Feature Interview by Brad Balfour
For someone who has done his share of big-budget, tentpole films, his latest being "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," actor Doug Jones can step out on the street and usually go unrecognized. But, it's no wonder since almost all of his parts have been masked by incredible make-up, special costuming, or computer-enhanced visuals. Not that the Indiana native is complaining; Jones's skill at using his body and facial gestures to give life to characters who are either silent or with faces and bodies so alien in appearance that it has made Jones the go-to guy for breathing life into such roles.
When that skill is enhanced by being in such a fanciful film as "Hellboy II" his performance becomes even more pertinent and compelling (he was also called on to do The Chamberlain and The Angel of Death in two scenes). In "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," the saga of the world’s toughest, kitten-loving Hell-bred hero continues to unfold with more muscles, badder weapons, and ungodly villains. After ruthless Prince Nuada (son of the Woodland King) kills his father and defies an ancient truce between humankind and the invisible realm of the fantastic, an apocalyptic war seems ready to erupt if the robotic Golden Army is unleashed. A member of The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, aquatic empath Abe Sapien joins fellow veterans Hellboy, pyrokinetic Liz Sherman and new director, the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss, to step into the hidden realm and defeat Nuada.
As envisioned by Oscar-winng Mexican director Guillermo del Toro ("Pan’s Labyrinth," "Hellboy," "Blade II"), the film arrives with an epic vision of imagination. The 40-something's attention to detail from the raft of intriguing creatures to the unique music makes for a a filmmaking vision that makes his films transcend the traditional hero flick. But because Del Toro is such a fan-boy in his own right he appreciates what both the general public and hardcore aficionados enjoy.
Though Jones shines in this sequel, he's done similarly rich performances from his starring role in "Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer" to his idiosyncratic animated creature renditions in such films as "Lady in the Water" (Tartutic #4), "Men in Black II" (Joey), and "Batman Returns" (the Thin Clown) among many others. Now he's even being talked about as being the monster if Del Toro does his interpretation of "Frankenstein" and continues to do character roles in various movies and television shows. In the following exclusive interview, Jones enthusiastically discusses his unique career and its evolution.
Q: How has your aquatic character of Abe Sapien evolved?
DJ: You just get to see more of him, and in this particular installment of Hellboy, his emotional side is evolving. He’s always been sort of a Mr. Spock-like character, very intellectually driven. This time, his emotions are awakened because of a new love interest.
Our [enemy] in this film is Prince Nuada [played by Luke Goss], an elven prince from the underworld, and he’s risen to be our nemesis. He’s trying to make right what went wrong with his community against humans many, many moons ago. He has a twin sister, Princess Nuala (played by Anna Walton who is Cate Blanchett good, okay?). She’s amazing.
Nuala is the one who Abe finds out in the field on one of our little missions, and is immediately smitten by her. She also is a creature from another world, as is Abe. They have a bond of being misfits that are lost souls; that don’t quite know where they belong; and it’s really sweet and tender how they find each other. It becomes a part of the major plot that this subplot plays into.
Q: What was the experience of working on this "Hellboy?"
DJ: Because we’re more together as a team, I'm on screen more this time and Abe also gets a chance to wield a weapon and fight with bad guys; he didn’t really have that much prowess in the first film. I had a little tête-à-tête with [the demon] Sammael in the first movie, where he swiped me and I was running from him.
This time, I get to be a tad more macho, and my costume has been changed a little bit where they’ve added a lot [more definition]—I’m clad in leather a lot, and letting these muscles bulge through that the fan girls hopefully will appreciate. But all-in-all, it’s more colorful, there’s more sets.
Guillermo is one of those directors who likes to do as little computer graphics as possible. He uses them to enhance and flavor his film, but he likes to have the real set there, the real costumes, the real make-up, so there are critters and creatures aplenty that throw you back to the Hellboy comic books—the real world that artist/writer Mike Mignola created.
Q: Watching you is a fascinating study on how to use your hands as an actor to make a character come alive, that’s a key part to Abe.
DJ: It’s funny you say that because I’ve had more people recognize me from my hands than my face, honestly. It’s like, “Those hands! That’s gotta be—” Plus, my thumbs, this little knuckle on my thumb, for some reason is very noticeable. People tend to recognize the shape of my hand because I have this funny knuckle. It’s not that big of a deal to me, but it’s like, "That’s Doug’s thumb!"
