23rd November, 2008

Click on the thumbnails to go to a larger image

The Sheraton Framingham Hotel is by itself nothing special. It is typical of the places of its kind, a multi-storied pink-and- white-pancake of a building offering to the modestly well-heeled traveller--and those aspiring to be such--an atmosphere of plush respectability and stuffy tranquillity. To one who has never had the privilege of staying in one and is an infrequent traveller, it can seem a veritable palace; but for the "frequent-flyer set, the facade is a thin one. For its attempts at grandeur are betrayed by its surroundings.

Like so many such places in America, this hotel had been plunked down without thought like any big-box store in an untidy suburban sprawl. It was located on a hill above a branch of the Massachusetts Turnpike, which ran past its western side; and to the east of it is a two-Lane Route divided by a slab of concrete that was lined for miles with mega-malls and chain stores and chain restaurants and gas stations; and on the very edge of this, the little white building called Logan Express that served as jumping-off point for the shuttles that took commuters to Logan Airport in Boston, just a few miles away.

It was here that I arrived in haste on the afternoon of Sunday, November 23, after a halting 5-hr Greyhound bus ride. After a cab ride in which I swear the lady charged me $5 extra for my New York State accent--a fate I had sworn I'd avoid, but she pre-empted me:), When we got to the hotel, barely more than 2 miles away, I thanked her, gave her a generous tip, and moved on.

My destination: the ballroom of the Sheraton, where hopefully I would have a chance to meet a figure from the world of entertainment who had lately come to mean a lot to me: the indomitable Doug Jones. I had first seen him onscreen in what is perhaps his most famous pair of guises to date: as the enigmatic faun (Pan) and the Pale Man monster in Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro's masterful tale of the Spanish Civil War, Pan's Labyrinth. The film had come out only a few months after my mother's untimely death, and even though I was unaware at the time that there was a living, breathing actor portraying Del Toro's indelible fantasy creation, the character still made an unforgettable impression upon me. Eventually through an examination of Del Toro's other works, I had come to "know" the actor Doug Jones. The self-imposed crash course I undertook into the many-faceted world had made me familiar with his work. But still the Faun remained my favorite.

In July, I'd written to him the first fan letter I'd ever written in my life. It had been printed out and hand-delivered to him by Parker, the Webmaster of Del Toro's official website. Since April, through this site, I had gotten to "know" the members of G's little film-making "family". I read more stories of Doug's life and work, courtesy of Helen Chavez, who founded Doug's website and went by the unlikely nom de Net of Hellmistress. I was struck the most on the indelible effect he seemed to have on people. Clearly, this guy seemed a little too good to be true; how could one navigate the narrow, treacherous, rock-strewn shoals of Hollywood, much less with his chosen branch of acting, and remain such an all-around nice guy--no, a fountain of niceness and inspiration to others? I wished there was a way to meet him and verify if all the hype was true. And so, when news arrived that he would be coming here to this Boston suburb in one of his rare East Coast appearances, I was determined to meet him.

And now here I stood, a solitary traveller, backpack in hand, staring at the Batmobile parked by the entrance of the hotel, with costumed bellhop guarding it and blocked off by ropes. Dear God. Nobody but a geek would understand. It was Sunday, Day 2 of the Boston Super Megafest, the name of the convention where Doug would be at. I supposed that on Day 2, things would have died down a little, the most important stuff probably happened the day before.

I was new to the world of fan conventions, and tales of the strange denizens who flocked to such gatherings and who gave cons their shady cultural rep, had made me shy away. Besides, I was never the superhero/action figure type. It was a measure of the respect I had for Doug already and my determination to meet him that I now found myself here. Shifting my bag and loosing my scarf in the bitter November cold, I took a deep breath. "Here goes," I said, to no-one in particular.

After paying for the ticket and registering at a table (a stamp on the back of the hand; why this is like going to a concert! I thought), in I went.

