Why it’s underrated: This movie touches base on some serious issues that haven’t been touched on in a DCOM since. It follows the real story of the friendship between Mahree Bok, an exhange student from South Africa and Piper Dellums, the daughter of a congressman in D.C. It’s on TV every now and then, so watch it if you haven’t seen it yet.
Since sexual harassment and assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein spurred a torrent of other claims against men in Hollywood this fall, it’s felt like profound change was in the air. The industry has a track record of standing by powerful men who’ve allegedly or admittedly harmed women: Roman Polanski won an Academy Award 26 years after he pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and then fled the US; Bill Cosby signed a development deal with NBC in 2014, well after he’d been sued for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, and 13 other women agreed to testify against him in the lawsuit; Mel Gibson pleaded no contest in 2011 after he was charged with battering the mother of his child, and he’s currently starring in a Christmas film. But almost overnight, it seemed, men were being held accountable for sexual misconduct.
Among female directors and producers in Hollywood, there’s an unfamiliar feeling about all this: hope.
“It’s very empowering,” Haifaa Al Mansour told BuzzFeed News. Mansour became the first Saudi woman to shoot a feature-length film in that country with 2012’s award-winning Wadjda. Her film Mary Shelley premiered this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mansour said that with so much gendered harassment and abuse becoming public, producers in particular are more consciously positioning themselves on women’s side. “I think people are considering me more,” she said. “And considering not only me — considering other female directors more.”
Shadi Petosky, the creator and showrunner of Amazon’s animated series Danger & Eggs, heard about the decades of sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein almost immediately after the New York Times published them Oct. 5. She was disgusted by the report but did did not expect much fallout. “You see this news all the time,” she said. “Nothing really happens.”
Although Petosky was initially skeptical, she quickly decided the moment is “incredibly hopeful” as more women began to come forward with their own experiences and Weinstein was fired.
“It feels a little bit how the Women’s March feels,” Petosky said. “There’s a lot of solidarity, and people are meeting behind the scenes, and creating these Facebook groups, and really working on specific tasks, which is pretty amazing. … Outside of the people that are famous getting fired, there’s people all over Hollywood in different jobs who are finally getting let go to create safer spaces.”
Janicza Bravo, a writer-director and Sundance alumna, was “excited” that her younger female colleagues refuse to put up with as much mistreatment as she has over more than a decade in the industry. Still, she warns against a movement that reinforces another strain of inequality in Hollywood: “What I do hope is that we’re not gonna replace all the white guys with white gals.” She added, “In our business, when we talk about women, we tend to be talking about white women. Women of color are sort of ‘and also.’”
Although Bravo was encouraged by male colleagues initiating conversations about the sexual harassment news during episodes of HBO’s Here, Now and Netflix’s Dear White People she’s directed since Oct. 5, she noted critically that she had never seen such a widespread response to racism. Bravo thought the national conversation has persisted so long because most of the women coming forward with stories about Weinstein are white. “It’s tied to white women, and whatever our perception is about the delicacy or fragility of white women,” she said.
For women who have loudly railed against misogyny in Hollywood for years, the weeks after the Weinstein revelations have been strange. Brenda Chapman, the writer-director who won an Oscar in 2013 for her Pixar film, Brave, described herself as “hopeful with a very large dash of cynical.” After years of working on the film she conceived and directed, Chapman was fired from Brave in 2010; she kept her credit, and has been outspoken since then about the double standards women are held to in Hollywood. Her own story left her feeling “mixed” about the current traction women’s stories are getting.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that is has taken this damn long,” Chapman said. “But at the same time, it seems to be finally happening, so maybe this kind of predatory behavior will finally be looked on by society as it should have been centuries ago — with the disgust it deserves.”
Like Chapman, heavy hitters in the industry have expressed skepticism. Kathryn Bigelow — the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director — told the Los Angeles Times that Hollywood still needs to undergo “a tectonic shift.” Ava DuVernay told Vanity Fair on Oct. 14 that she wasn’t sure whether this moment would lead to real change.
Actor and director Amber Tamblyn said she sees a long road ahead. “You can’t undo a hundred years of the entertainment business in a week,” Tamblyn told BuzzFeed News. “We have to keep speaking about all of the stories. I mean, bombarding them. People are tired of hearing them? Great. Keep talking.”
