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HomeVideoDoug Jones on Billy Butcherson and Working With Prosthetics

Doug Jones on Billy Butcherson and Working With Prosthetics

Directed by Anne Fletcher, the Disney+ original movie Hocus Pocus 2 brings back the Sanderson sisters – witches Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) – nearly 30 years later. When a teenager lights the Black Flame Candle, the 17th-century troublemakers are resurrected to run amok and continue wreaking havoc all over Salem before the end of All Hallow’s Eve, leaving a trail of mayhem in their renewed quest for immortality. But the return of the Sanderson sisters also means the re-emergence of Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), back out of his grave, still upset that Winifred ever drew him into her drama, and with a new desire to straighten out the rumors that have sullied his name for centuries.


During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Jones talked about how he found out that a sequel was actually finally going to happen, why Billy Butcherson was always the character that he wanted to revisit, the memories he has of working with the Sanderson sisters on the first film, getting to know his character better, the line he asked to be changed, how the look of the character came about, why the prosthetics process never really gets any easier, and who he thinks Billy Butcherson could have been, if he’d never met Winifred. He also talked about what fans can expect from Season 5 of Star Trek: Discovery, and said that he’ll be returning to What We Do in the Shadows.

Collider: I was so thrilled to find out that you were returning to this character for the sequel. What was it like to get the news that you’d be doing so? How did you find out? Were you surprised that almost 30 years later, this finally actually happened?

DOUG JONES: I was not surprised that there was a sequel in the works. I was surprised that it was actually happening. I’d heard about such a sequel at our 20-year anniversary screening at the Disney lot in Burbank, nine years ago. David Kirschner, one of the producers on both movies, was there, and he said that he’d been pitching this new idea to Disney for a sequel. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s great.” And then, it was crickets. I didn’t hear anything about it again until rumors started popping up, with the great Photoshopping skills of the fans that were making posters. They were really good-looking posters that looked official. So then, I started getting messages from everyone, all over social media. They kept asking, “Are you in this new sequel?” I was like, “There’s no such movie. “ But it kept happening, again and again and again, until I finally got a call from Ralph Winter, one of our other producers, saying, “Here’s our filming schedule. You’re in the script. We want you back.” I was like, “Okay.” That was the call that I was waiting for, and it was so exciting. My biggest worry was that, because I’m in Toronto a lot of the year now, filming Star Trek: Discovery, and I thought, “If the film shoot overlaps, I’ll be devastated.” But it didn’t. It fit right in the hiatus between Season 4 and 5 of Star Trek, so I was like, “Okay, it’s gonna happen. Yes!”

They knew better than to not have it all work out because Billy Butcherson had to come back.

JONES: That’s what I thought, of course. I’ve been asked, in many interviews over the years, and I’ve been acting for 36 years now, is there any one character I’ve played that I would love to revisit again? And Billy Butcherson was always my number one answer. There were more layers to him and I wanted more backstory. When you’ve had a career like mine, and you’re glued into so much rubber and glue, and contact lenses and mechanics, and you can’t go to the bathroom with your hand claws on, I don’t always look forward to going into work because I know the day I have ahead of me. But Billy was a character that was human-ish, with humor, goofiness, fun, and a family friendly vibe, who was headed toward a happy ending. All of that made going into work a joy. I thought, “I wanna do that again.” So, when that call came, I was excited to get to do all of that again. I got to reunite with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, which was so dreamy. The difference between 30 years, working with them, is that I was starstruck the first time. I was such a huge fan of Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, who had done The Kathy & Mo Show and Sister Act, at that time. They were all huge, in my world. I was just like, “I can’t believe I’m on the same set with these people. Oh, my gosh!” Coming back, you never lose your starstruck-ness, really, or I don’t. I was still like, “Oh, my gosh, there they are again.” But now, with the 30 years that have passed, my career has gone places, and thankfully, I’ve been very blessed with what’s happened in my life, that they were treating me, and we were interacting more as peers. That was a big difference that I noticed, and was very happy about. We’re all 30 years older, and have matured and come through a lot of life in that time, so there was a lot to chat about on set. It was really quite lovely.

What are the memories you have of working with the Sanderson sisters trio? You talked about being able to have conversations with them as peers, but what was it like to share scenes with them in the first film, compared to this film?