To my surprise, the place was a lot smaller than I had imagined, and a lot less crowded. Three hours before the official end of the Megafest, it seemed as if I had indeed missed the be-costumed hordes. There were crowds, big and little clumps of people moving in a steady stream through the maze of red-and gold-gilt carpeted rooms, corridors, and finally the big banqueting hall/ballroom itself. But there was space to move, room to breathe! I had read tales of San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions and expected a zoo. But it wasn't the circus I feared. In fact, the scene had a certain placid New England staidness and gentility to it. One expected one of the be-festooned figures threading their way through the mass---one of the storied "glompers" people had warned me about--those extreme fans who seemed to be strangers to the niceties of deodorant and coherent speech, to emerge before you. Here, one almost expected one of them to approach you, bow, and then declaim profound thoughts in the Queen's English, or regale you with spicy tales in a studied Cockney drawl, with hands folded behind their backs and a twinkle in their eye, like Bilbo Baggins warming up for a long night of fellowship in the Green Dragon over a dish of fried mushrooms and pot of ale.

I wandered among the tables, taking a few moments to savor the sights, utterly self-conscious of my "normal" appearance. In spite of the calm atmosphere, my stomach was in knots. I had better find Doug's table soon, or I was going to flee the huge room in sheer terror. Part of me still couldn't believe that I was here, that I has actually paid money for a bus ticket and travelled 5 hours to be here--especially when my life currently turned upside-down by the chaos of moving house. "I can't believe I did this," in fact, I think I heard myself say once.

And suddenly, there he was: Doug Jones. Doug is very recognizeable and he was not hard to find. His table was on a raised platform, at the end of a row of stalls that stretched to the middle of the cavernous room. He was wearing a light blue or gray shirt and white pants that fitted well on his tall, lanky frame (Not for the first time did I wonder if all his clothes were tailored.)  Even though the space in front of his table seemed so empty compared to the others, and the platform was more than 20 feet away, time seemed to stand still then, and everything else just dropped away. It just seemed too surreal: here, in this dreary Massachusetts wasteland of shopping malls and drab, overcrowded suburbia, stood a man who's starred in some of Hollywood's top "genre" attractions of recent years, who had not too long ago graced the Red Carpet at the Oscars, and who now made a living flying around the world filming bit parts in big productions in some of most exotic locations. Unlike many other living luminaries who had condescended to appear here, Doug was "hot." He was a current, and still rapidly rising, star, still in the process of refining and perfecting his art. Not content to sit on past glories, his profile was ever increasing. Guillermo Del Toro had provided for him--at an age when most actors' careers are slowing down--a second shot at life and a high-profile career. Or as high-profile as it is possible to be when spends most of one's time behind latex and a mask, anyway. And if (as we are praying) he stars in Del Toro's The Hobbit, well, then Doug's table would in future be a lot more crowded than I was seeing now! (Even in my terror, "Just wait until then", I told myself.)

But how to go up to him and introduce myself to him, and just talk? I certainly was no expert in meeting celebrities! (Who is? Even if you were one, I'd suppose you'd have that same awkwardness in approaching the hero who was YOUR inspiration. Don't we all have one?) My feet were frozen and my tongue utterly tied. Dear God. My nightmare, crystallized like a fly in amber...

Again and again, I tried approaching the raised table. Doug just looked so lonely. He had, it seemed, 3 assistants--a young, dark-haired man with a goatee, an older gentleman, grey-bearded and taciturn (was this Derek?) and a plump middle-aged lady in a pink dress (one of the hotel staff, or event organizer?) He got up and conferred with them, and arranged some goods on the table. Pictures and things...I guessed that these were the photos and autographed goods he was selling.

I must have wandered around the general vicinity of the table for over 5 minutes. Once Doug caught my eye and started to smile, but my nerves just failed me and I ducked and ran for cover behind the table of a DVD vendor. Dammit, Tina, just walk over there and DO IT, I told myself.

Finally, before I started to become conspicuous, (before Doug called security, or worse yet, I made myself look like a total donkey's behind), I walked over and climbed the three steps to the table. There Doug sat, just inches away. I smiled once at him and he smiled back, but I found myself blushing and ducked my head and sidled over to gaze at the pics on the table. They were some good ones. Large glossy sheets featuring Doug in stills as Abe Sapien, sitting with Hellboy in the immortal "Barry Manilow" scene, hugging Ron Perlman with the Abe mask off but the rest of him in costume, one as the Silver Surfer, and my favorite, Pan hugging little Ivana Baquero, an utterly adorable photograph. How I wanted to buy this, but *sigh* I was broke. Well, now for it...I couldn't make any more pretence. I looked up. Both Doug and the dark-haired young man were looking expectantly at me. Oh, dear GOD ..."Mr. Jones, I presume?" I began, brightly. "Yes?" Doug asked. (No doubt he'd dealt with my type before and I could sense a hint of amusement. I think he knew what was going on, the dear man.) I put my knuckles in my mouth and mumbled, "Oh, I'm sorry ... I'm having a major shyness attack."