Alanna Bennett contributed reporting to this story.
For Mary J. Blige, the best thing about her most recent film role was just how far removed it was from Mary J. Blige.
Amid a difficult period in her personal life, strained by the ugly breakup of her marriage to former manager Kendu Isaacs, Blige worked to channel her pain into a raw performance in Netflix’s newest film, Mudbound. The escapism was just what she needed.
“Mudbound was the perfect vehicle because it just shows none of me, I’m gone,” the Grammy-winning performer turned actress told BuzzFeed News in a recent interview. “There’s no singing, there’s no weaves, there’s no nails, nothing— and that’s what I wanted.”
Mudbound, a historical drama directed by Dee Rees, centers on two Jim Crow–era Mississippi families — one black and one white — who become intertwined when they each have a family member ship off to World War II.
When Rees finished cowriting the screenplay with Virgil Williams, she knew that Blige was her first choice for Florence Jackson, the stoic matriarch of the black family of sharecroppers.
When Blige got ahold of the script she saw how dark and challenging the story was, but she was eager to put down her emotional baggage and pour herself into the role: “I am heavy, Mary J Blige is heavy, so I knew that I needed this because I was heavy at the time and I needed this to get all this heavy off of me.”
Production onMudbound began in Louisiana right as Blige’s marriage was falling apart. Such was the emotional toll that Blige would turn up in tears to acting classes with her friend and coach Tasha Smith (Empire).
Blige said Smith would comfort her by saying, “Mary, fuck that shit. Give everything to Florence. Give everything to Florence, get Mary out of here! We love Mary, but it’s no more time for Mary, give everything to Florence.”
What Blige ended up giving her character was, as she describes it, “Mary’s ability to stand up to embarrassment and trials.”
“The last five years have been really shitty so, you know, I gave Florence all of that because I was still living in that,” Blige said.
Blige revealed she struggled to portray a happy marriage opposite Rob Morgan, her onscreen husband, as her personal life crumbled.
“I had to remember that I’ve always wanted this healthy marriage, I want it, and I’ve always been a team player, so I had to remember what I was in my marriage although it was in shit,” she said.
She said she even found it difficult to hug another man during filming.
“But I had to find that character in order to bring Florence to life,” she added. “I had to find, not even character, I had to find that in me.”
For those familiar with Blige’s work as the reigning Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, there’s no question that Blige has a gift for channeling her pain into art. But with Mudbound, she has become one of the last major hopes to prevent another #OscarsSoWhite in an awards season dominated so far by performances from white actors.
While Blige describes the whole Mudbound experience — from the dirty set in the Louisiana fields, to the red carpet of film festivals in Sundance and Toronto — as an escape and a blessing, her newest foray into acting hasn’t been any less emotionally taxing.
“I wanted to act — not because it was something glamorous. It was another way to sing without singing,” she said.
Blige said she hopes this year marks a new chapter in her life. In addition to Mudbound, the singer released an album called Strength of a Woman that dives deep into her divorce. She also just announced plans to produce a show for Fox called 8 Count inspired by the life of celebrity choreographer Laurieann Gibson.
If anything, her recent trials have given her perspective on her many successes.
“Every time you do something great, something terrible happens, so you still in life, like life to still happening to you,” Blige said. “So that’s what keeps it all exciting and that’s what keeps you appreciating the Grammy nominations again.”
“[It] feels like a time when survivors are finding their voice and people are sort of — I include myself in this – really discovering the terrible extent of this problem, here in our country,” Affleck said.
Guthrie pressed Affleck on the numerous allegations of sexual assault within Hollywood that have arisen since Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct in early October.
“I don’t think it’s just limited to Hollywood,” Affleck continued, saying that it was “inspiring” to see people come forward and talk about this issue. “That’s very moving,” he said.
When Doug Jones stepped into a quiet diner in the San Fernando Valley in mid-October, a handful of other patrons in the restaurant craned their heads to look at him. It’s easy to understand why. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 140 pounds, Jones’ slender, sinewy frame and narrow, angular face make him look almost otherworldly — kind of like a living special effect.
Chances are high that the people in that diner thought they had never seen anyone like Jones before in their lives. But chances are almost as high that they have — possibly many times — and just never realized it.
