In one of the most-nominated movies, of the year, The Shape of Water, he’s “the asset,” the “fish man,” the “Amphibian man,” Charlie (yes, Charlie, explanation here), the “merman” or “the aquatic creature who fucks Elisa (Sally Hawkins)” in a way which she describes using only her hands and a few mischievous looks to her coworker (played by Octavia Spencer). His character even inspired a dildo in the same turquoises, browns, and greens as the rest of his fish-like body. (For the record, Doug Jones wasn’t the biggest fan of the sex toy, but he encourages all forms of artistic expression and “appreciates the sentiment.”) Yet not many people would recognise Jones, the man inside the fish man suit, one of Shape of Water director and cowriter Guillermo del Toro’s most frequent stars, out of costume.
He was out in full force tonight at the Academy Awards, where he walked he red carpet with his wife, Laurie Jones, to whom he’s been married since 1984. Jones certainly stood out on the red carpet, as he’s a tall and lanky 6’3.5 (only Call Me By Your Name’s Armie Hammer, who is 6’5 will be sharing Jones’ rarified air). While not many people will recognise the 57-year-old actor and contortionist’s face, he’s been a presence in del Toro’s films for a long time now.
Vulture pointed out in December that it’s not just Jones’ long body, which he’s able to contort in magnificent ways, that have such a strong effect on camera. He’s able to draw in viewers with his hands alone, doing this to great effect as Abe Sapien in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) and the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) (who can forget the moment when his hands had eyes…I had nightmares for weeks).
Jones has played so many different monsters that he was starting to have a bit of character fatigue when del Toro approached him about playing the fish man in Water. According to NPR, he had to ask himself, “How do I make this one different from everything else that I've played?” The answer starts with finding what Jones calls “the silent voice,” which is the way in which the creature carries itself; its body language. To do this he spends hours alone in a dance studio, slowly constructing the character’s posture and how it moves. It all comes together once he’s on set in costume, in front of the camera. The fish man was quite unlike any of the other monsters he's played in that, as he told Vulture, he had to be sexy on top of being “inhuman and feral.” Luckily, the costume department helped him out. They gave him what Jones describes as “the best ass I’ve ever had.” According to Jones, Octavia Spencer said “Mmmm!” every time he walked by. Mission accomplished.
Jones also has to sacrifice for his art. His costumes often require things like talons, which means he can’t feed himself or check his phone during breaks in filming. His Shape of Water costume meant that, “I couldn’t poop. It would’ve ruined the suit to have a trap door built in.” So, while we were all watching fish sex and swooning over an interspecies love story that transcended words, we were also observing a poor guy who had to endure forced constipation for hours on end. Hollywood is very glamorous, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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