(Dear God, did I just say that!?!? I could not believe that I was here, and I wasn't flipping out or anything. Doug was just Doug. It was as if I was standing back from myself looking at this scene, at myself, and amazed at how much Doug was just his old self, the same as the pictures. I mean, when only yesterday you saw this guy talking on your computer, and now here he was, up close and in the flesh, it's a little disconcerting, ya know?)

"OH NO, DON'T BE SHY!!" Doug popped up out of his chair and smiled from ear to ear, and leaned forward to take my hand. His hands: true artists' hands, long and slender, with elegant, tapering fingers. I dimly recalled something he'd said in an interview somewhere, that like Abe, he communicated a lot by touch and was a very "physical" person. It seemed to be true. And I saw, right then and there, something else: that in an instant--before the meeting was even truly underway--that before he'd hardly said a word, I saw that the hype was true. It was not just his manner, or his words. I immediately detected a quality, an aura, about him that I do not think I have ever seen or sensed about another human being. It struck me the second I looked into his eyes, which were magnanimous. Who was it who indicated that the eyes were the windows into the soul? But it wasn't just his eyes. I struggled for a long time afterwards to come up with a word to describe Doug, and finally found it: LUMINOUS. There is indeed luminosity about Doug that is difficult for me to describe to someone who has not met him, a peculiar serenity that yet was not still.  It wasn't just that he looked like what he undoubtedly was: a very happy and fulfilled man, who enjoyed sharing that happiness with others. It was something else: perhaps a deep and abiding joy that seemed to permeate the whole of his  being, that just was a part of himself: as if he continually reflected back out the light that others who had been the original recipients of that light had refracted back to him. He both absorbed and gave it out, and it seemed to be a permanent state, something I immediately picked up from him that seemed to move about him and through him and with him, like an everlasting cloud of cologne. A phrase of Tolkien's from The Lord Of The Rings comes to me now: "he may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can." The words' were Gandalf's, and Tolkien was describing Frodo as he lay recovering from the stab wound of the Nazgul in Rivendell; and indeed Frodo did become so. But those words could be applied here too, to someone not tragic and a real person.

Abashed, I struggled to remember my carefully-rehearsed opening, and ended up telling Doug the story of how my friend Barbara had accidentally met Bono coming out of an Elevator at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston a few years ago, surprising her silly with her 3 yr old son in her arms--I was trying to communicate to Doug that I was sorry for being shy--and Doug still as a statue listening to this. I thought: you are making a total idiot of yourself. Then God rescued me. A voice came over the speakers inviting everyone to Doug Jones' Q and A, which would begin in 5 minutes. Doug got up and said, "Come along, luv; come on, don't be shy. Right over here," and he indicated a path down the steps and through the crowd, to an anteroom across the hall where the Q and A would be taking place. Feeling a lot better, I asked him, "Can I still come back here afterwards? Will you still be here?" "Oh yes!” he said, and then I followed him over. (On a side note, I thought he'd tower over me--he is what, 6'4 and I am just a runty 5 feet, but his thinness made him seem a bit shorter, or to me anyway.) When we got to the door, he put his hand on my back and guided me into the room. I was amazed at how calm I suddenly was, as if this was one of my friends doing this. In a few minutes, I'd gone from tongue-tied and terror-stricken to a sense of ordinariness. I guess it was one of Doug's many great qualities: his down-to-earth and easygoing manner (luminosity aside.).

The room was small; maybe 30 feet square, with room for maybe 10 rows of chairs. They were mostly full. There was probably one of these things yesterday too, which probably had attracted a bigger crowd. The audience was surprisingly mixed: what Hollywood would have called "all four quadrants": young and old, male and female. There were college kids (a young couple in front of me leaned on each other's shoulders, still as statues, holding hands through the whole thing, as if this were a "date movie" and not a celebrity Q and A at a convention, and it was lovely to see), parents with little kids, older fans in their 30's and 40's. Clearly, Doug's audience was expanding, and that was great to know.