JONES: With the first movie, it was a fake it till you make it kind of thing. I was still young in my career. My first scene, my first night on Hocus Pocus, was a night shoot outdoors and was a scene that was actually cut from the film. It was in a park where the witches and I were reconnoitering, after I had been chasing the kids for a while, unsuccessfully. Winifred had some words for Billy, and she got in my face. And then, Sarah was like, “Oh, hey,” and cuddled up next to me, after Bette walked away. It was a cute little scene that established the ex-relationship and what happened after with Sarah. Right out of the gate, I was working with the three biggest stars. With Bette, I got the giggles because she was inches from my face, yelling at me, but in between takes, she was so good-humored. She would hold my hand and reassure me that everything was fine. She had her eyebrows made up over – they were gone – and these little buck teeth, and those little tiny lips painted on, and that big red wig. I got the giggles because she didn’t look like the Bette that I knew from the album covers and from other movies. There was enough goofy in her face that it was hilarious, and I got the giggles. At the same time, I couldn’t believe that I was working with such an icon. This was during that whole run of movies – Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Outrageous Fortune, Ruthless People, and Beaches. This was Hollywood royalty, and she was yelling in my face.

After now playing this character for a second film, getting to come back and explore him more, do you feel like you have some of your questions about him answered now? Do you feel like you have a fuller sense of who this guy is?

JONES: Yeah. He was an innocent victim. He was a teenage kid, minding his own business, back in the 1600s, and got rolled up into the Sanderson drama because Winifred had her eyes on him. Now looking back and seeing what actually happened, and how much of a relationship they did or didn’t have, Billy spends the rest of this movie trying to set the record straight, now that he’s 330 years in the future. He’s like, “Hey, wait, what? The folklore that has been talked about me for all these years is what?” So, it was nice for Billy to be able to try to reconcile the story that’s been told about him all these years, and see if he can make that right. We’ll see if it happens, by the end of the movie.

From the beginning of this movie, Billy Butcherson can talk. His mouth is not sewn shut anymore. He actually has a voice and can express himself with it.

JONES: Right. When I auditioned for the movie, he had one word in the original script. Once I finally cut my mouth open, I was supposed to look up at Bette Miller, floating in the sky, with Max in one arm, and grab his knife and cut my mouth open. It was supposed to look very threatening because Winifred was yelling, “Kill him! Get him!” And instead of ending little Max’s life, I yell at Bette Midler. The original script wanted me just to yell, “Bitch!,” at her, which was funny. But by the same token, I was thinking, “This is a Disney kids’ film. I really wanna let the kids know that I’m on their side, and not the witches side. Wouldn’t a roil up of emotion from 300 years of sitting on it, be a funnier thing and more family friendly?” So, I pitched that idea to our director, Kenny Ortega, and he was like, “I love it!”

And so, that’s why that line came out of me and stayed in the movie. He goes, “Wench! Trollop! You buck-toothed, mop-riding firefly from hell!” And then, I look at little Max and say, “I’ve waited centuries to say that.” And then, he ad-libbed back, “Well, say whatever you want Billy, just don’t breathe on me,” because my breath must have been hideous. It created a moment in the film that I think was way more fun. You can do that in comedies. You can try things out until you find the funny and you find what clicks. Hocus Pocus was full of a lot of that. The script rewrites came at a fast pace, but all to better the film.

And then, when I came up with Billy’s voice for the first movie, it came out of me gravelly because he’s been strung together with dust. His head and hands keep falling off. Everything has a potential to fall off, at any moment. So, what would his voice sound like? I imagine it would also be dusty from being unused for 300 years. That’s why it came out that way. When I come out of the grave in the second movie, I come out talking because my mouth is already cut open. You can tell I wasn’t happy about it. I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I established this gravely voice.” I was hoarse with sore throat for three months of shooting the second movie because I had to talk through the whole thing.

You’ve played so many characters in the time since you first played Billy Butcherson. In returning to this role, did you go back and watch the performance? Is there anything you wish you could have done differently with the knowledge that you have now, or do you try not to think about previous roles that way?

