PRAGUE, Czech Republic — With the swinging turnstiles, busy newsstands and passengers rushing to and fro, it was a day in the New York subway like any other — were it not for the giant red beast doing battle with a slimy green monster and the fact that the real New York City was an ocean away.
It was the set of “Hellboy,” the forthcoming comic book flick from “Blade II” director Guillermo del Toro, inside an old Prague warehouse convincingly made to look like a New York subway tunnel, complete with tracks and an upper mezzanine.
And standing around in red makeup, filed-down horns, faux stone hand, large trench coat and floppy tail, Ron Perlman looked devilishly like the comic book’s wisecracking hero.
“Hey, chunkface!” Perlman yelled in character at his foe, who growled in response.
“C’mon, you can do better than that, big monster like you,” Hellboy taunted, tearing a pay phone off the wall in a flash of electrical sparks and then smashing the slobbering villain with it.
“See? It hurts!” Hellboy yelled. “You shouldn’t hit people.”
Before it was over, the two battling titans would end up smashing through a pane of glass and landing on the upper mezzanine. Hellboy would swing Sammael around by his tongue — which, like his feet, would be digitally enhanced later — and pause to save a box full of kittens before besting his opponent, all as a crowd of Czech extras dressed as New Yorkers looked on.
“The great thing about Prague,” Perlman said between takes, “is that, because the socialists were here for 40-some-odd years, there are all these abandoned factories and warehouses — these huge open spaces the size of airplane hangers that are at our disposal for building the kinds of magnificent, huge set pieces one needs to do a movie of this scope. This is the second film I’ve done here. ‘Blade II’ was also shot here, [and] I don’t think we ever used a movie studio [lot].”
Guillermo del Toro has wanted to bring “Hellboy” to the big screen for a long time, and he was pleasantly surprised to learn that “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola — whose “Seed of Destruction” story provided much of the basis for del Toro’s script — had the same actor in mind to play the title character, a demon raised by humans who works as a paranormal investigator.
“Guillermo let me read the first draft of ‘Hellboy’ four years ago and told me that his dream would be that we would be doing it together,” explained Perlman, who in addition to his villainous turn in “Blade II” is probably best known for his starring role in the 1980s television series “Beauty and the Beast.”
“It’s very difficult to get a movie as big as this [made] with a guy who’s not a bankable movie star,” he acknowledged. “I’m not ashamed to say I’ve never been a bankable movie star. I’m just a character actor. And that’s probably one of the most amazing aspects of this — that [del Toro] was able to pull it off. It’s a huge gamble for a studio to raise the amount of money that you need to do a picture like this without having, you know, a Tom Cruise.”
And while Tom Cruise is indeed nowhere to be found, Perlman certainly isn’t alone in the “Hellboy” cast. He’s joined by Doug Jones (“Men in Black II”) as the amphibious Abe Sapien, while Selma Blair (“Legally Blonde”) plays pyrokinetic Hellboy love interest Liz Sherman.
“I’m a fire starter,” Blair explained to MTV News earlier this year (see ” ‘Hellboy’ To Be Played By Former Beast, Pyro Selma Bliar Helps With Baddies” ). “I’m this tragically flawed superhero, in a way, when I’m taken in by the government to help them with their research on paranormal phenomena.”
The “Hellboy” cast also includes John Hurt (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), Jeffrey Tambor (“The Larry Sanders Show”) and Karel Roden (“Blade II”). Shooting began in February and is scheduled to wrap this month, with producers eyeing an April release.