Interview: Doug Jones Teases More 'The Bye Bye Man' Mythology, Del Toro's "Gorgeous" 'The Shape of Water'

Interview: Doug Jones Teases More 'The Bye Bye Man' Mythology, Del Toro's "Gorgeous" 'The Shape of Water'

Apr 11, 2017

You love Doug Jones' work. You may not recognize his name. You probably couldn't pick out his real face from a lineup. But trust us, you love Doug Jones' work.

If you don't, it must mean you hate cinematic creatures.

Jones is the remarkably talented actor who has helped bring to life impossible fantasies time and and time again. In Pan's Labyrinth he played the faun and the Pale Man. In Hellboy he was the aquatic hero Abe Sapien. He was a savior to mankind as the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel, the freaky ice cream truck man in Legion, and the silent but deadly Gentleman in the iconic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush."

Most recently you may have seen him as the titular bad guy in The Bye Bye Man, wherein he plays an enigmatic figure who tortures anyone who says his name. It's a fun, freaky horror movie that's not afraid to get funky, in the best way, with its mythology. It's out today on FandangoNOW, Digital HD and Blu-ray/DVD, giving us the opportunity to chat with Jones about it, Guillermo Del Toro's upcoming The Shape of Water, his McDonalds moon guy and more. How is a project like The Bye Bye Man normally pitched to you?

Doug Jones: When you're casting a creature – and I've spent a lot of time acting under rubber bits – the creation of those bits is time consuming and so I tend to enter the process earlier than other actors do since they have to get started on my look. So it often comes with a conference room with creatives, and then that design goes to creature shops to bid on who is going to do it, and my name often comes up in that mix. With The Bye Bye Man it came up because of my association with producer Trevor Macy. We'd done stuff before and have a lot of mutual friends, so one day he got me on a Skype call with director Stacy Title and we just hit it off. I hope this comes off as the compliment I mean it, but The Bye Bye Man feels like a movie Wes Craven would have made 15 years ago.

Jones: Oh, yes, yes, I'll take that as a compliment. Like old school Craven, it's not afraid to get funky with its mythology. How much of that was in place when you came on? Do you work up a lot of mythology that doesn't end up in the movie?

Jones: This one had some source material, a short story called Bridge to Body Island. I'm going to admit to you I never read it. But I did talk extensively with our director Stacy Title and the writer Jonathan Penner, who is also her husband, by the way. So they were on set together a lot, and so backstory and layers of everything were talked at length. Even though it's not seen in the first movie, there is a reason behind it all. I do have a tragic backstory of my own that hopefully gets explored in sequels if we get to franchise this whole thing. It looks like the first one was successful enough at the box office that hopefully a part two is coming.

I could put my own sympathies into the Bye Bye Man based on the tragic beginnings he had that I was told about. If you tell me about someone tormented as a child, about them being disfigured and made fun of and bullied, that the Bye Bye Man, who was an albino who didn't fit into his world, and was tragically abused for that, you've got a lot of torment. It's a classic case of the tormented tormenting people. He's on a path to rectify that, but he's going about it the wrong way. I don't think anyone wakes up and thinks, 'I'm going to be evil for no reason.' He's trying to survive in his own, twisted way. And other people are haunted and tormented and die because of it. Bless his little heart.

Doug Jones Bye Bye Man makeup test
[ A Bye Bye Man makeup test from legendary artist Robert Kurtzman] Do you normally have much input on the design of a creature?

Jones: It's been all over the place. Sometimes I do walk into a production and the designs are extremely locked in. That's especially so on big budget studio stuff that's been discussed for months and months before I even got there. Yeah, the Silver Surfer isn't drastically going to change his look.

Jones: Yeah, exactly. I'm not going to walk in and say, 'Ya' know guys, I think the Silver Surfer should have black eyebrows.' That would have gone over really well. Sometimes, though, if they're still in process, they might change things. Mostly it's comfort issues for me. If you design something with long finger extensions, but you want me to use a lot of props, that might be a problem. So we'll talk about it.

Mostly I like to leave the design work to those who design, and that's not me. I've had the most wonderful and best artists in the world put things on my body. They're holding Oscars because of the work they've done before. I'm not going to try and change their minds. At this point I imagine you've amassed a reputation for that attitude. I'm guessing when a make-up artists realizes they get to work with you, it's like being given the golden ticket.