Q: How did you meet Guillermo del Toro and get your first parts from him?
DJ: One afternoon in 1997 I was called by a creature-effects make-up shop, asking if I could come downtown that same night for a night shoot on a movie called "Mimic." Apparently, the film had been shot in Toronto, but they were now doing re-shoots here in Los Angeles, and the tall, skinny fellow they had in the insect-man mutant costume was still in Canada.
So there I was, donning this outfit and working for a total of three days on "Mimic." It wasn't until the second day that I met our director, a jolly Mexican man with bright, inquisitive eyes named Guillermo del Toro. This was his first big American studio film.
At lunch time that second day, he sat across the table from me and asked me all kinds of questions about my history acting in creature suits and make-ups, wondering which make-up artists' work I had worn. As I listed off most of the big make-up names in Hollywood, Guillermo turned into a geek fanboy in my very presence, telling me how much he loved all their work, while also filling me in on his own history, getting started as a creature-effects make-up artist in Mexico. He asked me for my card and stuck it in his wallet.
Well, five years later, I received another call from the wonderful Spectral Motion creature-effects shop. They had just been talking about me while looking at the approved design for Abe Sapien for the first "Hellboy" movie. Earlier that day, Mike Elizaldi, Steve Wang, and sculptor Jose Fernandez stepped back from the maquette, looked at Guillermo, and one of them said, "That looks like Doug Jones." Guillermo replied with, "Doug Jones... Doug Jones.... I know Doug Jones!" And he pulled my card out of his wallet.
Q: You went on to work on Del Toro's Oscar-winning "Pan's Labyrinth" as Fauno/Pale Man; how was it different from working on the "Hellboy" franchise?
DJ: The difference between these two films is that "Hellboy" was a big American studio film, and "Pan's Labyrinth" was a smaller budgeted foreign film done independently. When doing an indie film, Guillermo has so much more creative freedom and control over his own product. That's why he loves to do smaller indie films between his big ones, and that's why he was at the Oscars with six nominations for "Pan's Labyrinth."
When you let a genius create a masterpiece without over-processing it, this is what can happen. My involvement was simply brought to me by Guillermo, telling me that no one else could play the Faun, 'Pan', and that he needed me to also play the Pale Man, as he said, "In my sick mind, one is a creation or an extension of the other, so I need you to do both."
This film has become the most career-defining and most meaningful to me personally, as it was such gifted and unique storytelling that I was so honored to be a part of it. I have now decided that if Guillermo asked me to take a dump on film, I will take that dump with the full confidence that he will turn it into some amazing piece of art that we will be discussing this time next year.
Q: What do you know about more Hellboy films coming out?
DJ: Well, Guillermo del Toro has had "Hellboy 1," "2," and "3" in his mind ever since the beginning, so I do believe that "Hellboy 3" is coming. But, of course, with him now working on "The Hobbit" movie, I’m not sure how quick that's going to [happen], or when that will be. But, you know, we waited four years between "Hellboy Part One" and "Part Two," so it wouldn’t be unusual to do that again.
Q: In both "Fantastic Four" and "Hellboy," you worked with an ensemble, but in "Hellboy" you’re really part of the ensemble; in "Fantastic Four" you were a man alone, and there was a focus on you. As part of an ensemble, you had to fit in and become a character that’s part of a community; what was the difference for you?
DJ: Yeah, the Silver Surfer is very much a loner. He’s got all this angst and, you know, he made this sacrifice that put him into a life of lonely service. That’s how he became the Silver Surfer. So that was a completely different psyche to crawl into than Abe Sapien's, who is very much a team player. He’s a little brother to Hellboy. He’s a brother-in-law like annoyance to Liz Sherman. And he’s also risen up to be the brains of the operation in the absence of [Hellboy's adoptive father/guardian and founder of The BPRD] Professor Broom in "Part Two." We lost him in the first movie, played by John Hurt, who did a beautiful job.
So the team effort thing and being part of an ensemble cast was much more of a true feeling in "Hellboy" and "Hellboy II"—especially in "Hellboy II" because in this sequel Abe is much more a part of the team and we all go on the adventure together, whereas in the first movie I was this one-note intellect, sort of clairvoyant character that was useful, but once I got hurt, you lost me for the last third of the movie.
Q: What was it like hanging out with each community of actors?
