Doug Jones Finds Abe Sapien's Voice in 'Hellboy 2'

Director Guillermo del Toro always fills his films with fascinating and bizarre creatures, the most impressive of which all are built around the slim figure of actor Doug Jones.

The actor, who has appeared in all del Toro’s films since 1997’s Mimic, plays three roles in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which opens July 11. In addition to reprising Abe Sapien, Jones plays the Chamberlain and the horrifying Angel of Death — all roles that required the actor to submerge himself physically under layers of makeup, prosthetics and elaborate mechanical costumes. Even having played many such roles before, the task was anything but easy, he says.

“It was a long grueling shoot for all of us,” he says. “I’ve never been that depleted and that tired. However, as an artist and actor, I’ve never been that fulfilled and that satisfied with a job ever.”

But Jones was thrilled by both the chance to work again with actors Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and Jeffrey Tambor and the humor and love story he got to play as Abe, who falls in love for the first time with Anna Walton’s fairy Princess Nuala. He in particular loved playing a scene in which Abe and Hellboy get over their troubles with women by drinking a case of beer and listening to classic Barry Manilow.

“I’m a huge fan of Barry Manilow, I’m happy to admit,” says Jones. “So when Guillermo told me about this scene, he was tossing around song options and artist options, and when that came up I was like, ‘Gasp! Barry Manilow’s “You Can’t Smile Without You”’?”

Abe not only sings in this film, he does so in Jones’ own voice. In the first film, actor David Hyde-Pierce voiced the character, a decision made by the studio that Jones says he understands but was not happy about.

“I got a phone call from Guillermo del Toro telling me David Hyde-Pierce had voiced over my role. So I asked him on the day, at that moment: ‘Was it a performance issue? Did I fall short in some way that I need to learn from in this moment?’ He said, absolutely not. You gave us every bit of the voice of Abe that we needed,” Jones says.

Apparently, Hyde-Pierce agreed after hearing the on-set performance, Jones says, and opted out of taking a credit on the film and bowed out of voicing the character in two animated DVD features and in the sequel. That opened up the role for Jones to play in full.

Knowing his voice was going to be part of the character this time out was a big boost, Jones says. “I played the role the same way both times, in both films,” he says. “But there was a confidence this time that my voice is in place and that’s what we were using.”

Perhaps the most difficult character in this film was the Angel of Death. Jones says it took five hours of makeup and costume work to prepare for the role, though the worst part was the practical wings that weighed 40 pounds and were attached to the middle of his back.

“I tried to pull this off wearing all the weight of it on myself,” Jones says. “By a couple hours in, I was losing my sense of humor, I was losing my ability to stand, I was losing my character,” he says. A cable that could be erased in post-production was used to support the weight, much to Jones’ relief.

Jones’ third character, The Chamberlain, was the most isolating because the costume severely limited his vision and parts of the performance, such as the character’s long and spindly fingers, were controlled by off-camera puppeteers.

With del Toro set to direct a pair of highly anticipated films based on The Hobbit, Jones expects that there will be at least one role in the project for him. “Whatever he says, I’ll go, ‘uh-huh,’” Jones says. “You let a genius be a genius and you go along with it. And he is indeed a genius.”

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