Doug Jones is just a few minutes late for a meeting at a comic-book store in Kitsilano. It’s worth the wait to see all six-foot-four of him run down the street, arms and legs flying.
Limb-flapping is a specialty of the gangly American. He trained as a mime and even worked as a contortionist while studying theatre in his native Indiana, although he rolls his eyes at any recollection of “the whole whiteface thing”. When he moved to Los Angeles, just over two decades ago, Jones was hoping to get straight acting work. His unique physiognomy landed him plenty of music videos and commercials, and roles both comic and creepy in TV series such as Party of Five, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Until recently, his film career was more uneven, with memorable moments in Hocus Pocus, Men in Black II, and Adaptation, and a likely low point in 1999’s Three Kings as Dead Iraqi Soldier. Still, 10 years ago he made a crucial connection with Cronos director Guillermo del Toro, who hired him first for a small part in Mimic and then to play the scene-stealing Abe Sapien in 2004’s Hellboy. And although the Mexican-born filmmaker ended up dubbing this heartbreaking amphibian character with the voice of an uncredited David Hyde Pierce, the 46-year-old actor was happy to work with del Toro again as a giant, Minotaur-like sorcerer in the director’s newest effort, Pan’s Labyrinth. A fable that takes place during the Spanish Civil War, the film follows the dark fortunes of a young girl (Ivana Baquero) forced to live with a fascist officer who keeps her mother (Ariadna Gil) a virtual prisoner in his mountainside compound. The daughter’s only escape is through gloomy fairy tales encountered in a musty old book.
Although Jones was ideally suited to play the double-jointed super-faun who acts as her fierce guide, his voice was again dubbed—a point of some consternation for the fair-haired actor, who learned reams of Spanish for the role.
“It wasn’t just Spanish,” he recalls, “but an archaic form of Spanish that no one speaks anymore. The thing is that I didn’t just want to learn it phonetically, so I really got into the meanings and memorized everything quite thoroughly.”
The effort paid off technically, because when del Toro decided he needed an authoritative theatre actor to articulate the character’s lines, he was able to match them perfectly with Jones’s on-camera readings.
In the film, which opens here on Friday (January 12), Jones also plays another role, that of a character required to say nothing, a pale, iconic monster that is sightless except when eyeballs are implanted in its huge hands.
“I just love working with Guillermo,” Jones says. “He really wants our input and is always looking for new ways to improve the project—especially on something like this, where he really had no money. Basically, we went from a huge-budget thing like Hellboy, with all the trailers and catering trucks and everything, to scuffling for ourselves in the Spanish countryside. And it’s even more impressive, because the movie looks like it was made for a fortune.”
Indeed, the grim Labyrinth—which is in no way suitable for children—has a richly burnished, fairy-tale look that belies its serious exploration of childhood, loyalty, fear, and death.
Jones will be back providing everything, including his own speaking voice, for Abe Sapien in an upcoming sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, due to begin filming this summer. And he’s already completed his starring role as the Silver Surfer in another comic-book follow-up, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
“What’s not to like?” asks Jones. “I get to run around, fight crime, and wear a shiny silver suit. Sure, I’d still like to play straight roles, but with a face like mine,” he adds, pulling a chinless Jim Carrey number, “I mean, c’mon!”