Actor Doug Jones has had a storied career in Hollywood. He has starred in an Academy Award Best Picture winner (The Shape of Water), he’s a lead in the Star Trek TV series that introduced the franchise to a new generation (Discovery), and was the striking characters Fauno and Pale Man (Pan’s Labyrinth). He played one of Dark Horse’s best known characters (Abe Sapien), a Marvel tortured hero (Silver Surfer), the beloved zombie Billy Butcherson (Hocus Pocus), and a terrifying, silent Gentleman (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
Beyond that, Jones was also in Batman Returns, Tank Girl, Warriors of Virtue, Mimic, Mystery Men, The Time Machine, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Legion, John Dies at the End, Arrow, Crimson Peak, The Bye Bye Man, and What We Do in the Shadows, just to name a few.
Jones was recently a guest at Creature Feature Weekend on March 17-19, 2023, in Gettysburg, PA. While at the horror convention, he took a break from signing autographs for an interview with Scoop. The prolific creature actor talked about some of his most famous roles, discussed what it’s like to act in prosthetics and heavy makeup, seeing himself as an action figure, and what he’d like to do next.
Scoop: Are you having a good time here at Creature Feature Weekend?
Doug Jones (DJ): I am. I had no idea what to expect in Gettysburg. I didn’t know how much traffic would come through here, but it seems like it’s drawing people from near and far. So it’s been great. Lovely, lovely folks.
Scoop: You’ve become known for your physicality and playing creature characters or ones in heavy makeup. What do you like about those types of roles?
DJ: I think those types of roles like me. [laughs] They’ve come looking for me over the years, due to the referrals of creature effects makeup people that I’ve worked with before. They’ve been very good to me. I owe my creature career to the creature effects makeup designers and artists who have transformed me over the years. What I get out of it is the ability to play a wider array of characters than I could ever do with my own face. That’s given my career some longevity that I didn’t expect. Everyone talks about Hollywood being so youth-centric, and when you’re covered in rubber bits that allows you to age and nobody knows.
Scoop: You have a background in mime and contortionism. What attracted you to those forms of artistic expression?
DJ: I did mime and I have been able to contort a bit, but I wouldn’t say... It’s in my bio, it’s all over the internet, but I never had a traveling circus act. [laughs] I can put my legs behind my head, so I could watch TV in funny positions as a kid. My brothers said, “Gosh that looks weird,” so I thought “Maybe I can push it farther.” The mime thing started happening in college. I joined a mime troupe called Mime Over Matter and started performing. I was really quite taken with that art form of nonverbal communication and how many stories you can tell without uttering one word. So much of our communication comes from gestures, body language, posturing, facial expression, tilt of the head. All that speaks volumes.
Scoop: Going off of that, what methods do you use to express a character’s emotion when you’re in heavy makeup?
DJ: If there’s verbal dialogue, that’s a big help. I can use my voice and inflections to get a point or mood across. Also, the comments I get most are my hands. [gestures with a flourish] Hand gestures say an awful lot. I find myself able to express myself through the tilt of the head or a flick of the fingers. It all has to work with the character. So many people who ask me about my acting techniques want to start with the physical. I can’t start there, I have to start with the heart and the soul. So you have to take a character into your insides and understand his wants, needs, loves, fears, how I play in the story, how I interact with other characters. Then that comes out through the body. Anything I do physically is motivated by the inside of the character, his soul.
Scoop: This weekend you’re part of a Hocus Pocus reunion. After 30 years, it’s still gaining new fans. How has that movie impacted you personally?
DJ: In a huge way. When I was a kid, it was The Wizard of Oz, that I watched every year. If I had the chance to meet [Scarecrow actor] Ray Bolger I would have wet my pants. So, when I have kids who have grown the past 30 years with Hocus Pocus, and come to meet me at a convention and wet their pants, you know what, I understand why this adult is having a conniption fit in front of me because I would have done the same thing with Ray Bolger. I get it. It seems like things we watched in our childhood affect us or inspire us or move us or make us laugh – we carry that with us to adulthood. Those childhood memories really carry throughout our lives. It’s such an honor to be a part of so many people’s childhood memories that they grew up with. And it’s because of that, because of all of you in the audience who grew up with it, that we had the chance to make a Hocus Pocus 2, 29 years after the first one was made. Now we have a double feature we can watch at Halloween time.
Scoop: You’ve worked with Guillermo del Toro on several projects – Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, Hellboy – what do you find most exciting about those collaborations?
DJ: He’s my favorite director I’ve ever worked with, and every other director knows that and they’re fine with it because they love him too. What’s exciting about him is his storytelling abilities. He just has a way of telling stories that are so emotional and often frightful. He loves to live in the dark places, but his dark elements of his stories always have a redemptive sort of ending or some kind of... there’s light through the darkness. That’s the message that his films carry that I love being a part of; it’s that no matter how dark or bleak our world around us might look, there is light to be found.
Scoop: You played Abe Sapien in Hellboy and Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, both of whom are heroic characters with tragic backstories. What appealed to you about playing those characters on screen?
