We'd follow Ron Perlman anywhere, and in Amazon's new TV drama "Hand of God," we'll follow him down the path to Hell… or is it divine revenge? In his first TV lead since he slayed us with "Sons of Anarchy," Perlman stars as Pernell Harris, a high-powered judge whose idea of justice shifts when grim events leave his son in a coma. He begins seeing visions that he believes were sent from God to spur him toward a bloody reckoning.
It was heavy subject matter to begin Thursday morning in International Comic-Con in San Diego's 6A, where kids were clustered awaiting the "Gravity Falls" panel to come. But the "Hand of God" panel, which included Perlman, his co-stars Ben Watkins ("Burn Notice"), Garret Dillahunt ("Justified"), Alona Tal ("Supernatural"), Julian Morris ("Pretty Little Liars"), Emayatzy Corinealdi ("Criminal Minds"), and Elizabeth McLaughlin ("Betrayal"), as well as series creator Ben Watkins ("Burn Notice"), knew how to play to the crowd.
Knit caps (some autographed) were dolled out for good questions, as were temporary tattoos, which Dillahunt, who plays Harris's right hand psycho KD, volunteered to lick if fans would prefer. The former "Raising Hope" and "Deadwood" star also made it a point to correct the misspelling of his placard with mock outrage. (There's two "l"s in Dillahunt, SDCC!)
And Perlman--whose entrance spurred raucous applause and a field of flashbulbs--perked up the crowd with promises of "Hellboy 3." Asked about the time he tweeted for fans to make their desire for the completion of the would-be trilogy known, Perlman said in full:
"It seems a good day for me to straighten out the record because most of my tweets are goofs. That's how I provoke people and that, and kind of satirical and cynical. But I've done a lot of this kind of stuff the last few years and there's always the question, 'When are we going to see "Hellboy 3"?' and my answer is always the same. But it's always been kind of a specific venue, it doesn't really have any rippling effect. But I got the question at a Comic Con I did a couple of months ago and started talking about how if there's a real honesty to fan culture relationships, we owe the world the finale of "Hellboy." We asked you to come and watch two movies. We set up the whole ground rule of here's the beast of the apocalypse, and he's been raised to use all his powers in different ways. What's it going to be? He's got a non-negotiable destiny. He's got to destroy the world. And yet he's worked his whole life to cut against the destiny part. So what is that third movie going to look like? It’s a deal we made (with fans). We did two fucking movies. I don’t want to do "Hellboy IV "or "V." I don't want to do a TV version of "Hellboy." I don't want to do an animated version. I want to finish the f*cking trilogy!”
Fans cheered, only to be calmed by Perlman's continuing on, "The third movie…would be mindblowing if you're a Hellboy fan. I don’t give a shit if we make more money that "Iron Man" or less money. That's not what it's about. It's about this [gesturing to the crowd, earning more cheers and applause]. It's a covenant we made. We owe it to you. So I got up on my righteous hind legs and sent out this tweet. And three days later I had 60,000 new followers. "Hellboy 3" was almost trending. I'm calling studio executives to apologize. [Mimicking execs] 'You motherfucker, you made us look bad!' Then I decided, okay, I'll double down."
For parents wincing about bringing their "Gravity Falls"-loving kiddos into the hall for a mature-content panel that preceded the cartoon show's, Perlman teased, "I'm fucking sorry if you brought kids (here)." And once more the audience whooped and applauded.
But back to the subject at "Hand of God." Following the success of "Burn Notice," Watkins was encouraged by producers to pitch similar shows. Instead, he began concocting a show so dark and potentially controversial that he knew it'd be hard to sell on a pitch alone. So, he wrote a spec script. One that Perlman read as he does all scripts sent his way--with no knowledge of which part he was up for. When Watkins and Perlman met about potentially working together on the production, the latter said, "Please tell me it's for Pernell Harris." Perlman explained, "Not only is this a role that scares me, but that excites me that's how I know I'm in the right place."
In the series, Harris is a tough on crime judge with duplicitous business dealings that have helped his corrupt community thrive. But when his daughter-in-law's rape case goes unsolved, his son PJ is pushed to a suicide attempt that leaves him in a coma. Grief-stricken, Harris begins to hear his son calling out to him. Believing this and his visions are God's permission to track down those who crossed his family, Harris teams up with the very violent KD. "He's a man with rage-control issues, and struggling with it," Dillahunt offered, adding that KD soon thinks his short fuse is a gift from God to be used against the wicked.
More intrigue was laced by "Hand of God"s supporting players. Tal, who plays the aforementioned daughter-in-law, said of her character, "Everything (Harris) does has an effect on her, and she's really just trying to keep afloat." But things will get tense as the season progresses and these two collide over what's best for PJ--to pull the plug on his life support or not?
Meanwhile the local mayor ("The Wire"s Andre Royo who was not in attendance) is trying to keep Harris's apparent breakdown private so as not to spook off those whose business could help the city. And as this hurting judge wonders if he's destined or demented, Morris's local "actor turned con man turned preacher" with aspirations for a mega-church of his own abuses his position to push Harris down a dangerous path. Harris's only friend is just as eyebrow-raising as this shady preacher. Tessie and Harris " have something that goes beyond a call girl and her john," says Corinealdi as way of making sense of this call girl confidante.
With all this tension, sex and deception, it's little wonder that "Hand of God" drew the interest of "Quantum of Solace" director Marc Forster. But could they keep it? Watkins recounted how nervous he was to meet with Forster about helming a few episodes, including the pilot. "He's never done TV before, and I want him to jump in with me," he said. Much to his relief, Forster accepted the offer on the way to the meeting, within a brief elevator ride to its 25th floor location. "They were getting us ready to usher us to the meeting room, and Marc's like, 'We're doing the show! I love the show. Let's go.'"
And according to Perlman, his own acceptance "sort of happened in a similar way, on a 30-second elevator ride." He explained, "When I found out "Sons of Anarchy" was coming to a close, I was interested in staying in television. Because television right now is the most exciting place to be, partially because of how many new voices are at the table. The only way to grab the attention with all that's out there is to be more original than the last guy, which has always been the benchmark of what cinema was supposed to be. Now it's no longer in cinema. It's in television."
Searching for his next show, Perlman said he had a script that was "pretty good, one that was fantastic, and there was "Hand of God" which was unclassifiable." Knowing Marc Forster was signed on, he lamented, "He's not going to work with a schlub like me." But as Perlman entered the lobby of the CAA office where the meeting was to be held, Forster and Watkins approached him and gave him the role right there. "I had a Sally Field moment, but it wasn't a statement," Perlman explained, "It was a question, 'You like me? You really like me?!'"
Warm laughter proves "Hand of God" makers aren't alone. And considering the way Perlman and the panel won over the crowd, you can bet the new Amazon series will have legions streaming when it hits early this fall. As for Perlman, he confessed, "I can't wait for the world to see it."
"Hand of God"s pilot is now available for free on Amazon Instant video. The rest of season one will hit early fall.