Meet Doug Jones, Guillermo del Toro’s favorite creature

Doug Jones has played a mutated insect, a vampire and a spectral creature with blood-red eyeballs in the palms of his hands. He’s been an erudite fish-man and a whimsical hybrid of human, tree and goat. In “The Shape of Water,” he’s a merman — and the leading man.

LOS ANGELES — Four years ago, while filming “Crimson Peak,” director Guillermo del Toro called Doug Jones into his office. The actor already had two small roles in the gothic romance — the hideous ghosts of a pair of long-dead mothers — but the director had another part in mind for him, a bigger one, in a film yet to come. Del Toro spun a wondrous tale about a cleaning lady in an U.S. research facility who falls in love with a mysterious merman fished from the murky depths of the Amazon. In this unlikeliest of monster movies, the creature was the hero and love interest, and the director wanted Jones to play him.

It wasn’t the first time the director had enlisted Jones, all 6-foot-3 of him, to play a fantastical creature. In a string of del Toro films stretching back to 1997, he has played a mutated insect (“Mimic”), a worm-spewing vampire (“The Strain”) and a spectral creature with blood-red eyeballs in the palms of his hands (“Pan’s Labyrinth”). He’s been an erudite fish-man (“Hellboy” and “Hellboy II”), an angel of death (“Hellboy II”), and a whimsical hybrid of human, tree and goat (“Pan’s Labyrinth”).

But this was the first time del Toro had called upon the actor to play both monster and leading man. Could Jones be convincing as an amphibian lover, the creature who gets the girl, all while sporting a bulky bodysuit and gills?

“Guillermo said, ‘I know you’re a good Catholic boy, and there’s some romance involved in this one that might get steamy,’ ” Jones recalled.

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Del Toro explained further in an interview, “There’s a very rarefied strata of performer that can work with makeup and the suits, the many hours of prosthetic work and mechanisms whirring in your ears. And within that strata there’s an even more rarefied one, and I think Doug stands alone, in which you can actually consider them proper actors.”

Jones stars in del Toro’s new film “The Shape of Water,” as the captive of Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a Cold War-era Army colonel who hopes to gut him and study his innards, for science. The…

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