Don’t get Ron Perlman started on Donald Trump.
“I grew up in New York,” says the 68-year-old actor, whose latest film, The Escape of Prisoner 614, opens April 27 in theaters and On Demand. “Trump is the quintessential Howard Stern guest, because all he wants to do is lower the bar. He’s been a joke all my life.”
Joke or not, Trump is a constant on Perlman’s entertaining Twitter feed, which is filled with pithy comments and retweets about the reality TV host-turned-president, as well as right-wing bloviators like Sean Hannity.
When, for example, Hannity tweeted that Trump attorney/fixer Michael Cohen never represented him in any manner, Perlman’s response was, “Similarly I never stuck it only half in, and I never put the checks I wrote him in the male [sic].” And when another Twitter user questioned if a regular Fox commentator like Alan Dershowitz would admit he had been played by Hannity after the latter confessed his relationship with the president’s attorney, Perlman’s fired off, “Dersh should receive the BAR’s coveted Houdini award for his ability to tie himself up in knots and then mysteriously cheat reason and logic.”
This kind of pedal-to-the-metal repartee seems to echo Perlman’s professional work. He has long been noted for larger-than-life performances in films like Hellboy and TV shows like Sons of Anarchy. In The Escape of Prisoner 614, he plays an early-1960s small-town New York State Sheriff—a blowhard who refuses to believe a black prisoner might be innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. “I’m interested in that moment in time regarding racial profiling,” Perlman tells The Daily Beast. “It was 55 years ago, and we haven’t moved a fucking inch. The movie deals with that in a way that’s entertaining, and hits the spot without hitting it on the head.”
Perlman is nothing if not forthright. And when you start asking him about the Trump administration, his responses tend to take no prisoners.
For example, he mentioned that he was recently at a press junket when someone asked him if he was interested in playing Trump in a film. His answer was blunt to the max: “Fuck no,” Perlman responded. “Not interested in one-dimensional people who have no redeeming value and nothing that is psychologically compelling.”
When I asked if maybe there were actually some psychological issues—his insecurity, his braggadocio, his compulsive lying—that actually made Trump interesting, Perlman stood his ground. “I’ve played serial killers and real bad guys, and there is always some sort of psychological gap there,” he said. “Trump doesn’t possess any of them. He’s just a cardboard cutout piece of shitfuck. There’s nothing there to explore. He’s one-dimensional, and he’s not clever. He’d be very boring to play.”
Perlman takes the same approach when he assesses the president’s tenure in office thus far. Is there anything in particular that’s the worst thing he’s done? “He’s normalized things that are unconscionable,” says Perlman. “A cap on the free press, his lying. He lies every time he speaks, and he’s desensitized us to what a lie and the truth is. There is nothing to teach our children to aspire to, the ideals that are truly American. He’s got it all muddled. He’s supporting Nazis, he supports all of the things that autocrats support, destroying the credibility of the free press. He’s managing to speak to the lowest form of discourse. And he’s parlayed this into this hold he has on the GOP, and shown there is no patriotism in the GOP. He’s represented a time in our history that has degraded one of the great civilizations in history.”
The same goes for his cabinet choices. It’s not just that there are one or two bad ones, it’s the whole group. “I wish there was just one [bad one],” says Perlmam. “It seems for him the only way to maintain full control is to tear down everything that exists. The head of the EPA, he puts in a guy who protects polluters. The Treasury is supposed to protect the economy, and the guy he names protects the one-percent. Housing, he’s got this fucking idiot, I don’t know if he’s asleep or awake. Education, Betsy DeVos, she has no idea what she’s doing.”
Yet Perlman refuses to condemn the voters who still support Trump. He doesn’t want to put down individuals, probably because he understands why these folks voted for the orange-haired one in the first place. “I think he’s tapped into an unhappiness people have with their lives,” says Perlmam. “It goes to globalism—this outsourcing that takes place, you have to have an advanced degree to compete. A lot of people have been left out of the American dream, and when someone says I’m gonna bring it back, I’m gonna make America great again, even if he’s lying to them, they believe him.”
Perlman also takes a fairly nuanced approach when it comes to the juicy scandal du jour—that involving porn star Stormy Daniels. “As far as Trump is concerned, he always feels like everyone is always out for a buck, and everyone can be bought,” says Perlman. “But when he goes beyond the original [non-disclosure] agreement, then he’s crossed the line, and that makes her look good, regardless of what her motives are. And when you are as crafty as Stormy is, and as crafty as her lawyer is, you start controlling the conversation.”
Still, it’s a long time till the November midterms, and anything can happen in the interim. What if, hypothetically, Trump actually works out a denuclearization deal with the North Koreans, and when the election rolls around, the country is also booming economically. Does this mean trouble for the Democrats? “Nixon opened up China, but that didn’t negate the fact that he was performing criminal acts,” Perlman offers. “I don’t care what Trump does in North Korea or Syria. The genie is out of the bottle for the high crimes and misdemeanors he’s committed, and it seems the case is going well. I’m banking on that.”
Yet there’s a question that begs to be asked: With all the chaos in the administration, is this a sign that the president is really an idiot, or is he a master media manipulator whose inconsistencies are deliberate, designed to keep his enemies in a reactive—rather than proactive—position?
Perlman’s two cents are typically, uh, Perlmanesque: “I don’t give a shit. Any time you ask a question like that it makes him look good, even though he stomps on things like decency and compassion. I don’t give a fuck; he is what he is, and what’s he doing to influence decency, compassion, love, inclusion. I don’t give a fuck what you say about his victories. We need someone our kids can look up to.”