If you've seen any film in the last ten years featuring intense fantasy creatures or unsettling contortionists, chances are that you know exactly who Doug Jones is, even if his name doesn't immediately ring a bell. Noteworthy roles include Billy Butcherson from Hocus Pocus, Fauno and the Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth, Abe Sapien from the Hellboy films, Pencilhead in Mystery Men, and one of the Gentlemen in the infamous Hush episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
However, while Doug may primarily be masked behind prosthetics and heavy makeup, his style and characterization as well as a prestigious background in mime work have lent him a competitive edge in the industry, and he has become the go-to guy for anyone seeking a distinct physicality for a character; according to IMDb, he has almost ten projects in post-production or filming this year alone, making him one hell of an in-demand personality. Doug was kind enough to give Planet Fury an exclusive interview about his role as the hero alien in the upcoming Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill sci-fi comedy The Watch as well as a peek behind the makeup to see what else he's got cooking for his fans.
Planet Fury: What can you tell us about The Watch that we wouldn't be able to get from the initial trailers?
Doug Jones: The newest trailer is very straightforward; I'm the lead alien in the film, and the premise is that we're hosting an invasion on the neighborhood where Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, Richard Ayoade and Vince Vaughn live. They form a neighborhood watch originally to stop crime, but when the invasion happens they're way over their heads. It's a lot more like Ghostbusters than the trailers make it seem; it isn't so slapstick as you'd think. They bring the comedy, I bring the scary. They riff off-script so much — when you have so many great comedic minds in one place, that's bound to happen and it was absolutely glorious to watch that happen around me. My character only has one line of dialogue, so I didn't get much off the page that I could do, but I'm mostly there to gross you out and scare you.
PF: I've heard a few people say that the premise seems similar to Attack the Block, where local thug kids are forced to defend their neighborhood against an alien attack. What makes The Watch stand out from all of the other alien films coming out right now?
DJ: The alien theme is really common right now, but this movie is a comedy first and foremost and the sci-fi is sort of put in as part of that later. They're playing the aliens straight; it isn't like Paul with loveable aliens or anything like that. If you think back to Ghostbusters, Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd and the others were hilarious, but the ghosts were freaky...this film tries to capture that same feeling, of laughing and then being weirded out the next minute.
PF: How was your makeup in the film? They don't show you much in the trailer.
DJ: Yes, they keep it under wraps a bit in the trailer, don't they? I'm a classic slimy, disgusting alien, toothy, scary...the works. It included a mechanical face, not glued on to my face at all. The costume was roughly fifty pounds, a lot of cumbersome weight. Arm extensions, I was on stilts too. I was about eight inches taller, putting me at around seven feet.
PF: You're no stranger to limb extensions. Your scene as the ice cream man in Legion was kind of unnerving, wasn't it?
DJ: Yes! And in Pan's Labyrinth I was also on stilts. It's been like that a lot lately. And thankfully The Watch is very action-packed; once it gets going, there's so much violence and action that it was great. It's comparable with Men In Black as far as "vibe" goes.
PF: This is not your first time playing an alien, either.
DJ: Not at all. I was in Men in Black II as Joey; a few different aliens on The Outer Limits; in a spin-off of Babylon 5 called Crusade — it goes on and on. TV commercials numerous times, too.
PF: How do you distinguish different characteristics for each alien to make them stand out from ones you've played before?
DJ: The character design has a lot to do with it. I look at what a costume is capable of, what it hinders you from doing. For example, having these arm extensions in The Watch, my fingers were jammed into his forearm area somewhere and puppeteers handled his finger movements from off-screen. That was very unusual for me because hand and finger motion has been a very distinct signature for a lot of the characters I play, so that was a challenge for me to overcome with this character. Teamwork and being in concert with all of these creature-effects specialists helped; it really does take a village. It was a combination of my own acting in the suit, my stunt double Dorian Kingi doing a lot of tumbling and falls for me so that I don't break the hundred-thousand-dollar mechanical head I'm wearing. We had to be very agile, athletic in this role.
PF: Many of your characters are very distinct and take on iconic qualities because of how you portray them. How much of that do you get to collaborate on with the directors and designers of projects you're working on?
DJ: Every project and character are different, but by now I've been doing this for so many years that filmmakers and casting agents know what I bring to the table and I try to push myself and improve all the time. For this film, for example, the alien is so far removed from a human creature that it's hard — the harder from human something is, the more difficult for an actor to bring some kind of distinct traits to it. I was a little removed from this character, both because of that and because it was a big studio film and there were so many people involved from conception to execution that I wasn't given much free reign. There was also a lot of CG work due to how athletic and demanding physically the role was, so they were kept very busy keeping that on track and polished.
PF: I have to tell you that I saw Hocus Pocus when I was very, very small and Billy is one of the most amazing, fun characters I've seen in your huge repertoire. I am such a big fan. What's the difference in doing creatures like the alien in The Watch versus someone that audiences truly grow to love, like Billy Butcherson?