DJ: I think that’s what appeals to me. The Silver Surfer, especially, had quite a tragic story, he kind of put himself in the service of Galactus to save his home planet from destruction. The woman that he loves is back there and so he’s living a lonely life, but it’s all for a bigger reason. Abe Sapien, it’s funny because we don’t know where his beginnings were. When I was filming Hellboy 1, Mike Mignola, the creator of the comic books, was on set with us and I asked, “Mike can I ask you a question?” He put up his hands and said, “Before you ask, I have no idea where Abe Sapien came from. He was just discovered in a basement one day.” I think it’s the sense of found family. Silver Surfer found family with the Fantastic Four, to start off with. In the movies, he became part of their team, a part of the solution instead of the problem. On the B.P.R.D. team, we’re a bunch of freaks and we found each other, found family, so I think that’s what appeals to me. That sense of found family. That’s becoming a more and more prevalent thing in society. Nuclear families are having their challenges now and so, finding family on your own is healing for people. I like being a part of those stories.
Scoop: For the past few years, you’ve starred in Star Trek: Discovery, which has introduced a new generation to the science fiction franchise. What challenges do you face playing a character long-term versus playing one in a single film?
DJ: Challenging but also a bit of a gift. The challenges are trying to fight the “been there done that” syndrome. I know the character, I’ve played him, can it get redundant in your own heart and mind? But, we have great writers who have kept it fresh. I’ve been able to delve in and peel back layers of the onion on this character. To find out more and more about him with every season we played. With everything he encounters, a new part of him comes out to play. I’ve lived with Saru from Star Trek: Discovery more than any character I’ve played before. I’ve spent more hours as him than anyone else in my 37-year career. That’s been a lovely ride to get to know a character that well.
Scoop: On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you played the lead Gentleman, one of the show’s most iconic villains, for the silent episode, “Hush.” What personal touches did you bring to the character?
DJ: Again, it’s going to be the hands. [laughs and gestures with hands] When I auditioned for that guest role, Camden Toy was my partner in crime. The two of us were always paired up when we floated around causing havoc in Sunnydale. They had originally designed the masks for the Gentlemen with glued on smiles on the outside of the actor’s face. When Joss Whedon saw Camden and me in our audition smiling as we gestured and nodded, and were very gentlemanly, quietly, he got freaked out by Camden and me. Out of all the actors in the waiting room. So he had us in the forefront and had them redesign the makeup so that we could use our own smiles. Holding a smile for that long…It was like wedding photos. You start to tremble. [mimes holding a painful smile] Everyday for two weeks. But, what innovative television that was and what risk taking he did to make that, with the network saying “You can’t make a silent episode.” And he said, “Watch me.” I think that was very daring of him. It worked out because that’s still the episode. That and the musical. Those are the two I hear most about from Buffy fans.
Scoop: That show had multiple season-long villains, but when you ask Buffy fans who their favorite villain is, it’s the Gentleman.
DJ: That’s very sweet to hear.
Scoop: Since we’re at a horror convention, I wanted to ask what classic horror character would you like to play if you had the opportunity?
DJ: Well, I’ve played all of the classic villains that I would like to, I guess. Had you asked me this five years ago, I would have said Nosferatu, and now I have done that. I did do a remake that’s finally finished and coming out this year. There’s a trailer coming very shortly. It’s going to look different. The backdrops are from the original silent film and we were all filmed on greenscreen combining old movie-new movie together. They call it the Nosferatu Remix.
Playing Count Orlok was a dream come true. That was a role I was dying to play. Having played two fish-men, I got the Creature from the Black Lagoon out of my system. I dare not say any others because... If I got hit by a bus today, I could feel very satisfied that I did everything I needed to do. But also, as my career goes on, I’m ready for surprises now. If another creature, iconic or not, wants to find me, that feels like the right fit. I’d like to be surprised by that.
Scoop: Are there any other comic characters that you’d like to play?
DJ: I used to say Deadman in the darker DC universe. But again, I’m 62 now, so I don’t know how much superheroism I have left in me. I’m in that stage of life where villains are more my style now. Or quirky human roles. I’m ready to explore quirky human roles for sure.
Scoop: What stands out to you as the most difficult makeup and/or role that you’ve performed?
DJ: None of them are easy, let’s get that across the board. A misconception is that the application process is the worst part of my day. It’s not, that’s the easiest part of my day. Even if it’s a seven-hour makeup, and that would be the first Hellboy movie. Abe Sapien took 12 prosthetic pieces glued to me from head to toe, paint blending in, on shaved skin. It was quite a process and by the time I’m done with that, it’s seven hours later and I now have to start a 12-hour filming day. That’s the hard part. Now that you’re wearing all this, you have to keep it fresh and your spirit alive, keep your body alive and energetic through a 12-hour movie shoot. Then it took another two hours to get me cleaned up and back home. That’s the biggest challenge. That and Pan’s Labyrinth, the Faun character was very involved as well. Once I was in it, I couldn’t sit down comfortable, so I was on a bicycle seat with a T-bar to lean on. So, I was never comfortable from start to finish during my filming days.
