Doug Jones is a rarity in today’s entertainment industry. He is a man known less for his face and more for his exciting body of work. Chances are you likely encountered him as one of the Gentleman in the award winning episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” Abe Sapien in “Hellboy” and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”, Pan and the terrifying Pale Man from the multi-Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth” or a legendary title character in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Most of his roles require this dedicated artist to endure countless hours in the makeup chair to bring these unique characters to life. However, he doesn’t rely on the prosthetics alone to sell a performance. His acting ability hearkens back to the days and talents of movies greats like Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, who put every ounce of their body and soul into a performance.
How did he get to that point, you ask? It started simply enough. Doug Jones was born in May 1960 in Indiana, where he grew up in the city’s Northeast side as the youngest of four brothers. After attending high school, he headed to Ball State University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications and a minor in theatre. During his schooling, Jones donned the costume of the school mascot, was part of a mime troop, and honed his skills as a contortionist.
After a theater run in his native Indiana, he followed his dreams to Los Angeles. His breakout role came in an unusual form, as he captured the role of a McDonald’s character, Mac Tonight, that was destined to become an iconic pop culture character around the globe. Since then, it has been a non-stop roller coaster ride establishing him as one of the hardest working people in show business. With an ever-growing resume running the gambit from film, television and web series to commercials and music videos with the likes of Madonna and Marilyn Manson, Jones continues to gain critical praise as well as new legions of dedicated fans with each new outing.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this amazing actor to discuss his start in the entertainment industry, how his unique skill set established him as one of Hollywood’s most interesting artists, his process for bringing a character from script to screen, and what new projects lie in store for him!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am a good ole fashioned, mid-western boy!
They say the entertainment is not for the faint of heart. I am sure this especially holds true for a mid-western boy like yourself! How did you get your start in the business?
Well, I am going to go back to my time in Indiana where I spent time on the high school stage. In college, I was the mascot for the school. I was in a big bird suit as Charlie Cardinal and I was also a part of the mime troop there. We were called Mime Over Matter! So that was some early training that I did that I didn’t realize that I was getting for the career that I have now, wearing big costumes and learning the art of mime where I communicate with my entire body, not just the verbal dialog that comes out of an actors mouth. That was the early training that got me started. Then coming out to Los Angeles in 1985, a long, long time ago, I took a job at a bank just to make the excuse to move. The bank fired me after eight months! [laughs] Which they should have because I sucked as a banker! The favor that they did me that day was pushing me out into the L.A. market as an actor, much earlier than I had planned on. I took a television commercial acting workshop that I saw advertised in “Backstage” magazine. It turned out that the class was taught by an agent. That agent, after my second class, said, “Here’s my card, please call me at the office.” So that is kinda how I got my first agent. Then I was on my way doing TV commercials within six months of that. My fourth TV campaign booking was the Mac Tonight campaign for McDonald’s. That was the crescent moon head that sang at the top of a floating cloud with a piano. That was the campaign that kinda marked me as, “Tall, skinny, goofy guy who moves well. Wears a lot of prosthetics and costuming and doesn’t complain in the makeup!” That was the big one for the creature effects makeup people! A lot of actors are known to be divas, we are very selfish people! [laughs] I had said yes to doing something not human, therefore it comes with a cumbersome costume or some time in the makeup and that was fine. That was extraordinary to them for some reason! That is where the mid-western part of me came in. I had a work ethic that was as simple as, “If you say yes to something, you do it and don’t complain.” You just shut up and do it! [laughs] Apparently, that wasn’t done here at the time I guess! I was very surprised that I got the reaction that I did from that arm of Hollywood-land. The creature effect makeup people were the ones who then referred me to the next job and the next job and the next job. Before long, the roles were getting bigger and I was more acquainted with the directors, producers and writers that I was working with, so the referrals started coming from all ends. Here I sit today with the crazy, wacky career that I have had!
Who were some of the influences who inspired you? You have been compared to Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff of our generation. Did they factor in?
Oh yeah, yeah! Early childhood, haunting memories are staying up late on Friday night to watch Sammy Terry, the local Friday Night horror host, who wore a ghoulish vampire costume and would say, “Hello, I am Saaaaammmmy Terrrrrrrryyy!” [in a low vampire-like voice] He would introduce the horror movie of the week. I stayed up every Friday night to watch whatever the movie was. “The Mummy” was the first film of Boris Karloff’s that I remember seeing and he haunted the poop out of me! Those close ups where he opened his eyes wide was enough! How he physicalized walking around as a mummy was great. Of course, I saw “Frankenstein” after that. “Phantom of the Opera” with Lon Chaney was enough to sell me on him! They were absolutely early influences of mine. That is why I have been holding a torch, campaigning and hoping for a return of that Golden Era, where monsters were movie stars. The era where the actors playing them were press worthy, would have their name in the opening credits and that kind of thing. We lost that for a long chunk of time. Guillermo del Toro is one of those directors who took me on and made me a part off his family, so to speak, and he would write monster parts for leading men. He writes monsters as those old Golden Era monsters were, where they were the highlight of the film, not just something that came in to scratch up the lead actors, but ones who had a sympathetic cause or he might be a bad guy but it is against his own will or he is stuck in a conundrum himself or something sympathetic. That is where an audience wants to know who is playing that role and find that actor intriguing. I owe Guillermo del Toro just an awful lot for writing and directing me in roles that brought about those comparisons to those old Golden Era actors that I admire so much!