DJ: That is so wonderful to hear. He's one of my favorite characters I've ever played. I don't know that that film would be made now, it pushed a lot of boundaries for Disney back then. But Billy was so terrific because he was designed in sort of a spooky way, the sunken face and the head falling off and all of that, but by the end you realize he's the good guy and he's charming and likeable...it was so much fun. I'm so fond of that project even now. Characters like Billy Butcherson, or Abe Sapien, or even my work in Silver Surfer, those characters are so easy for me to connect with because they have wonderful, fleshed-out personalities and are given so much room to grow as the script moves forward. They are so communicative and interact with other characters in great, surprising ways.
PF: Of all of the characters you've played, if one of them were to get his own spin-off project, who would you most want to reprise?
DJ: I am clamoring to play Abe Sapien again. He has his own comic series and there's so much wonderful material we could draw from, either his own title or the BPRD stuff. Mike Mignola is a big supporter of that idea and the response that I get when I do the convention circuit, the fans' feedback, is overwhelmingly positive. Abe has such a huge built-in fan base, and I'd love to revisit him.
PF: One of the reasons the Hellboy films are so revered by fans is that they're very faithful adaptations to the comics, Del Toro didn't take any major liberties or reboot anything from Mignola's original concepts. The tone of the films is true and, honestly, you're exactly how I always would've pictured Abe Sapien when I read the comics.
DJ: Guillermo del Toro was very true to the lore and the world that Mike Mignola created. Guillermo is an enormous fanboy, and he wanted to do something the fans would love as much as he did, so he didn't tamper with the original material much at all. He consulted with Mike every step of the way to make sure everything was all right.
PF: Can you talk a little about your role in the Don Coscarelli film John Dies At the End? It's based on a great book by David Wong and you play Roger North, correct?
DJ: Yes, and I had such a ball with it. The script is so bizarre and amazing, and even after reading it I had tons of questions about it. It's so unique and wonderful. It's been playing really well at festivals, but all of the critics have been like, "I'm not sure if I understood it, but I loved it!"
PF: Speaking of books, you just worked on a new one...
DJ: Yes! It's called Mime Very Own Book and it's probably one of the most fun things I've ever gotten to do. A lot of people aren't aware that I was a mime and active in that pursuit long before I was making films. In college I did mime work, and a publisher approached me at a private event and asked me to get a photo with him. We're having a conversation and he says, "So you started as a mime?" and asked how a mime would write a book. It started the ball rolling, and we pulled in one of my best friends, Scott Alan Perry, and the three of us began coming up with these awful puns, "Once Upon a Mime," "Mime Over Matter," things like that, "Get Your Mime Out of the Gutter." It's like 240 pages worth of terrible puns, and our photographer was absolutely wonderful. His lighting and colors were fantastic.
So the four of us collaborated on this really fun book. We did a film tribute section with stuff like "Mimey Vice" and "Mimey Dearest." It goes on and on. One of the best ones is "Mime Scene Investigation," and I'm the mimes dressed like detectives investigating the crime scene, but the dead mime on the ground is outlined in chalk and around him is a chalk box. I did mime homages to Michael Jackson...it's just so hilarious and wonderful.
It's on Amazon and people really seem to be enjoying it so far, it's very different. And it's fun because when you start doing mime work, you choose your face and that's your signature look for the rest of your career. I've had the same one for ages of course, and usually I do my own makeup but we had such a limited time to shoot this book — three days — and so many different poses and outfits and locations that we had to hire a makeup artist to help. So I got one of my dearest friends, who also did all of my makeup as Abe Sapien, to come and do my custom mime work for the shots, and it just looks wonderful.
PF: There's a big resurgence in interest with things like sideshow performances, miming — people are getting very into the old performance arts like that. Does it make you happy knowing that a new generation of kids are exploring such a time-honored talent?
DJ: Oh sure, it's really nice to see those arts — especially ones that are so easily mocked, like a mime being annoying in a public park or something. The kind of miming that I started doing was onstage with written skits and it was much more scripted and elegant, an actual performance. I'm really excited to see people realizing that it's so much more than they ever expected, when it's done with respect and a sense of humor.
PF: It's been a long time since you've done small gigs onstage like that. The past few years, you've really made a name for yourself doing huge blockbuster film work. How do the two compare and do you have any desire to go back to the live side of performing?
DJ: Do you want to hear my live show dream? I can tell you this...my dream is to play Jack Skellington on Broadway in a huge production of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I would love to do that; it would be the most amazing thing. I think I'm pretty good at singing in the shower and I could pull it off. I've been after it for awhile. Can't you imagine the set pieces?
PF: Why do you taunt me with things that will never happen?!
DJ: I know, right? I'm working on it. Maybe someday it won't be just a dream.
PF: You've always been a very steadily working presence in show business, but it took Hellboy to really catapult you into the spotlight. What's it like having so much name recognition all of the sudden after so long?
DJ: It's really strange because I was in my forties before anyone ever really knew who I was. I was always behind prosthetics or makeup, so I could've been anyone. And now when I do the convention circuit, people yell "We love you, Doug!" and how could I ever get tired of that? But then I can leave and stop at a McDonald's and no one knows who I am, and that's very nice too. I love the balance there. However, I can say this: If given the choice between being a mega-star in the spotlight all the time or a genre actor who's well known only in his own context, I'd pick genre every time. Going to these conventions, these fans are so loyal and devoted and wonderful. They really do make every day a great one.
Catch Doug's latest film The Watch in theaters July 27, and follow him on Twitter at @actordougjones.