Doug Jones on how he becomes his prosthetic-wearing characters : Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Comedian Josh Gondelman joins Emma to outsmart a runaway Ostrich and learn how to prepare for the role of a lifetime.

The man behind the prosthetics: Doug Jones on getting into character

The man behind the prosthetics: Doug Jones on getting into character

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Comedian Josh Gondelman joins Emma to outsmart a runaway Ostrich and learn how to prepare for the role of a lifetime. Prakash Singh/Getty Images hide caption

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Prakash Singh/Getty Images

Comedian Josh Gondelman joins Emma to outsmart a runaway Ostrich and learn how to prepare for the role of a lifetime.

Prakash Singh/Getty Images

This week on Everyone & Their Mom, we talked to comedian Josh Gondelman about how a zoo in Thailand was in the news for an animal escape plan: They put one of their employees in a full ostrich costume and made him live-action role play as the bird while the other zoo keepers practiced catching him. LARPing like this will surely be recreated at ComicCons around the world.

This story got us thinking about other people who wear funky costumes for work, and we're not just talking Times Square Elmos. We spoke with Doug Jones, best known as a physical actor playing some of film's greatest (and creepiest) creatures, from the sexy fish in The Shape of Water to the undead Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus.

Emma Choi: A lot of people might not know that they know you because you're the face behind some of sci-fi and fantasy's best known creatures, like the hot fish guy from The Shape of Water, the creepy looking alien Saru on Star Trek, the terrifying guy with eyes on his hands from Pan's Labyrinth. And Doug, I have to tell you, I am a little bit scared of you after I saw you in Pan's Labyrinth. Are you a scary man?

Doug Jones: Not in real life. I'm kind of like Mister Rogers, really. I wear a lot of cardigans, sweaters and ties, and I hug people without wanting to eat them.

Well, Doug, we want to talk to you about this story we're obsessed with this week. It's about this zoo in Thailand that ran an escaped animal drill by making one of their zookeepers dress up as an ostrich and run around the zoo as the ostrich. And the other zookeepers had to practice catching him. We just love this method, physical performance. If you were cast as this ostrich, how would you get into the role now?

This doesn't sound far off from my career. First of all, I've played many animal/man hybrids over the years, as well as fantasy characters that don't exist on Earth, but might elsewhere. And when you're taking on a researchable animal type, you want to observe and a trip to the zoo can help. So if I were going to play an ostrich, I would go watch ostriches. I would watch them walk around, see how their legs hit the ground, how did they shift their weight? How does their neck move as they walk? How does their neck move as they lean down to eat or drink? How do they interact with each other? Do they touch each other? Do they get aggressive with each other? How [do] all of those things want to come into play?

Then I might take that information and the script I'm given [of] what has to happen in my scenes. And it might take that to a 24 Hour Fitness kind of place where I can use the aerobics floor after the classes are done for the day. Use the mirrors and the big dance floor. Now I can start walking around and seeing [how I] make my human body turn into this ostrich. Then the next thing that informs your performance is going to be the costume or makeup that's put on you. It will give you enhancements or restrictions that will then inform the performance.

Well, let's talk about costumes, because I love you on What We Do in the Shadows as the Baron. And I know the Baron has some pretty heavy prosthetics, and so do your other roles like Shape of Water had pretty involved costuming. Is it really hard to manipulate yourself in that kind of costuming?

Oh yeah. It's never easy, but it has varying degrees of difficulty depending on the design and how far away from human you're getting. That's the basic rule of thumb: The farther you from human you get, the harder it's going to be to perform in. The hardest thing I've ever done was probably when I played The Mother Bug in a movie called Bug Buster. And I'll bet you haven't seen that, have you?

No, I'm interested now.

I was a giant insect, so it involved me crouching over and having a stinger coming out of my backside and six legs and a head that was attached to the top of my head, so I was looking through the neck. That was just one complication after another and I was really happy when that wrapped and I could take it off.

Yeah, I bet. I mean, that makeup must have taken forever. How do you sit through hours of makeup without going crazy?

The makeup applications are the easiest part of my day. I get to sit still and there are some people who don't do that very well; I'm not one of those people that has to be doing something all the time. That works well in a makeup chair. The real test for me is when I have to go to the set and perform and become alive and keep my energy up all day while wearing something that is hot and heavy and sticky and cumbersome.

Yeah, do you have an eject button in case you need to pee real bad or want to eat a breakfast burrito?

You know, if you want to get into the pee conversation, it gets complicated too.

Sure.

Like The Shape of Water, the amphibian man, he was a naked fish man basically. And my naughty bits were hidden under a flap. So I had a flap, but I also had webbed, clawed hands. So getting to the flap and being able to negotiate my business was... Hmm.

It sounds like the whole, like, with the rubber gloves is like taking oven mitts and trying to turn on the stove.

That's exactly what it's like.

Can you go back to the beginning for a second, like how did this start? What kind of kid were you? Were you always, you know, doing backflips in gym?

No, no. I was again, oddly enough, a very tall, skinny boy, short with a very, very long, skinny neck that was a focal point for mockery. Other kids can be very cruel and so I was called, you mentioned ostrich, I was called an ostrich more times than I can count. So I finally looked up what one looked like and I was like, "Oh, that's not a compliment if you're a human." So basically I had to develop a sense of humor and a class clown sort of personality so that I could control when and why they were laughing at me.

Well, I hope this isn't traumatic for you to talk about ostriches.

No, no, no, it's okay. This guy we're talking about in the ostrich suit, I'm very proud of him. He's doing all of us ostriches proud out here.

This is an excerpt from the latest episode of Everyone & Their Mom, a new show from Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or listen on NPR One, and you can find us on Instagram.