That is because Jones is inconspicuously one of the most prolific working actors in Hollywood. He’s approached Samuel L. Jackson levels of ubiquity, with over 150 credits spanning 30 years, including iconic performances in cult sensations like Hocus Pocus in 1993, Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1999, Hellboy in 2004, and Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006. This fall, he’s enjoying two of the highest-profile roles of his career, in the CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery (which just streamed its midseason finale on Nov. 12) and the Guillermo del Toro feature film The Shape of Water (which won the top prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, and will open in theaters starting Dec. 1).
And yet, in all of those projects, and many more like them, Jones hasn’t shown his face, or any other part of his body. With the aid of elaborate latex and silicone masks, intricate costumes, and painstaking makeup, the 57-year-old has largely spent his career bringing to life a menagerie of aliens, demons, beasts, angels of death, and moon-headed fast-food pitchmen.
“It’s been too many,” Jones said of all the roles populating his IMDb profile with characteristic self-effacement. “I know, I know.”
Jones is in high demand thanks to a distinctly idiosyncratic set of skills. “A creature performer needs to be a very odd combination of marathon runner and a mime, who can express himself through layers and layers of latex and acrylic and silicon,” said del Toro, who has worked with Jones on six of his feature films. “It’s a very, very rare discipline … [and] there are very, very few that are actual actors, in my opinion, that go beyond being able to work in a suit or under makeup. Doug is a proper actor. When you need that level of finesse, Doug is the only one I’ve met that I trust with that level of commitment and craftsmanship and artistry.”
“I’m hired because I’m a tall, skinny guy — with other talents, I hope.”
In person, Jones is voluble and friendly company, but he’s not all that keen on preening over his one-of-a-kind professional success. “I’m hired because I’m a tall, skinny guy — with other talents, I hope,” he said. “But the creature effects guys love to start with a skinny, long palette, because they can build on it and not make it too bulky.” He shrugged off any suggestion that he’s cracked the code for enduring multiple hours of makeup application each day — “I sit there, basically, or I stand there” — and he chalks up maintaining his strikingly lean physique to a “very boring” exercise routine of elliptical machines and light dumbbell lifting, and “the metabolism of a 16-year-old.”
He is also remarkably candid about the sacrifices and setbacks he’s endured building his remarkable and rarefied career. “It is isolating,” he said. “I’m not always in the mood to talk and banter and joke around [on set], because I’m trying to survive the day in a different way than everyone else is.” But Jones hasn’t merely survived — he’s thrived, by charting a rail-thin, serpentine path as an actor who’s become an expert at obliterating his own appearance. Jones has also discovered, however, that his willingness to be unrecognizable in Hollywood has made it that much harder for Hollywood to recognize his singular talents.
When Jones moved from Indiana to Los Angeles in 1985, his dream was to become a sitcom star. “I was a goofy fellow who related to Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke and Gilligan’s Island,” he said. “I thought I would be one of them. I never set out to do costume work. I didn’t know that was really a career option.”
But there were two special skills on Jones’ early résumé — a background in mime, and the ability to put his legs behind his head like a contortionist — that landed him auditions for physically driven gigs, like a Southwest Airlines commercial as a dancing mummy. “I was wrapped from head to toe in dirty bandages,” Jones said with a wry smile, “boding of things to come.”
In 1986, Jones booked a regional McDonald’s ad campaign aimed at driving more dinnertime business in California, as a character dubbed “Mac Tonight” in which he wore a shiny suit and a giant mask of a crooning crescent moon. “The ad agency later said that I had the right ‘Love ya, babe’ attitude to play like a cool-cat nightclub guy that sung about burgers,” Jones said.
The ads were a hit, and the Mac Tonight campaign went national, and then global; Jones ended up shooting 27 ads over three years. “I bought my first condo with that,” he said. “So that was a happy thing.”
Less happy was the fact that no one could see Jones’ face, which meant, in the company’s eyes, that he was expendable. “I never got [paid] above scale, and they wouldn’t even hear any offers,” Jones said. “Their argument was ‘We can put anybody else in there.’ It’s a really tough place to be in, when you’re trying to defend what you brought to the table and yet stay humble about it, because, you know, I don’t think I’m all that.”
