john lawrence talks to the man who gave Abe Sapien life …
To sci-fi, comic book, and horror movie fans around the world, the name Doug Jones has become synonymous with breathing life into some of the mast fantastic characters ever created. He brought director Guillermo Del Toro’s Academy Award-winning masterpiece El Labertino de Faun (Pan’s Labyrinth) to life as the main character Faun and the grotesque, child eating Pale Man. He made us laugh in Rock Jocks as Smoking Jesus. He creeped us out a little as the Ice Cream Man in Legion.
And he brought not one, but two iconic comic book characters into the live action world as nobody else could. As the Silver Surfer (in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), he wowed us with the ability to absolutely nail every motion, pose, and nuance and made us believe that the “Sentinel of the Spaceways” was indeed real. As Abe Sapien in Hellboy, his performance was so great, that even an A-list actor, did not want credit for voicing the character. And as if that wasn’t enough, he came back in Hellboy 2 to play not one, not two, but three characters in heavy prosthetics. Now, in the TNT sci fi drama Falling Skies, we get to watch him do this every week.
The busy actor took a few moments away from the make up chair to talk with me about his movies, TV shows, sleeping ducks, and fighting Randy Quaid.
Pop-Break: You have worked in just about every medium. You’ve done video games, commercials, tv shows, web series, all the way to multi-million dollar film franchises. Is there a particular medium you prefer?
Doug Jones: It’s really all about the character and the story I get to play. The job of an actor is to find a character and interact with the other characters, and to be a part of a story you love. So, it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s in a web series, or a big feature film, or an indie film, or a short film. I’ve had such great experiences in all of these formats. I can’t really say that I prefer one over the others. I’ve definitely loved certain projects more than others.
PB: Well, on that note, what would be your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
DJ: I have a two part answer for you. My favorite costumed character I’ve ever played is Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies. I feel such a connection and kinship with him. I love that sees and feels with his hands. He understands much more when he can use his hands. I love his innocence. Even though he is the most intelligent being on the B.P.R.D team, he’s not very street smart. I feel there’s a certain charm that comes with that. My favorite human character I’ve played would be Jerry from My Name Is Jerry.
PB: I’m not familiar with that movie, can you tell me about it?
DJ: He’s a forty-something who has reached a point in his life where he needs to reinvent himself. He’s come to a crossroad between defining himself and redefining himself. It’s a very standard practice that most middle aged men go through. A mid-life crisis is obviously common enough that they have an actual name for this phenomenon. By the time I was offered this role, I had already been through my own so I understood Jerry a little better than I should have. [laughing] He was connecting with a lot of twenty somethings in the movie that were the same age as his estranged daughter. He hadn’t talked to his daughter in ten years due to an ugly divorce. So it really becomes a reconnection story of a father and daughter finding their way back to each other. These twenty something punk rocker kids that he winds up hanging out with, take him in and try to make him cool as a sort of project. It’s a very lovely story that poses a lot of questions. What are we going through in our twenties? What are we going through in our forties? They are very similar. In our twenties we doing the whole “Where do I belong? Do I belong? Do I have skills that matter? Is there love for me? Am I important to anybody?” In our forties, we go through “Have I mattered? Have I accomplished anything with my life? Did I reach the goals I set out to reach?” Then you look ahead to what does the second half [of life] have for me. Am I going to continue to be a complete failure? Can I let go of some of those goals and be more realistic?
PB: You are like a modern day Lon Chaney, but instead of being “The Man of a Thousand Faces”, you are “The Man of a Million Faces”. In Hellboy alone you played three different heavily costumed characters. Was being made up in different costumes something that always interested you, or did it just happen to pan out that way?
DJ: So many young people get a hold of me and say “Mr. Jones, I really want to do what you do. How do I get started?” The true answer is that I have no idea. I never set out to do what I am doing today. What I was looking forward to when I moved from Indiana to Hollywood, was to be a sitcom star. I wanted to be the tall, skinny, goofy kid who is sidekick to the good looking people and gets all of the funny lines. I wanted to be Gilligan or Gomer Pyle. That’s what I grew up watching and that’s what I thought I could be. Little did I know that my mime experience would come in handy. In college I was part of a mime troupe called “Mime Over Matter.” That’s funny right? [laughs]. So my mime experience gave me a skill set and a physicality that made me more aware of how much dialogue is more than just verbal. Your entire body speaks. In my first auditions for commercials when I moved out here, they sent me for anything that required physicality or costume work. The creature effects people that put me into costumes for a couple commercials loved me because they could build things on my small frame. They could make me into any size creature they wanted. They kept passing my name around amongst each other and I got a lot of referrals from that branch of the business.
PB: Were you ever nervous when it came to roles like the Silver Surfer and Abe Sapien? They are such iconic characters in the comic world and have a lot of history behind them.