Absolutely! Having worked with Guillermo del Toro several times now, what have you learned from his direction?
I have learned that my owns fears of my own shortcomings are stupid! [laughs] He is one of those directors that directs every actor that he has in front of him very differently. I saw that the most when I was on the set of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” where I had way more on-screen time with Ron Perlman and Selma Blair. All three of us were handled very differently by Guillermo. He knew how our buttons pushed and he would find the space that we needed to be in, communicate with us in that space and then get out of us what he needed. It was fascinating to watch! He is such a studier of people and that is why he writes people so well and that is why he writes monsters with people issues so well, because he really knows people. That carries into his direction. It really inspired us as actors. He is amazing and knows more about my strengths and weaknesses than I do from an outsiders point of view, who has really absorbed and observed me. So when he says that I can do something that I really feel like I will fail miserably at, when Guillermo says I can do it, I have to trust him. And I do now! I learned that on “Pan’s Labyrinth.” When he told me that I was the only actor that could play the Fawn in the film, I was sure that someone else could have played better, perhaps even someone that could speak the Spanish as a native language, let’s just pretend there was someone there already. He kept assuring me that, no, I was the right choice. I was fighting him on it even! I am really glad that he won that fight! [laughs] Because that has become one the benchmarks in my career that I am so honored and grateful to have.
What is your typical process for bringing a character from the script to the screen and does that process differ when prosthetics are involved?
It does. I do like to physicalize any character that I play, even if it is a guy in a T-shirt and jeans. I think when you take on a character, you take him on physically from head to toe. Each human character might walk differently, talk differently, jester differently, run, squat or jump away from things in fear differently. So, I do bring that to my human characters as well. But when I am playing a character that is not human — actually, I just signed a contract for a new movie yesterday, which I can’t tell you about yet because the official announcement has not been made yet but I just signed on for a major studio film where I will be playing an other worldly creature. I knew this was coming so I have been back at the gym for a little over a month now. I have been doing some weight training, get my aerobics health back up and my heart rate back up to an athletic range because it is going to be very physically demanding for me. That is number one for me. I have to think like an athlete as well as an actor when I am taking on something with prosthetic layers and athleticism built into the role. After I get off of the phone with you, I will be headed over to the creature effects shop to get my first life cast and fittings done. I will see the creature designs today! At the meetings that I have had before, you have everything from “tall, postured and skinny” to “heavier, leaned over and groveling on all fours.” So I don’t know what design they picked but I will find out later today! When I see what the posture the drawings are and the girth of that suit, I will be more specific at what I am doing at the gym. It will include me going to the aerobics floor after all of the classes are done. I will use the mirrors and the big wood floor to learn my walks, my squats, my tosses, how does he crawl and what does the script call for. That is also very important. This role is going to call for a lot of tension and fight scenes and that kind of thing. I need to find some physicality with myself and the mirror. As I go back to the creature shop for more fittings, I will see if what I worked out at the gym is going to be feasible or not, can I move or not, will the costume or the makeup restrict or enhance what I have already worked on. It is a multi-step process! Then of course, the director comes in at some point and says, “I hate all that. Let’s try this instead!” [laughs] or says, “I love what you are doing!” We will have that discussion with his notes. So it is a multi-step process to get this to filming day.
Wow! That is really amazing. As you said, it all comes back to your early days as a mime. You have a very cool new project coming out in regard to that and the challenges that presented themselves along the way.
Oh my gosh, the book! This is one of those projects that took me out of the film and television world for just a minute to explore my roots as a mime. We talked about that mime troop that I was in, Mime Over Matter, right!?
It’s a big ole catch phrase! Did ya catch that catch phrase?
Oh, of course!
