'The Shape of Water' Star on Crafting a "Sexy" Monster With Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water Still and Doug Jones - Inset - Getty - H 2017
J. Countess/WireImage/Getty Images (Jones); Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Fillm Corporation (Hawkins)

Doug Jones explains how strongly the director stressed making the creature sexy: "He said to me, 'This time the monster's going to f— the girl.'"

Director Guillermo del Toro has spent a career bringing monsters to life onscreen. From his first vampire-centric 1993 feature, Cronos, to the much bigger-budgeted Hellboy films, to Oscar-winning fantasy thriller Pan's Labyrinth, del Toro has brought a number of memorable creatures to life for a new generation of monster-lovers. 

In his latest film, The Shape of Water, hitting theaters Dec. 8, del Toro reunites with his go-to man behind the mask, Doug Jones. The actor has starred in five of del Toro's previous films (Mimic, Hellboy, Hellboy II, Pan's Labyrinth and Crimson Peak) as well as the director's FX television series The Strain. Jones' roles in the films have varied from parasitic alien lifeforms to hyper-intelligent aquatic fishmen to eloquent Spanish-speaking ancient fauns to the nightmare-inducing Pale Man and many more. 

From an unassuming phone call 20 years ago (to fill in for a Canadian actor for pick-up shoots on 1997's Mimic in Los Angeles) the duo's relationship grew into a artistic collaboration between director and performer. Now, with The Shape of Water earning rave reviews and scoring a Golden Lion win at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, del Toro and Jones seem poised for another hit and possible Oscar contender.

Despite their longstanding working relationship, Jones was tasked with a unique challenge in the new film: making a monster a believable love interest and leading man. In The Shape of Water, Jones plays an aquatic creature known as "the Asset" who is captured and held in captivity by the government in 1960s Cold War America. There he develops a relationship with a lonely laboratory worker (Sally Hawkins) that quickly blossoms into a romance.

Jones spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his role in the new film, what it's like to work with a visionary like del Toro, and how he managed to make an Amazonian fishman "sexy."

Is it particularly challenging as an actor to film intimate scenes while you’re wearing a full bodysuit?

Well, you have to find the mindset and storytelling brilliance of Guillermo del Toro when you’re working on one of his films. You mentioned a minute ago that monsters are often secondary. Guillermo is the one director who can make a monster the leading man. In The Shape of Water he has created this fishman mutant, last of his kind, who becomes a sexy love interest. I don’t know anyone else who could’ve pulled that off but him. When I asked him why this time does it need to involved full-frontal nudity — I mean, we’re going for it! — and he harkened back to the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Frankenstein and any of the classic monster movies that helped develop his love of monsters. There was always a romantic side to these characters and relationships on film that never got actualized all the way. Guillermo said this time, the monster’s going to actually fuck the girl. (Laughs.) A gentler way to say it is that this is the creature from the wet, black lagoon who actually gets the girl this time.

The Asset in The Shape of Water shares a few characteristics with your Hellboy character Abe Sapien. Was there any commonality between portraying the two different characters?

I was in water way more for this one than I ever was for Abe Sapien. In fact, I was never in water when I was Abe. Guillermo was very specific, he did not want Abe Sapien in this film at all. He wanted this to be very stand-alone, it’s its own piece of art. Let’s celebrate this own unique story that has nothing to do with Abe. He has a love for fishmen and mermaids, anyway. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was his favorite of the Universal monsters. He wanted this one to be very different. Abe was a very articulate, well-spoken, intelligent, poised and postured being who gestured with his hands a lot and was very gentile. Guillermo wanted the opposite [for the Asset]. He wanted it very raw and animalistic. What he specifically said to me was that he did not want a Dougie Jones performance, he wants a character. He doesn’t want a physical performance. He wanted something raw and animal and real. This character came out of the wild, it’s not a fantasy being. This is something that was found on Earth and is real and is in front of us in the 1960s. My character doesn’t speak, but he is intelligent enough that I can learn communication. Sally Hawkins' character doesn’t speak either, so we connect on a beautiful nonverbal level which is so lovely to explore on film.

With del Toro stressing for you to give a “real” performance is it safe to assume that a lot of the effects in this movie were done in-camera?

Correct, yes. Another del Toro thing is that he loves old-school filmmaking style. If you’re going to have a monster in a movie, put him in the movie, don’t paint it in later. If you can. (Laughs.) That’s nice for Sally Hawkins because she didn’t have to interact with a tennis ball. There was a real creature in front of her that she could touch, interact with and love on. And same for me. I could be there with her in that moment instead of being there later with dots on me in front of a green screen. I much prefer this method of filmmaking.