One of 2017’s best, most tender romances is now nominated for several Oscars. But The Shape of Water from Guillermo del Toro isn’t about love between woman and man; it’s between woman and fish-man. And when the trailer was first released, fans of the Hellboy movies latched on to The Shape of Water as a possible prequel for del Toro’s cult favorite adaptations of the Dark Horse graphic novels. Doug Jones, who starred in both The Shape of Water and Hellboy playing fish men, can understand why.
In The Shape of Water, Jones played “The Asset,” a half-fish, half-man creature captured in the Amazon wilds. The role bears strong similarities to another one of Jones’s previous roles: Abe Sapien, another half-man, half-fish who works as an intelligence agent for the top-secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Despite that both the Asset and Abe Sapien are bipedal aquatic monsters, Jones tells Inverse that the two couldn’t be farther apart.
“Those comparisons are inevitable, but they are not correct,” Jones told Inverse in a November interview. “I was told from the very beginning this is not Abe Sapien from Hellboy. This is a completely different character. It’s not a prequel, it’s not a backstory, it’s not an origin story. It’s new.”
Jones acknowledges the similarities, but advises fans and viewers to look closer — literally. “If you look at the two designs side by side, you’ll see the differences, in markings, colors, shapes, placement of gills. It’s different.”
As an actor, Jones also approached playing the characters in wildly different ways. “Abe Sapien was a refined gentleman. Well-spoken, huge vocabulary, could read four books at one time, had a wealth of knowledge in science and all kinds of things, and gestures as a refined gentleman might do.”
But in The Shape of Water, the Asset “is a raw animal” from the wild. “That’s what Guillermo had to drill into me: You are intelligent, you can learn communication, but this is all new to him.”
The Shape of Water was inspired by del Toro’s childhood fantasies from watching the 1930’s monster movie Creature from the Black Lagoon, in which del Toro wished the monster fell in love with Julie Adams instead of trying to kill and eat her. “He had a crush on Julie Adams, and he had a crush on the creature,” says Jones.
It was Creature From the Black Lagoon that informed Jones’s portrayal of the Asset more than Abe. “I often have looked at nature. I studied fish when I played Abe Sapien because he was so gesture-y and I wanted his head to be curious like a goldfish. For this, though I had markings and looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, I didn’t want to be compared necessarily because it’s not a prequel. I wanted him to have his own flavor. So in this case, less was more. If I was an animal from the wild in captivity and people were talking to me, how would I respond?”
Jones grew up in the American midwest “a tall, lanky, out-of-sorts looking gangly kid” that led to a lot of bullying and pressures to fit in. After 30 years of playing monsters and creatures, from Hellboy to Pan’s Labyrinth, from Fantastic Four to The Shape of Water and beyond, Jones has found solace morphing into characters that are inhuman.
“Playing monsters on film for me is a great way to work through my childhood issues, especially when they’re written with sympathy, with great storylines and relationships to be discovered and explored,” Jones muses. “It’s something I can relate to in real life.”
The Shape of Water will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in March. The 90th Acamedy Awards will take place on March 4.