Doug Jones Interview: The Shape of Water

Doug Jones in the Shape of Water

Even if you don't know the face, you probably already love Doug Jones. To rubber suits what Andy Serkis is to motion-capture, he has brought countless striking creatures of all descriptions to life, from hand-eyed monsters to Silver Surfers. Versatile, physical and able to pull realistic emotion from behind layers of makeup, Jones' a master of the form.

He's probably best known for his collaborations with Guillermo del Toro, a relationship going back twenty years and covering half-a-dozen movies. Most recently, Jones starred as the creature in this year's Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water, a fish man/romantic lead that posed new challenges for the actor - challenges he more than rose to; while all aspects of the film received immense praise, his empathetic, convention-busting performance stood out.

Read More: Our Shape of Water Review

Screen Rant recently caught up with Jones for The Shape of Water's home video release to discuss becoming "the asset", as well as his thoughts on the impending Hellboy reboot and what the future holds for Saru on Star Trek Discovery.

Screen Rant: I wanted to go right back to the start. I want to talk the specific way that you came to be involved in The Shape of Water, and what evolved from the first pitch that you got to the finished movie - were there any changes in how your role or the movie in general was?

Doug Jones: Well, it was presented to me by Guillermo del Toro himself while we were working on Crimson Peak. I was two of the ghost ladies in that movie and on one of my days off he wanted to see me in his office during lunch break. And so I did, that's when he told me about this next movie he wanted to make. This was back in January 2014, so it was quite a while ago, and he kind of verbally went through the storyline with me and told me he wanted me to play the creature. None of that surprised me [laughs] because we've been through an awful lot together up to that point. Having met him on Mimic in 1997, and now we're 20 years later. We've done six movies and a TV series, so playing a creature for him was nothing new, but the way he was presenting this was... he stressed that you are going to be the romantic leading man of this movie. And that kinda gave me... that had some gravity to it and some responsibility with it that I wasn't used to in rubber suits, right?

And his concern for telling me about this was that it was going to get very romantic, and on-screen romantic - would the good Catholic boy in me be OK with that? And he really wanted me to talk to my lovely wife, Mrs. Laurie Jones, and make sure she was going to be OK with that. And he is such a devout family man that those things are so important to him, and when he does take the care to present it to you in that way, that's one of the many reasons he's so beloved by so many, especially me. I love that he's a real person, he's not just some director. To take all that into consideration, and then hearing the story that he had planned - I didn't read the script yet, he didn't have one all written out yet, but he told me about it - I just knew... I thought to myself at that moment, "this is going to be his trip back to the Oscars after Pan's Labyrinth". Turns out I was right.

To answer your question about how that played out and if there were any changes and differences... you know with Guillermo, I had the same experience on Pan's Labyrinth when I read and the script and heard the storyline and knew it was going to be him directing - it came about and fleshed out exactly how I pictured it. And this one did the same thing. By the way, I picture things in a very grand form, knowing that it's him. It's not like I have low expectations, I have very grand, high expectations. And he meets and exceeds them if anything. So the way this came together, from the page to production design, and you see the colors and the sets and the costumes and the makeup and you get to wear the most amazing creature suits you've ever had on in your life - it lived up to my expectations and exceeded them, if anything.

The Shape of Water Has Fish/Human Sex Scene

SR: Awesome. Talking about the design and the rubber suits, one of the things that I thought was so funny about the release of this movie, a lot of fans comparing it to Abe Sapien. I don't know if you saw this, but there's a whole theory that it was a Hellboy prequel, something like that. Which is obviously isn't - and Guillermo came out and said it wasn't - but did you ever think that at all going through the development, or was it just a case of fans seeing two fish creatures?

