Actor Doug Jones talks ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ and his collaborations with Guillermo del Toro

Touted as ‘the most famous actor you have never seen’, Doug Jones has solidified himself in an otherworldly side of Hollywood, having starred in ‘The Shape Of Water’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ongoing series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

January 11, 2020 02:05 pm | Updated 02:11 pm IST

Behind the prosthetics  Doug Jones, in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, ‘The Shape Of Water’, with Sally Hawkins, (below) in Hellboy II: The Golden Army’  by arrangement

Behind the prosthetics Doug Jones, in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, ‘The Shape Of Water’, with Sally Hawkins, (below) in Hellboy II: The Golden Army’ by arrangement

It is 12:30 am in Los Angeles when Doug Jones sits down for a Skype interview with MetroPlus . Despite being in between shoots for the new season of Star Trek: Discovery , he has the energy of a lithe teenager. It is a little jarring seeing the actor in his ‘sans prosthetics state’; the world is used to seeing him with frayed gills, distorted eyeballs or alien anatomies. But it is a comfort that throughout the interview, he speaks just as much with his hands as he does with his face.

The 59-year-old actor is quite literally, ‘the most famous actor you have never seen’ with major starring roles in the Guillermo Del Toro universe of films such as Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army , Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water , as well as 2007’s Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer . After the physically and emotionally taxing work of The Shape Of Water , he had decided to “hang up his rubber bits,” but when a call came in asking him to speak with the producers of a new Star Trek project, he knew it was not time yet.

Actor Doug Jones as Saru of the CBS All Access series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

Actor Doug Jones as Saru of the CBS All Access series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

On Star Trek: Discovery , Doug portrays Kelpian slave-turned-commander Saru, a much-loved character in the Star Trek franchise. “When you’re given a new species to help create it’s very intimidating because this is a franchise with so much legacy, that I didn't want to get this wrong,” he starts, “I wanted to make sure this could help create a new species of alien that would be everything the writers hoped for: charming, witty smart and with his own full plate. Saru is a very emotional being as well as logical.”

Coming up with Saru’s physique was extremely fulfilling for Doug who wanted Saru to be different from any other character he has played — a big challenge given he has worked in the sci-fi world for over the 30 years. “When I saw the first designs and saw those hoof boots — his feet actually move like those of an antelope — and when I put those shoes on for the first time, it changed my posture and and I felt like I was walking around like a supermodel and my arms started naturally flowing behind me.”

Movement is everything

Doug’s background as a mime and contortionist paved the way for some memorable locomotion. Remember the aquiline Hellboy ’s Abe Sapien? Or the somewhat insidious Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth ? The actor has mentioned in past interviews that the flamboyant style of matadors influenced much of the way The Asset (or ‘amphibian man’) moved. “I think about flexibility and mobility when I play a character; all my body parts are employed that day, so I want the character to be embodied from head to toe. I want to explore how much I can do, as well as how much is appropriate for that character.”

Of course, a lot of training comes in handy. For 2002’s TheTime Machine , he referred to the conceptual imagery for inspiration. On-screen, one can see the lead Spy Morlock (played by Doug) squatting with knees by his head, in an almost inhuman position.

Funnily enough, Doug points out in his years of wearing prosthetics and costumes of all kinds, he has not once had a hand in how they are done. After all, most of the designers are leading experts in the industry. But only once has he made suggestions: for Saru, mainly because the early design would have had a performance ramification. The early design featured a winged head and many eyeballs which would have been CG-enhanced. Saru’s hands also featured two-inch finger extensions which would have made doing anything difficult. “When they asked me my opinion, I said it’s extremely uncomfortable because I was hidden under it and it was extremely heavy,” he explains, “Concept artist Neville Page offered to make something ‘more Dougie’ so that I can express better.

On what we can expect for season three , Doug says, “At the end of season two, we jumped into the future and I think [the production team] has let it out that we we go about 900 or 1000 years into the future, so the big the big mystery is ‘what are we gonna find there?’ and, as far as my my future's future goes, I am sitting in the commander’s chair when we make that jump.”

Beguiled by Guillermo

The actor’s physicality continues to place him as a real Hollywood proponent in a time VFX can only do so much. And this understanding of character embodiment has made Doug a ‘director’s actor’ if his years-long collaboration with Guillermo del Toro is anything to go by.

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito and Doug Jones as The Asset in ‘The Shape Of Water’ (2017)

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito and Doug Jones as The Asset in ‘The Shape Of Water’ (2017)

In 2018, The Shape Of Water won Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Picture. The film marks yet another stepping stone in Doug and Guillermo del Toro’s evolving relationship as collaborators and friends. The two met in 1997 on Mimic on which Doug only worked three days as a fill-in bug creature. “He remembered me; five years later we did the first Hellboy movie where I played Abe Sapien, a supporting character... but we bonded more during that film and had established a non-verbal dialogue between the two of us; very little has to be said when he’s directing me. That is when he quickly became my favourite director. He is someone who understands all of his actors, and knows what buttons to push.”

Doug describes doing an encompassing one-camera shot for Hellboy in which he had to deal with three different props. I tried to go through the action of picking up each prop and dealing with it and doing what I had to do,” he starts laughing as he continues, “and Guillermo says, ‘God, Dougie, you're boring me to death!’ so that’s all I had to hear.”

Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, an icthyo sapien, in a scene from ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’ (2008)

Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, an icthyo sapien, in a scene from ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’ (2008)

But it was Pan’s Labyrinth which marked a turning point in their relationship.

“In the film industry, people talk about that relationship of trust between the two of us where I would do anything the man says and he knows that [laughs] and he trusts me. For him to trust me with a role like The Fawn and The Pale Man in this passion project for him — he hardly had any budget to make it and he had to just pull favours from people — but we all knew we had a piece of art on our hands. That said, to trust me with that was extraordinary and I even got on that ride with him through awards season that year: the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and The Oscars.”

Moving forward, Doug finds himself drawn to more humanesque roles; he expresses an unconventional role dream too. “I would love to be in a Hallmark Christmas movie, playing the dad offering his daughter some sage advice while wearing an ugly Christmas sweater,” he laughs.

( Star Trek: Discovery currently airs on Zee Cafe and all episodes are on Netflix. Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Pan’s Labyrinth are on Netflix.)

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