You've probably seen Doug Jones in a movie before, but likely not the real thing. That's because he's often hidden beneath prosthetics and make-up—as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic 4 sequel, and both the Faun and Pale Man in the Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth.
Guillermo del Toro, who directed both Hellboy films and Pan's Labyrinth, has signed Jones to play the title character for a 2012 remake of Frankenstein, and rumor has it that Jones will be in del Toro's The Hobbit, releasing in two parts in 2011 and 2012.
You'll briefly see more of the real Jones in Legion, a supernatural thriller opening Friday. He only has about 90 seconds of screen time, but as the creepy Ice Cream Man, you'll see his real face—until it contorts into something quite gruesome.
Legion is a wild story in which God, fed up with mankind, sends a legion of angels to wipe out the human race, whose only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in an out-of-the way diner—and in the Archangel Michael, who comes to their aid. Jones, a Christian, knows it's bad theology, but agreed to the gig because its director, Scott Stewart, wanted Jones to be a primary spokesman in promoting the film. Jones saw that as an opportunity to talk to others about God's real plan for mankind.
We talked with Jones about the film, his other roles, and what it's like to mainly be known as the man behind the mask.
Why did you agree to be in a movie that's theologically incorrect?
I was very uneasy about God being the bad guy, but they wanted to use my face and name to help promote the film. Then it became more important to me.
Scott Stewart, the director, is Jewish, and I told him I'm a Christian. When he said this was kind of a mirror to the biblical story of The Flood, I was like, okay, I get it. But I said, "There's been a New Testament written in the meantime with a Messiah and a new covenant, and the wrathful God of the Old Testament is actually benevolent." And he was like, "This movie is more like, let's pretend the New Testament never happened. Would humanity be in a place where they would deserve another flood?" I said, "Well, yeah." So I thought that would be a great conversation starter.
I think back to a discussion I had with Ralph Winter [a Christian producer who has overseen such projects as the X-Men and Fantastic 4 films] when we were making Hocus Pocus in 1992. I asked Ralph how he felt making a movie about witches, and he said, "Doug, they're going to make this movie with or without us. Wouldn't it be better if we were onboard?" In a producer's position, he could make decisions to guide the story away from glorifying witchcraft and making the story more goofy and fun. But that conversation with Ralph was ringing in my head when I was offered the role in Legion. They're going to make this movie with or without me. And even though I'm a very small part of it, wouldn't it be good if I was in this position as a Christian, being a part of the discussion?
So you talk about correct theology when talking to the media about Legion?
Absolutely. They're asking lots of questions about it, and that gives me the opportunity to talk about my own faith and how that plays in. And I can say, "The good news is we're not living in the Old Testament. We do have redemption. We do have a Messiah. Our sins are paid for now."
Are you open about your faith in Hollywood?
I've never hidden my Christianity in Hollywood, and I've been handled respectfully because I handle the issue and other people respectfully. I think when you have an agenda to be overt about your faith or covert about your faith, neither one is honest. If I'm going to be covert, to completely hide it and lie, that doesn't work for me; it's misrepresenting God. But if I have the other agenda, overt, walking into a movie set thinking I'm going to have all my costars on their knees receiving Christ before this is over, that agenda is unrealistic and also very selfish. People want to pat themselves on the back thinking I was the one who brought Hollywood to its knees.
The best way for me to live my faith is just to be honest, and being a Christian is part of my story. But in the workplace, I'm an artist first. I have to do my job, and when decisions come up, I might want to tweak things a little bit because the artist in me wants to find a way to make a better movie. That's when they respect you, as opposed to going, "I'm a Christian, and I won't say that." That's when they roll their eyes and go, Oh great. One of those. But if you say, "Wouldn't this be a better moment for the movie if we did this," that's going to be listened to. I've been successful with that, but not because I have a Christian agenda; it's because I really do want to make this a better piece of art.
Back to Legion. Is your character, Ice Cream Man, human?
Yes. But some of the humans are sort of inhabited by angels, and then they kind of self-destruct. So when you see my character in the trailer, you're seeing that about to happen.
Is it frustrating to be known mainly as the man behind the mask?
