Doug Jones — aka the Faun and the Pale Man (scrawny Shar-Pei-thing with hand-eyeballs and evil grapes) in Pan’s Labyrinth, Abe Sapien in Hellboy, other strange things in just about every other Guillermo Del Toro project, and Bette Midler’s zombie ex-boyfriend in Hocus Pocus — recently did an interview with Collider, and spoke about his role in an upcoming del Toro movie. Given that the details of said movie, titled The Shape of Water, have largely been kept secret, the interview revealed a great deal more than was previously known of the project.
What was previously known is pretty much what’s there on the IMDB page: beyond Jones, its cast includes Sally Hawkins (very good start), Michael Shannon (the good continues), Octavia Spencer (yup, great), Richard Jenkins (also great), and A Serious Man‘s Michael Stuhlbarg (so that’s 6/6 for a cast of fantastic character actors), and it’s “an other-worldly story, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963.” In his interview, though, Jones makes it clear that one of the the things that earns the “other-worldly” description is that he’s not exactly playing a man (as usual), but rather a fish man:
I’m a fish man that’s kind of a one-off. I’m an enigma, nobody knows where I came from; I’m the last of my species so I’m like a natural anomaly. And I’m being studied and tested in a U.S. government facility in 1963, so the Russian Cold War is on, the race for space is on, so there’s all that backdrop and that undercurrent.
He notes that said fish-man — like so many mutant movie humans before him — is currently undergoing government tests for use in the military (or, less commonly, for space travel). The government is trying to keep the piscine technology a secret from Russia. Sally Hawkins, he explains, plays a cleaning lady who gets entangled in a love narrative with the fish-man. Jones says, “She comes and finds me, has sympathy on me, and then that’s the story that you’re really gonna follow with this whole backdrop.”
Collider notes that the fish-man theme had already been rumored, but people had assumed that Shannon would be playing that starring role — so we’ll have to see what kind of creature (or, sure, anything’s possible — human) del Toro has up his sleeve for the actor. For those who’ve been waiting for a return to the historically-interested fantasy/horror seen in Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, this statement from Jones should further pique your interest: “It is artfully and beautifully [made]—if this doesn’t end up with Guillermo back at the Oscars, I will be surprised. I will be very surprised.”
Jones as Abe Sapien in ‘Hellboy’
Uproxx notes the similarities between The Shape of Water character and Hellboy‘s Abe Sapien, who was also played by Doug Jones (though he was voiced by David Hyde Pierce), and was likewise a fish-man stuck in a government facility. However, even on the off-chance that The Shape of Water actually sees Jones reprising that role, it seems like, no matter what it is, this won’t be anything resembling a traditional superhero movie: “It’s not a sci-fi [film], it’s not a genre film, but I am a creature in it,” he said.
Here’s some fishy promotional art: