As Falling Skies season 3 prepares to launch in the UK, SFX speaks to legendary creature performer Doug Jones about playing Volm warrior Cochise, new extraterrestrial ally in the war against the invaders...
What was your first step in actually building this character? Was there something in the script that you latched on to?
I think it was just the way he spoke, the way he was written. His language was very eloquent, educated, and informative. So much exposition comes out of my character, and television has to do exposition because there are often talking heads getting the viewers up to speed if they’ve missed the last episode. There’s a lot of that with Cochise. Trying to make exposition interesting is a challenge, but it’s necessary. I come to Earth with a history with the Espheni, the bad guy aliens, and it’s revealed that we’ve been following them around the universe, liberating worlds that they are trying to overtake. And the question kind of remains – well, what’s in it for us? And in episode 4, President Hathaway, played by Stephen Collins, asks me that question – why? What is in it for you and why do you go to this much effort to fight? And I give a long, eloquently written speech about why we fight. I think the writers really worked overtime on that one and did a great job to kind of humanise this alien. I was able to express my humanity. Or, I should say, my Volmanity.
We’re coining a word here…
We are! Volmanity! That’s my species. I needed to make him alien and different from humans but also relatable. At the end of season 2, before I was cast, they created that CG version of Cochise to step off the ship. He had more of a human shape and dimension than the other aliens on the show, so there was an instant visual recognition of “Oh, he’s more like us”. So with his personality he has to have something relatable as well. I knew I had to be humanly relatable and yet still very much not of of this world.
Did the prosthetics themselves inspire you?
When you’re going through a make-up process where there are two or three hours involved, and you sit and look at yourself in the mirror and you have yellow eyes that are wide-set on your forehead and a wrinkly, reptillian face and a reshaped body with wide shoulders and thin hips and all that, it’s like “Ok, I’m starting to feel this!”. Because I’m the leader of my people I wanted to give him a certain regalness, a certain posture that was authoritative but kind and gentle as well. I think a little bit of my Abe Sapien character from the Hellboy movies may be creeping in - the gentleness that he possesses. But Cochise is also a warrior. He grew up in battle and it’s all he’s known. He’s not afraid of the fight, either. So that’s bringing in all the tough guys I’ve known and worked with in my career, and gleaning off of them and that energy that they brought.
When you’re finding the physicality that suits the character, does the whole extraterrestrial biology play into it?
It does. Even just the way he walks. Finding a walk for him was a bit of a challenge in the very first episode. We weren’t quite sure… how alien do you go? Do you do something that’s so different from human? You border on funny when it comes to that. You want to go subtle. So I did. When I walk with Cochise I don’t go heel first. I kind of plant my feet either flat-footed or even toe first, depending on what the situation is, and how heavy and firm he needs to be in that situation. He tends to walk a bit more delicately, even though he is a strong warrior. So when I’m walking it may look a little different to what a general of an army would do.
You’re riding a horse, as well…
I did! And I’ll tell you something about that horse, too. When I got to Vancouver to start the season last year my first day on the job was going to a ranch, meeting that horse and getting to know him. I don’t live on a horse – I’m a city boy, and I needed to get up to speed on horse etiquette and handling. Within the first half hour I was riding by myself – I even got to a canter – and this horse was beautiful and wonderful and so gentle with me, and everybody was amazed at how smooth I looked on it. I was so happy about this! Then about a week later, when they bring the horses to the set, and I’m now in full make-up, that horse acted as though we had never met before. He was like “Who is this rubber alien guy touching my nose right now? How dare he!” He was like [pitch-perfect impression of outraged horse] and throwing his head around. And even with me on his back he bucked up. It was harrowing! But I held on. I am proud of myself for staying on the horse!
Did he get used to it eventually?
Thank goodness there were trainers all around that were holding him down and making him behave. They just got close-ups of me on the back of a horse for the rest of the day. You couldn’t see that there were four people holding him in place.
They didn’t have to break out the tranquilisers, then…
No, no… bless his heart. I wouldn’t want an alien on my back either.
You’re the only member of the cast who’s in prosthetics. Does that sometimes isolate you as a performer?