Yeah, see! That is funny! That is humor! [laughs] This book, which comes out in December of 2011 and it is pre-orderable on Amazon.com right now, is called “Mime Very Own Book” — another little play on words! This book, as the title might suggest, is just full of punny, pun, pun humor and is kind of a send up of all pop culture. Famous artworks, famous movie posters, iconic photos or moments captured in time in history, we redo with me as a mime, pose for pose, pun for pun! We have everything from me with my arms PhotoShopped off as Venus De Mime-lo or me with boxer shorts on and gloves with me on the floor as well, having been knocked out as Mime-hammad Ali, right?! Yelling, “Get up! Get up, sucka!” [laughs] That is one of the famous photos that we re-did. We also did old movie posters like “Say Anything” with John Cusack only ours is “Don’t Say Anything.” It’s a mime thing! Come on now! [laughs]
[laughs] That’s great!
We do other catchphrases too, like “A Mime is a terrible thing to waste!” or “Once Upon A Mime … ” right!? And what would that look like in photo! We also did a multi-page section where we told the story of “Little Red Miming Hood” where I play Little Red Miming Hood and the grandmother and the wolf, all as mimes! It is really the most ridiculous book I have ever imagined! The publishing company is Medallion Press in Chicago and they approached me about doing this a couple of years ago. Publishing takes a little bit longer than movies even. We had a three-day photo shoot where we took thousands of pictures, once the ideas were conceived. There are four co-conspirators that have authorship of it, including myself. Scott Allen Perry came up with many of the ideas and directed the photo shoot. Our publisher Adam Mock, who was also conceptual and had tons of ideas. All the tomfoolery that I just mentioned to you had to come out of someones brain and these two are nuts! You need someone who is really kooky to figure this book out! Our photographer Eric Curtis does the most brilliant things with light and capturing the moment, more than any photographer that I have ever worked with. The four of us are all listed as authors of this book. I cannot wait! We have an eight page flyer promo thing that just has a few images from the 250 pages that you will see in December and even this eight pager makes me laugh my little butt off!
It sounds great and I can’t wait to get a look at it to see what you guys have come up with!
We have an official website that just went up at www.mimeveryownbook.com!
I know you have many new projects going on. What can you tell us about those?
Right now, this week, my second episode of “The Guild” comes out. I made my first appearance on “The Guild” last week, which is a very popular web series with Felicia Day, of course! As web series go, this one is among the most popular ever and she is kinda paving the way for this new medium. This is Season 5 of “The Guild” which means that it has been going on for five years already. Season 5 takes place at a gaming convention. At this convention, as you learn last week, one of the members of The Guild, who is played by Robin Thorsen, a hilarious, platinum blonde, lovely woman, stumbles upon the steam punk booth at the convention. In the steam punk booth there are three very snooty people dressed in period clothing, goggles and futuristic gadgets and I am one of those three people. I have been having the most raging ball with this! We affected fake British accents and the whole thing! For the steam punk lovers out there, we are not making fun! I swear, I promise! We are celebrating all that is steam punk and taking it to another degree! “The Guild” is one of those shows where everything is irreverent anyway, so we love steam punk and that style. I wear steam punk clothing on the red carpets all the time, so it was really fun for me to delve a little bit farther into a caricature of a steam punk person. Every new episode of “The Guild” starts on Tuesday on Xbox, if you are a game player and that same Thursday, that same episode will show up on MSN and Bing. There are all of these portals that I am only slightly aware of because I am not tech-savy! [laughs] You can easily find links if you follow Felicia Day or “The Guild” on Twitter. So that would be @feliciaday or @theguild on Twitter about where you can find them! I show up in about four or five episodes, so that is very exciting!
Speaking of Felicia Day, we also have “Dragon Age: Redemption” which is another web series based on “Dragon Age” the video game, where I play the main nemesis, bad guy in. As of Comic Con, I can tell you who I am now! I am Saarebas who is a Qunari mage. The gamers out there, especially those who play “Dragon Age II,” that will make some sense to them. Hopefully that will be starting sometime this Fall. They are being kind of gray about what our start date is with that web series. Then I am in a third web series, which is also based on a video game, called “Fallout: Nukabreak.” It is from the same people who brought you the short film of the same name on YouTube. It was a fan film that ended up with a couple of million views. It has now developed into a web series and I play a very colorful and fun character in that! That series just started last week and I believe that they have a new episode every two weeks. I show up at the end of episode 3 and take up the entire fourth episode. That is another fun thing to look for! I believe you can find that one on YouTube by searching “Fallout: Nukabreak.”
