SXSW 2014 Interview: Ron Perlman & Daniel Stamm on 13 Sins
You can have a little bit of South by Southwest in the comfort of your own home, with 13 Sins now available on VOD. It premiered at SXSW and while I was in Austin, I got to speak with director Daniel Stamm and star Ron Perlman. Mark Webber plays Elliot, a man about to be married who’s just lost his job and faces impossible debts, when he is offered a fortune by a mysterious phone call, so long as he performs 13 tasks. Perlman plays Detective Chilcoat, on his tail.
Before the premiere screening, a SXSW programmer said they tried to program Stamm’s previous film, Cotton, but lost it when Lionsgate decided to release it and call it The Last Exorcism. Stamm introduced the film warning the audience that there was no killer in 13 Sins. When I finally got to speak with the filmmaker and actor, I investigated these claims and explored the career of Perlman’s most memorable and infamous roles.
CraveOnline: I didn’t realize The Last Exorcism was originally called Cotton, after Cotton Marcus.
Daniel Stamm: It was, yeah.
How long did it have that title before Lionsgate changed it?
Daniel Stamm: While we shot it it was Cotton. It said Cotton on all our chairs, and then once the distributors saw it, Lionsgate, every distributor said it has to have the name exorcism in the title. Then they retitled it The Last Exorcism.
You warned the audience there isn’t a killer in 13 Sins but I think there is. We just don’t see him. There is someone who set up the cable in the street.
Daniel Stamm: I just wanted to make sure that the audience didn’t look for some kind of slasher guy with a mask in the end, because with these midnight movies, I think a lot of people expect that kind of a movie and we didn’t make that kind of a movie.
I hope midnight audiences are sophisticated enough to get it.
Daniel Stamm: Right.
Ron Perlman: You do?
Ron, did you inject this character with a little humor or was that already established?
Ron Perlman: I think it was in there. I think it was very much a part of Chilcoat’s desire to never let anyone get too comfortable with who he is and what he is. There’s a little bit of a duality to him of course. Part of that is that gallows humor that detectives use when they’re amongst themselves.
Daniel Stamm: I think you added a lot of that though. There’s a whole layer of reluctance that you play that I didn’t see when I read it that I really love. You always have the feeling Chilcoat doesn’t really want to be there.
Are the 13 tasks all new for the U.S. version of 13 Sins? Do they all come from the Thai movie 13: Game of Death?
Daniel Stamm: No. I would say half and half. Half are new and half are classic. We wanted to make a movie that would work for both audience, the audiences that have seen the original to still give them their favorite tasks but then surprise them. The whole third act is kind of new for them but to not completely exchange everything. The fly swatting is classic, the wire is in the original movie.
Is the ostrich?
Daniel Stamm: The ostrich is new.
Do you have to play with us where we don’t actually see every task? Like the ostrich is better when we don’t see it ‘til it’s over.
Daniel Stamm: Right, I thought there was humor in that because we know the journey that he is on and we have to fill in that gap but we can totally picture the scene. To put the scene into the audience’s mind without having to shoot it, without having to show but let them play out. You have to get inventive because there is a danger of repetition. Thirteen tasks, obviously the audience is smart enough to figure out that he’ll be successful at the first 12 tasks, otherwise he wouldn’t make it to the 13th. You always think how can we put a spin on each of these tasks to tell them a little bit different.
Do you have to make the audience in on it for a while also?
Daniel Stamm: I think you do because you want them to identify with the protagonist. None of this is worth anything if we don’t care for Elliot’s plight and what Elliot is trying to do so we have to have them be an accomplice to what he’s doing, go on the journey with him, say, “Yes, this makes sense. For that amount of money, swat the fly, do this, do this.” Then hopefully push them to the point where it’s too late, to that point of no return with our protagonist so that they’re caught in this whole mess of a nightmare with him rather than detaching from him.
Or even to the point of cheering him on.
Daniel Stamm: Right, but there’s an energy that’s taking over that we feel the sense of empowerment that he feels, coming from this meek, little guy to suddenly wearing the leather jacket and being the badass, kind of a maniac out there. That we feel that when we go, “Damn right!” I had that with Falling Down. Do you remember that, Michael Douglas in Falling Down? I think that he did that brilliantly, that we are going on this journey into violence with him and we’re cheering him on. And then we understand that guy is a racist and dangerous, dangerous right wing man, but we understand that too late and we are already guilty of the same sins that he’s guilty of.
Ron Perlman: I just want to congratulate Daniel Stamm on his brilliance. That’s a great observation and it’s why we make movies, because of subtle observations like that that add to the layering and the texturing of an audience’s experience. Even though they sometimes aren’t aware they’re getting it subliminally, they do. I never realized that about the dynamic of Falling Down which was an incredibly effective film. I think 13 Sins is because I just saw it with you for the first time Friday night. Very effective film. Hard to do because it was so brilliant on the page. Very often the more amazing and original something is on the page, the higher your calling is. It’s very easy to improve upon a mediocre script but it’s very hard to completely nail a brilliant script. My hat’s off the Daniel for doing that completely and effectively and making great cinema all at the same time.
Had you seen the Asian film?
Ron Perlman: I had not. I purposefully didn’t want to have that in my head.
Ron, I saw Shawn Christensen’s short Curfew but what is your role in the feature Before I Disappear?