You might think so, and yes, if a cast doesn’t know what to do with you or doesn’t know how to relate to you… But these people are great, and they have been working with those Skitter characters since season one, the eight-legged freaks that are running around, and even though there’s a CG element to those characters there is a person in that make-up who’s a wonderful actor. Having an alien join the show that speaks English and walks on two legs and walks among them and is kind and benevolent was kind of a welcome relief to everybody – not just the characters but the people who played them as well. I did feel very welcome immediately. When you join a cast of an up and running show that’s already been going for two seasons, you can feel like that country cousin they don’t know how to relate to, but not this cast. They were so incredibly welcoming immediately, and so happy to have me. It was all good.
There’s a quote I found from you that absolutely fascinated me. You’re talking about the decision you make as to whether you play a character and you say you always ask “Is it a character I can invite into myself safely?” Are there characters that you can’t let in safely – and what would define those kinds of characters?
I have turned down roles before. Oftentimes because I wear lots of prosthetic make-up people think that I love horror movies, like bloody, gutsy, monster-chasing-kids-around-the-woods horror movies, and I don’t. That’s probably my least favourite genre. I like horror movies with a psychological bent or a suspenseful bent, that keep you on the edge of your seat, but eviscerating people on film and splattering blood on the wall I absolutely loathe. So there’s been a couple of characters that I’ve been offered… It’s a typical script, too, which does nothing to excite me: oh we’re a bunch of half-naked teenagers running around the woods, we’re smoking pot and having sex with each other but oh no, here comes Doug Jones to kill all of us one at a time! I don’t like that movie. And it’s been done and done and done. There’s nothing that challenges me or excites me about it. I think that’s half of it – it just bores me to tears. So those characters where they’re killing but no one knows why – [B-movie trailer voice] nobody knows whhhhyyy! – they’re just pure evil with no redemptive quality. The bigger picture of the story isn’t teaching us something, the audience gains nothing besides being terrified for two hours and at the end everyone that they fell in love with in the movie is dead. And who remains is the bad guy, because they want to make a sequel. No redemptive quality and just a force from Hell that is unstoppable, and that doesn’t inspire the audience to go and live a better life. It’s just terrifying. So that I don’t find safe to invite into myself.
Safe is the crucial word. Do you fear that stuff taking hold in your psyche as you’re putting the character together?
I wouldn’t say fear so much. I just fear what people are going to see and take away from the film that we’re creating. In my own life I am a person of faith, and hopefully – and this is what I’ve been believing all my life – the God that I worship is stronger than the powers of Hell. So I think I’ve got somebody really big and strong on my team. For that reason I don’t have built-in fear so much, but I don’t want to live on the dark side and glorify the dark side. That’s what I would rather not do.
Do you feel part of a lineage that goes back to Lon Chaney and Roddy McDowall, genuine actors inside the prosthetics and creature make-up?
Thank you for even making that equation, that’s extremely sweet of you. Journalists such as yourself are the ones who remind me that there might be a thread that ties us all together, and I appreciate that more than you know. I feel very humbled when I hear all those names come up with mine tossed in with them – I feel like I’m sullying their reputation! Just by sheer repetition I guess I have to listen, and if my name is being tossed in with the likes of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and Roddy McDowall, like you said, I am just honoured beyond belief to be a part of that film legacy.
And you worked as a contortionist. I take it that’s a skill that never leaves you?
[laughs] I’ve never travelled with Circus du Soleil or anything like that but I can put my legs behind my head. I’m kind of a one trick pony on that one but on my resume it qualifies me as a contortionist, so I’ve gotten a lot of jobs because of my flexibility. But I never have spun from a rope by my head with my legs bent in a weird shape that makes the audiences gasp…
Is there something that you’re longing to do?
Roles I’ve never played before? Yeah, a couple of things. I played the Angel of Death as well as Abe Sapien in the second Hellboy movie, so I have played an angel, but it was kind of a darker one. I would like to play a white-winged, benevolent angel sometime before I die. With a halo. A proper halo. And maybe a harp in my hand. And I would also like to play a classic vampire, not a young, sparkly, pretty one because I’m too old for that now, but a gothic one, maybe even filmed in black and white like a redo of Nosferatu . I would love to do something like that. And I have a Broadway stage aspiration – I have never been on the Broadway stage and I would love to do a stage version of A Nightmare Before Christmas if I would get to play Jack Skellington. That’s my wish.
Thank you for sparing the time for this, Doug.
Thank you for finding me worthy of it!
Falling Skies season 3 begins on Tuesday 16 July at 9pm on FOX