#155, August 1996
Vincent Perez is new to the quirks of the U.S. press, but he's quick on the trigger when a question regarding his role as Ashe in The Crow: City of Angels strikes his sense of irony. "How much am I like Ashe?" the actor laughs. "That's an interesting question. Ashe is very much dead and I'm very much alive." But Perez warms to the idea of comparing his life to that of his onscreen counterpart and attempts to take it seriously. "A lot of it is a mystery to me. I knew very little about this character when I auditioned for the role. I've been told by [director] Tim Pope that it was my physical appearance as well as my agility that made me ideal for the role. Beyond that, I can only speculate. I like to think of myself as being somewhat sensitive, and that is a major element of Ashe's character. But I can only guess that, for whatever reason, I was right for the part."
In hindsight, it's a role that Perez finds as complex as City of Angels itself. "This movie is a lot of things. It's about religion and God. It's about the idea of there being a life of sorts after death. It's about the justification of revenge. This is a heavy film, and it proved to be much tougher, physically and mentally, than anything I'd ever done before. It was a total surprise because, when I was auditioning for this movie, there was only an outline and no script. So I did not know what to make of this character. But then I saw the script and looked at the comics, and at that point, I knew I was going to have to give a lot."
The actor found essaying the character of Ashe to be a "dance of death" in which agony, love and loss walk hand in hand. "There is great pain when I discover that I am in fact dead and try to find out why I am here. There's a sequence after I come back where I return to my garage, find a drawing by my son and start to cry. It's in scenes like that where I find the reason for revenge, which is the pain of being the Crow."
"There are a number of elements in this story that borrow from the philosophies of other cultures. In a sense, there's something quite universal and spiritual about this film, and it goes to many levels. I don't have a scene where I don't have to give a lot emotionally. It was quite draining."
Beyond the physical challenges, Perez offers that some of the high points centered around more character-driven moments. "I love the scene I have with Curve in the tunnel. I have this long, poetic stretch of dialogue. It's like I'm this priest conducting a mass and guiding Curve to his death. I really had to go to someplace different in my mind to make those scenes believable."
And that place is? "There's a very childish side to me, so I just went there. I also thought about religion and God a lot while making this movie. Especially when I was being lowered into the water tank [for his drowning scene.]."
"In this film I was allowed to don many faces. I was the freak, the joker and the devil. That's a lot for one character. But I feel that deep down inside Ashe there is much more to deal with."
On the set:
"Everybody was saying goodbye and was telling me to be careful around guns, so by the time I got to that scene, I was not so much afraid as aware that I had better be careful. I knew the subject was death, but I did not believe in bad karma."
Director Tim Pope wanders around the set, lit in trademark Crow yellows, off-browns and reds. The place is a flurry of activity. Perez, in one of his few moments out of Crow makeup, is kneeling down, occasionally smiling and making small talk. Nearby, the young actor playing his son, who has already been gunned down, is preparing to lie still. Off on the far side of the set, a weapons handler is instructing rocker and occasional actor Iggy Pop on how to handle a prop gun. Perez is joined at various points by FX and stunt crew heads Tom Boland and Doug Coleman.
On another day, following an element of Ashe's death in which a playful Pop gave the European heartthrob a full-mouthed tongue kiss, Perez steps gingerly into a water tank, is physically bound and, with the help of Coleman and members of the stunt crew outfitted in underwater gear, is slowly lowered into the water. Perez has been well-schooled by Coleman in this drill: He will be submerged up to 45 minutes at a time, with life-giving air passed to him by nearby divers. For the next two days, he will be underwater, a camera pointing down at him, as his character passes through life into death, and then struggles from death back to the land of the living. Perez is smiling, but it is a tight, nervous expression as he is gingerly lowered below the surface.
"That was tough stuff," laughs Perez shortly after the completion of filming. "But I'm used to that because, in all my previous films, I was getting beat up quite a lot."
But Perez, soft-spoken, yet earnest about his craft, saw his journey into the heart of darkness as a literal voyage of discovery. "At first, I was very aware of Brandon and following in his footsteps, but as filming went along, I would begin to find things - different character traits and nuances. I soon discovered that there were many ways in which Ashe and Eric were not alike, and the deeper we went into it, I found that Ashe was a truly independent character."