Actor Doug Jones has had a long and varied career over the past 30 years, appearing in several cult favorite movies and TV shows… often under prosthetic makeup. The actor’s résumé includes highlights like Tank Girl, Batman Returns, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, in more recent years, he’s become even more well known for his many collaborations with acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro.
Now he’s recently joined one of the greatest sci-fi franchises of all time as Saru, one of the alien crew members on the recently launched Star Trek: Discovery. We got the chance to chat with Mr. Jones about his newest role, as well as the amazing assortment of genre favorites he has accumulated over the years.
Though this is Jones’ first turn as a Star Trek actor, he is hardly a newcomer to the franchise’s sprawling world. “I was born in 1960, so I watched the original series as a child on network television in its first run,” he said. “So it has become a part of my DNA, and a part of my actor fantasies, as I became an actor who started wearing a lot of prosthetic makeups as otherworldly creatures and hybrids and whatnot.” In fact, the drive to join Gene Roddenberry’s universe has sat with the actor for ages. “The question always arose from both fans and friends was, ‘Have you ever done Star Trek, and if not would you want to?’ And the answer was always, ‘No I haven’t, and yes I would love to!’ So now at the age of 57, I can finally say, ‘I’m in the new Star Trek!’ And I’m so excited about it!”
Speaking on his Star Trek character, the USS Shenzhou‘s Science Officer Saru, Jones says, “What sweetens the deal for me is that I get to develop an alien species from the ground up. I’m playing Saru, a Kelpian, and this race has never been seen before in any Star Trek series. So here I am with the writers, developing my backstory, along with the creature effects designers coming up with my look, and so an actor, I get to establish certain things about him that no one has ever had to do before. And that’s a fun thing for me. The writers have been equating me with characters like Spock or Data.”
As should be no surprise to any Star Trek fan, Saru’s alien backstory has been thought out in great detail. “The Kelpian race is a prey species, so where Saru comes from he’s the hunted, the prey–the eaten, quite literally,” Jones said. “So it’s kind of unusual and unique that I’m the only Kelpian who has risen above that and become the only one to go through Starfleet Academy and become a high ranking officer on a starship. So I have a lot to prove, I have a lot to overcome with my past [and] the stigma that might come with my type.” As far as the opportunity to ever meet a member of the hunter caste from Saru’s home planet, Jones said, “Knowing what I know, and the team that Saru has with him, I would love to go back to my planet and kick some ass.”
When the series begins, Saru is third in command of the Shenzhou, ranking just beneath Sonequa Martin-Green’s character Michael Burnham, the First Officer. “I have much in common with Sonequa Martin Green’s character of Michael Burnham, who is the first human who goes through the Vulcan Science Academy,” Jones said. “We meet on the starship Shenzhou about seven years before the series starts. During that seven years we have become quite competitive with another, and we are both vying for a captain’s chair one day. It’s kind of like a brother/sister relationship. We annoy each other, but we have a deep love and respect for each other as well. Saru thinks she’s the smartest Starfleet officer he’s ever worked with. So that’s where the intimidation and the competition really comes from.”
This year also marks another collaboration between Jones and acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro: The Shape of Water, which comes 20 years after their first project together. “Happenstance brought me to his movie Mimic back in 1997–I was brought in to play the bug guy when they were doing reshoots in LA,” Jones said. “So from then on, we connected, and found a commonality with our love of monster movies and creatures. And five years later, when we reunited for the first Hellboy, and that’s where our relationship really began, where we understood each other and we developed a shorthand where we didn’t have to say much to each other on set–we just got each on another.”
He continued, “And then we worked together again for Hellboy, and then Hellboy II, Crimson Peak, then The Strain, and now The Shape of Water. He’s my absolute favorite director, and everyone else knows they’re jockeying for position number two. And everyone is okay with that too!”
Of all of Jones’ many projects, one that he never thought would have such tremendous shelf life is Disney’s Hocus Pocus, a favorite among millennials who grew up watching reruns of it on the Disney Channel every October. “The movie came out in theaters…in July of 1993, and it was marketed as a Bette Midler comedy, and not in October as a Halloween family movie,” Jones said. “So it came out and didn’t do well at the box office, but we didn’t realize how often it would air on TV. It became kind of The Wizard of Oz of Halloween, because of airings on TV and people owning it on VHS and DVD. So it has become a holiday classic that families are sharing with their kids now. I had no idea that it would take on that kind of a life. And getting to play a goofy zombie in that story, how fun was that for me? I’m glad it got the recognition that it deserved eventually.”
Before we wrapped up our conversation, I had to ask Mr. Jones if was aware of another great figure in recent pop culture who shares his name: Kyle MacLachlan’s amnesiac alias on the Twin Peaks revival. On whether or not this “Dougie Jones” could by any stretch be an homage to the actor, Jones said, “Well, the writer and co-creator of Twin Peaks is Mark Frost, who wrote my part in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. So yeah, there could or could not be a connection. I want to think that yes, that was actually a subtle nod to me!” It certainly wouldn’t be a shock. After so many years, Doug Jones has rightfully accumulated fans the world over, and with Star Trek now under his belt, that list of fans will only continue to expand.
Doug Jones can be seen every week as Lt. Saru on Star Trek: Discovery, airing weekly on CBS All Access, as well as Gullermo del Toro’s theatrical feature film The Shape of Water.
Are you a fan of Doug Jones’ vast body of work? And if so, which is your favorite? Be sure to let us know down below in the comments.
Images: CBS / Disney / Fox Searchlight Pictures
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