JONES: Oh, gosh, I’m one of those actors who watches my performance and thinks that everything is awful, and I could have fixed everything. I feel like I missed so many moments and opportunities. But enough time is passed now from Hocus Pocus. When I first watched it, in those first couple years, even with multiple viewings, I still was like, “Eh, that funny moment could have been funnier. That physical moment could have been more physical.” But now, I watch it back at 62 years old, where I was 32 when we were filming it, and I’m like, “That was good.” It’s like I’m watching my son, and I’m so proud of him now, when I look back at the first movie. The challenge for the second movie was, how do I keep that young energy up now, at my age? Will I pop a knee out by trying to be physical? I hope that I still pulled off his physicality and his bandy legged-ness and his dusty strung togetherness. I found myself breathing heavy and going, “I forgot how much energy it took to play Billy Butcherson.”

Everything in this film has a frenetic and frantic energy to it. The Sanderson sisters are the epitome of chaos, which definitely feels like it would take a lot out of you, physically.

JONES: Yeah. Actors, especially many of us who have been trained on the stage, are constantly told to pull back and keep it more real. If it’s on a close up, your eyes say so much, and you don’t need to push to the back row of a theater. Hocus Pocus 1 and 2 gave us all the opportunity to be as big and overdone and theatrical as we wanted to be. That’s a treat for us actors, really.

Was there a journey to finding the look of this character, or was there always a very clear idea of what he was going to look like?

JONES: Alterian Studios was the creature shop that came up with my look, and Tony Gardner is the head of that. By the way, Tony Gardner was my key makeup artist, along with Margaret Prentice, on the first movie. On the second movie, it was Tony Gardner back, with another makeup artist that I’ve worked with many times, on Hellboy, for Silver Surfer, and more, and that’s Tom Floutz. So, having Tony’s thumbprint on both movies was perfect because I looked exactly the same, as though only minutes had passed in 29 years. I’m gonna give him so much credit for that. My understanding was that Tony borrowed a life cast of me from Steve Neill, another creature effects makeup artist, way back in 1991, to sculpt with clay what Billy’s zombie skin would be and what his bone structure would look like. He used me without having ever met me. He had heard of me from other creature effects people, including Steve Neill, and thought, “Well, maybe I’ll just build Billy on this tall, skinny guy named Doug Jones, and then present that to Kenny Ortega to see if it’s the design he’s looking for.” And it was successful. Tony Gardner said to Kenny, in that meeting, “By the way, the actor this is built on is Doug Jones.” I was already in the audition circle by then, and Kenny was like, “Oh, we auditioned him. He was fabulous. And, yeah, this is what I want. “

My audition did go very well. Auditioning is the least favorite thing about show business because it’s so nerve-wracking and you don’t always do your best work. But when I auditioned for the first movie, it was in a big dance studio and I thought, “Okay, it’s Kenny Ortega, of course, it’s in a dance studio. This is a very physical role. He wants to see something, so I better put on a good performance today.” And that was back when the script had one word. So, I got all the way across the dance floor, as he as instructed, and he put on some music, like “Monster Mash” or some other Halloween-y monster music, and I thought about how a corpse would move when he was waking up for the first time in 300 years. So, I made my way across the floor, to right in front of him, looked up at a witch floating over me and said, “Bitch.” That was my audition. Kenny started laughing, and didn’t stop laughing until I was done. And then, he applauded. I was like, “Okay, I think I got this.” It was so sweet. That, coupled with the design having already been built on my face, was a sweet coming together of the network that one builds in one’s career.

When you play these creature characters, because they do seem so consuming, do you feel like you shed yourself and inhabit that character while you’re playing them, or do you still feel like you, inside of all of that?

JONES: That’s a great question. As an actor, I still need to do everything every other actor does that plays humans, and that is to find the heart and soul, and the needs, wants and loves of that character, even if it’s a bad guy. I have to know who he is, where he comes from, and what he wants, so that when they pile on layers, for the look of that character, all that internal work is still there. And all that internal work pulls from my real personality and my real experiences in life, as any actor would do. The tools we have to work with are the life that we’ve lived and the physicality that we have, coming into the room. That’s all still there, even if it’s under some rubber layers. But when I look in the mirror in the makeup trailer when it’s done, it’s like, “Oh, wow, that does not look a thing like me.” That does help inform a performance and help you get more lost into it, when you don’t look like Doug Jones, waking up in the morning.

Was it quicker, at all, to get into the whole look, the second time around?

