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The shape of Doug Jones: the man behind Guillermo del Toro’s monsters


No doubt you’ll know the movie characters Abe Sapien, The Pale Man and The Silver Surfer, but you may not be aware of the actor behind them: Doug Jones.

Often covered head to toe in a variety of different make-up effects, rubber and silicone, you probably wouldn’t know Jones if you passed him in the street, kicking yourself later at the missed opportunity to meet such a fine performer.

Soon returning to the big screen in Guillermo del Toro's acclaimed romantic fantasy The Shape of Water, we’re answering the question: just who is Doug Jones?

A very particular set of skills

Born in Indiana, Jones’ entry into show business began with mime. Showing a natural talent for the art, his exceedingly tall, thin frame made him the perfect performer for mime’s surreal goofiness.

After performing for the public Hollywood beckoned, leading the young actor into commercials and eventually big screen roles as freakish clowns and other various monstrosities. As well as his background in mime, Jones also mastered contortionism, most notably squeezing himself into a small box for a jeans advert.

This combination of such physically expressive art forms can be seen in all of Jones’ performances, able to twist and distort himself from his neck right through to his fingertips, crafting characters with movement rather than words. It’s no wonder he's gone on to become everyone’s favourite monster man.

His collaborations with Guillermo del Toro...

Jones has appeared in different disguises in many a horror, comic book and science fiction flick, but his best work is undeniably his frequent collaborations with highly imaginative director Guillermo del Toro.

Beginning with his performance capture work as a killer cockroach in del Toro’s 1997 insect monster movie Mimic, Jones displayed the expressive mannerisms that would later make him such a monstrous success.

In their next collaboration, comic book adaptation Hellboy, Jones portrays an amphibious creature (not for the last time) named Abe Sapien. His talents now being given more of a spotlight (though the voice work on this occasion was undertaken by Frasier actor David Hyde Pierce), Jones’ movements are really what make Abe such a highlight.

Moving around his surroundings with an ethereal grace, his hands elegantly gesturing as if he’s always moving through water, there is something almost poetic about how Jones carries his amphibious hero. The actor would pick up the character again in sequel Hellboy: The Golden Army, this time retaining his own voice, and once again Abe’s hypnotic fluidity of movement would prove a real highlight.

... Which includes his best work

Aside from Hellboy, Jones has appeared in several other del Toro films, but his magnum opus is the horrifying fairytale Pan’s Labyrinth. Starring as both the faun of the title and the terrifying monster known only as The Pale Man, Jones emerges as two completely unique characters, with both burning forever into our nightmares.

Once again his movements beautifully create the characters, whether it be the otherworldly juddering of Pan or the petrifying lumbering of The Pale Man, the characters come alive through Jones’ unique body language. Jones imbues the characters with life so completely that it is easy to forget it is a man inside a costume, rather than monstrous creatures made flesh.

The Shape of things to come

That brings us to The Shape of Water, the latest in the del Toro/Jones team-up, and certainly Jones’ highest-profile role to date.

Set in a mysterious American research facility during the 1960s, the story follows mute janitor Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), who forms a romantic relationship with Jones’ captured Amazonian monster. The movie features more of the poetic imagery, classic horror and endearing characters for which del Toro has become famous, along with the spectacular practical effects used to create the amphibian man’s image.

As for Jones, The Shape of Water will hopefully be the film that finally gives him the praise and recognition he so deserves. The movie is released on 16th February, so get a taster of Jones' remarkable performance in the trailer below.

Jon Fuge is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.