PHOTOGRAPH: ALBERT R. ORTEGA
It’s midnight and I’m in the living room of a small suburban house. The TV is chattering away in the background, casting a harsh, bluish glow over a middle-aged couple that I’ve never seen before. They’re on the couch, unmoving, and the woman’s head is cocked at an odd angle. I glance down at the cool, heavy object resting in my palm – a 9mm Smith & Wesson – before I hear the voice behind me, annoyed, frustrated, and cold-blooded: “You picked the wrong house again, Aarons.” I turn slightly and see one of the most eccentric-looking men I’ve ever laid eyes on. At 6’4” and a hair shy of 140 lbs., Doug Jones resembles nothing more than one of Tolkien’s tree-like Ents made flesh and blood. He grins, but it isn’t an I’m-so-happy-to-see-you grin: he’s holding a gun to my head.
With a casual shrug, as if to say, “C’est la vie,” he pulls the trigger. POP POP goes the gun and I’m sailing through the air, my body slamming into the foot of an oversized armchair. It’s a spectacular death. The high-pitched giggles that follow a moment later only ruin it slightly. I turn over to see Jones, bent double, attempting to stifle another outburst. “I’m sorry, it’s just that this is all so mean. I can’t believe I’m killing all these nice people!” he says by way of apology, nodding to the couple on the couch who have just miraculously resurrected. “Cut!” yells the director. Along with the rest of the crew, he’s trying not to laugh himself.
We’re on the set of “Greyscale,” an independent film being shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Jones is playing Jamison, a remorseless mob hitman. The scene in question is a botched assassination, and Aarons (played by yours truly) has just become the unlucky recipient of Jamison’s wrath.
“I’m a very happy-go-lucky lover of all mankind as a person in real life,” Jones says as the crew resets for a second round of murdering. “So when I play a darker character, I have to tap into something that isn’t my natural way, and what I found was that I think human beings have the potential for all of these emotions. We have the full paint palette within us and it just depends on what we dip our brush into that day. There are people out there who are in prison right now who have dipped into the colors that some of us don’t ever dip into, but we have them, and we have the potential to do that.”
PHOTOGRAPH: ALBERT R. ORTEGA
Jamison is one of the rare roles where audiences will actually see the 48-year-old actor’s face. That’s because Jones’ pencil-thin visage is usually obscured by pounds of makeup, rubber latex and computer-generated imagery. Although you may recognize some of the characters Jones has brought to life – Abe Sapien, the Faun or the Silver Surfer (from the first and second “Hellboy” films, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”, respectively) – you probably wouldn’t recognize Jones himself. “I’m not usually the guy who has people hiding in his bushes and saying, ‘Will you love me forever and ever?’”
Jones’ road to becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for roles involving complex makeup and prosthetics work began in the late ‘80s when he received “big break number one,” as he calls it. He was hired for McDonald’s Mac Tonight campaign, a job that required him to wear a large crescent moon for a head and jive around like an overzealous Burt Bacharach in front of a baby grand on top of a rotating Big Mac. “That was a job that marked me as a guy who can wear a big mechanical head, express [myself] physically and – most importantly to the creature effects and makeup people – I don’t complain. And if you don’t complain, they will tend to remember you.”
Jones’ can-do attitude and ability to emote underneath layers of latex caught the attention of director Guillermo del Toro in 1997 during the filming of “Mimic,” a sci-fi horror flick about man-eating insects that was the Mexican director’s first American studio picture. “I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the biggest relational break of my career. I don’t know what I did, it was very simple what I had to do, but Guillermo del Toro remembered.” Five years later when del Toro was casting for his live-action adaptation of Hellboy (based on a popular comic about a large red demon who regularly saves the world), Jones was at the top of the list. He was a perfect fit as Abe Sapien, a rail-thin, hyper-intelligent, telepathic fish-man who serves as Hellboy’s sidekick. Although most actors primarily communicate using their eyes and facial expressions, the rigid blue mask enclosing Jones’ head made that impossible. Instead, Jones relied on body language and voice alone to craft the idiosyncratic, thoughtful character of Abe Sapien. Watching the performance, it’s amazing how much he is able to communicate with only his fingers.