DJ: Right? The comparisons were going to be there. We have the same director and the same actor presenting you with a fish man creature. There's no way you can't make that comparison. But, when he first told me about this story, I knew right away that is not Abe Sapien's background, it's not his backstory at all. First of all, the timeline alone: Abe Sapien was discovered in 1865 in a tank in a basement of a building, and then this fish man in the Amazon in 1962, so there you go! And the other differences are that you have Abe Sapien who was a comic book character, so the genre alone - the feeling, the vibe of it - is more animated. He's very postured, very gestural, very well spoken, a huge vocabulary, reads three books at once, and is clairvoyant - he can put his hand on you and can see where you've been and all those things. Abe has very much his own ecosystem.

The fish man, the amphibian man, from The Shape of Water is an animal from the wild who is rumored to be something of a river god to the locals who worshipped him in the Amazon. That sets him apart, he's different already. And he did not speak with articulate, verbal dialogue. He was more animalistic and did maybe possibly have some supernatural, mystical powers about him, but very different from Abe Sapien, for sure. And he had a regalness about and a natural, raw beauty from nature. It wasn't comic book style. Guillermo created a creature in the amphibian man that actually could have been found in the wild somewhere here on Earth, and played in a 1962 setting that was feasible.

SR: On Abe Sapien, obviously as I'm sure you're aware, they're rebooting Hellboy with David Harbour in the main role. I just wondered if you had any thoughts or perhaps advice to anyone who may be taking in Abe Sapien in the future - because that's such a role that you defined in those two movies?

DJ: Well, thank you. You know, reboots mean recasting, of course. I'm told that Abe Sabien doesn't really show up in this first reboot movie, so for a minute here I'm kind of - I'm OK with the fact that I don't have to watch somebody else do that role just yet. I'd love to see the first movie, and see how they set up Hellboy now with David Harbour, who is a brilliant actor and sweetheart of a guy - we met at Comic-Con last year and we hugged it out, really nice to make that Hellboy connection with him. If and when Abe Sapien does enter the storyline in subsequent movies, I honestly would not have any advice for anyone besides have patience with the make-up, but otherwise make the character your own. And, also, anytime you take on a comic book character you must know your source material. The fans depend on it, the fans will want to ask you about it. It's an injustice to the fans of the source material if you don't know it going in. And it will help inspire you performance on film if you know the comic books that you're coming from.

Abe Sapien in Hellboy and the Asset in Shape of Water

SR: I think it must be quite nice to just go and see that. Looping back to The Shape of Water, I have a question for you which is something that I've debated with a few people after seeing the movies and that's Eliza's scars. At the end of the movie, they go into the water, and my reading of it was that she was found in the water, right? That she was also one of the creatures who had been found and become human through living on land, and that's why she could not speak. But I've had other people who think it's something more done the asset at the end - and he finds this thing within her and brings it out. They're both interesting interpretations, I wonder what your take on that was.

DJ: Well, in reading the script and talking to Guillermo, I asked him about this specifically because I wanted to know. And he said he intentionally left this ambiguous at the end so that whoever's watching this movie, whatever they need to pull out of this for their own life, whichever of those two miracles they need, they can have. It's a beautiful way to honor your audience that way. For me personally, I like to think she always was a mermaid, that she did come from the water. Like you said, in the dialogue, it's mentioned that she was found by the river's edge and was orphaned, and no one quite knows where she came from, but she was just kind of found with these scars on her neck. So I like to think that somehow she was a bit of an anomaly that was raised as a human and kind of lost that piece of herself, and when she sees this fish man, and I see her, we kind of connect and we see something in each other and we recognize something in each other. And that definitely does play on film, and at the end and you think all is lost and all is over, he kind of basically helps her wake up to the destiny she was always meant for.

But I also, I can appreciate the other bent on the story, the other angle of whatever flaws and scars we have as human beings, they can be turned into something beautiful and useful and helpful to others and helpful to... Our flaws can be where our beauty lies, and that's also a great message.

Read More: The Shape of Water’s Ending Explained

SR: You've made me want to go and rewatch the movie again! So, in terms of what you've got next, what you've got coming up - have you and Guillermo talked at all about any future projects. You guys are now such a powerhouse team, you've done so many projects together of so many different descriptions. Would you want to go and do something together again?