DJ: I wouldn’t say that I was nervous. I would say that I was downright terrified. Knowing that these characters come from a source material that is so beloved, with a huge audience that wants you to get it so right is terrifying. It brings a huge amount of pressure with it. It’s a pressure that I understand and respect. I love comic book movies. One of my all time favorites is the original Superman with Christopher Reeve and my, now friend, Margot Kidder. So, I definitely want to keep the fans happy and do justice to their beloved characters. I was not familiar with the Hellboy comics when I was hired to do the movie, so with the script I was given a stack of graphic novels to familiarize myself with the characters, and I was thankful I had them. I could see what Mike Mignola was creating in the comics and see how Guillermo Del Toro was interpreting that into his film script. The same thing happened with Silver Surfer. All I really remembered was that there was a Silver Surfer and he started out in the Fantastic Four storylines. I had to run out to a comic store. I walked up to the kid at the counter and said “You’ve got to help me. I need everything you have on the Silver Surfer.” So he dragged me to the back and gave me these anthology books that go all the way back to the beginning and I walked home with a couple fat volumes of Silver Surfer stories. It was Jack Kirby’s original artwork and Stan Lee’s original writing that was just so poetic and beautiful to me. The poses were so striking. They were a cross between ballet and sheer, muscled athleticism. It absolutely inspired me to take the character in a live action format so that I could do my very best for the fans that fell in love with those comic books.
PB: I am a huge Silver Surfer fan and I’d have to say that you did great. We were actually discussing this within the company recently, in preparation for this interview. We have some staff members that really liked Fantastic Four part two and we have some that really didn’t. The one thing that we all agreed on is that you were the best part of that movie. You portrayed the Surfer perfectly.
DJ: [laughing] Well thank you. That’s really very sweet. Thank the rest of your staff for me.
PB: My editor-in-dhief wanted to know how it came about that David Hyde Pierce would not take credit for voicing Abe and how that made you feel.
DJ: The decision was made before I was even cast. The studio was looking for an A lister that would play Abe. They didn’t think they would be able to find one that would be willing to put that much make up on and become virtually unrecognizable. So the compromise was they would find someone that is used to all the make-up to play Abe and find an A lister to do the voice. When I came in, that decision was already made. I begged them not to do it, but I lost that argument. When David Hyde Pierce came in to do the voice over, looping over what I had already done on set, he was listening to my original performance in his ear piece. He stepped back and said “What am I doing here?” It was very, very kind and humble of him to say. He went ahead and did the job he was hired for, and I think he did a great job. When the film came out, he did refuse to take a credit in the film. It’s not in the opening or closing credits. He didn’t attend the premier. He didn’t do any press for the movie. When asked why, he replied “Out of respect for Doug Jones”. That never happens. As actors, we are all very full of ourselves and we want as much press as we can get. That was an act of sheer valor. I never would have expected or asked that of him. I was completely surprised. It was a wonderful, wonderful thing, and if I ever get to meet him, I’m going to kiss his left cheek to thank him profusely for that.
PB: You’ve never met?
DJ: No we have never actually met. No. When Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood and Iron came out, the two animated films, they offered the voice to him first and he politely declined. That’s when they came to me. So when Hellboy 2 came out, that was me talking for myself as Abe Sapien and the Angel of Death as well.
PB: That’s actually one of my favorite characters in the movie. It was very creepy. (laughing). So, you said you are a fan of comic books and comic book movies. Is there a character out there that you are just dying to play?
DJ: I’m not sure if I’ve said this in public, but I’m going to tell you now. When I found out that Guillermo Del Toro wanted to explore the darker side of DC Comics, I became hellbent on playing Deadman. I want to play Deadman.
PB: I think you would be perfect for Deadman. We should start a petition [laughs].
DJ: Great. [laughing]. Hey, while your making petitions, there is one more thing I’d like to do. I’ve never done broadway. I thought it would be great to do a broadway production of The Nightmare Before Christmas in which I would love to play Jack Skellington.
PB: I can’t think of anyone that would pull it off better than you.
DJ: From your lips to God’s ears. Or to Tim Burton’s ears.
PB: Since we talked about your favorites already, do you have a least favorite character that you’ve played?
