You know him, you love him, but you might not always recognize him, since he’s often hidden under layers of prosthetics. However, no amount of special effects can fully conceal veteran actor Doug Jones’ charisma, helped along by his expressive hands and his graceful body language. He’s truly one of a kind.
The 60-year-old actor is constantly working and has dozens of credits on his resume—including lots of small roles along the lines of “skinny guy,” “alien guy,” and “contortionist”—but these are our seven favorites of his standout roles so far, in no particular order.
You can currently see Jones playing Saru—as of last week, he’s now the Star Trek history-making Captain Saru—on CBS All Access’ Discovery. The statuesque Kelpian got his own Short Treks episode that showed us his alien homeworld and explained exactly how Saru found his way to Starfleet.
On the series proper, we’ve seen Saru evolve from a character notable mostly for his unusually acute ability to sense impending doom (those ganglia!) to a figure who commands honor and respect for his outstanding leadership skills. He also has the most distinctive and, dare we say, most fabulous strut in the history of Star Trek. All of these elements come together in a character that Jones portrays with warmth and intelligence, qualities that shine through despite the significant physical transformation that playing Saru requires.
It’s hard to pick just one favorite episode of FX’s majestic vampire comedy, but the first season’s “Baron’s Night Out” is definitely top-tier material. Jones is campy, comedic perfection as an ancient, totally out-of-touch bloodsucker who hauls his ancient carcass to Staten Island for a visit, where the roommates quickly tire of his bitchiness and start secretly plotting his demise. The perfect opportunity presents itself when the Baron insists on a wild night in New York City (“Shots, shots, shots!”), complete with karaoke, going to a rave, and some very ill-advised pizza eating followed by spectacularly acrobatic barfing. They all end up getting wasted and having a blast...right up until the moment the drunken Baron accidentally gets incinerated by the morning sun. It’s sad to see him go, but man is it hilarious.
In life, Billy Butcherson romanced the witchy Winifred Sanderson, then met a grisly end when she caught his eye wandering toward her younger sister, Sarah. (She also sewed his mouth shut, to add insult to death-by-poisoning.) In the afterlife, Billy rises from the grave ostensibly to torment the kids who accidentally brought the Sanderson sisters back to life, but soon (after much physical comedy, including losing his head) changes sides and becomes their spooky-looking ally.
Hocus Pocus came out in 1993, which makes it a pretty early entry on Jones’ filmography; last week, he reminisced to the Hollywood Reporter about the character: “I think he had a very sexy look to him, and that was pretty much thanks to the design of the costuming, the wig with the rockstar hair, and the bone structure of the prosthetic dead guy skin that was put on me, was really nice and sharp and angular...[but in playing Billy], I tried to channel goofy. The sexy look with the goofy act, I thought that was the formula that was going to sell this.”
Laurence Fishburne did the character’s voice, but the Silver Surfer—who arrives on Earth to disrupt the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, causing the Fantastic Four to chaotically swap powers, and ultimately led Galactus to his next meal—is more about his physicality than dialogue. Clad in a silver suit that’s enhanced by cutting-edge circa-2007 special effects, Jones embodies the sinewy, liquid-y humanoid with all the limber grace you’d expect. Plus, surfers are always cool—and even surrounded by a stinkbutt of a movie, Jones helps make sure that holds true here.
Jones had a small role as “Long John #2” in Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic, but their long and fruitful partnership really began with underwater-dwelling Abe Sapien—gentle, deeply intelligent, highly psychic, rotten egg-loving agent of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. David Hyde Pierce dubbed Abe’s voice in the first film, but that’s Jones himself in Hellboy II, in which Abe finds the first flickerings of romance with an elf princess while strengthening his ties with Hellboy (played by another del Toro go-to, Ron Perlman). Along with Abe, Jones also plays two additional characters in the sequel, including the Angel of Death.
Another del Toro film, Pan’s Labyrinth—about a young girl whose fairy-tale fantasies begin to intermingle with her increasingly dangerous home life in Francoist Spain—marks their most significant foray into horror together (see also the aforementioned Mimic as well as Crimson Peak and TV’s The Strain). The towering, whimsical-yet-fearsome Faun, who appears to the girl to guide her through her magical destiny, has more screen time—though he didn’t speak Spanish, Jones learned all the lines for his performance; the Faun’s voice was dubbed to precisely match Jones’ mouth movements. But the eyeball-popping, fairy-chomping Pale Man, who appears in one terrifying scene without any dialogue, moves with a slinky menace that’s pure terror personified. Don’t eat his grapes, kid! Don’t touch his grapes! Don’t even look at them!
Amphibian Man, The Shape of Water
- Mike Flanagan is now a household name, but back in 2011 when his feature debut—creepy indie Absentia—came out, nobody’d heard of him yet. Jones makes the most of his lanky presence (no elaborate prosthetics needed!) to play the frail, starving Walter Lambert, a man who’s been kidnapped into another dimension but emerges to warn the movie’s protagonist against meeting a similar fate. Jones also appeared in Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil as the movie’s main vengeful spirit, so here’s hoping we see Jones co-star in a Haunting project one of these days.
- Fans of the Arrowverse will recall Jones played Jake Simmons, aka Deathbolt, a metahuman supervillian who wreaked havoc on Arrow and The Flash before meeting his demise thanks to Captain Cold. He also had a small role in the spoof-y Mystery Men as a low-rent superhero named Pencilhead, named for his weapon of choice (pencils, duh) but presumably cast due to his resemblance to said long, skinny writing instrument.
- People who watched too much TV in the 1980s (like me for instance) will remember the McDonald’s ads starring sunglass-wearing, piano-playing, crescent-moon-headed mascot Mac Tonight, who peddled fast food while aping Bobby Darin’s swingin’ version of “Mack the Knife.” It was one of Jones’ very first show-biz gigs, and in a pattern that would repeat throughout his career, he made the cumbersome costume come alive while someone else provided the voice.
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