Jones sighed. “It took me decades of keeping my representation onboard with, whenever they heard that rhetoric of ‘Oh, we could just replace him with anybody’ to try to alter the sales job to ‘If you want to put your costume on a hanger, it’s going to look pretty, but it has to move, it has to emote, so you really need an actor in there, not just a monkey,'” he said. “That’s been the challenge, but I think we got there. Eventually, we got there.”
“I never set out to do costume work. I didn’t know that was really a career option.”
The first major step on that road came almost by accident, when he was called in to demonstrate his extreme flexibility for the stunt coordinator of the 1992 blockbuster Batman Returns — and ended up also showing off his abilities to the film’s director, Tim Burton. “I thought, oh, this sounds like it’s a sight gag that will work a day or two,” Jones said. “A half-hour later they come back in the room, and Tim says, ‘Well, congratulations, you got the part.’ And I was like, ‘The part? There’s a part?'”
Taken with Jones’ beanpole stature, Burton cast him as the “Thin Clown,” part of the gang of rogue circus performers led by the lead villain, the Penguin (Danny DeVito). Jones had barely any lines, but he ended up working for 14 weeks on the project, and shared many scenes with DeVito and Christopher Walken.
Batman Returns also led directly to Jones’ audition for the 1993 Halloween family comedy Hocus Pocus, as the loose-limbed zombie Billy Butcherson. It was by far Jones’ most prominent part to date — even if, again, it was largely silent and, again, his face was obscured with exaggerated makeup. The movie was also a flop (opening in July probably didn’t help), but in the years since, it’s become a generational touchstone, and Billy has become one of Jones’ signature roles.
“Hocus Pocus is the one that people see that picture on my [autograph] table at a convention, and” — Jones exploded with a loud gasp, throwing his hand to his face — “’That’s Billy! Was that you?!'” Jones smiled, almost sheepishly. “I understand this. If I met Ray Bolger from The Wizard of Oz, I would wet my pants.”
Throughout the ’90s, however, Jones remained in obscurity, bouncing between small, nameless roles that usually amounted to no more than a couple days of work. When Jones landed an audition for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1999, he didn’t really expect it to be any different — once more, the role had no lines, and Jones hadn’t been given a script. So when he stepped into the audition room, he was surprised to see executive producer Joss Whedon sitting among the other producers and the casting director. “We were given the instruction, ‘Pretend there’s someone lying in front of you, and you just step up quietly, smile as big and teethy as you can the entire time, and act like you are surgically cutting this person’s heart out, and then hand the heart to someone in the room and smile about it,'” Jones recalled, before relaying his response with a deadpan smile: “‘Oh, OK.'”
The audition was for the Season 4 episode “Hush,” which turned out to be of the most beloved hours in the show’s history. Jones was auditioning to play one of a terrifying coterie of demons called the Gentlemen who rob everyone of their voices in order to quietly steal their hearts. Jones learned later that the production had created masks that froze the character’s faces in a petrifying rictus grin. But Jones’ own evil grin in the audition won everyone over so much that not only did he get the part as one of the lead Gentlemen, the producers modified his character’s makeup to keep Jones’ natural smile.
“I was cheaper than a silicone dummy would have been to make.”
“You know that thing when you’re at a wedding and you’re smiling for pictures over and over again, and you’re [saying], ‘I can’t feel my face anymore’?” Jones said, pressing into his cheeks. “Well, we had that for like eight days in a row.”
Jones’ performance, alongside a fellow Gentleman played by Camden Toy, proved so chillingly memorable that they started appearing in Buffy‘s opening credits. “We got residual checks on that, too,” Jones said. “It was a huge honor for guest stars in one episode. And we also became action figures!”
That same year, Jones appeared in the war satire Three Kings, in a scene with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube. The role also required Jones to take on a cadaverous mien — because he was playing a dead Iraqi soldier lying in the desert.
“One split second,” Jones said of his screen time, with a What can you do? grin. “I was cheaper than a silicone dummy would have been to make.”
Jones first met Guillermo del Toro on the set of his 1997 horror thriller Mimic, playing, essentially, a giant cockroach. It was only for a few days of reshoots, but the actor still made an indelible impression on the filmmaker.
“He was the only guy handling the suits who was really, really preoccupied with imbuing these things with character,” del Toro said.
