Raising hell behind a mask

IN HOLLYWOOD, where million-dollar looks win multimillion-dollar movie contracts, actor Ron Perlman has become a star not so much because of his looks, but rather because he looks good wearing a mask.­

Perlman, 58, has built a career playing several deformed characters, from 1981's La Guerre du Feu (Quest for Fire) to his breakout role as the beast in U.S. television's Beauty and the Beast.

On Friday, his devilish-looking, tail-wagging, red-bodied comic book character Hellboy returns to movie theatres in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.­

The irony behind Perlman's rise to stardom is not lost on the classically trained actor. He says that early in his career working with heavy makeup helped free him from any personal constraints, but now he feels "comfortable in my own skin."­

Still, Perlman said the slightly goofy, slovenly, yet oddly brainy Hellboy is such a delight, he happily spends days in elaborate facial prosthetics playing the character.­

"I no longer need the mask as much as I used to," Perlman told reporters recently. "So now it becomes like, 'How much pleasure am I going to take in playing a mask character?'­

"This is a real honour to play because the heart of the character is truly mythic, truly legendary and epic in scope. He's a phenomenal, phenomenal character to spend time with."­

According to comic book lore, Hellboy was "born in the flames of hell" and brought to Earth during World War II in an evil Nazi project. Yet as an infant, he was rescued by the U.S. Army, raised by a brilliant professor and put to work for the top-secret U.S. Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.­

Beer-guzzling superhero­

Hellboy is a conflicted superhero, created to wreak havoc but trained to do good. He looks like a muscular devil, only his horns have been cut off. He chases down supernatural monsters, but he counts watching TV, guzzling beer and eating pizza among his personal passions.­

In Hellboy II, his task is to save humanity from an evil underworld prince who is amassing an ancient army of golden robots to rule the planet. Only Hellboy's got a bigger problem: his girlfriend is being a royal pain in his red tail.­

That love interest, who is filled with pyrokinetic energy, is Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and she has a little secret she is keeping from Hellboy as she helps him battle his nemesis.­

"In the second film of course, the circumstances are that he is now living with Liz, and it's really not going well," Perlman said. "So he starts drinking, and he just happens to have to save the world while he's a little bit buzzed."­

The Hellboy comics may not be as well known as Spider-Man or Iron Man, but their fans are just as loyal.­

When the first Hellboy movie hit theatres in 2004, it came from a little-known director at the time, Guillermo del Toro, with a star, Perlman, whose face was not all that recognizable.­

Yet Hellboy performed well at global box offices, grossing about $100 million. Del Toro went on to earn Oscar acclaim for Pan's Labyrinth, and the roles got better for Perlman.­

"I'm feeling so care-free these days that I don't remember even worrying about anything. I mean my life is just ducky right now," Perlman said.­

The reviews for Hellboy II are just as ducky, which seems an appropriate word to describe a comic book movie with a quirky cast of characters led by a he-devil.­

"One hell of a hero," screams The Los Angeles Times.

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