JONES: No. Technology and processes have improved, but when you’re gluing something to someone’s face, you’re gluing something to someone’s face, whether it’s 1993 or 2022. The things that have changed since then are the products, like the toxicity of the glues and that kind of thing. They’re trying to get the products to be more user-friendly for the person wearing them and environmentally friendly. The latex foam rubber is still a lot. A lot of prosthetic makeup is being done with silicone now, but Billy Butcherson was shaped and sculpted and molded and worn as latex foam rubber, which is old school, and they did that again. I prefer actually wearing latex foam rubber. It’s lighter and more breathable, so we stuck with that. And the glue was a very light and gentle glue, called Pros-Aide. It’s an old-school glue that a lot of people don’t use anymore, that we used. Everything looked and smelled the same as the first movie.

We never really get to know who Billy Butcherson could have been, if he hadn’t gotten tied up with all of Winifred’s drama. Who do you think he might have been, if he hadn’t ever been tied up with the Sanderson sisters? What do you think would’ve made him happy in life?

JONES: I think he was a very simple boy that got caught up in drama that was way bigger than his life would’ve been. He was a very simple fella. Back in that day, you were named after your father’s profession, so he was the butcher’s son. He probably would have taken over his dad’s meat shop and would be chopping legs of lamb, happily closing shop at the end of the day and going home to his own wife and kids, and living a very simple life. That’s what I pictured for Billy, with zero drama. You can tell that he doesn’t care for the drama.

What can you say to tease the new season of Star Trek: Discovery?

JONES: As you’ve discovered with Star Trek: Discovery, every season has a new flare, a new flavor, and a new obstacle to overcome. Season 5 is no different. There are some new characters and some new adventures. Change is always afoot, for the story and for the characters, individually, and Saru is included in that. My biggest concern, going into Season 5, was, “Will my romance with President T’Rina, my lovely Vulcan lady, still continue?” I was happy to hear the answer, but I’ll let you figure out what that is, when you see Season 5.

You’ve played so many incredible and memorable characters. It’s truly amazing what you’ve brought to life. When you do something like Star Trek, does it ever get old? Is it always extra special to be a part of something like that?

JONES: When you’re wearing rubber and glue, that part gets old. And the older I get, the older it gets. I thought that maybe my time in rubber and glue would end. I wanted to wind it down a little bit, the older I got. But then, I was offered Star Trek: Discovery when I was 56 years old, so it was like, “Okay, the game is back on again.” When you’re offered a role in the Star Trek franchise, which was a franchise that had somehow alluded me, for all these years while I’ve been so many aliens from outer space and so many otherworldly creatures, how can I miss that? It was like, “Oh, I’m getting a call, and no audition is required?” The showrunner, at the time, was Bryan Fuller, and he came looking for me and said, “We just want you.” It was just an offer. I have waited, all my life, for the moment to happen, where a big role in a big series was just being offered to me, based on reputation alone, and it was humbling. The gravity of that was not lost on me, so I wanted to make sure that I met the challenge. I was like, “Okay, rubber and glue is gonna continue on Dougie for a while.” And what comes with that is a legacy with a fandom that is rabid for Star Trek.

I’ve been in the science fiction, horror, comic book, and fantasy genres, for all of my career, but Star Trek brought in a whole new wave of new fans that I had never met before, and who didn’t know me before. It upped the game, considerably. I do the convention circuit – I actually enjoy doing the comic cons, the horror conventions, and the science fiction conventions – so I’d already been a presence out there with my career, but Star Trek bumped that game up with a whole new crowd to please. Star Trek fans have been living and breathing and feeling a sense of ownership with this franchise for so many years, so when you’re in a new show, there’s immediate skepticism. You come in as a new character that’s a new species, and there’s skepticism. That was a hurdle to get over, but I understood that hurdle. If there was something so beloved to me, I would feel exactly the same way. But the outcome of that has been very sweet and pleasant. When I would go to the Star Trek-specific conventions, early on when the show was just starting to air, one fan after another would come up to my table and say, “Welcome to the family.” I got the stamp of approval from one after another, after another, after another. Something about this new species, something about my performance, and something about the show I was in, was working for them, and that was really sweet and lovely and relieving to hear.

I also absolutely love what you’ve been doing on What We Do in the Shadows.

JONES: I love that show too. Thank you so much. Talk about constant change and new things that happen. They push things to the limit, and it always works. I can also tease that the Baron will be showing up again, in Season 5, which is now underway in production.

Hocus Pocus 2 is available to stream at Disney+.

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