DJ: Oooohhh Suuuurrre. That would be the “Mother Bug” in a movie called Bug Buster. Some movies you do for the money, some you do for the art. This was definitely a money job. Even though it wasn’t that much money, it was early enough in my career that I said “Well, it’s more than I’ll make flipping burgers. I better do it.” And, Oh my gosh!! What a dismal piece of crap!! It was awful, awful, awful! As the mother bug, I was a six foot three insect. I had six legs and a stinger coming out of my ass. I had wings and pinchers and my forearms were covered with fiberglass pinchers that were six feet long. I had an insect head that was attached to the top of my head, so my head was actually in the neck of the creature. It was a neck workout every day. In this costume I had to fight Randy Quaid. He was the general that came to town to take obliterate the bug problem, because I was giving birth to all of these deadly bugs that were killing people. In the finale, he gets to the cave where my stacks of eggs are incubating. I’m protecting my eggs and he shows up with all of these weapons. It was all very tongue-in-cheek funny, but when you are in a six foot bug costume, life is not happy. He tried freezing me with a freeze gun, and he tried torching me with a flamethrower. Since nothing hurt me, he throws down his guns and says [in his best Randy Quaid voice] “C’mon me and you, mano y mano!” So we have a choreographed fight and I end up on top of him at the end of the take. They yell cut and I go sit down in my chair in my fifty pound suit. I ask the PA to go check on Randy because I didn’t see him get up. Then I hear his voice [cue Randy Quaid impression again] “Doug. Hey buddy I’m fine. Don’t worry about a thing. Keep doing what you’re doing.” The next voice I hear is the twenty something production assistant saying “Can I get some ice over here? I can’t stop the bleeding.” I had sliced up Randy Quaid’s forearms with these fiberglass pinchers. (laughing) I hated my life that day and I felt so horrible for Randy.
PB: [laughing]That was the most honest answer I could have ever hoped for
DJ: [laughing] Ok. Good
PB: You also mentor young actors. Can you tell me about that?
DJ: Mrs. Laurie, my lovely wife, and I were never able to have kids of our own. By the time we were in our early forties, a doctor told us we were unable to. But then a bunch of twenty somethings started coming into our lives. From speaking engagements to kids I’d work with on sets, or even the comic con connections that we’d make. L.A. is full of a lot of young people that have moved here from somewhere else. Often times, they’ve left a family that they miss. Having a mom and dad type figure to spend time with is great. Other times, they’ve left a family that they do not miss. In that case, a mom and dad figure also comes in handy. There has to be a connection that goes way outside the show business thing. We call these kids our puppies and I guess we have a family of over thirty kids now. Those connections do not happen just because someone hears about it and decides that they want to be a “puppy.” It has to be a natural relationship that grows out of something real.
PB: I absolutely have to ask. Is there any chance at a Hellboy 3?
DJ: If you look at IMDB, there is a Hellboy 3 rumored, and it has all of us attached to it. The truth is, I don’t know how it got up there or who put it up, but nobody has called us. The last thing Guillermo Del Toro told us is that there is no studio attached to it. Sony Pictures did Hellboy and Universal Pictures did Hellboy 2, but I think we are looking for another home now. If it does come up, I will jump at the chance. Abe is my favorite and I would love to see the Hellboy story finished. Guillermo Del Toro has a part three story in his mind all of this time, and that’s why part two ended with so many open ended questions.
PB: I have to ask you a question or my wife will kill me. We can’t trust Cochise [Falling Skies] can we?
DJ: Well, you learn in the season openers that Tom Mason, played by Noah Wyle, is trusting Coshise a lot. I’m the leader of my Volm race, and he’s the leader of his human race. We’re just trying to figure out to be the Espheni. What you don’t know yet is what my reasoning is. That’s the question that’s going to be left unanswered for a little while. Tell your wife I’m sorry, but that’s the best I can do. Cochise has a lot to learn about the human spirit and that may change his mind about what is going to happen. The best way to get a picture of who Cochise is, is to not only look at him from the eyes of Tom Mason, but also look at him through the eyes of John Pope [Colin Cunningham] or Colonel Weaver [Will Patton]. They are not quite trusting of me and they will be happy to tell you so.
PB: What is the pop culture break in your day?
DJ: YouTube. Just today I was very entertained during one of my breaks today by watching a duck try to stay awake and it couldn’t. I don’t care what you say, that’s as entertained as I will be. Or give me cat making noises and they subtitle it. That’s hilarious to me.
PB: What’s next for Doug Jones?
DJ: The Neighbors [the ABC sitcom in which Jones plays a character named Dominique Wilkins] has been picked up for a second season. They haven’t announced yet if Falling Skies has been picked up for a fourth season yet, but I would love to juggle both like I did last season. Feature film wise, I have a great indie called Dust of War with Tony Todd. I’ve got Raze, which is a post-apocalyptic movie about women fighting women starring Zoe Bell; playing my wife in the movie is Sherilyn Fenn from Twin Peaks. It’s a disturbing film with graphic violence in it, but it has a purpose to it. I know it sound like a gratuitous film with chicks in tank tops fighting each other, but it was done in an artful way as to pose the question “What lengths would a woman go to, to protect the ones she loves?” Two weeks ago I wrapped on a movie that I can actually tell you absolutely nothing about. It’s going to be very exciting. It’s based on an internet character and that’s really all I can tell you.
PB: Sooooo, You’re playing the duck that can’t stay awake?
DJ: I would kill to play that duck by the way.
PB: Even if it meant another fifty pound prosthetic, and you head was in the duck’s neck?
DJ: As long as I don’t have to fight Randy Quaid I’m fine.