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Meet Doug Jones, Guillermo del Toro's go-to monster man and star of 'The Shape of Water'

Doug Jones is a prolific actor you'd probably never recognize on the street.

That’s because his face and body are usually covered in layers upon layers of prosthetics and makeup. Jones has carved out a niche for himself in Hollywood by playing creatures, most famously in Guillermo del Toro’s films. 

He played Abe Sapien in "Hellboy," the Faun in "Pan’s Labyrinth," and now he’s playing a fish-man monster called The Asset in Del Toro’s unconventional love story, "The Shape of Water."

All in all, Jones has played 12 creatures for del Toro projects, including Mimic, Hellboy, Hellboy 2, Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, The Strain and now The Shape of Water.

 

Jones has been playing monsters and creatures in film, TV and commercials since the 1980s, so he’s a pro when it comes to acting under makeup and prosthetics. But the fact that The Asset lives most of his life in the water posed some unique challenges during filming.

Jones joined The Frame to talk about his career, his collaborations with Guillermo del Toro, and what it's like to work under pounds of makeup. 

Interview Highlights:

On whether Guillermo del Toro ever gave the character in "The Shape of Water" a real name:

On the call sheet it said Charlie. And on the back of my set chair, it said Charlie, and the tape on my trailer door said Charlie. So I finally asked Guillermo del Toro one day, Did I miss something in the script, did someone refer to me as Charlie somewhere? He [says], Oh no, that's for Charlie Tuna. We're doing a Starkist tuna ad. So that's for inside jokeage

On what kind of work he was doing prior to meeting Guillermo del Toro:

I'd been wearing monster/creature-y suits and makeups in many things since 1986. A lot of commercials, I've done over 100. In fact, I was the Mac Tonight Moon guy, from McDonald's that sang at the piano: When the clocks, hey! Half past six, Babe! That was me in that moon head.

So let's see '97, I'd already done "Hocus Pocus" by then, when I played Billy Butcherson, the goofy zombie guy.

Another fun credit was in the movie "Quarantine," a very scary movie — handheld camera, reality-looking found footage kinda movie — and the very end of the film, you meet the guy who started the whole rabies outbreak and that would be "Thin Infected Man," another great title of mine. 

On how he collaborates with Guillermo del Toro:

I'll get a call usually late in the game. He's told me before when he's got something in development,: I've got something for you, but I'm not going to tell you about it because if we don't get to do the movie I don't want you to kill yourself. So sometimes he doesn't get my hopes up too early. I'll hear about it once the makeup designers have been developing a look and they're told to do this on Doug Jones. I'll get a call later in the process. He's never let me play a human, and that's fine. He doesn't think of me as a human and I'm going to take that as a compliment because he loves his monsters so much. He has said, I will always have a monster on my call sheet. And I've been blessed to be many of those over those six movies at that TV series ["The Strain"]. I've been 12 different characters for him now. 

On what special skills he has the makes him good at playing creatures: 

I started as a mime back in college. I was in a mime troupe called Mime Over Matter, get it? Play on words. The mime training is really what woke the body up to express dialogue visually instead of verbally. I was also a mascot in college, I was Charlie Cardinal at Ball State University. That was my first actual costumed gig. 

On what it's like to act inside a costume like The Faun in "Pan's Labyrinth":

I'm a nursing home patient when I'm in a creature outfit like that. I can't see very well, I can't hear very well, I need help walking to the set. Oftentimes I'm playing something superhuman or with extra powers, but I have to have help walking to get there ...The Faun character, for instance, I was looking through the tear ducts of his eyes that were kind of wide-set, and I have servos whirring in my head because they were mechanically working the eyelids, the eyebrows, the ears. All that was puppeteered off camera. Same thing with any of the fishmen I've played, whether it was in "Hellboy" or in "The Shape of Water." The gills that are right next to my ears also have movement to them ... A little distracting, so you just have to channel those things out, it's the humming in my ear just naturally so I just have to work through it. 

On how creature or motion capture actors don't get as much recognition as regular actors:

It's been an issue. I would say the issue is fading for me, personally, just because it's been an uphill battle. When your face is covered with prosthetic makeups, it is easy to assume that's something less than. The uphill battle for me is to be recognized as an actor and not as a freak of nature, mime, contortionist — whatever other people have called me over the years, I've been an actor all along. I met Andy Serkis a few years ago at Comic-Con. We'd been talked about to each other for 10 years, and we finally met and hugged for like five minutes and giggled and didn't say a word and kept looking at each other, hugging and giggling more. We kind of agreed that we do the same job, we're both actors. My makeup just happens to go on before the movie starts and his goes on after. 

This is just a partial transcript of the interview. We recommend you listen via the play button at the top right or find us on iTunes!