Then there is also, oh my gosh, I am such a promotion pig right now! [laughs]
It can’t be helped! You are very busy man![laughs] Yes! Last weekend, my French movie, that I did a couple of years ago, “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life,” was finally released in the United States. The film is based on the life of singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourgh and I play his alter-ego. He is a very famous and iconic French singer/songwriter from the 1960s and ‘70s. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death, so it is very timely that the film is being released now. It is a biopic but it also has a fantasy element to it and that is where I come in! Being his alter-ego, I am a very extagerated, cartoony version of him. It was a five-hour makeup application, which was done by the makeup artists, Oscar winners, from “Pan’s Labyrinth” that created this very cartoony looking and big beaked — I have a huge nose, huge ears, everything that Serge Gainsbourgh hated about his own face. The call me, my name in French is La Gueule, which means ugly mug. That was kind of a fun character to play! “Oh, I get to play Ugly Mug? Great! Mom will be proud!” [laughs] As biopics go, this is one of the more creative ones that I have ever seen. It is in the French language with subtitles. It just started in New York and L.A. last weekend and it will be inching its way across the country to other cities throughout November. If you go to my personal website, which is www.thedougjonesexperience.com, there is a little box on my homepage that will show you all about “Gainsbourg” the movie and has click-ables, one with more info on the movie itself and another with what cities and dates. That will take you to our distributor’s page, which is www.musicboxfilms.com. They will tell you all about when you can look for it in a city near you.
You truly have an amazing story to tell. As busy as you are, have you given any thought to writing an autobiography about your journey in the industry?
Yes! It is funny that you would bring that up because now that I have a relationship with Medallion Press in Chicago, I did briefly discuss with them an autobiography. A lot of actors do autobiographies but I want mine to be different somehow. If I do one — Guillermo del Toro has talked about doing “Frankenstein,” his own take on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” as a movie. It wouldn’t be a remake of the 1930s one with Boris Karloff but his own imagining of what the book should be. In my own mind, I decided that if I get to play Frankenstein’s Monster, as he has told the press I will be doing, that experience needs to be in the book. For sure! That is a couple of years away from happening, so I think that somehow tying in a monster, becoming one and feeling like one in my own real life, like “The Road to Frankenstein” or something about being a monster would be the theme of it where you get glimpses of my gawky childhood and my career under rubber, actually playing monsters. I somehow want to tie all of that together with a sympathetic twist on how a geeky kid’s dreams can come true!
I am sure you received great advice along the way on your journey in the film industry. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to someone who has been inspired by your work?
Well, golly! I get asked all the time by actors who want to do the specific type of acting that I do if I have any advice. The first thing that I tell them is that you need to think like an actor first, don’t think like a monster or a creature. You need to have acting skills to where you can take on a character, feel his needs, his wants, his desires, his fears and be able to analyze the script and figure out how your character plays into that script, how the character interacts with the other characters in the story, just like any other actor would do. Then you can take on the physical traits that we were talking about earlier. That is where it all starts. My inspiration for that is actually not someone who is in the movie industry. He was the man who taught me how to do mime back in college, a guy by the name of Reed K. Steele. He was a tall, skinny, goofy guy just like me! Watching him work an audience silently and learning how to feel, he had an audience laughing or crying minutes away from each other. I have been translating that into the film world and into the roles I play now, he was the biggest inspiration that I have had as a mentor. Otherwise, I also got a good piece of advice from a director once. I was complaining one time about my agent, this was years and years and years ago, more than 10 years ago. Ya know, actors will always complain about their agents and managers! They are, “never doing enough for us” or “we don’t get out enough” or “I am not seen by casting people enough,” blah, blah, blah! We always want to complain about that! So, I was having one of those day! [laughs] A director friend of mine who had done a short film that was Oscar nominated that year said to me, “Doug, I know that your agent probably isn’t doing enough for you BUT your success as an actor does not rest in the hands of your agent or your manager. It rests in the hands of your relationship with directors.” That is a piece of advice that has come absolutely true for me! It is the directors that I meet and that collaboration between director and actor that proves to be what snowballs into the next job and an actual career that moves in a direction. You know what I mean?
Absolutely! Is there anything you want to say to your fans before I let you go?
Oh my goodness! Well, if anyone calls themselves a fan of Doug Jones or as I dubbed them years ago, Fan-sabiens, I love you, I love you, I love you! Thank you for giving me the career that I have! Without you, I don’t have a job or nor would I have a house! Please come out and see me if I am going to be in a city near you at the convention appearances that I make. That is another bit of info you can find on www.thedougjonesexperience.com, my appearances page that will show you what cities I will be in with dates, times and click-ables to take you to the event websites to get tickets and all of that. I love, love, love coming out into the middle of the country and meeting fans. Meeting the people who have watched the TV shows and films that I have appeared in and have been supporting me all of these years is amazing! That is why I am such a hugger! I feel that I owe all of you such a huge hug! So, come on out and hug me if you see me coming to a city near you!
Thanks so much for your time, Doug! I hope we get the chance to speak with you again very soon! You are such an inspiration!
You are extremely kind! Thank you so much for having me today! Big love! Bye bye!
Additional Photos by J. Regan Hutson – Check out his work at www.jreganhutsonphotography.com!