The Shape Of Water And Pan's Labyrinth Were Very Different Prosthetics Experiences For Doug Jones

The only other actor who has spent more time in a makeup chair than Doug Jones might possibly be his "Hellboy" co-star Ron Perlman. A look back at both actors' respective filmographies fids a litany of creatures and nonhuman characters that often require a lot of fur, tendrils, and other creative prosthetics. It's a credit to both men that they have been able to provide expressive and empathetic performances through enormous silicone headpieces and masks that often block out their hearing and vision. 

Jones in particular so often plays creatures that it's a rare treat to see him without makeup. Jones currently plays the gentle Kelpien Capt. Saru in "Star Trek: Discovery," and has previous played a clown in "Batman Returns," kangaroo people in both "Tank Girl" and "Warriors of Virtue," a yeti in "Monkeybone," the Silver Surfer in "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," and several notable creature roles in the films of director Guillermo de Toro.

In del Toro's 2006 film "Pan's Labyrinth," Jones played an eight-foot tall faun — not necessarily Pan himself — who lurks in the woods and entreats the film's young protagonist to engage in magical (and filthy and dangerous) fairy tale quests. In del Toro's 2017 film "The Shape of Water," Jones plays an unnamed undersea humanoid creature — not unlike the Creature from the Black Lagoon — who lives in a government lab, and who forms an unlikely romance with a mute janitor who works there. Both films won Academy Awards.

For both roles, Jones had to have his eyes and ears more of less covered, leaving him to perform using only his mouth and body language. Indeed, having his senses muted by makeup appears to be a regular feature in Jones' career as a monster performer.

Wearing mechanical gill heads

Appearing on a 2018 episode of NPR's "Fresh Air," Jones explained to host Terry Gross the unique differences in the elaborate makeup he wore in "Labyrinth" and in "Water." In both cases, his head was equipped with elaborate facial and cranial prosthetics, which were, in turn, outfitted with mechanical servos to activate his eyes, ears, and gills. Jones immediately recognized the amusing juxtaposition of playing a monster — a creature that presumably has enhanced senses — while having his own very human senses severely limited. While in full makeup and costume, Jones often requires helpers and guides to assist him on set. In his words: 

"Any creature suit that I've worn over the last 31 years hampers your eyesight, your hearing. You basically become a nursing home patient; you need help getting around. The irony of that is usually you're playing a being that has superhuman strength, [but] you need help walking to the set."

For "The Shape of Water," Jones wore an over-the-head mask that was blended with his actual face. The only part of Jones' face that was visible was his lips. The "fish" eye pieces were like wearing sunglasses, and the character sported gills that up his neck and up the sides of his head. The gills would be moved by remote, and, as Jones explains, the inner gill mechanisms were located right next to his ears. 

"My vision was very impaired and my hearing — my ears were covered with latex foam rubber. And the gills were right next to my ears as well, and they were mechanically operated. So I would hear [mechanical noises] in my ears as a scene is progressing, so you kind of have to blot that out."

The time it takes

In addition to playing the faun in "Pan's Labyrinth," Jones also played a thin, eyeless, white-skinned monster called the Pale Man. Well, eyeless in that the Pale Man has no eyes in its head. It keeps its eyes on a plate, then inserts them into the palms of its hands when it needs to look at something. The Pale Man is one of the more striking movie monsters of its decade. The time it took for Jones to be outfitted with the Pale Man makeup took longer than any other of his other creatures. For a full-body monster makeup job, Jones explains there is something of a standard time, although for "The Shape of Water" — made nine years after "Labyrinth" — the process appears to have been streamlined. As he said: 

"A head-to-toe transformation often you're looking at, yes, five hours is about right. The faun from 'Pan's Labyrinth,' that was a five-hour makeup transformation. The Pale Man from 'Pan's Labyrinth,' with my eyeballs in my hands — I did play that character as well — that was a six-hour transformation. 'Shape of Water' was much kinder and gentler. That was only three hours. But that's three hours on set when the makeup artists are applying the pieces to the actor. 

Jones also explains that the three hours of getting into the gillman suit was a process that followed all of the sculpting and shaping that the makeup artists had to originally construct by molding rubber and latex directly onto his body. An average shooting day meant three hours of prep. Up until that point, there were likely hundreds of manhours at play to build the suit in the first place. 

How do you go to the bathroom in the suit?

Once constructed, the suit could be applied in three hours and removed in a mere 40 minutes. This was in addition to 10-to-12-hour shooting days. 

Jones also addressed a rather logical question: If he's wearing a rubber suit for 12 to 18 hours in a given day, how does he go to the bathroom? It seems that the makeup artists and suit constructors only allowed for certain concessions in that regard. Jones is frank about escaping his suit for bathroom breaks, but also the unfortunate sacrifices he needed to make in order to ensure his buttocks looked nice. It was a trade. Jones said:

"If there's zippers and things that can be pulled down, you're good to go. If it is a rubber suit from head to toe that is a creature that is not wearing clothing ... now you're looking at hiding a front flap [so] that I can go No. 1. ... But that behind of mine, that backside of the fish man — which was very sexy — that sexy backside came at a cost. There was no back flap. So I had to take care of all that business ahead of time and make sure that I can make it through an 18-hour day without having to use that back."

While Jones may have been pleased with playing a callipygian fish man, it did take a toll on his patience. He was 56 at the time of making "The Shape of Water," and wasn't so keen on taking more jobs that would require so many strictures. He ultimately mused, "How many more of these do I want to do?"

Jones can next be seen reprising his role as Billy Butcherson in "Hocus Pocus 2."