Ron Perlman: He opens it up and introduces a world that that main character that was in Curfew that he plays, is a part of. He introduces us to this club scene that he’s working in for low wages just in order to keep the lights on, pay the rent. But the club scene is very layered and seedy so it’s kind of a bargain that he’s making to be involved in because there’s a kind of natural progression between him and his nightclubs because he’s an artist essentially, but he’s not an artist that’s doing well. So now he’s working as a janitor but he’s doing it in a setting that he’s familiar with which is the nightclub scene.
I play the manager of the club that he works at and something horrific happens that we’re trying to cover up so I have to bring him into this. In his pure kind of way of approaching life, I have to dirty his hands by asking him to play along this horrific news not going public. I’m sure it’s something that happens in clubs all the time, so that’s what I do in that film. I haven’t seen that either. I saw the short film, stunning, stunning film.
Was that a unique opportunity to work with an Oscar winning director on his first feature?
Ron Perlman: It’s something that I’ve been arduously obsessed about since I met Guillermo del Toro in 1992. I felt like I was there when lightning was being captured in a bottle, so now Guillermo’s going off and making $200 million movies and I’m still doing low budget indies because I’m still obsessed with finding somebody who’s either a first timer or so early in his career that he is unspoiled and fearless. That, to me, is where great cinema takes place.
Do you think Shawn or Daniel could be more of those directors who cast you in more of their films moving forward?
Ron Perlman: That wasn’t my goal at all but I could say without hesitation that I would work with either of those guys on whatever they thought I was fit for.
Do you still work as prolifically as ever?
Ron Perlman: More so. It took me a long time to get momentum, to get to the point where I knew what I was going to be doing a few months in advance, rather than doing something and waiting three years to do the next thing. Now that I’m enjoying a period right now where there’s a lot of stuff that I’m blessed to have come my way, I’m really taking advantage of it because I just fucking love to be on a movie set more than any place on the planet.
Was there a point where you started getting cast more outside of makeup?
Ron Perlman: Yeah, it started to become hybridized in the ‘90s where there was a little of this and a little more of that. So as the world got more comfortable with this face and then I got more comfortable, because it was no coincidence that mask acting for me was much easier when I was younger than acting without one, because it freed me. When there was a sort of facade between me and the audience, I was freer to go expansive with a character, which I probably was more uncomfortable doing without the mask. Then as you just mature, the comfort zone expands and I began to become more comfortable and more expansive without the need for external trappings. Now I’ll only put the makeup on if it’s for a very, very worthy cause. Like I would do it for Hellboy 3.
Is there any news on Hellboy 3?
Ron Perlman: No news but I’m very, very desperately trying to keep the conversation going. There’s a few of us that are. There’s a lot of resistance to it but I feel as though in a just world we will have a Hellboy 3 because you can’t introduce all the elements that you did in those first two and then rob the fans of not having it resolve.
Have you seen any of the CW “Beauty and the Beast” show?
Ron Perlman: Absolutely not.
Not even a look at the new Vincent?
Ron Perlman: No, I was approached when I guess they were putting all that together to play what Roy Dotrice played in my version, you know, Father. I thought it was ludicrous.
Could you have even done that while you’re on “Sons of Anarchy?”
Ron Perlman: This was way before “Sons” when they were developing this. They’ve been developing it for a while. There was no “Sons” yet but I do know the guys who are involved in the original are somewhat involved in this as well and they’re very dear friends of mine and I wish them all well, but that was a character for me that was really special actually. I really had a lot of respect for playing that role and I just did not want to see him commercialized. I didn’t want to see him used for the purposes of just keeping a show on the air.
I was surprised they bothered to directly do the Catherine and Vincent story, because “Beauty and the Beast” could be open to anything. It didn’t have to be a remake.
Ron Perlman: Yeah, and it’s one of those parables that goes back to the beginning of storytelling, the Beauty and the Beast fable. It’s appeared in so many different forms and guises, even since the beginning of cinema. So yeah, I was surprised by that as you were.
One thing I think you probably don’t hear enough is I genuinely love Alien: Resurrection.
Ron Perlman: And you’re right, I don’t hear that, not only enough, at all.
I thought that was such a clever way to approach a new way to do Alien. Were you surprised you didn’t hear that when it came out or since?
Ron Perlman: I would have liked it if it was a more decisive triumph and there were things about the fourth one that were incredibly triumphant, really, really fantastic. The re-emergence of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Dariusz Khondji as a team of cinematographer and director, that alone is noteworthy. I thought that there were actual real problems though with the way the movie turned out so I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t ultimately really, really resonate.
That’s fair and I understand the complaints, but it completely worked for me.
Ron Perlman: Thank you very much. I appreciate it and it’s none of my business what I thought of the film.
Daniel, are you working on anything after 13 Sins?
Daniel Stamm: I’m going to Vancouver to shoot four episodes of a show called “Intruders” for BBC America with Mira Sorvino and a British Actor called John Simm who was in “Life on Mars” and “State of Play,” amazing actor. Eduardo Sanchez is doing the first four episodes and I’m doing the next four.
What is the premise of “Intruders?”
Daniel Stamm: It’s an ex-cop whose wife goes missing and shows up again and she’s not quite the same. It’s a play on reincarnation.
Is Mira Sorvino playing the wife?
Daniel Stamm: Yes.