all these other settings… 'Pacfic Rim is a huge move for him.”
“Frankie,” a farcical comedy, stars Hunnam in the title role as a sullen, struggling writer who must return home to see his brother Bruce (Chris O’Dowd), a recovering drug addict. Frankie soon meets Lassie (Lizzy Caplan), who decides she will get revenge on her unfaithful boyfriend by sleeping with Frankie.
For the first few hours, Frankie remains impotent, a feat his brother records with his video camera and then gives away. Frankie, intrigued by Lassie and horrified by the tape, tries to track it down.
Though there are differing tales of just how Perlman came to take the part, one thing is certain – both Perlman and Hunnam wanted it to happen.
“He’s just all man that guy, verging on cave man,” Hunnam said. “To try to pretty him up and put him in a silk blouse and some lipstick seemed so deliciously ludicrous. We had to go for it.”
The role demanded Perlman to break his traditional approach and prepare, even though he only had a day of shooting.
“It’s something that was outside my bailiwick,” Perlman told TheWrap. “I probably worked harder on Phyllis than I do on most character because it was so outside of my comfort zone. I spent a full day just reading it, taking notes, reading it again, taking notes, rehearsing out loud in my house. I never do that with characters, but with Phyllis I did to try her on for size.”
And once he arrived on set, he spent almost three hours in makeup. “As they started to add layer upon layer upon layer, waxing areas that needed waxing, it began to unfold how ugly she was,” Perlman said.
Yet Roberts was proud of how the film portrayed a transsexual, a particularly delicate subject since Phyllis is loosely based on his sister. At first horrifed by the script, Roberts' sister found Perlman's performance dignified the character.
The writer/director, whose first film was the critically savaged "Around the Bend," credited Perlman with choosing to play the character as an actual woman rather than an effeminate man.
Still, there is no mistaking that Phyllis embodies the movie’s utter absurdity, crystallized by a scene in which Frankie stands in Phyllis’ dingy apartment, which is teeming with marijuana smoke. Phyllis blows smoke into Frankie’s face, hoping the strapping young man shares her own reaction to weed – heightened sexual urges.
Seconds later, desirous of Frankie, she leans in for a kiss.
Frankie rebuffs. (Earlier on, Perlman did smooch O'Dowd for a scene just hours after meeting him).
As the scene played out, the crew could not contain itself, but the actors were unmoved.
“Those two gentlemen have a staggering capacity to concentrate,” Roberts said. “Nobody on the set could even watch them slow dancing without laughing. Charlie Hunnam never broke. I am clueless how that happened.”
This comfort is born out of years on “Sons,” a critical and commercial success that resumes its fifth season Tuesday.
At the beginning of the taping of this season, in which the relationship between Jax (Hunnam) and Perlman (Clay) has been irreversibly ruptured, Hunnam ignored Perlman for the first five weeks.
Perlman didn’t flinch.
“It’s not like we have this profound offset friendship or relationship, but we have an immense amount of respect for each other and an understanding of each others processes,” Hunnam said. “It allows us to take risks that sometimes would backfire.”
Though Perlman plays a transsexual, the film was a bigger risk for Hunnam. He must play a defenestrated man, devastated by the embarrassment of a viral YouTube video. He must also anchor a comedy in which he goes impotent.
“Frankie Go Boom’ was just a really weird little thing that came my way,” Hunnam said. “I’m not much of a comedy guy and I’m not really that interested in comedy. I got the script and thought it was wildly original and really fun. It seemed like a fun exercise to go and do.”
He will get his next crack at action in “Pacific Rim” with filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who directed Perlman in both “Hellboy” films. It was not just Perlman’s recommendation to hire Hunnam, but del Toro’s close friend Alfonso Cuaron praised Hunnam after he directed the Brit in “Children of Men.”
The movie marks Hunnam’s first real chance at superstardom, an action-fueled summer tentpole that could earn him future leads.
“He’s starring in a really big studio film," Perlman said. "We’re seeing Charlie Hunnam really challenged and being given phenomenal opportunities to show what he brings onto the screen.”
“It was probably a little out of his comfort zone, something that may have had people in his camp saying don’t do this, you don’t need to. The fact that he went against the common wisdom, he gets high grades in my books for having the balls to make that leap.”
Now if Ron Perlman thinks you’ve got balls …