No. What was frustrating was a few years ago when I was the man behind the mask and I was not known for it, when I was the forgotten guy, when the studio or the casting directors or the press would think I was insignificant because I was a guy behind the mask. But that began to change with Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth. Bless Guillermo del Toro's heart. And then Silver Surfer and Hellboy II. I had a great string of movies that put me under prosthetic makeup but were significant roles with character, with relationship, with great dialogue, and that's what brought more attention to it.
It's like a return to the Golden Era of black and white movies with Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, where that kind of character on film that is treated like a movie star off film. That hasn't happened in decades. To see a resurgence of that is quite heartwarming, so I don't pooh-pooh that kind of work at all. That's what brought me to this place. I love being able to work out of the makeup as well, but when the right role comes up that's under rubber again, I'm absolutely going to take it.
Rumor has it you're playing a role in the upcoming Hobbit films.
Guillermo hasn't said that to my face yet. All I know is what he said at the Saturn Awards in 2008. We were walking down the red carpet, and a journalist yelled, "Hey, Guillermo, what do you have for Doug in The Hobbit?" His answer was, "I have nothing official to report, but let me say that if I direct a hemorrhoid commercial, Doug Jones will be in it." So the only answer I have is that quote, and I've been clinging to it.
But your role in Frankenstein is not just a rumor.
Apparently not. Guillermo was more direct about that one. And I would jump into it with both feet. He will make a Frankenstein that no one else could even imagine.
What else is on the horizon?
There's one called Lucifer that's a hopeful. The writer and director, Ray Griggs, approached me a couple years ago with an idea for a feature film. He had made a short film—just the beginning of what the feature would be—where Lucifer is a glorious, pure angel. He and Michael are out playing angel games, and they have this sword game with rules and everything. Well, Lucifer cheats, and you can see his eyes turn black. It's like the beginning of the fall of Lucifer.
I read Ray's script, and loved it. It explores the entire fall of Lucifer. The role Ray wants me to play is a "troll demon" that's like the right-hand guy to Lucifer, and he has a lot of great dialogue and character to explore. So that's another heavily costumed character that I would love to play—and a story I would love to help tell. Ray is a raging Christian, and he knew that I was too, so that's what started the dialogue for us.
Anything else coming up?
I'm in an independent film called My Name Is Jerry, on the festival circuit right now. This was a movie written specifically for me by a young filmmaker, Morgan Mead, who lives in Indianapolis and went to the same college I went to, Ball State University. It's one of the most heartfelt projects I've done. The character, Jerry, is reinventing himself at midlife. He hasn't talked to his daughter in ten years, but after the mom dies, the daughter comes back to live with Jerry. We've got Jerry reinventing himself professionally and personally. Along the way, he's awakened into this world of music and young people and life that he never thought he would see. And these young kids end up kind of taking him on as their project: Let's make Jerry cool. So there's some funny built into it, and there's some tears built into it. It's a really lovely little story.
I hear you and your wife have a kind of a ministry to young adults in Hollywood.
Yes. Lori and I have been married for 25 years, and we were never able to have kids. We tried, and God told us it's not going to happen. So did the doctor, by the way, when we were in our early forties. And by that time it was like, what other options do we explore now? We looked into adoption and the foster parent system. We talked to a lot of people. And we both sat down one day and said, "I don't think so." And we're okay with that.
That's when what we call our "puppies" started showing up at our door—twentysomething people, and L.A. is full of them. Kids from other places seeking their fame and fortune, coming from families that they love and miss, and so having a "mom and dad figure" out here is very comforting to them.
Our guest bedroom has had some kids over the years, but none are living with us right now. But the "puppy kennel," if you want to call it that, has grown to about 35 kids. We had a puppy night a couple of months ago where they all came out for a big vat of chili, and we just hung out and talked and roasted marshmallows and made s'mores.
They call us Mama Lori and Papa Dougie, and we just love it. We've found that a lot of these kids come from families that weren't functional—homes where dads said, "I don't want to be your dad anymore." We've had that story again and again.
How do they find you?
Word gets around. This is not something that I advertise or go searching for. It's more of an organic thing that just happens. I do lots of speaking engagements, and I speak at Christian events. Often some young fellow or gal will come up to me afterwards and say, "Can I talk to you a minute?" And before long I realize I'm patting their head and saying, "Come here. Let's just hug it out for a minute." You realize there's a certain need there that I was meant to be a part of.
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