Five years later, when del Toro was developing his adaptation of the beloved comic series Hellboy, he thought of Jones again. There was a crucial central character — an intelligent sea creature named Abe Sapien — who necessitated a full-body costume and elaborate facial makeup that took seven hours to apply before filming. For del Toro, there was practically no one but Jones who could do the job.
There was, however, one big catch: Del Toro told Jones up front that his vocal performance would likely be replaced by another, more well-known actor.
“I wilted at that news,” Jones recalled. “I had the foresight to know that if I’m voiced over by somebody more famous than me, the thought [would be], Oh, okay, he must not be able to act. I was fighting that stigma. … It was a big deal and a big character, and now I’d have to explain that for the rest of my life.”
Jones said he “begged” del Toro to reconsider, and they came to an agreement. “He said, ‘Give us the voice that the character needs, and your name will be a part of all those names being considered for this,'” Jones recalled.
So that’s what Jones did. “I felt like I was auditioning for the part I already got every day,” he said. On set, Jones remembered getting a flood of positive feedback, including up to when he was brought in months later for the standard process of rerecording Abe’s dialogue. “While I was on my lunch break that day, the sound engineer caught me in the hallway and said, ‘Doug, I’ve got to tell you, I love the voice you’re giving Abe,'” Jones recalled. “I drove home from that voice ADR session thinking, They need to look no further. We are done here.”
“I had the foresight to know that if I’m voiced over by somebody more famous than me, the thought [would be], Oh, okay, he must not be able to act.”
Two weeks later, del Toro called Jones to tell him that David Hyde Pierce would be performing the voice of Abe Sapien. Jones burst into tears.
“I’m not going to try to act like I was bigger than I am,” he said. “I was crestfallen.”
The way Jones explains it, the casting decision was driven by marketing — Pierce had just wrapped the final season of NBC’s Frasier and was at the peak of his fame. Del Toro, however, said that he’d always had Pierce in mind. “I wrote the part thinking of David Hyde Pierce and how fastidious Niles was on Frasier,” he said. “That was my entry point to Abe Sapien in the movies.”
Regardless of the reason, Pierce ultimately declined to take a credit on the film “out of respect for Doug,” said del Toro. The director even recalled Pierce saying during his recording session, “I want to try to sound like Doug.”
“People don’t do that,” Jones said, still clearly touched 13 years later. “I never would have expected it or asked for that.”
Unfortunately, Hellboy wasn’t the last time he had to come to terms with a decision to dub over his voice.
For 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, though, Jones actually welcomed it. Del Toro had set his phantasmagoric fable about a young girl navigating a world of fauns, faeries, and demons in 1944 Franco-era fascist Spain, and kept the script in its native language.
“I read an English translation of the script, and so I got so lost in this beautiful story. By the time I closed the last page, I’m wiping tears away, going, ‘Oh, glory be, of course I have to do this movie,'” Jones recalled. Del Toro had told Jones that he absolutely needed him to play the ancient faun who guides the girl on her journey, but once Jones realized that he would have to actually speak Spanish, he almost turned it down.
“The Faun gives paragraphs of expository speech,” said Jones. “I told Guillermo, ‘I’m going to ruin your movie with this language.'” Del Toro, however, would not be dissuaded. “He said, ‘You can count to 10 for all I care, I’ll dub over it later, but you’ve got to play the role,'” said Jones.
Instead, Jones learned the language well enough to deliver the dialogue with genuine meaning and inflection — and with the complete understanding that a Spanish actor would need to rerecord his lines. “That was okay, because the cadence and the whole performance was mine,” Jones said.
That performance included walking on stilts that made Jones 7 feet tall, wearing a mask that reduced his vision to little more than a pinhole, and sharing a scene with an 11-year-old girl without somehow trampling her. After spending five hours every morning applying the costume, Jones had to remain in it all day; even resting between takes required special accommodation. Due to the character’s mechanized tail, Jones had to sit on a modified bicycle seat and lean forward on a special bar.
“I told Guillermo, ‘I’m going to ruin your movie.'”
“To me, it was another sign of what kind of actor Doug is,” said del Toro. “A guy who commits — and when he commits, he’s of a piece with the part.”
