Generous, big-hearted, and approaching unnatural levels of charming are all the ordinary traits of the extraordinary man responsible for putting some of biggest movie monsters on the modern screen. Doug Jones is second to none in contemporary creature feature roles. Helping films like the Hellboy franchise and Pan’s Labyrinth skyrocket to success, he’s starred in everything from feature films to music videos. His versatility humbles even the greatest of modern renaissance men. Word truly cannot express the tremendous pleasure I was fortunate enough to have. So beasts and ghoulish geeks stay braced, Doug Jones spills all about his monstrously successful career and up-and-comings.
You actually started out as the McDonald’s Moon Man and worked your way up. It’s not an interview without the obligatory mention of the utterly charming Abe Sapien in Hellboy I-II and the Pan’s Labyrinth Faun and Pale Man. What are your techniques for taking such foreign creatures and managing to invoke in them such humanity?
“Well thank you for thinking I pulled that off, by the way! You’re very sweet. Well you’ve mentioned my favorite movie ever, which is Pan’s Labyrinth, and my favorite character I’ve ever played, which is Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies. So I love talking about them when anybody asks. Now I was talking about animal hybrids a little earlier and so here are prime examples! As Abe Sapien I played a fish-man-mutant. As the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth I played a goat-tree-man-mutant. Then the Pale Man was just like…who knows what that was, right? Eyeballs in his hands, he used to be a big fat man that ate children, asleep for so long that he withered away and his skin’s sagging all over his gut. Just what a disgusting character!
All three of those characters were directed by Guillermo Del Toro, which again is a collaboration and relationship that has become my favorite actor-director relationship that I’ve ever had. Guillermo is my favorite director and every other director that I’ve worked with (who I love and who loves me) knows that Guillermo is on this shelf up here like ‘AAAAAAH!’ You know? So what’s so lovely about these characters is that they aren’t just monsters in a movie. They were given humanity by the writer, which would be Guillermo Del Toro in both cases. He wrote the screenplay for Hellboy and also conceived of and wrote the screenplay for Pan’s Labyrinth.
In Hellboy, we also had some source material on that with the Hellboy comic books which are written and drawn originally (of course) by Mike Mignola. So staying true to source material and keeping those fans happy was a concern – as it always is for me. There were some liberties in the movie (as there always need to be) that varied from the comic books. Abe Sapien having clairvoyant powers is something that was not ever discussed in the comic books, but now in the movies it is. I love that piece of my character where my hands can go over your face and I can tell everywhere you’ve been and who you are and what your name is and where you come from. I know everything from a touch.”
There’s a very charming scene in the first Hellboy, in my opinion, which is one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie. Abe and Liz, after Professor Broom died, are talking and Abe says something to her …
“… ‘All us freaks have is each other.’”
Yes! And he holds his hand up and she touches it…
“…through the glass of his healing tank. Well thank you! That was a favorite moment of mine as well. That’s my favorite line from the whole movie. And it’s kind of true. When I travel the convention circuit and I meet all the genre film enthusiasts wearing their Spider-Man t-shirts and Goth make-up’s and cosplaying in whatever character they love from movies, that’s something I love to sign on pictures, “All us freaks have is each other,” because you’re not a freak when you’re among like people. Then you’re normal! We all seek normal, I think, in some ways.
Pan’s Labyrinth, to keep answering your question, the Faun character is also another one of my top three characters that I’ve ever played. I love characters that have that ambiguity where you’re not sure if they’re good or evil. You didn’t know about the Faun until the very end of the movie. “Oh, he was a part of the good plan all along? Okay good, okay good, okay good!” A very complicated character to play because it was a five-hour make-up application, as was Abe Sapien and the Pale Man. Add to that reams of Spanish dialogue. I don’t speak Spanish. So it was a brainteaser, that whole film was just an exercise in ‘Can I make it through this day physically and can I remember one line of dialogue?’ Somehow at the end I’d never felt so proud of myself when we wrapped that film and I was like ‘Oh my gosh! I actually pulled it off!’
