Doug Jones interview: Falling Skies, Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy 3, & mime
Sarah chats to Doug Jones about Falling Skies, acting underneath prosthetics, Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy 3, and the apocalypse...
You might not immediately recognise Doug Jones’s face. Many of his most famous roles involve heavy makeup and prosthetics that transform him into some kind of otherworldly creature: he plays Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the Gentlemen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus, to name just a few. He’s an incredibly physical actor, managing to convey volumes in just a movement of his head or his hands. He’s never less than brilliant, basically, and he’s always worth watching, whatever he’s in.
Right now, he’s appearing in the Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi show Falling Skies, which meant I got to have a quick chat to him…
Hi Doug! How are you today? You’re in Los Angeles right now, so it must be pretty early…
[laughs] Well, you know when you’re an actor, if you don’t have to work that day, you tend to sleep in!
Oh dear, I’m sorry. So, you’re in the new series of Falling Skies. Can you tell us a bit about your character?
Well, as we’ve seen in the past two seasons of Falling Skies, all aliens on the show are to be feared, and run from, and shot at. So I am a new species of alien that has landed at the end of season two. And in season three, you’ll get to know me as something of an ally. I’m here to help!
My name in the show – they call me Cochise, which is kind of a nickname for my real alien name, which you’ll never get written down. It’s Cheechock il Sneetch-nitch Chatico.
Yeah, you’ll hear it a couple episodes in. [laughing] But that’s my name in the Volm language. So I am here to help, and I’m the leader of my people, and the question that’s going to be posed is: why? Why would this alien species land from another planet and help the humans fight off the bad aliens? That’ll be the question you ask yourself, and that’s the question that I can’t even answer.
As far as I know, I’m doing good, but if you look at my character through the eyes of – well, Noah Wyle’s Tom Mason befriends me the most, but if you look through the eyes of Will Patton’s character, Colonel Weaver, or Colin Cunningham’s character, John Pope, those are the two naysayers on the show who always look at me out of the corner of their eyes, wondering what I’m up to. So I think as an audience member you need to look at me through everyone’s eyes to get a good picture and to make guesses for yourself as to why I’m here.
What initially appealed to you about this role?
First of all, I was a fan of the show anyway. I’d seen the first season and loved it. I think television is getting to a level that is very cinematic now, and of course with Steven Spielberg as your executive producer, you’re going to get that! So that attracted me, because I liked the show, and of course I understood there was an alien character with all the rubber makeup on and lots of dialogue, I figured, “Okay, I see this as a Doug Jones role, I get it!”
And when I saw how he was written and that he got to be a good guy and he’s a very intelligent character and he speaks perfect English with intelligence – a lot of exposition comes from him, and I have weapons that the humans don’t have, and it’s fun to be the hero who gets to come and save the day, no matter what my motivation might be…
Also, getting to work with that cast: there’s Noah Wyle and Will Patton and Moon Bloodgood and we have some great guest stars on too, like Stephen Collins and Robert Sean Leonard and Gloria Reuben; these are names and faces that I’ve seen for years and I’d never met any of them and this was a great opportunity. When you’re with that calibre of actor, it only raises your own game. If you’re gonna play opposite someone like that, you really need to bring your A-game. So it has challenged me.
I’ve done lots of guest-starring roles in series television but this is my first time being a series regular on a show. You’re doing episodes back to back, and the rewrites are constant and ferocious, so when you’ve memorised dialogue – every time I come on screen I’m yapping a lot – when you’re committing that much to memory, and the rewrites come and change the entire scene the day before you’re going to film it, wow, that keeps your brain on point.
So I wanted to see if I could pull it off. Now we’re done filming season three, I think I did. I hope I did, and the audience will now tell me if I did.
I’m sure you did! This role, like so many of your roles, involves a lot of makeup and prosthetics. How do you develop a character when you can’t really see your face?
Well, you do a lot of subtle gestures with your head. Physicality plays a more important part when your face is covered with a layer of latex foam rubber. My facial expressions may not read clearly so I have to accentuate them and try to talk as articulately and as large as I can so the mask will respond.
Todd Masters and his company, Masters FX, they’re the ones who created my look, and they’re also doing a slight digital enhancement in after effects once we’re done. The eyes on the mask are wider and – they’re not the eyes that I actually look through, those are fake eyes, so in post-production they make them blink and look around. So it takes a bit of teamwork for them to follow my expression and where I’m looking and the verbal pauses I give them and the physical gesturing; they’ll use all of that to find out where my eyes should go and when to blink. They did a great job of finding the performance I was giving and digitising it.