Ironically, while the lion’s share of Jones’ time and energy for Pan’s Labyrinth was spent on the Faun, it’s the other character he played in the film — for just one, terrifyingly memorable scene — that remains arguably the most enduring character of his entire career: the Pale Man, a pallid, loose-skinned monster who eats children and sees only through eyes on the palms of his hands. “He’s the one who ended up on magazine covers and being iconically redrawn in cartoons,” Jones said. “That’s the character that really stuck.”
It stuck so much that Pan’s Labyrinth, nominated for six Oscars, won three, including for Best Makeup — largely on the strength of Jones’ two characters.
It was yet another career pinnacle for him; reviews actually credited Jones for his performances. The next year, he reached another new height, starring in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer in the chrome-covered title role. Jones remembered his costars — like Chris Evans and Jessica Alba — specifically complimenting him on his vocal performance. When he rerecorded his dialogue, the sound engineer even suggested Jones say his lines a second time in whisper, and then merged them together.
“It sounded otherworldly and eerie and yet heroic,” Jones recalled with a wistful smile. “I wish you could have heard it.” Two days later, with no warning, Jones read in the Hollywood Reporter that Laurence Fishburne would be performing the voice of the Silver Surfer.
“I was just: ‘Not again. Not again!'” Jones said, burying his head in his hands. “Another uphill battle of fighting to convince people that I really can act. You want other people to say that about you. You don’t want to have to say it about yourself.”
Fortunately, by the time del Toro was ready to make 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, he did know Jones could act: Not only did Jones perform Abe Sapien’s voice in the sequel, the director cast Jones in two more roles, most notably the terrifying Angel of Death.
“I think he’s, if not the most committed, one of the most committed actors I’ve ever worked with,” del Toro said. “I have seen him literally bleed for a part. Like, the Angel of Death, the mechanism that moved the wings and the eyes in that creature was so heavy that it broke his skin, under the costume, under the makeup, under everything. And Doug soldiered on until we finished that day. I have perpetual admiration for that.”
“I have seen him literally bleed for a part.”
Despite his disappointments, Jones had built enough of a body of work that he was also generating a real fanbase, including among other filmmakers. For 2010’s Legion, Jones said director Scott Stewart specifically sought him out for a small role of a (demonic) ice cream delivery man. “He thought if anybody has been following my career, it would be a special treat for them to see me come out of the ice cream truck as a guy that looks like Doug Jones, and then I morph into something hideous,” Jones said with a smile.
By 2013, Jones had landed his very first series regular role, on TNT’s sci-fi drama Falling Skies, as a friendly alien named Cochise. The character had “paragraphs of dialogue” to deliver according to Jones, and it called on him to wear a full mask with static, wide-set eyes that were digitally animated in postproduction. It was the first time the actor had to face the prospect of wearing makeup every day, for multiple months in a year, for an indefinite run of a show.
“Wearing rubber on my face is not a problem,” Jones said. “Doing that while having to have my mind as active as it had to be for that much important dialogue — that’s the hard combination. … I had to overcome a little bit of depression, wondering, Am I doomed to wear rubber and glue for the rest of my life?“
He paused, as if catching himself. “I shouldn’t have said ‘doomed,'” he said. “But I think it’s because of the isolation. When you’re on set with your costars between scenes, you’re sitting in your chairs, you’re getting snacks, you’re telling stories about what happened last night, or whatever, and I’m the one who is doing this from behind a mask. I have no peripheral vision, and I can’t hear as well as everybody else because I’ve got rubber over my ears, so I’m sitting amongst the banter that I would love to be more of an active part of, and I just can’t participate that much. I’m a very sociable person, so when I’m in a group of people and I can’t interact with them as easily as they’re all interacting with each other, it’s isolating and lonely.”
Like with everything else in his career, however, Jones soldiered on, staying with Falling Skies for three seasons until it ended in 2015. A year later, he got a call from Bryan Fuller, who was starting to cast Star Trek: Discovery, the first new Trek TV series in 12 years, and he wanted to Jones to be a part of the show.
“I mean, he was almost cast without a character,” said executive producer Aaron Harberts, who took over as showrunner of Star Trek: Discovery with Gretchen J. Berg after Fuller left the show. “Bryan just really wanted to work with him, and we didn’t know what Doug was gonna do. We really didn’t.”
