The Biggest Star You've Never Recognised
Doug Jones is one of Hollywood's true unsung talents.
A character actor and contortionist, he's been in 'the biz' for over 20 years, and starred in some of the biggest and most critically acclaimed sci-fi and fantasy movies and TV shows ( Pan's Labyrinth, Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Falling Skies , amongst others) during that time.
But as he's usually smothered in make-up, it's unlikely you'd recognise him if he walked past you on the street.
We chatted to the star about how he got into the industry, his favourite role to date, and what we can expect from him in the future.
On getting into the industry
"I’m a tall skinny goofy guy who grew up in the Midwest, in Indiana, watching television and hoping I could be on that TV one day. So, early on in my university days, I discovered the art of mime, and I joined a mime troupe on campus that was called 'Mime Over Matter'.
So, that kind of performing, telling stories without verbal dialogue and letting your body language and your gesturing and creating props that aren’t there, that whole thing fascinated me and really kind of woke up my body from head to toe, and made me understand that communication is a full-body experience and that half of it is non-verbal.
In regards to being a contortionist, I can put my legs behind my head and so I’m kind of a one trick pony. But being able to do something physically goofy like that, you know, my early agents and managers told me “oh yeah, put ‘contortionist’ on your resume”. It just means I’m a flexible guy who can do funny – I can strike funny shapes and poses, and oddly enough that gets me more work than I ever thought possible."
On his favourite role to date
"I love every character I’ve played, I really do, and I know that’s a politically correct answer to come up with, but there is something when you commit to taking on a character on film or on television, it’s a relationship you have to develop with that character so I do fall in love with all of them in some way.
I think the one that I connected with the most of all my costume character work would be Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies. I find him to be beautiful to look at; it’s a very stunning make-up from head to toe, and he’s also very intelligent; he’s the brains of the operation, but he’s also got such a heart, and he sees things with his hands.
He can put his hands on objects and know where they came from or what its backstory is, and I’m a very huggy touchy person myself, so when I meet people, I often pet their head while I’m talking to them. So some people might think I’m a pervert [ laughs ], but I happen to think I’m more like Abe Sapien."
On preparation for roles
"Oftentimes I’ve played animal human hybrids - I’ve been half-kangaroo half-man, I’ve been half-fish half-man, I’ve been half-insect half-man, so that comes into play where you can watch something on the Discovery Channel or a documentary where you can get a sense of physicality for a character.
But when you’re playing an auto mechanic and his storyline is a marriage gone wrong and children who don’t trust him and he turns to drinking and destroys himself – we have a lot of examples of that in real life that we can research and talk to people who’ve been through that, and you can get their story and you can study.
When I’m playing an alien from outer space, there is no real life, so I’m making this up as I go! So, between the writers coming up with what inspires, and the creature costume designers, what they design on paper and those early conceptual drawings, I'm given a lot of information, and so I can develop a physicality and a posture and an intention for this character and a backstory for him.
It takes a team effort with the writers and the creature designers, the director and myself, to come up with what a character becomes."
On motion capture vs make-up
"Actually, believe it or not, I have not done that much performance capture before. The closest I came was as the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic 4 sequel, but I did wear a full costume that looked like the Silver Surfer every day.
They put a few reference dots on me so they could put a CG enhancement over me later, but I was in a costume every day, so I’ve never really worn the leotard with dots on it that you’ve seen in behind-the-scenes photos. But I think that with the digital and computer technology, and its advancements over the years, that technology has taken us to a place where we can do things on film we could never do before! But I don’t want to lose the art of practical effects and make-up.
That’s an art, and there’s a magic that happens with that that I never want to go away. And a lot of our geeky sci-fi fanboys are on the same page with us on that one. What I think – where digital enhancements come in handy is when it’s used in concert with practical effects. A character like the Abe Sapien make-up, where my eyes were blinking, that was digitised.
Or the Silver Surfer, where it was a make-up as a base and they used a coating over me to make me more shiny and other-worldly and give me that magical coating.
That's where I'm at with Falling Skies . I start the day with a prosthetic make-up over my face and a suit on my body, but the eyes were wide-set and far enough away from my own eyes that they had to make those artificial. So there are these eyes that are glued into my mask that just look forward all day, and in post-production they do make them look around and blink on the right cue.
They listen to my voice, they listen – they watch the tilt of my head, the gesture of my hand, and they get the eyes to follow and enhance it. So it’s a great merit of technology and I’m all for it, you can do so much more now."
On new challenges
"Nowadays I do have the luxury of being able to say, 'Is it a story that I want to be a part of? Is it a story that moves me, that makes me laugh or makes me think or inspires me in some way?'
The next thing I look at is the character itself, is this character someone that will challenge me, or that moves me, or that I really want to get to know better? Because I have to get to know him to play him.
And the third thing would be the director, or the production team. Whose hands am I going to be in and what’s their vision for telling the story? Can I be a player in that, in their world that they’re creating? When those three elements are in place and excite me, then absolutely it’s a no-brainer, I want to do it.
So, Falling Skies was one of those situations where I was a fan of the show already. I already knew that the production value was there, that the team of directors were top notch - you've got Steven Spielberg as the executive producer, and I get to play alongside Noah Wyle, Will Patton, Moon Bloodgood, and a litany of other amazing others."
Falling Skies Season 3 premieres Tuesday 16 July on FOX.
On a character he'd love to play
"I have never played a vampire before, and I’ve always wanted to play an angel and a vampire. I’ve played the Angel of Death in Hellboy 2 so I’ve got a darker angel there. I would love to play a white-winged benevolent angel at some point, but I would also love to play a classic vampire. Not a young pretty sparkly kind, I’m too old for that now [ laughs ], but I’d like to play one that’s gothic; maybe even filmed in black and white - maybe I could do a reprise, like Nosferatu or Dracula. "
TF: That would be amazing. Of course, you were in Buffy The Vampire Slayer , but not as a vampire.
"I was one of the Gentlemen, but we don’t know exactly what they were. They were kind of these ghouls that floated and stole hearts.
I also have another dream – I’ve never done the Broadway stage before. I would love to maybe do a stage adaptation of A Nightmare Before Christmas if I could get to play Jack Skellington."