Don’t forget those eyes – those are very important. Eyes are the windows to the soul, right, and this character does have a very charming look to his face, even though he’s otherworldly.
Which may be misleading, right?
Wink wink, I don’t know!
It seems like so much of your performances are about movement – this is going to sound really pretentious, but there’s almost something of the silent era about your work. You started out as a mime, right? Is that where that comes from?
I did, yeah. And those early silent era actors were quite an inspiration to me. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, looking at those old black and white movies and shorts that they did, I learned a lot from that. And my favourite thing to watch on TV when I was a kid were things like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show and our half hour sitcoms and variety shows, like The Carol Burnett Show or Sonny & Cher or Donnie & Marie, when they would do silly skits and musical numbers, and I learned a lot from those.
Sitcom style acting was more physical, doing pratfalls and armpit farts, and whatever else they did to make you laugh! I find myself doing things on film now and it’s like, “oh my goodness, that was Tim Conway from The Carol Burnett show” or it’s Carol Burnett herself, or Lucy, or “that was Don Knotts from The Andy Griffith Show!” Those are things we have here – I hope that some of those titles played in the UK?
Some of them, definitely. Falling Skies is one of many apocalyptic type stories at the moment, why do you think we’re so interested in the end of the world?
It seems like this post-apocalyptic theme is hitting us in the face a lot now, isn’t it? I think – well, it’s fantastical, it’s bigger than life, and I think audiences enjoy watching other human beings going through a struggle that’s way beyond what we’re experiencing. The world we’re in now, especially with the economic crash that happened a few years ago, people are wondering “what is our future? Where are we headed?” and then you turn the TV on and see a desolate world without electricity, you think “okay, how do they fight back?” and it boosts our human spirit.
It gives us an underdog-fighting-back-that-might-be-the-top-dog-again mentality, I think. And I think these kinds of shows inspire us to be the best we can be, to take care of each other along the way, and to fight back against the evil one.
That’s a really wonderful way to look at it, I think. So, you’ve been in so many amazing films that I don’t even know where to start, really, but you worked a lot with Guillermo del Toro. What’s he like to work with?
Oh, he’s my favourite director ever. Every director I work with knows Guillermo comes first. He’s my first love when it comes to directors! He’s everything you would guess he would be to work with. He’s a true genius but he’s also so good humoured and self-effacing and he’s like the guy you’d hang out with at university. He’d be your best friend.
And it’s because he’s a geeky fanboy who makes movies that would get him excited. He has a really good meter in his heart of what attracts a fanboy, because he is one! That’s important – when you’re working with him, there’s a passion and an intellect and a creative juice that you’re so honoured to be a part of.
So is there any news on Hellboy 3?
I wish! I have nothing to report. If you look at the IMDb website, Hellboy 3 is now “rumoured” on my page, on Ron Perlman’s page, Selma Blair’s page… but none of us have had the phone call saying it’s going to happen. Not at all.
That’s a shame. As well as geeky movies, though, you’ve done a lot of indie movies, things like Absentia or Spirit Hunters, where you’re not wearing prosthetics. What’s it like doing something where you can show your face? Is that a very different experience?
It is, yes. In the last few years I’ve been doing a lot more of my own face. It’s a nice change, I wouldn’t say I prefer either one, as long as there’s a good story and a great character and a great director attached, it’ll attract me.
With these indie films, they’re able to take a chance on me doing a role that I’m not known for, and I love the indie film vibe where a young filmmaker can make whatever film he wants because he’s scraped the money together himself. It’s interesting to watch how they can make every dollar stretch, to get the most bang for their buck; they have to shoot in a creative way, and it’s a creative experience where you pull together and have a sense of teamwork, like “we’re making something on our own and we’re going to try to sell this, yeah!”
The indie film thing and the film festival market has gotten so much bigger now, and it’s all a great world where cream can rise to the top and have a form and a voice to be heard. I love being a part of that and helping young directors along.
Doug Jones, thank you very much!
Falling Skies series three starts on the 16th of July on FOX in the UK. Read our spoiler-filled reviews of season three, here.
Please, if you can, buy our charity horror stories ebook, Den Of Eek!, raising money for Geeks Vs Cancer. Details here.