DJ: The thing about the Hellboy family that sets it apart is that we are all freaks of nature, and, I think, in real life, too. Honestly, if you talk to Ron [Perlman] and to Selma [Blair] and talk to me, all of us have our insecurities that go above and beyond. We’re typical actors, but we’re also—we can put up a good bark, but behind it we might be—we connect with our characters quite well. And our characters don’t have an alter ego. We don’t get to be Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent by day. We’re stuck in our look, you know? We are our alter ago at the same time.
With the Fantastic Four, [they're] a bunch of beautiful people. They’re all pretty. They’re not freaks of nature; even in the lore of Fantastic Four, they’re celebrities in their community. They have a gift shop with t-shirts and all that. Well, the Hellboy community, we don’t. We’re a secret, tucked away, freak of nature sort of element, whereas Fantastic Four is very out there, very celebrity-driven, very pretty. So that does set it apart and make it different.
Q: The characters you have played have been in the middle, neither arch hero or arch villain.
DJ: Because of my look—I’m not Brad Pitt—I knew early on in my career that I was going to have to either be scary or funny. And with most of my roles, I have been both of those. That’s why doing a character like the Silver Surfer or Abe Sapien, those are the two times that I’ve actually gotten to be a handsome hero, but in a make-up that made me so.
The Abe Sapien thing is even more obscure because—that’s another Guillermo del Toro trait—he takes creatures that have an otherworldly look, but you can’t really relate to their look as much, but he gives them a humanity and a personality that we can relate to as humans. So he’s turned a demon from hell and a fish boy into handsome, leading, romantic males.
Q: You've been tapped for two iconic, major characters that will be in the psyche of the fan base for the rest of your life...
DJ: I don’t know why I’ve been so fortunate, honestly, to be a part of two "ginormous" franchises; it's just a real dream come true. Adding to that, being able to do more artistic films like "Pan’s Labyrinth" at the same time, being coupled up with Guillermo del Toro as a director and writer who loves working with me, and I love working with him, I’ve been very extremely blessed.
It’s nothing that I ever went out and sought. I thought I was going to be a sitcom star many years ago. That’s why I went to Hollywood, thinking I was going to be a goofy next-door neighbor, do armpit farts, say a funny line, and leave. But instead, the creature-effects world sort of found me early on when I played the Mac Tonight character for McDonald’s many years ago, the crescent moon with sunglasses, and I sang at a piano. Yeah, that was me. So that kind of got me hooked into being the guy who moves well, wears a lot of crap, and doesn’t complain.
Q: What do you do to give these characters life and make them something unique in their own right?
DJ: Wow, I should start boasting about myself [laughs]. No, I don’t know. I’ve always said that acting, for me, is a full-body experience because communication is a full-body experience, and I’m one person who has always talked with my hands, gestures, posture and body position, facial expressions a lot.
All of that comes into play in addition to your words. It speaks every bit as loud as your words do, and, having training as a mime back in college, which I don’t talk about much, because nobody likes a mime, do they, but that got me very much in tune with everything from the neck down, having to tell a story without props, a set, without words, and still be able to communicate something to an audience. So taking that mime training and then coupling it with roles that have dialogue and lots of make-up and everything has become my career, you know?
Q: You understand how to make a little gesture go a long way.
DJ: Less is more sometimes, yes. Again, my personality is very much "be big, be broad because no one is going to understand me unless I go really over the top." The Silver Surfer is so reserved and so confident in his strength because he’s got this cosmic power, that he doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody. That was the antithesis of Doug Jones, so he was quite a character study for me to do, to relax in the strength that the Surfer has within him, and securing myself that way.
That role also [involved] a posture change, that was something that I had to work on my core muscles and have a posture that started from my gut, that had a certain strength to it so that everything that came from me, whether it was flicking a hand to send a zap at somebody, or, gathering up strength to blow up at the end. Those are strength moves that I don’t usually carry with me, so I did have to delve into finding out how the Silver Surfer felt and moved, and his confidence was something that I really had to take in.
Q: Initially the Silver Surfer was going to be a CGI-generated fabricated creature, not a human being. You surprised everybody that there really was a person playing Silver Surfer.
DJ: Actually, you can tell from looking at the film, there was a lot of computer graphics used, but there is a difference between computer-generated characters and a computer-enhanced character. From where I was sitting, it felt very computer-enhanced, which means I came walking out of my trailer everyday in full make-up and a costume that looked exactly like the Silver Surfer.