Scoop: You mentioned spending a lot of time in the makeup chair for some of your greatest roles. How did you develop the discipline and patience for that?
DJ: I don’t need to. I’m a boring person who loves to sit still. Most people have to be doing something. That’s the common question I get most from passersby, is “How do you sit there through those makeups. I would just go stir crazy.” I don’t. I love staring at a wall and drooling on myself, so I’m built for it.
Scoop: What do you want people to know about acting in prosthetics and makeup that you think they don’t know about? The fun or complications of it.
DJ: Well, the fun is obvious, we all like playing dress up. That’s why Halloween is such a fun holiday for all of us, as kids and adults. When a young actor approaches me and says, “I want to do what you do, it looks like so much fun.” Yes, comma, but there’s a lot more to it. Some actors think it might be easier if you’re covered up, that you don’t have to worry so much about pressure as an actor. It’s quite the opposite. You have to worry about a bit more pressure as an actor because you have to perform in a way that emotes all those emotions in your heart and soul that we were talking about. Also a visual performance, that way you’re not slumping because of the weight of the costume, you’re not missing an emotional beat because you’re exhausted that day. It takes a lot more. That’s the misconception among young actors, that it must be so fun and easy to hid behind the mask. You’re not hiding behind the mask. You’re making that mask live and breathe. That takes a lot more.
Scoop: What are you working on now?
DJ: You’ll see me in about three more episodes of What We Do in the Shadows in their season five, yet to be aired. Season five of Star Trek: Discovery is done and still coming. It was announced recently that it will be our final season. There is a family-friendly, faith-based streamer called Pure Flix, and I did one episode of an anthology series for them called Destination Heaven. I’m in the “I Will Follow Him” episode where I play a shifty used car salesman who goes through some issues. It’s actually, hysterically funny. I was tickled pink to do that. It’s one of those human roles that will help me explore my future. Otherwise, I’m looking at scripts all the time. Now that Star Trek: Discovery is done and I don’t have to film anymore, it opened up my calendar a bit. I’m able to look at projects that come to me with more interest and more possibility now.
Scoop: Are there specific genres you gravitate toward when you’re looking at scripts?
DJ: Because I’ve done so much dark material in my career, light and fluffy appeals to me. Comedy appeals to me. If I can play a quirky next door neighbor in something funny, great. Also, I’m a big fan of light, fluffy things like the Hallmark Channel or Great American Family Channel. They have very simple stories with low stakes, and the worst thing that happens in those movies is a slight misunderstanding. Christmas movies. If I could play someone’s dad, the dad of a grown daughter or son who’s having the relationship issues and wants to talk to dad about it, I’ll wear my reindeer sweater, have a cup of cocoa, and we’ll have a chat. That sounds like the dream role to me.
Scoop: What did it feel like the first time you saw yourself in action figure form?
DJ: Oh, that was a long time ago. It’s happened so many times now, and I don’t mean that boastfully, very humbly. I cannot believe I’ve been turned into so many toys over the years. [laughs] I did the Mac Tonight campaign for McDonald’s – the crescent moon head, sang at the piano. I was the commercial character for three years and 27 commercials. That character was turned into Happy Meal toys, sippy cups, beach towels, and lunch boxes. That was awesome, but it was also like, “I don’t know if anybody knows it’s me.” Then I kind of understood how nice it was to be anonymous.
Then, the first movie action figure that came out was Yee, my kangaroo character from Warriors of Virtue. I went to the toy store and I bought five of them. [laughs] I had a stack of just my character. The checkout guy was like, “Hmmm, you sure you want all of the same…” I said, “Oh, that’s actually me, I’m going to give them to family and friends.” I was quite full of myself, “I’m an action figure.” I kept one in the box and took one out to play with, because I could position me in different ways.
Now, the Funko Pop line has been very good to me over the years. I think people from the Funko Pop company – they’re getting close to confirming – that I am the most Popped actor in their history. There are 11 Pop figures that I can claim. One of them is the Nosferatu Pop that, of course, others have played, but now I have too, so I can claim it.
Scoop: Do you have a favorite of the different figures?
DJ: Well, the Pops have a similar look, but they also have the accents of the character you played. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to answer favorite/least favorite questions or best and worst because I don’t want to negate anything else by saying this one is the only one I care about, because I like them all so much. The Shape of Water Amphibian Man Pop figure, there’s three versions of it, so that character must have hit somebody at the Funko company to want to make three of them. One of them is in a floaty position with my hands up and my legs kind of back. It’s kind of pretty the way he is posed.
Scoop: Well, we’re just about out of time, I really enjoyed talking to you.
DJ: Me too, thank you.
To read more about Creature Feature Weekend, jump to our In the Limelight coverage.
(Special thanks go to Creature Feature Weekend promotor Craig Yastrzemski for scheduling this interview.)