The man within the monster: five memorable Doug Jones roles
Gaze upon the many faces of the star of The Shape of the Water
By Jedd Jong
If Andy Serkis is the actor most closely associated with performance capture roles, then Doug Jones is the actor most closely identified with the more old-fashioned ‘men in rubber suits’ technique of portraying movie monsters. Jones has over 150 credits to his name, and has often played characters under layers of prosthetics.
Jones co-stars with Sally Hawkins in director Guillermo del Toro’s new period fantasy romance The Shape of Water, in which he plays a humanoid amphibian creature known only as ‘The Asset’. Jones’ lanky proportions make him the ideal canvas on which special effects makeup artists can work their magic: the former contortionist comes in at 1.92 metres tall. He got his start in advertising, playing a mummy in a Southwest Airlines commercial and the moon-headed piano player in the McDonald’s ‘Mac Tonight’ ads.
The actor’s association with del Toro began in 1997, when Jones was brought in for reshoots to play the humanoid cockroach creature in Mimic. “He loves creepy monsters and wants to talk about them,” Jones recalled. The two formed an instant connection, with del Toro excited to learn about the various famous makeup artists with whom Jones had collaborated.
Jones went on to co-star in del Toro’s Hellboy movies, and has worked all del Toro’s films since then except Pacific Rim. Jones’ other projects include Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Bye Bye Man, Batman Returns, Hocus Pocus, and Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, in which he played The Operator, a character based on the Slender Man internet mythological character.
There’s more to what Jones does than putting on a rubber suit and walking around. “Acting is acting,” he stated. “So whether I’m wearing a light dusting of powder that day on a sitcom, or wearing heavy rubber prosthetic make-ups, I still have to find the heart and soul of the character. That’s really where it starts with me.”
The Shape of Water has become something of an awards season darling, nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Del Toro also won a Best Director Golden Globe for the film, and the film took home best picture at the Producer’s Guild Awards. Lead actors Hawkins and Jones were praised for their physicality, and for making the outlandish, weird relationship between woman and fish-man beast feel plausible and emotional.
Here is a look at five of the most memorable roles Doug Jones has played throughout his career as the go-to guy to give monsters some heart.
#1: ABE SAPIEN in HELLBOY and HELLBOY II
Early glimpses of the Asset in The Shape of Water immediately attracted comparisons to Abe Sapien, a similar-looking character Jones portrayed in the two live-action Hellboy movies. The thoughtful, reserved aquatic humanoid blue-skinned Abe serves as an ideal foil to the brash, red-skinned Hellboy (Ron Perlman). The character was voiced over by David Hyde Pierce in the first film, but Jones voiced Abe himself in the sequel. Jones also voiced Abe in two animated Hellboy films. Referring the trio of Hellboy, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe, Jones said “between the three of us, I think we represent the freak in all of us, in all of humanity, we all feel, even supermodels that I’ve known, feel insecure and freaky at times.”
To play the intellectual Abe, Jones drew inspiration from his older brother Bob, a college professor with a PhD in molecular biology. “Abe has always been something of a lost soul, as is Hellboy, and I think that’s why people can relate to them is because we all feel like freaks in our real life at some point,” Jones said. The Abe Sapien makeup application process took seven hours for the first film, which was streamlined to five hours for the sequel. In Hellboy II, Jones also played two additional characters: the Chamberlain and the eerie Angel of Death. Jones said the mechanical wings he wore as the Angel of Death “weighed as much as a Vespa”, and even left him bleeding. “Those are small sacrifices to make when you look at the final product and say, ‘Okay, that’s what we made,’” Jones remarked graciously.
#2: THE FAUN in PAN’S LABYRINTH
In the haunting, lyrical Spanish-language dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, Doug Jones portrays the Faun. The Faun guides the young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) into a fantasy world where she must complete a series of quests. Jones, who doesn’t speak Spanish and had to learn the screenplay phonetically, received an email from del Toro, in which the director proclaimed “You must be in this film. No one else can play this part but you.” For research, del Toro gave Jones specific advice, telling the actor “Dougie, I want you to study the back end of barn animals’ — like cows, goats, you know, how do their hooves meet the ground, and how they shake their tails.”
“I read it within hours of getting it…I couldn’t put it down,” Jones said of the screenplay. “I turned the last page closed, wiped a tear and said, ‘I do have to be in this movie.’” During the five-hour long process of putting on the makeup and animatronic effects components to play the Faun, Jones would practice his Spanish dialogue and the makeup artists would help him. Jones’ voice was later dubbed over by Spanish theatre actor Pablo Adán.