Doug and the older guy whom I guessed was his long-time assistant Derek took their seats. It was very informal, because Doug could not keep still and spent the whole thing perched on the side of a chair, his stick-thin legs dangling over the side, then walking to and fro, gesticulating eloquently. The animated speaking style I'd seen on video was replicated here, with a couple of the same well-chosen anecdotes. Even in this small room, I was struck by his sense of both familiarity and stage prescience. A gifted and dynamic speaker, Doug regaled us with tales from his early TV days, before moving on to the achievements of this decade. Sadly, I did not transcribe all of these in the days after the event (real life took over quite suddenly in a manner related elsewhere)--he did mention the "Hush" Buffy episode however, and I am amazed at what a big response from audiences everywhere that the revelation of this factoid seems to get--him playing the lead Gentleman on that show) but 2 things stuck out at me I do remember, and will stay with me forever.

One was the question of a little girl who looked to be 7 or 8 yrs old, who asked him shyly, "What is your favorite thing you would like to be?" Doug asked her if she meant what was his favorite role he would want to play, and he said, "Well, sweetheart, the thing I'd love to play the most would be an angel. A good angel. That's my dream role," and he explained why. I have to say, that not much acting would be required, and he'd surely win an Emmy or get an Oscar nom of whatever it was in the thing he was playing in. This isn't an opinion coming from geeky fan worship. It's based on my earlier purely sober observations of the luminous qualities of the man. If they jumped out at you in real life, how much more that could be magnified on a screen...

And the second thing he said: here it is. "There are 2 kinds of angels, I believe. One is the kind we all know: the "flapping-around" kind who are our guardian angels and such, and the others are the very special people that God places in our lives, seemingly right in the moment, the time and place we need them..." I heard this, and my heart and breath and mind locked up and the room just froze in time, as if God had snapped its picture, or cast a spell and rendered everything still.

Hellmistress later told me that this was a "Dougie-ism", something he said a lot ...

The rest of the session after that was a bit of a blur. When it was over, we all applauded, and as Doug was exiting he said "Anyone I haven't met, I'll be my table over in the back of the hall." As he passed by me I asked him, "Can I still come over for a chat?" "Of course!" he replied, and filed out.

It took me a minute or two for me to trail him over there, and now it seemed as if the ice had been broken and back at the table, completely relaxed now, I began telling him how I'd discovered him and his work. I mentioned the folks at Del Toro Films, naming long-time posters there whom I’d known had met him,--he recalled them all!-- and then Hellmistress. "Oh, my biographer, Yes," Doug said, and I was surprised. (I guess she is.)

 I told him that had been one of the people on TORN rooting for him to get the part of Thranduil, and his face just crumbled into this MOST ADORABLE sad-eyed puppy-dog look and I felt bad for saying it, but I had to, and told him I knew he'd get something...I didn’t want to say any more possibilities though, in case I was bad luck!)

I told him about seeing Pan's Labyrinth when it came out and how I had loved his work as the Faun, and how the film had helped me get over my mother's death (I did not know HOW on God's green earth *that* slipped out, but hey, I'd already written about it in the Fan Letter) ... Doug took my hand between both of his and said, "Oh Tina, I'm so sorry." "Thank you, Doug. Thank you. It means a lot, I appreciate it," I said. "But it's not like I haven't told you this before."  

Then I told him about the Fan Letter I'd written to him back in July. It was the first fan letter I'd ever written in my life. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't read on DTF that practically all the posters there had written and/or met Doug, and even Ron and Guillermo, at some point in the past few years, In June HM mentioned that Parker, who ran the site, would be printing out any "correspondence" that people sent Doug's way, and he'd be meeting Doug on the set of a film he was shooting in Indiana [My Name Is Jerry], and giving it all to him. He said that there was nothing Doug loved better than getting mail from his "Fan Sapiens", so I figured what the heck.

When I had described the basics of my fan letter, Doug's eyes went wide. His mouth dropped open. To my astonishment, this look of utter amazement, shock even, swept over his face.

"Wait a minute ... that was YOU!?!" he exclaimed, and I mentioned the date I had sent the letter and he nodded, "That was...YOU?" he repeated, and he exploded out of his chair like a jack in the box and almost ran around the table. "Oh, Tina!" and he swept me into his arms in this massive hug.