DJ: The answer is yes. I would love to and he knows that all he has to do is say "Doug, do you want to do a movie?", I say yes, then I'll ask him what it's about. Which is kinda backwards, but after 20 years of working together and six movies and a TV series I trust that man implicitly, and so whatever... I don't know what he would have next for me, or for us to do together. I never know. He's taking a bit of sabbatical, he might be back to directing in another year or so. When he comes back, what with, I don't know, but it's always something delicious and wonderful. But I'm happy to see him taking a break for almost the first time in 20 years I've known him because he's a workaholic because even during his hiatus from directing he's still producing two things and writing something, he's never going to shut down all the way.

We did have - he did have Frankenstein in development for... good gosh, a number of years and I'm not sure what happened. I'd love to play Frankenstein's monster, and that was what he had in mind for me all along. Whether we get to do it or not is yet to be told. And I've also, he's hinted that he wants to make Disney's Haunted Mansion - for many years he's talked about that. I would kill to play the Hat Box ghost - I believe that a makeup test was done on my life cast for that - you know, just in the pre-planning stages. But then again, years go by and you hear nothing, so I don't know. I don't hold my breath, and in the meantime, I'm working... I'm a series regular on Star Trek Discovery. We're just about to start filming Season 2 in a couple of weeks, so the plate's full, but when Guillermo calls, we see what we can fit on the plate.

Star Trek Discovery - Doug Jones as Saru

SR: Speaking of Star Trek, of course, Season 1 has come and has reinvigorated Star Trek in many ways. And your character's an absolute fan favorite. The recurring, I guess joke, is that he keeps never getting to become Captain. You have Captains from alternate dimensions who are psychotic, and you replace with the exact same thing, and he keeps missing out. How do you feel about that? Do you think Saru should become Captain or do you think it's more interesting for him to not and have that strange power dynamic - especially given the context of Starfleet at that time?

DJ: I think the character of Saru, I think he very much wants to be Captain. He's been on that deck for so long in the command track, and as the first of his species to have gone through Starfleet Academy and have come out as a high ranking officer on a starship - he's the first of his kind to ever even come close to this - so he's a lot to prove and he's got a lot to say. But me personally, as Doug Jones the fan of Star Trek, I think the dynamic of that character works very well as a first officer; as second fiddle to a captain. And that's me personally. But when I get to sit in that Captain's chair and take over while the Captain is off doing the mission or when he goes bad, like Captain Lorca did, then that's a gleeful moment for me too. I love seeing Saru overcome his fears, overcome his shortcomings, and it's a lesson for all of us that we... whatever these shortcomings might be, that we can triumph. We can overcome our fears, and we can accomplish what we were brought into this world to do. So I love watching Saru do that and being part of that journey for him.

Yes, I think the Captain's chair one day. It's early on, we're only about to start filming Season 2, there's still a lot of room ahead of us. So I think, for now, he still has more to learn in the leadership department and the courage department under a Captain who's been there and done that a lot, a seasoned Captain. I think for now I'd like to see him learn more and be under the wing of a seasoned Captain, but we'll see where the writers take this. I honestly have no idea right now.

SR: I've got one more question, and it's a question that sums up everything we've talked about - about your entire career. You've played so many different characters over the years and each one you bring a different thing to them and each one is a different story and different makeup and different everything. Which of the characters you've played - not what is your favorite - which would you like to go back and play again?

DJ: Oh golly. I've fallen in love with every character I've ever played, I kind of have to in order to play them correctly and to let them breathe and live through. Even the bad guys I've played, even the evil ones. So... that's a great question. To revisit one and continue a story with one... I'm going to go someplace you may not expect, but I think I would love to do a 20-some years later sequel to Hocus Pocus and revive Billy Butcherson from the grave one more time. I would love to give him another go.

SR: OK. Well, get the studio on the phone and see if they can reboot it.

DJ: There you go.

Next: Why The Shape of Water Deserved To Win the Best Picture Oscar

The Shape of Water is available on digital, Blu-ray and DVD now.

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