The enhancements were put over me in post-production by Weta Digital, the company that did The Lord of The Rings trilogy and King Kong" beautiful work, but my costume and the design of the Silver Surfer was made by Spectral Motion, the company that brought to you Abe Sapien from "Hellboy." They were the same make-up artists and everything.
Mike Elizalde, who was the head of the company that put me all together, and Jose Fernandez did a beautiful job of sculpting me, so there was just a lovely team effort there, and I’ve never been in a role before like this, that combined practical effects that you glued onto yourself on set and the visual effects were added later, so it was a combo platter of beauty, and some shots, yes, were completely computer-generated, some of the action sequences, much like was done in "Spiderman."
When you would see Tobey Maguire put his hood down and then go flying off in between buildings and you could tell that was a CG character. With the Silver Surfer, it was the same thing, but in other shots there is no CG at all, when I was powered down, lost my board, and was tarnished, that was me in a rubber suit and make-up. So it was a complete combo platter.
Q: What about your own Silver Surfer movie?
DJ: I wish I had more information to tell you about this. The hope is that there would be a Silver Surfer solo movie one day, and I am contracted for two more films, as was standard in doing a franchise type movie. You know, a three-picture deal is kind of standard. So there are two more options for me. If they want to exercise those options or not is up to 20th Century Fox. There is talk of J. Michael Straczynski ["Babylon Five" creator] having written a beautiful script for a solo movie. Whether or not it happens is going to be a matter of time and interest from the public and the studio going forward with it. Let’s hope it happens.
Q: You were in "Tank Girl" and several other films; I knew you’re there but I didn’t realize it was you.
DJ: In "Tank Girl," I was one of the Rippers with Ice-T who was also playing a Ripper. We were these half-man/half kangaroo mutants, and Malcolm McDowell, was the nemesis in that film. He was the bad guy that we were all fighting.
I did a small cameo in "Adaptation," which is one of my favorite films ever. I played Augustus Margary. It was a flashback and I was one of the orchid hunters that was lost in the field, killed in the field, that they were doing a flashback to from the book, from the adaptation of the book.
Yes, I was also in "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle." Robert DeNiro had me and two other FBI agents in captivity and turned us into vegetables. There was a potato; there was a radish; and I was the carrot. So as you can see, I’m tall and reddish [laughter]. I’ve come a long way since then.
Q: What about this indie film you are doing next?
DJ: The next thing I’m starting in a few weeks is a small independent film, "My Name is Jerry," which is going to be filming back in my home state of Indiana. I’m playing the role of Jerry, a middle-aged white guy who is going through a bit of a mid-life coming-of-age story. He needs a reason to reinvent himself out of his boring, dull, mundane life and ends up finding himself drawn to the punk rock world because of a couple of kids he meets, and they draw him into this. Meanwhile, his daughter he hasn’t communicated with in 10 years moves back home with him, and so there’s a lot of cross issues and a wonderfully woven story.
Also coming up, that starts filming soon, but coming out in October I have a cameo in a movie called "Quarantine," Sony Pictures Screen Gems, kind of a horror element, one camera, reality looking show, and you’ll find a little surprise at the end of the movie. That would be me. That’s all I can say.
Then I have a cameo in a movie called "Legion" with Dennis Quaid, Paul Bettany, and Tyrese Gibson. I’m kind of a page-turning character from Act II to Act III. My character shows up; I’m the Ice Cream Man, which you think is a happy-sounding thing, but picture a clown with a knife in his hand. That’s kind of what I’m going to be in that, sort of this Ice Cream Man that’s not quite right.
I'm really excited about this next thing—I finished doing the Skin and Bones episode of "Fear Itself," a new show on NBC. My episode will be airing sometime in August, with director Larry Fessenden at the helm, and he did a wonderful job. It’s a great story; I play a wealthy ranch owner who’s been missing in the mountains for ten days. I come home at the top of the show, and I’m not quite right again. I’m possessed with something that inhabited me in the mountains, and you’ll see what happens. The show and my ranch home turns into something like "The Shining."
Q: When people meet you are they surprised that you’re so tall?
DJ: They’re surprised at how tall I am and at how skinny I am; I wear lots of muscle suits. And they’re also surprised at how nice I am because sometimes I play scary characters, too. So I hope I keep getting that comment from people.