The Gentlemen may just be the creepiest villains in Buffy’s seven-season history. Series creator Joss Whedon described them in the original script – which he also directed – as ‘old, bone-white, bald – Nosferatu meets Hellraiser by way of the Joker.’ Add a pair of gleaming metal teeth, a penchant for still-beating human hearts and a knack for levitating a few feet above ground level, and it’s probably not surprising that The Gentlemen had everybody talking, so to speak, when they appeared in the fourth-season episode “Hush.”
For Doug Jones, playing the lead gentleman was superb casting. Physically, the lanky, six foot-three actor fit the bill perfectly, plus he had more than a decade’s worth of experience in playing characters in prosthetic make-up. And in a peculiar job qualification, his contortionist and mime abilities came in handy for a creature that didn’t speak a word of dialogue.
Of course, Doug had no idea about any of that when he first went in to audition for “Hush.”
“In the beginning, I didn’t know anything,” he recalls. “I tend to see the usual suspects when I’m out auditioning, but for Buffy, oddly enough, I didn’t recognise anybody in the room that day. The casting director came out to the lobby and told the few of us that were there that Joss was going to be directing this episode himself.
“What he was looking for was a flow-y kind of movement, and an eerie smile while we were doing dastardly things to people. That’s what I knew when I walked into the room, and then we did an improv with the scene where my partner and I are cutting out the heart of a college student in his dorm room. That’s pretty much the scene we auditioned with, and I remember Joss and everyone who were sitting in the room going [Doug makes a disgusted sound] when I was done, so I guess I hit it! I was the tallest one there, and in the rewrite of the script, I was referred to as the ‘tall one,’ so I became the lead Gentleman, who the script referred to as the ‘tall one.’”
While Doug brought a physicality to the role, it was the Gentlemen’s make-up, designed by Optic Nerve and applied by Todd McIntosh, that sealed the deal, appearance-wise. “Once we booked it, I had to go over to Optic Nerve for the teeth, and I think they already had a life cast of my head, which is already all over town because of other characters that I’ve played. What was interesting was that Camden Toy [who later played several other roles in Buffy] was my partner in that episode, and that was actually the first time I met him. He’s a terrific actor, and he has the eeriest smile. We were the only two actors that had dentures that went over our own teeth, and they fashioned the prosthetic make-up onto our own faces and mouths. The other four Gentlemen had these enormous built-in smiles, which was the original plan for all of us. It wasn’t until after Joss met Camden and I that he decided that he wanted at least the two of us to have our own smiles, which was a nice little pat on the back for us. We were also able to get more expression that way.
“When I went on set, Todd [McIntosh] did my make-up. Since there were six of us, they brought in extra make-up people for that episode to do everybody, but Todd did mine, and I think he did a great job with it. I think it was the airbrushing around the eyes and the way he blended it all together that was uniquely brilliant. We also had prosthetics on the hands, just the top of them was glued on, with a little more accentuated bones and knuckles and tendons and things like that to make them look a little grosser.”
Doug also gives high marks to Joss Whedon, not only as a director, but also for his bold decision to write an episode (later nominated for an Emmy), where a large part of it was conducted in silence. “A lot of actors will tell you, if you’re working with a director who’s also producing and writing, that can make for a tense situation on set because the project is that person’s baby, so they’re looking at everybody as someone who will drop their baby. That’s a running theme among actors, who’ll say ‘Oh no, they’re doing all three?’ But with Joss, it was totally the opposite, because he absolutely knew what he was doing. He wrote a brilliant script and directed it with such confidence, that it wasn’t like a fear that somebody was going to drop his baby. He was saying ‘No, I’ve got my baby right here and I know exactly what I’m doing!’ and nobody thought of questioning him. There was just no need.”
As it turned out, “Hush” was the only episode of Buffy that Doug appeared in, making that one appearance even more special. “I never actually had any meetings to go back. I’ve been in to audition for Angel Season Five a couple of times, but didn’t get the part for whatever it was, but that’s okay.”
No stranger to playing unusual characters, Doug’s ability to bring even the toughest creature suit and prosthetic make-up to life has made him a long-time-favourite among Hollywood’s make-up FX community. His television work includes The Outer Limits, Tales from the Crypt, Crusade and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. He’s also appeared in countless feature films, such as Hocus Pocus, Batman Returns, Tank Girl, Warriors of Virtue, Mimic, The Time Machine and Men in Black II.
The actor’s newest project is Hellboy, a big-budget supernatural action-adventure based on the popular comic-book series, about a red-skinned horned demon (played by Ron Perlman) who battles the forces of darkness for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence. Doug plays Abe Sapien, a man-fish hybrid with clairvoyant abilities, whose bizarre appearance belies a razor-sharp intellect. The character’s amphibious look, created by Spectral Motion, required Doug to sit in the make-up chair for up to five hours at a time. “If my memory is correct, I think the first make-up test took 10 hours. It was very exciting, because of the anticipation of how it was all going to come together for the very first time, but I was also thinking to myself, ‘Can I really do this every day?’ It’s not just a matter of sitting in the chair and falling asleep while you’re being made up. I had to participate by holding myself in a certain position, keeping my arm here, bending my leg there, because I’ve got three different people working on different areas at the same time. I really had to concentrate and try to figure out what needed to be turned for a better angle for them, and that usually involved me standing a lot. By the time I was done with make-up in the morning, I was already exhausted, but I couldn’t complain, because that’s what had to happen in order for this beautiful thing come together.”
Since finishing Hellboy, Doug has been relaxing a bit and going back out on the audition trail. “I recently did an episode of Rock Me Baby, which is a UPN sitcom. Other than that, I’ve been in meetings and auditions for all sorts of things. I’m not desperate, so we’ll see which one hits next.”
As for his appearance on Buffy, Doug Jones remains both pleased and surprised that his episode still strikes such a powerful chord among fans, even today. “I’m still waiting for the beach towel, myself!” he jokes, referring to the wide range of Gentlemen merchandise that’s been released since “Hush” first aired. “Of course, on everything you work on, you think, ‘Oh, this is the one that’s going to hit it big!’ Whether it’s a film or this episode, it’s going to be the Emmy-nominated one, but when we worked on this show, we knew that there were a couple of special elements. It was a daring move to do half the episode in complete silence, but you’ve also got these well-dressed, gentlemanly polite guys, floating around, bald and ghoulish-looking, and smiling and so polite and happy while they’re doing horrible things to people. That alone was unique, and the way we floated just barely above the ground, it was great not having to worry about how I was going to walk. We just floated around, but there were still enough differences between us. The characters themselves were unique enough that I thought, ‘This is going to be special!’ I’ve done a lot of film and television work over the years, but this one episode has brought me more attention than I ever thought possible.”
Interview from Buffy The Vampire Slayer Magazine #15, Oct/Nov 2004
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