“I had to overcome a little bit of depression, wondering, Am I doomed to wear rubber and glue for the rest of my life?”
“It shocked me,” Jones said of Fuller’s offer. But he still had to confront once again the prospect of an open-ended run with latex and silicone cemented to his head. When he showed up for his first makeup test for Saru, the brand new alien Fuller had concocted for him to play on Discovery, Jones recognized some pivotal issues with the initial design of the character. The biggest example: Saru had 10 eyes, which rose up in giant crescent shapes above his head. The hefty design had to be held up by a helmet underneath the makeup, which kept slipping forward any time Jones looked down.
“In order to make it not slip so much, it would have to be tightened to a degree where, you know, I would need ibuprofen every day,” said Jones. “I could do it if it was a two-day role — I would gut through that. But looking at a multiple-year contract, well, that’s a lot.”
Jones offered his feedback, and the production completely redesigned the character “so that Doug Jones, the actor, came shining through,” Harberts explained. Saru only has two eyes now, and they actually belong to the actor (albeit with scleral contact lenses that cover his entire eye), affording Jones an emotional tool long denied him for so many of his roles. The makeup application time is “ridiculously short” — just under two hours. Other than startlingly realistic silicone pieces for Saru’s hands and arms — “I’ve never had [costume] gloves that look so real” — and a pair of hooflike boots that add five more inches to Jones’ considerable height, the rest of the character is just Jones’ own slim body.
By stark contrast, Jones’ most recent film and latest collaboration with del Toro, The Shape of Water, subsumes the actor’s appearance almost entirely, and yet it has also been one of Jones’ greatest acting challenges to date. He plays an amphibious humanoid creature captured by a sinister government agent (played by Michael Shannon) and housed in a secret facility, where he encounters Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a woman who cannot speak who works as part of the cleaning crew. Unlike Abe Sapien, however, this creature is still very much a wild animal — with intelligence, but no language — and yet his relationship with Elisa swiftly transcends interspecies boundaries.
“He is the romantic leading man of the film,” said Jones. “Guillermo wanted him to be sexy. … [I had to] make this animal from the wild be connectable, relatable, lovable, so not only does Sally Hawkins’ character fall in love with him, but the audience does too.” His eyes went wide. “That’s a lot.”
If the gravity of the role wasn’t already apparent to Jones from the script, del Toro made the stakes clear before filming began. “He pulled me into a room by myself, and he said, ‘I need you to be an actor, not a performer,'” Jones said. “‘I don’t want you to give me a Dougie performance.’ And he did a flourish of the hand when he said that. ‘I want a real, living, breathing character.’ I got what he was saying. I could tell that this character meant the world to him.”
“[Guillermo] pulled me into a room, and said, ‘I need you to be an actor, not a performer.'”
“The caliber of the cast that we were having needed every commitment to that partnership,” said del Toro. “I think that you cannot have a scene with Michael Shannon or Sally Hawkins without bringing your A game. Suit or no suit, Doug needed to inhabit the character.”
Judging by the rapturous reception The Shape of Water received at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto Film Festivals this fall, Jones more than lived up to his director’s soaring expectations. And with CBS All Access recently picking Star Trek: Discovery up for a second season (the show’s first season will resume on Jan. 7, 2018), Jones has embraced the eccentricities of his chosen profession.
In fact, he recently fulfilled a career-long ambition, starring in filmmaker David Lee Fisher’s spoken-dialogue version of the 1922 F.W. Murnau silent movie classic Nosferatu, due to debut in 2018. The makeup was even created by the same artist, Mike Elizalde, who worked with Jones on Hellboy and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. (Jones even transformed himself into the creature for the photo shoot accompanying this story.)
“I’ve been asked, ‘Is there one [creature] you haven’t played that you would love to?'” Jones said. “And my answer had been, for decades, ‘Well, I’ve never played a vampire.” He put his gangly fingers up to his face in an almost self-mocking pose. “I’m too old and gross to be a sparkly, pretty young one, so I would like to play an old, gross vampire — and I think Nosferatu would be the perfect one.”
He began rapping the table with excitement. “That’s my dream come true,” he said, his smile glowing. “Are you kidding? I can’t be more excited about it.” ●
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.