Beloved creature performer Doug Jones discusses The Bye Bye Man and his ongoing work with director Guillermo del Toro
Director Stacy Title’s supernatural horror film The Bye Bye Man was a surprise hit this year, despite the fact that critics raked it mercilessly over the coals. But like plenty of mainstream spook shows, The Bye Bye Man wasn’t worthy of any sort of vitriol. In fact, it’s a stylish, intense and serious genre film with a surprisingly brutal streak. And at the center of its eerie power is the presence of the titular boogeyman himself, a hooded, scarred monster who wanders his victims minds with his molting, flesh-eating dog, provoking paranoia, madness and violence both murderous and self-inflected.
He’s not a nice guy.
But he’s played by one of the nicest, funniest and most talented guys around. Actor Doug Jones got his training as a mime and for the past two decades and change he’s been to go to guy for filmmakers — especially maverick genre director Guillermo del Toro — to smother in latex and various FX goop and be transformed into some of fantasy and horror cinemas most beloved monsters. But it’s not just his ability to endure impossible make-up chair insults that keeps them coming back; it’s Jones’ ability to give fully realized, intelligent and emotional performances almost exclusively with his body alone.
We caught up with the talented Mr. Jones recently to discuss The Bye Bye Man, his special relationship with Del Toro and his methods in making even the most vile creatures seem sympathetic.
ComingSoon.net: There’s that old adage, “I have more talent in my little finger than you have in your entire body” and I was reminded of this during the pivotal moment in The Bye Bye Man where you extend your finger and touch Douglas Smith’s head. You’re acting almost exclusively with that finger…
Doug Jones: Well, I don’t consciously think “okay, act with that finger, put it all in that finger!’ but that was a moment in the film where yes, I finally make physical contact with my prey, basically. I have been preying on Douglas the entire film and making him go nutty cakes and see things that aren’t there. But that’s when we’re finally face to face and I can show him what’s ahead for him. It’s a poignant moment. So many people tell me “I knew that was you from the hands” and I get that for so many characters I have played over the years; no matter how obliterated my face is by make-up, they can always recognize my fingers and hands somehow.
CS: That’s my point. Here you are buried under goop and a hood and yet you are performing with those iconic hands; you know what to do with your fingers and how to express and perform with them.
Jones: That almost sounds naughty, somehow.
CS: We could spin that in another direction. Let’s not.
Jones: (laughs) Good idea.
CS: So expressing yourself physically goes back to your training as a mime. Presumably one of your biggest influences was Marcel Marceu, but did you have any other miming heroes?
Jones: Yes, so I was trained as a mime in college from the Marcel Marceau school of training. In fact, the guy I learned under was from that legacy. He was trained by someone who was trained by Marceau. But I don’t have heroes specifically, save for silent movie stars like Chaplin and Keaton and I still love their work. And people from the early sitcom days, honestly; guys like Dick van Dyke and all the goofy guys like Don Knotts and Bob Denver. I got lots of validation from those goofy guys who were headlining all their own TV shows and using their physical prowess and thought okay, maybe there’s hope for me after all!
CS: I must say, I never thought in a million years that Bob Denver would creep into our conversation today.
Jones: (laughs) You didn’t see that coming?
CS: No. The presence of Gilligan is a total surprise. So, Hocus Pocus: kids and adults alike love that film and your character, Billy the zombie is a huge part of its appeal. Is that one of the big characters fans want to talk to you about?
Jones: It’s an even spread between four films, actually. Billy is a big one and has grown over the years. A whole new generation has discovered Hocus Pocus; it’s become a Halloween-centric The Wizard of Oz. Abe Sapien is a big one. Silver Surfer gets attention. And of course, the Faun and the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth.
CS: How did you meet Guillermo del Toro?
Jones: Yeah, what a blessed day that was. He was doing Mimic in 1997 and I was brought in by the FX people. He had filmed the principal photography in Toronto and was doing some pick up work in L.A.. They needed someone tall and skinny to wear that bug suit and my name came up in a Rolodex and I got the gig. Then it was on the second day that Guillermo sat down across from me and asked me questions, like who are you what do you do, what have your worked on. And by then I had been in a few things that he knew and I could see his love for creepy crawlers coming out like an eight-year-old fan boy. Every make-up artist I worked with he knew of and had studied their work and he was like (doing a bang on del Toro impersonation) “Ohhhh I’m a big fan of him, is he a nice guy, ohhhh.” So we had this meeting of the creepy minds. I didn’t hear from him for 5 years. So when he was prepping Hellboy and Abe was being designed and sculpted, my name came up and he was like, “Ohhhh, I know Doug Jones” and he pulled my card out of his wallet and there you go. That cemented us. We did Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 2, Crimson Peak and now The Shape of Water which comes out in December. That’s going to be one of the most beautiful films he’s ever done and I’m tickled pink to be part of it.
CS: That was a bang-on del Toro impersonation, by the way.
Jones: (laughs) Yeah, I’ve head that voice enough in my life now, so…
CS: Talking about these silent comedians, physically I can imagine the two of you together and it’s kind of like Laurel and Hardy…
Jones: Well, yeah, we look hilarious together. In fact he said, “Doug, we make a perfect 10 together.” I’m the “1,” I think.
CS: Back to The Bye Bye Man. Did you find humanity in the character? Did you give him a backstory?
Jones: Yes, there is a back story there that we didn’t discuss and the hope is that we can franchise him and tell you more about his story that we only hinted at with this one. I did have some tormented history of my own under the hood; that there was abuse as a child, that I was an albino and tortured and that’s why I was scarred up, because I was set on fire and kind of scraped myself up to get revenge upon humanity for the injustices I suffered. I don’t think people just wake up wanting to be evil so there has to be a sympathetic backstory to any character I play or I can’t play him. I felt for this character. I had a fondness for him. It’s one of those situations where hurt people hurt people. You know what I’m saying?