Jones: Thank you very much for saying that, it's very sweet of you. I have very much enjoyed, in more recent years especially, entering a makeup trailer for the first day and having an artist say, 'I'm a big fan of your work and always wanted to work with you.' I never get tired of hearing that because it's the sweetest thing in the world and I never thought my silly little career would have ever gotten to the point that it inspires other artists of any kind. I never thought anyone would notice what I've done, let alone be a fan of it. When it comes to working with other actors do you tend to integrate or separate?

Jones: I like to be an integral part of the cast like any other would be. When young people come to me and say, 'I want to do what you do and be a creature actor,' I kind of have to correct them a bit and say, 'Then take the creature out of it.' Focus on being an actor and channeling characters, finding their warmths and fears and desires of that character, like any other actor should do. Then channel that into the beast you're going to be playing. That includes interacting with every other character in the film.

Now in The Bye Bye Man I was obviously mainly interacting with Douglas Smith, he was the one who said my name for the first time in a while and awakes me from my spiritual slumber to come back and torment them. So most of my screen time was with him, and we had a great rapport. But I also make sure I work with whatever the other actor needs. Does he want me to be chatting with him between takes? While they're setting up the next scene, do we get a coffee and talk about other things entirely? Or does he want me to leave him alone so he can discover me on screen the way the character would? So I take the lead from them, really.

When makeup and special looks and prosthetics are put on a character, you do need to take it on physically. It's not just how he looks, it's how he stands. It's posture, it's movement. You have to study all of these things ahead of time, especially if they're not quite human. What do you look to when you're playing someone who isn't entirely human?

Jones: Often times I look to the script or the design itself, especially if you're playing a man-animal hybrid, which I've done many times. I've been part man, part kangaroo in two different movies. I've also now been part man, part fish in two different movies. The next one coming out is The Shape of Water, which is Guillermo Del Toro's new movie, which is out in December. So in those cases, you have nature you can draw from. In Pan's Labyrinth, I was part man, part goat, part tree, so I got to incorporate a few things into the fawn. Other things that are completely fantastical, like if I'm playing a space alien, I can't go to a nursing home and find an old alien and get notes from him, right? So it's the writer, it's the director, it's your own instincts trying to create it from the ground-up. I was pleasantly surprised to discover you were the moonface guy in those old McDonalds ads. Are there a lot of things people would be surprised to learn is you? And do you have any favorites?

Jones: Throwback Thursdays are a fun thing for me on social media. Last week, for Flashback Friday, I posted a picture of me as the robot butler in The Benchwarmers. I played a yeti in the Brendan Fraser movie Monkeybone, that shocks some people. About a year ago I posted a picture of me as one of the kung-fu kangaroo warriors in the movie Warriors of Virtue, this kung-fu kids movie from 1997. Hocus Pocus came out in theaters in 1993, so that's had a life that's kept going all these years, and there are people who have grown up with the movie who know me but don't know I was Billy Butcherson the goofy zombie, that'll be a big, all the blood drains from their face 'Whaaaat?! That was you?!' What can you tell us about The Shape of Water at this point?

Jones: They haven't given away all the plot points yet, but what is out there is the backdrop, which I can talk about. It's set in 1963, in that Russian Cold War era and the race for space. There's a U.S. Government testing facility that I'm in, and since it's a Del Toro movie, you can rest assured I'm in some kind of make-up as a creature.

My character is...even if I'm not in every scene, they're talking about me when I'm not there. I am the focal point of the whole movie. They're all having interactions because of me. It is one of the most gorgeous stories I have ever been a part of. And it was filmed beautifully. The art direction for the era – the cars, the clothes, the hair, the sets – it's very Del Toro and very gorgeous.

Our central character is Sally Hawkins who plays a very sympathetic character, a woman you're just going to fall in love with. What she goes're going to be rooting for her every step. It's a classic Del Toro movie where we root for an underdog in very impossible circumstances, and I'm a part of all of that in a very, very integral way. So without giving it all away, I think I just gave it all away.


Categories: Features, Interviews, Horror
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