Doug Jones is the Amphibian Man in the movie “The Shape of Water.” He graduated from Ball State in 1982. Bruce Smith, Photo Provided
Ball State alumnus featured in 'The Shape of Water'
From July to November of 2016, Ball State alumnus Doug Jones was on location in Toronto, Canada, on the set of his latest film project; pretty normal for a Hollywood actor. Decidedly less normal? Acting in a rubber suit, under dense layers of makeup, to play a romantic lead without speaking a word of dialogue.
Jones is the Amphibian Man in “The Shape of Water,” director Guillermo del Toro’s latest fantasy film, which has already garnered critical acclaim, Golden Globe awards and Oscar buzz. It tells the story of an unlikely and dangerous relationship between a mute janitor and the mysterious merman her employers have captured. Out of the 12 creatures Jones has played for Del Toro, this one stands apart.
“[Del Toro] said, ‘Dougie, you are going to be the romantic leading man of this movie,’ which is a daunting prospect when you’re wearing a fish suit,” Jones said.
While the role was a new challenge, the extensive costuming required wasn’t; Jones has spent much of his 30-year career under the cover of makeup and prosthetics, carving out a unique niche in the industry. Notable past roles include the Silver Surfer in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” Fauno and the Pale Man in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and Abe Sapien in the “Hellboy” series.
Jones’ acting roots go all the way back to Ball State, where he enrolled in 1978 as a TCOM major and theater minor. While classes were helpful, it was his experiences performing with the university mime troupe and as Charlie Cardinal that are most memorable.
“That was my first time ever in a suit of some sort, taking on a part that wasn’t human and making it animated,” he said of the mascot job.
After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Laurie Jones (also a BSU grad) to pursue acting. His first big break came when he was cast as the crescent moon man in a McDonald’s late-night advertisement. The initial job led to a three-year, 27-ad campaign.
“That afforded us enough to buy our first house, and to get me the reputation for being a tall, skinny, goofy actor who moves well in layers of latex, foam, rubber, makeup or mechanics and doesn’t complain about it,” he said. “That was the reputation that would proceed me from then on.”
Over his long career, Jones continued to develop relationships with coworkers, one of whom was Del Toro. The director approached him in January 2014 with the idea for “The Shape of Water” during a lunch break on the set of “Crimson Peak.” Del Toro thought Jones would be perfect for the role of the Amphibian Man, but was worried his “good Catholic boy” sensibilities would prevent him from taking a role that required a love scene.
“I said, ‘Oh, how bad could it get,’ and he said, ‘Well, you know, there’s going to be a bathtub,’” Jones recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh, dear.’”
Despite the scene, Jones was quickly won over by the tender romance at the heart of the film.
“All of our communication with each other is through a look in the face, a glint in the eye, a touch of the hand,” he said of the on-screen romance. “It’s a very lovely way to fall in love.”
Beyond “The Shape of Water,” Jones has also been gaining recognition for his turn as Lieutenant Saru on the new “Star Trek: Discovery” series, which premiered earlier this year and was recently greenlit for a second season.
“I’ve done more press, promotion and interviews this year than in all my 30 years combined,” he said. “This has been a quite a year for me.”
Students at Ball State have been noticing Jones’ success as well, and are excited to have an alumnus with such a storied career.
“Doug Jones has a very original style and method that makes his characters stand out from other monster movie stars,” said Tommy Garrett, a senior video production major. “His subtle quirks help his individuality come out from under the makeup in every movie I’ve seen him in.”
Emma Rickman, a senior acting major, said that the way Jones carries himself is most inspiring.
“That attitude of being true to who you are what you want to do is something Ball State really instills, so he’s a great role model for us,” she said.
Jones’ career shows no sign of slowing down; in addition to “Star Trek,” he’s also looking forward to playing Count Orlok in a remake of the German film “Nosferatu” later this year. His advice to students with big dreams is twofold: first, make sure you’re good at what you do. Then, if you are good, make sure to keep faith in your dream.
“If you really do have the goods, and you really do have the dream, do what I did,” Jones said. “Turn on the TV, stream something on Netflix, go to the movie theatre, and if something or someone is showing up on that screen, it’s simply proof that it can be done, so why not you?”