The Faun also ages in reverse – he starts out looking decrepit, with moss growing all over him, but his hair eventually turns an auburn colour and he looks more youthful as Ofelia progresses in her quest. Jones had to cooperate with various others artists and technicians to bring the Faun to life. “A lot of things had to work in concert with them together and with puppeteers operating half my face and all, so he had many various elements that had to be screwed on mechanically and zippered and pinned and snapped and Velcroed,” Jones explained.
#3: THE PALE MAN in PAN’S LABYRINTH
In Pan’s Labyrinth, Jones also portrayed the exceedingly creepy Pale Man, one of the various obstacles Ofelia must overcome. The Pale Man has a bloodied mouth and an eyeless face – his eyes are instead in his palms. The fact that Jones plays both roles is intended to suggest that the Pale Man is a creation of the Faun, or even the Faun himself in another form. The Pale Man’s pursuit of Ofelia through his palace is one of the film’s most heart-stopping moments. “I have had the great honour to sit next to Stephen King during the Pale Man sequence and to see him squirm like crazy,” del Toro said, comparing the feeling of having frightened the renowned horror author to winning an Oscar.
The Pale Man’s sagging skin indicates that at one point he was plump – when he had plenty of children to eat. Ofelia is the first child to enter his lair in eons, and the Pale Man is sure she will not escape his grasp. Del Toro’s direction to Jones for the chase scene was to move like “a George Romero zombie”. To save time and allow the makeup team and himself to get more sleep, Jones would leave part of the Pale Man makeup on and wear it back to the hotel. “I didn’t tell anybody this during the shoot because I knew that Guillermo would have my hide for it because he wants me to relax and out of this all. But I had them take my head and neck off and my hands off but leave the arms and the torso on,” Jones revealed.
#4: LT. SARU in STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
We leave the realm of movies for a bit and beam over to TV, where Jones is currently a regular cast member on Star Trek: Discovery. The long-running Star Trek franchise has introduced a multitude of iconic alien species to audiences, including the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Andorians and the Borg. In Star Trek: Discovery, we meet a new race: the Kelpians. Kelpians are a prey species, used to being at the bottom of the food chain. Cmdr. Saru, played by Jones, is the first Kelpian to rise through the Starfleet ranks, becoming the science officer and third-in-command on the USS Shenzhou. One of Saru’s distinguishing features is his ‘threat ganglia’, an organ at the back of the head that helps him sense oncoming danger.
Saru has a somewhat contentious but generally friendly relationship with the show’s heroine, First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), which Jones compares to a brother-sister bond. “We annoy each other, but we have a deep love and respect for each other as well. Saru thinks she’s the smartest Starfleet officer he’s ever worked with. So that’s where the intimidation and the competition really comes from,” Jones reasoned. The makeup application process was initially four hours long, but makeup artist James McKinnon has gotten that down to two. “His detail and his finery of getting this on to me every day is amazing, but he’s getting faster at it. Mercifully so,” Jones said. “When you’re doing a long-running series, you don’t want to be in makeup four hours a day. So, getting it done in two is very helpful.”
#5: THE ASSET in THE SHAPE OF WATER
And now, to the man – or the humanoid amphibian, rather – of the hour. In The Shape of Water, set in 1962, Jones portrays a mysterious creature brought back from South America and held in a top-secret government lab in Baltimore. Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at the facility, becomes fascinated by and eventually falls in love with the Asset, who is tormented by the sadistic ex-soldier Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa eventually hatches a bold plan to break the Asset out of the underground lab in which he is held.
The Asset has become something of an unlikely sex symbol, and that was entirely by design. “A note Guillermo gave me, as far as [the Asset’s] physicality goes, he kept pushing the sexy,” Jones said. “This character has to be sexy. When watching the film you have to believe that someone could actually fall in love with him and find him sexy and want to take their clothes off in his presence.” Del Toro said he set out to create the ‘Michelangelo’s David of fishmen’. He collaborated with fine artist Mike Hill, whom del Toro met at the Monsterpalooza trade event, in designing the Asset. Del Toro was unsure if Jones, a practicing Christian, would be comfortable performing some risqué scenes. “I asked what could possibly be the problem and he goes, ‘Well, there’s a f*** scene.’ As only he could say,” Jones recalled with a laugh.
Addressing the physical similarities between the Asset and Abe Sapien, Jones said “Guillermo was very specific, he did not want Abe Sapien in this film at all,” and that del Toro wanted The Shape of Water to stand alone as “its own piece of art”. While Abe is intelligent and articulate, the Asset is animalistic, and cannot speak – which is a way in which Elisa relates to the Asset, since she is mute. Jones said that the relationship between the two characters was “so lovely to explore on film.”
The Shape of Water opens in Singapore theatres on 1 February 2018