Doug Jones has made a career out of playing monsters, ghouls and creatures of myth. The former contortionist is a legend in sci-fi, fantasy and horror circles for his unique ability to morph into roles as diverse as the Thin Clown in Batman Returns, Joey in Men in Black 2 and the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. He recently played a series regular on Star Trek: Discovery, as the alien being Lt. Saru.
He’s best known for his collaborations with Guillermo del Toro, which started in 1997 with Mimic, and continued with roles in Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, as Abe Sapien; Pan’s Labyrinth, as The Faun and The Pale Man; and most recently The Strain and Crimson Peak.
But their latest work together on The Shape of Water might be definitive. Jones’ amphibian creature is both the love interest and one of the principal leads of del Toro’s film, and it requires every tool in Jones’ arsenal to realize. Set in the height of the Cold War and during the space race, The Shape of Water brings its audience into a mysterious government facility in Baltimore where, in the deepest recesses of the lab, an amphibious creature (Jones) is being studied for its unusual abilities. As Strickland (Michael Shannon), in charge of security, demands for it to be killed and autopsied, Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) insists that the creature’s secrets can only be revealed with a lighter touch.
But it’s the facility’s quietest employee who realizes the truest connection to the creature. Mute cleaner Elisa (Sally Hawkins) feels a strange affinity with this mysterious visitor from the deep. And as the men in charge prevaricate, she resolves to release the creature from its captors, with the aid of her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her next door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins).
Doug Jones, in the following short Q&A expounds on creating a sexy fish man, and the fruitful journey he’s had with del Toro.
Q: Guillermo is also always incredible sympathetic to “monsters” in his films: he wants to show their good side.
A: Oh gosh, yes. He’s the most quotable man in the world, as you know. He’s always said, “There will always be a monster on my call sheet.” 11 times now that has been me. Yet he’s a brilliant visionary at the same time. He’s very grown up, but he’s never lost the child. That’s why you’ll see lots of child characters in his stories. Even in this story, in The Shape of Water, the role of Elisa is very childlike. Sally Hawkins is channelling this beautiful childlike character that does have a very vulnerable side. He taps into that, a familiar place in all of us, with every character that he creates. He really does.
Q: Where does the physicality come from?
A: First of all, you look at the ecology, the ecosystem, you’ve got human and you’ve got fish. You have to combine the two somehow. This fish man is a bit more masculine, he’s more athletic even, I think. He’s more of a threat than other fish men I’ve played before. Especially with Strickland, he and I have a tete-a-tete a couple times where taunts me and I strike back. They’ve taken me out of my habitat. I’m scared, and so I’m reacting like a caged tiger. It takes Sally’s character to tame me, we’re both wounded souls in some way.
Q: How do you feel the allegory of the story reflects the world we’re living in?
A: Another thing that Guillermo does love to do, he loves to buck authority when authority doesn’t know what it’s doing. That’s another theme you’ll see in a lot of his movies. In this case, we have the US government trying to beat the Russians to space, or whatever, whatever that era was doing. Again, he loves the underdog. I think that comes from a place in him, where so many of us and so many of his fans and the lovers of his work are underdogs in our own life.
The Shape of Water opens Feb. 21 in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox.