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Creature Actor Doug Jones Shares How He Transforms Into Movie Monsters


The movie "The Shape Of Water" is up for 13 Oscars, the most of any film this year.


RICHARD JENKINS: (As Giles) A tale of love and loss and the monster who tried to destroy it all.

SHAPIRO: Creature actor Doug Jones plays the so-called amphibian man in the film - an acting challenge to be sure. NPR's Mallory Yu talked to the man behind the mask.

MALLORY YU, BYLINE: Doug Jones is comfortable talking about his role in "The Shape Of Water" now. But when director Guillermo del Toro told him he'd be playing a monster who's also the romantic lead, Jones's reaction was...

DOUG JONES: Utter terror. (Laughter) I was - ah, I have not felt that kind of fear ever when being offered a movie. Like, are you kidding me? You know, if I look at myself in the mirror, that doesn't work. And then in a fish suit - boy, wow. On paper, you think this is ridiculous.

YU: But he was intrigued because it was Guillermo del Toro.

JONES: I just always say yes when he offers me something because I just trust him that much.

YU: They began to build that trust over lunch one day on the set of del Toro's 1997 horror film "Mimic." In it, Doug Jones played a giant insect-like creature known as Mother Bug.


JONES: He sat across the table from me and said, so tell me everything you've been in before. He wanted to hear about all the monsters I'd played. He was really, really like a fanboy mixed with a brilliant artist. I'd never met anyone like him in my life, and I loved him immediately.

YU: Eventually Jones became one of del Toro's go-to creature actors. In 2015's "Crimson Peak," he played a couple of super creepy ghosts.


JONES: (As Edith's Mother) Beware of Crimson Peak.

YU: He was Abe Sapien, another humanoid fish creature, in 2004's "Hellboy".


JONES: (As Abe Sapien) Turn the pages please.

YU: And in "Pan's Labyrinth," he was both the Faun...


JONES: (As the Faun, speaking Spanish).

YU: ...And the Pale Man, a terrifying monster with eyes in its hands.


JONES: (As Pale Man, wheezing).

YU: To create each character, Doug Jones starts with one big question.

JONES: How do I make this one different from everything else I've ever played?


JONES: (As Amphibian Man, grunting).

YU: For "The Shape Of Water's" Amphibian Man, he needed to find what he calls the silent voice of his character. Del Toro wanted him to be animalistic but royal and regal.

JONES: He also said, I want you to sprinkle in a little bit of matador. If you think about a matador or if you watch them, they're very choreographed and very fluid and very graceful and sexy because they lead with their pelvis. And he was talking about that kind of language.

YU: With those notes in hand, Doug Jones goes to a dance studio by himself.

JONES: And I will walk back and forth and find his walk - find his home stance. Where does he come back to? What's his posture? And your posture can be informed by so many - you know, you can start at the neck the shoulders, the middle of the back, the hips, the knees. Everything plays into that stand.

YU: Jones then builds off that home stance to figure out how the character moves - how it might run, crawl, lunge, anything the script calls for it to do. When he begins testing with makeup and costume though, things often change.

JONES: Something I might have worked out in my T-shirt and shorts in the dance studio now has big ram horns on it that make my head really, really wide, so a tilt of the head is extremely dramatic and more pronounced.

YU: And it all comes together when he's on set and in front of the camera surrounded by cast and crew. As for what it's like to be in one of those costumes...

JONES: I often - especially for del Toro creatures that I've played - cannot see well. I'm often looking through pinholes, so I have no peripheral vision. I often have layers of latex foam rubber or silicone over my ears that's a part of the creature's head. So I can't hear as well, can't see as well. Often my hands are in some kind of a webbed finger or a talon or something. So I can't pull out a phone and use that. I can't even get a snack off the craft service table for myself.

YU: That may sound awful and uncomfortable. But for Jones, that's just part of the job.

JONES: The farther you get from human, the harder it's going to be. When you're trying to survive a day like that, and you hear the word action, you have to forget that you're in pain and just click into this is a natural beast that came from - whatever, fantasy or nature - it's not a guy in a suit.

YU: And Doug Jones isn't just a guy in a suit. It's like he was made to play these creatures. He's tall, 6 feet 3 and a half inches, and gangly with long limbs and fingers. Jones says he was a goofy kid, the kid everyone teased and made fun of. And that's helped him with all the characters he's played.

JONES: When you're a kid going through those awkward monster years, where you feel like you are the creature in the room that nobody understands, and you look different than everyone else - when you feel that way, you also feel like you're the only one who has ever felt that way. But I am very thankful now that I had that experience of feeling like a monster because when I play monsters now, I understand them. I can relate to them.

YU: Doug Jones relates to those monsters, so we can too. Mallory Yu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.