I was dumbstruck at this .. .I mean, I knew the letter had been a bit of an essay and I'd dropped in a couple of my favorite Kahlil Gibran quotes, and I thought it was quite nice, but clearly he had had quite an emotional reaction. "Tina!" ... and he seemed lost for words.

"You liked it?" I asked, "I was so afraid that I'd gone overboard, and you'd think me this crazy fan and such ..."

"OH NO, NOT AT ALL!" Wow, this was both spooky and great. In that moment, I seemed to have been the best thing that had happened to him since the invention of bite-size Kit-Kat bars and the canning of tuna fish! (Two of his favorite foods, according to HM's site and fan lore.) He told me that he had the letter permanently kept in a special place in his house. "Well, I meant it all, Doug," I mumbled, suddenly shy again now (for his reaction had me floating on air).

I then mumbled all the stupid idiotic things people must write in fan letters and say on these occasions--all those things I had so carefully avoided saying in the Letter, covering them up in borrowed poetic euphemisms and quotations and statements on the power of cinema. [I still have the Letter too.] As he stood hanging on my every word, I told him how much I admired him and how much he was an inspiration to me, etc etc. Now I felt stupid but clearly he didn't think so! And then I took out my packet of Kit-kats and gave them to him, saying that he'd probably been having a long and tiring day and maybe he'd want some of these. In truth I'd brought them along, because Doug's love of Kit-Kats was legendary and she has been quoted as saying Doug would do ANYTHING for a Kit-Cat bar! He even jumped over a table for them once! I didn't think he'd do that, but still he was quiet. "Ah, Kit-Kats!" he said, and asked me "Where did you hear about Kit-Kats?" "Hellmistress!" I said. It was then that I noticed that he already had 3 of the same bite-size bars on his table. I suddenly got the impression that Doug had been consuming a LOT of donated Kit-Kats that weekend!

The discussion then turned to a topic I'd wanted confirmation on: as a fellow born-again Christian, I wanted to know about the dichotomy of how he managed to play such things evil angels, demoniac monsters, wendigos, etc and remain true to his faith. He gave me his time-worn reply about "someone has to play the bad guy" and "redemptive qualities" and "character arcs." I was especially keen to know about a rumored project for a respected  European director that Doug had been about and wanted to be a part of. Doug shared with me what he knew of the rumored project as it stood so far, but cautioned me never to as much as breathe a word of what we had discussed. Which promise I did keep and will continue to do so! 

A group of people were waiting, and it was time for me to wrap it up, but both Doug and I had been so engrossed in our conversation neither of us had noticed and probably Derek had let him know. I got my camera out and asked if I could have a picture. "Of course!" Doug said, and I asked a lady in the crowd to do the honors. "Now I want to warn you all, I'm a Neanderthal, and I have a dinosaur camera. It isn't digital, it’s an old-fashioned camera," and I showed the woman which button to press. Doug laughed and he frowned adorably, and he exclaimed "Film?!" "Oh, God, I KNOW," I said. Dropping my coat and purse and bag, I tried to think the pictures I wanted to get out. "Hey, this is your picture, you're planning it, luv," Doug said, and I finally found a suitable spot. I held up my hands, on which I had drawn "Pale Man" eyeballs a couple hours ago in the ladies’ room, and Doug said, "Now how do you want me to do this? With me scary-looking or what?" I said, just act as if you're surprised I've got this on my hands," (I had seen a picture of a fan doing this exact thing), and Doug went, "Ah, got it" and after much hilarity, the pics were taken.

When I did the Pale Man pose someone murmured, 'Hey, that's pretty good!" (I'd practiced the *correct* way to hold my hands up, thank you very much.) They have to be at a certain height and spot to get that exact look.) We did a couple more, Doug hugging me, nice poses. [I hope they came out well, and I did not look too bedraggled. I was exhausted with packing and running very little sleep that week and none that night before.)

I thanked him, picked up my baggage, and he gave me another hug and we said goodbye. I STILL can't believe he remembered my Letter, and I certainly did not expect that kind of reaction. All the way home, I relived the whole thing in my mind; it was still a bit surreal. I too felt luminous.

But that's the feeling you get, I guess, after you've spent some time with Doug Jones.

Tina Cochrane
Albany, New York
December 30, 2008

Tina: "A Doug Hug lasts a lifetime ..."

© 2008 Tina Cochrane. All rights reserved