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Guillermo del Toro’s Love Story Takes ‘Shape’ Without Words

For his role in “The Shape of Water,” Doug Jones had to give life to a being that was many things, and he had to do it from within one of the most exquisitely crafted creature suits ever made.

“[Guillermo del Toro] kept saying that the monster was the romantic lead in the movie and it had to be conveyed without one word spoken, so I still have to do the actor’s things of finding my character’s heart and soul, his needs and wants, his fears and loves,” Jones says.

“Once you go to the costume fittings you see how much of that is getting through and what kind of expression do I need to do so it comes through.”

The suit and makeup were a collaboration between creature designers Shane Mahan and Mike Hill to make a monster who had such essential characteristics as kissable lips and a squeezable butt. They spent months refining, redesigning and painting the suit. After extensive fittings and additional adjustments, Jones set out to express helmer del Toro’s vision of the creature through movement.

Jones and the crew had to carefully plan his days since he would remain in the suit for hours at a time and had his face, body and hands all covered. He couldn’t eat or even scratch his nose while working inside it.

But the demands, says Jones, were more than worth it in order to become this unique character.

“Once I pulled that suit onto by body, I had to be in the best shape of my life so that I could carry it off, and Guillermo’s notes were that he didn’t want to see human or ape-sapien. And the other thing was that he wanted me to know I was an animal from the wild,” says Jones.

“The other thing was that he wanted me to understand that in the Amazon, where I’m from, there are people who worship you as a god and that’s alluded to in the dialogue. So he wanted to see a regal quality, a strength, a heroism that would inspire that kind of worship and mixed with a little bit of matador.”

Jones observed that matadors lead with the pelvis and convey a confidence and machismo that were essential to attracting the female lead to him. He would also have to find a way to engage her in their love story without the luxury of a sly pickup line.

“The thing is that since it’s non-dialogue — he doesn’t speak and she’s mute — you have to find a way to fall in love that isn’t a typical first date where you’re looking at each other over dinner saying, ‘So, tell me about yourself.’

“It made the love story so much more pure to me because words can deceive and mislead, but they look each other in the eye and they recognized something in the other and they know each other and fall in love.”

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