Hellboy's fish-guy gets filleted

FilmEd Johnso

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You’ve seen Indianapolis native Doug Jones before. He was one of the alien postal workers in Men in Black II. He was Bette Midler’s 300-year-old boyfriend in the children’s film Hocus Pocus. He’s appeared in Stuck on You, Adaptation, Hannibal, Monkey Bone, Three Kings, Mystery Men and many more.  -Indy native Doug Jones plays Abe Sapien in Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Hellboy.’-  Because of the unique roles he plays, Jones is often covered with makeup and/or rubber appliances. That’s a shame, because he has a great face. Kind eyes, with a hint of sadness on the edges, and a crooked smile that invites you to relax and have a chat. Which we did recently, shortly after he made the rounds of area TV and radio stations promoting his role as Abe Sapien, the psychic fish-guy in the hit superhero film Hellboy.

Before discussing the movie, I had to gush over Jones’ appearance in the Emmy-nominated “Hush” episode of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. He played the leader of the Gentlemen, a group of levitating killers whose nodding heads and skeletal smiles are forever etched into my brain. They were the first monsters that scared me since I was a little boy.

“They were the first monsters that scared me since I was a little boy, too,” Jones said. “Watching that show back then — and I’ve watched a lot of my own stuff — that was really a creepy episode. You know what was creepy about it, I think, was we were so gentlemanly, so smooth and fluid and smiling all the time, doing dastardly, horrible, ripping-out-hearts sort of things."

“Going into a lot of the jobs, you never know what effect you’re going to have or how big that show or that movie’s going to be. Buffy already had its following, of course. I had no idea that guest-starring that one time was going to turn into years worth of fan mail. They did a write-up on me in a Buffy magazine, and they also have action figures of my character in stores.”

Jones reminisced over what frightened him as a boy. “My childhood scarys were the Morlocks from the 1960 The Time Machine — they freaked me out; I had bad dreams about those blue guys with light-up eyes. Funny enough, to come full circle, I played the lead spy Morlock in The Time Machine remake with Guy Pearce. The other thing that really scared me was the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Boy, I was scared of him. There’s been talk of a remake of that as well and I would kill to play him.”

Now married and living in Southern California, Jones grew up on Indianapolis’ Northeastside and attended Bishop Chatard High School. From there he went on to Ball State, graduating in 1982 with a bachelors in telecommunications and a minor in theater. He learned mime at school, joining a troupe and doing the whole white-face thing. “I was a mime for one summer at Kings Island after graduating Ball State. Scaring children from Kentucky is basically what you do down there,” he said with a laugh.

At 6-feet-3-inches and only 145 pounds, Jones has also worked as a contortionist. “You’d be surprised how many times that comes into play in commercials. They’ll want somebody to hold a box of Tide funny or something. I once squished into a box for a commercial for relaxed fit jeans.”

These days, Jones’ focus is firmly on acting. He holds the Abe Sapien role in Hellboy near and dear, even though a decision by the powers-that-be at the studio brought him some pain. “I don’t know how much talking about this I want to do,” he said. The problem came from studio executives accustomed to casting celebrities to do the voices for their animated features. Hellboy is live-action, but they were still thinking in an animation mode. “First it was, ‘Who can we get to play this fish guy? Who will wear the stuff?’ Seven hours of makeup, right? Head to toe, with glued on bits, airbrushing, blending, hooking up wires for the gills. Seven hours a day, who are you going to get to go through that, who can pull off the physicality of it under makeup? There’s that."

“And then they think separately, ‘What’s the perfect voice we can put with that?’ That was the kind of thinking originally. When I came into the picture, they told me, ‘We’re thinking of using a celebrity voice there.’ In the end, they ending up dubbing me, even though I gave them the voice they’d asked for. I understand that a studio might feel drawn to a celebrity voice and, well, they used David Hyde Pierce — Niles Crane from Fraser — in the end. Which, I’ll be honest with you, probably the most disappointing thing in my career so far was putting that much of my heart and soul into a role and then having my voice dubbed over. But they warned me up front that that might happen and it was no commentary on me.”

The decision caused a stir on the Internet among genre buffs and fans of Jones. In the end, Pierce appears uncredited and in several interviews, director Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, The Devil’s Backbone) has voiced his support for Jones’ acting skills in general and this performance in particular.

Asked in one interview if Jones’ vocal take on the character might be included as a bonus feature on the DVD for the film, del Toro expressed fear that he may be blocked from using it because of contractual issues. Sucks, doesn’t it?

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