Doug Jones has appeared in some of the most fascinating and entertaining movies of the last ten years. His work with Guillermo del Torro has made him a true star, an actor who can be relied upon to bring to life some of the most fantastical creations ever seen and made them seem oh so real. We decided it was time we chatted with this talented man and discover what drives him as an actor.
ZH: How did you get started in show business?
DJ: I got into mime as a college student at Ball State University in Indiana. The performing troupe was called Mime Over Matter ..... see the funny? This art form is what took an already expressive young fellow and made me fully aware of my gestures and movements as I learned to tell stories with no words. My first agents in Hollywood were aware of this mime thing of mine, and my third job I booked on TV was the Mac Tonight commercial campaign for McDonald's, wearing a big crescent moon head with sunglasses while singing at a piano on a cloud. It turned into a successful 27 commercial commitment over the next three years, and got me known in the creature effects world as the tall skinny guy who moves sort of well and doesn't complain while wearing something a little warm and a little heavy. Steve Neill designed the moon head and had several people help with running molds, mechanics, and puppeteering over those three years, as new heads were made and we filmed more and more commercials. Those nice people would return to their own creature shops, and my name went with them when they had a project come to them that was right to refer me for. That's how my name got passed around and snowballed over the years.
ZH: Do you come from an acting family and were they supportive?
DJ: No, and Yes! Mine is not a show-biz family at all. They are a very practical lot. I am the least educated with my university bachelor's degree, as my three older brothers all have master's degrees, the oldest also holding a PHD in molecular biology, for crying out loud! They may not have fully understood my need to express myself creatively as a profession at first, but they never stomped on my dreams, always offering support, yes. Thank Heaven my mother doesn't use the word "struggling" anymore when describing what kind of actor I am.
JW: Early in your career you worked on a number of music promos, do you have a personal favourite?
DJ: Music videos are a different animal. One that I like. It seems to be more about visual imagery, and finding graphic moments that help mark a song in our minds, even if there is somewhat of a storyline to the video. I was in a quick snippet of Madonna's Bedtime Story video, sitting on a bench in a pond of water that came up to my ankles with a tall, skinny woman. Both of us had our heads replaced with hand mirrors holding Madonna's image on them as she sang. So I never met her, unfortunately. Marilyn Manson was a quick meeting during a one day shoot for his I Don't Like the Drugs, But the Drugs Like Me video. I played a sad, big-eyed fellow in the future who was this way from watching too much TV. But I think my favourite was working on a 3-day shoot with the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their Soul To Squeeze video. I was a contortionist in a 1930's travelling sideshow of freaks with the late Chris Farley as our ringmaster. The guys in the band were so genuine, creative, and fun to work with.
ZH: A lot of your film work is in the fantasy genre, is this an area you enjoy yourself?
DJ: As a child, I was a sit-com fan, a variety show fan, and a musical movie fan more than anything growing up. However, I was so mesmerized by Boris Karloff as The Mummy and the Frankenstein monster, as well as Ricau Browning and Ben Chapman as The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera. Images and a haunting that stayed with me, so I fully appreciated their art even at an early age. I did limp around the back yard hoping to affect a monster or two after seeing those classic performances, but I thought my destiny was to play a goofy next-door neighbour on a sit-com, or sing, dance, and comedy sketch my way into a variety show like Carol Burnett's.
ZH: In the UK we mainly know you for your work with Guillermo del Torro, how did your association with this respected director begin?
DJ: I was referred to him to play one of his giant bug guys (Long John #2) during the re-shoots of his first big American studio film Mimic in 1997. He was told that I had worked under lots of prosthetic make-ups before, and during lunch on my second day, he asked me all kinds of questions about make-up artists and creature shops I had worked with before. This is where he became a little boy with wonder in his face as it lit up, all excited to talk about monsters. He asked for my card, and when he was looking to cast Abe Sapien in Hellboy five years later, Mike Elizaldi, Steve Wang, and Jose Fernandez from Spectral Motion sat back with Guillermo admiring the approved sculpture of the character and said, "That looks like Doug Jones", as they had all worked with me before. That's when Guillermo said, "Doug Jones.... I know Doug Jones!", and he pulled my card out of his wallet. Hellboy is where we artistically bonded, understanding his directing style, while he understood my acting style. Then when he was in pre-production for Pan's Labyrinth, I received an e-mail from him in Spain, telling me to read the script, and get back to him immediately, as no one else could play Pan the Faun but me. Talk about humbling. And when I realized the film was to be in Spanish, I was terrified. And then he tossed in The Pale Man. It was during this film that my respect for him as a true visionary and a master storyteller deepened. He now calls me "the Fred Astaire of monsters", which is such a compliment coming from a horror/sci-fi/comic book fan like him. And as for me, if he asked me to take a crap on film, I will take that crap, fully trusting that he is the one man who can turn it into art, and we'll be discussing it after next year's Oscars.
ZH: What was your first impression of him?
DJ: No one can meet Guillermo without being fully enchanted by him. Yes, even as he's cussing and joking about his own naughty bits. Somehow on him, it's just plain endearing. And he is a fan boy first and forever. Like a nine-year-old boy who loves monsters, that part of him never really grew up, and I hope he never does. He makes movies that suit his tastes as a discriminating audience member. I trust his genius and his judgement so very much.
ZH: For me your most recent standout performance was as Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. How difficult was it to wear that costume and still portray such a complex character?
DJ: Thank you! I absolutely love the pale man, even though he was an afterthought to me at the beginning of the filming process. My main focus was the Faun character with all the complicated costuming AND all the Spanish dialogue to learn! The Pale Man's specific challenge was the cross-eyed, limited vision as I could only see out of the large nostrils in the middle of the face. Very disorienting to only use one eye at a time. But regardless of how many layers of latex or silicone I have to emote through, I look at acting as simply acting. All actors have to go through make-up, hair, and wardrobe before the cameras roll, and sometimes it takes a little longer. Whether I'm guest starring on a TV show in a t-shirt and jeans, or doing a movie in hoof feet and horns on my head, I still need to get to the heart and soul of that character. To find out what makes him tick, to know his intentions, what he wants, what he's afraid of, all of that. Heavily made-up or costumed characters, like the Pale Man, do need a bit more athletic endurance to pull off, so you just find that organic space in which that fantasy character lives, and you go live there and let him take over. The difference between lots of make-up and not, would be the same way you might feel walking out of your house wearing a sweater, or walking out of your house in a Speedo. In one, you don't really worry what the neighbours might think, and in the other, you do .... until you get to the pool and realize you don't look half bad in a bathing suit.
ZH: Did you all feel at the time that you were making something very special?
DJ: I did. I knew this one was special as soon as I closed the last page of the script, as I wiped a tear from my eye, and got in touch with Guillermo del Toro immediately to thank him for writing such a glorious story, and for offering me such gorgeous characters with complex duality.
Next time Doug talks about his work on the Hellboy movies and his plans for the future.
All pictures on this page were taken by Albert L. Ortega