The Pale Man character was one that, when Guillermo originally presented to me that I was going to be playing a second character in the film, I’d never done that before. ‘Oh no! Is he just trying to get by with paying me one salary and getting two characters out of me? Is that what he wants?’”
“But then when I saw what he was doing, now in hindsight, the Pale Man has become this iconic moment on film. People have done parodies of me on Youtube and I’ve been on magazine covers all over the place with that famous pose of the hands open in front of the face with the eyes on them. In fact they’re probably going to bury me in that position in my coffin one day. It all, in hindsight, makes it all so worth the time and the effort and the discomfort or whatever you might go through to play a character like that, it’s all worth it when you see the finished product and the effect it has on people.
Those characters you mentioned are the ones I get the most comments on from fans out there in the world. Abe Sapien has a romantic side to him, an innocent side to him, he’s not street-smart but he’s very intelligent and very feeling. I communicate with my own hands so if I meet you in person I’m a hugger and a toucher and I’ll cup your face and pet your head. That’s because I can see you much better if I can feel you with my hands. Abe Sapien is much the same way so I really identified with him and a surprising amount of people out there identify with the same thing. People just aren’t touched enough anymore. They’re not held and caressed and cared for enough anymore. Abe is a character that they can fantasize about being near and being loved by, you know?
The Faun character in Pan’s Labyrinth is a ride that we all took to go revisit our childhood and revisit the idea of authority. What does it mean and do we have to listen to authority even when authority is wrong? We watch that Ofelia character go on this journey of choice-making and creating a world for herself …or did she? Or did she discover a world that was apart from that horrible turmoil that she was going through at home with her step-dad? A lot of kids can relate to that. I mean a lot! I’ve had lots of teenage girls that contact me that have been revived and brought back to life because of Pan’s Labyrinth. People who were thinking in terms of suicide and then now it’s like they feel they might have a reason to live – Pan’s Labyrinth being the turning point for them. That’s a huge thing when a movie can do that. So that’s another reason why it’s my favorite movie I’ve ever done.”
You’re no stranger to comic book movies. At IHOG, we love superheroes! In Fantastic Four 2, you actually got to play Stan Lee’s favorite creation, the Silver Surfer. Do you have any superhero favorites and most importantly…can you surf?
“Well…oh jeez! No I cannot surf. The closest I ever came was body boarding but I did it innocently at a place called the Wedge which is down in Newport Beach which is where professional body boarders go. There are two currents that run together there that create a humongous wave but crashes right onto the beach. It doesn’t roll in from way back. So it’s not a good surfing wave but it’s a good body board. You have to skim down it sideways. Well…I didn’t know that. So I was on my body board, ‘Oh look at the big wave! WEE!’ …and it…it almost destroyed me. One ride on that boogey board and it crashed me down onto the sand like ‘KA-BOOM!’ and dragged me into the undercurrent. I came up out of it with bloody knees and a dizzy head and a lifeguard saying ‘Hey buddy, you okay?’ No, Dougie doesn’t surf in real life.
Superhero favorites of mine would be…I am a Superman fan. Of course I knew the comic books. My brothers were comic book fans and they had Superman all the time. That whole identify thing of ‘Oh! he’s a regular man by day with glasses on but he takes the glasses off and undoes his shirt and OOP…He’s Superman!’ Then there’s the old Superman TV show with George Reeves. I watched that every day after school. Then when that first movie came out with Christopher Reeve…oh my gosh!
Now I’m friends with Lois Lane played by Margot Kidder. She does the convention circuit around the country and world for comic cons. We have the same appearance manager so we often travel together. The name of our company that handles us is Cool Waters Productions. While we’re talking about websites too, my own personal website is The Doug Jones Experience and everything we’re talking about like upcoming and past projects, my biography, more pictures than you could possible see in a lifetime, fan art is on there, and there’s also an appearances page that tells you where I’m going to be in the coming months.
But those Superman movies with Chris Reeve and Margot Kidder were just fantastical and we all fantasized about being Superman when we watched those. I was 18 when I saw that. Then part two and three came and four and I don’t know how many they did. I also liked the reboot with Brandon Routh. I didn’t hate that one at all.