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'Star Trek: Discovery' actor Doug Jones on conquering fear and stepping up screentime

Doug Jones as Captain Saru in a scene from "Star Trek: Discovery."
Doug Jones as Captain Saru in a scene from "Star Trek: Discovery." (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Mercurial mime and character actor Doug Jones has portrayed a menagerie of unique Hollywood monsters for over three decades. 

His lean and lanky form was the perfect foundation for beasts and creatures in director Guillermo del Toro projects ranging from The Pale Man and The Faun in "Pan's Labyrinth" and Abe Sapien in "Hellboy" and "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," to the sexy amphibian man known as The Asset in 2018's Oscar-winning film, "The Shape of Water."

A promotional poster for the third season of "Star Trek: Discovery."  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

But throughout his illustrious career under layers of latex rubber, makeup, and prosthetics, it's Jones' complex role as the mannerly Kelpien officer Saru in the Paramount Plus sci-fi series, "Star Trek: Discovery" that's been his longest-running professional gig by far.

To celebrate the new "Star Trek: Discovery Season 3" Blu-ray set that landed on July 20, Space.com spoke with Jones about his promotion to Federation starship Captain and the challenges and responsibilities that entailed, along with how he's continued to develop Saru into a fan favorite and what's in store for the hoofed Kelpien as Season 4 finishes up its shoot. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Related: 'Star Trek: Discovery' teaser trailer for Season 4 sounds like every other season

"Saru has helped inform Doug Jones on a better way to perceive the world around him."

Doug Jones

Space.com: How has this recent season changed you as an actor and a person?

Doug Jones: Well, like Saru, Doug Jones had to face some fears and overcome them. I came into "Star Trek: Discovery" thinking that I was going to be second fiddle and I was happy with that position. I love being a supporting player. Taking on the Captain's chair? I knew that meant a bigger workload since more scenes need to go through the Captain and all the decisions made have to be approved so he's involved in a lot more. 

[Actor] Sonequa-Martin Green is still the star of our show for sure and [her role] Michael Burnham is the character we're following, but Saru did step up his screen time quite a bit for Season 3. And that was rather intimidating because that means more 15- to 17-hour days in full makeup and contact lenses and shoes that hurt my feet. So I took a deep breath and thought, "Here we go!" 

The honor of it was not lost on me: It puts me in a very small small club of actors who've been able to play Captains of Starfleet ships in this franchise. That's a very exclusive, lovely club to be a part of. And to do it as an alien species — I'm the first alien species to ever take on the Captain's chair of a title ship in the franchise. It's a huge honor. 

A scene from "Star Trek: Discovery."  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Space.com: Of all the iconic creatures you've portrayed in your career, what makes Saru so interesting to you creatively?

Jones: I know him better than any other character I've ever played, because I've played more of him. After three seasons, and now we're currently filming Season 4 and almost done with it, I've lived in Saru's skin more than any character I've played. I've had the time and the luxury to explore his inner workings and peel back the layers like an onion. It's like a long engagement, you find out more and more about the person you're going to marry the longer the engagement goes. 

I love that Saru is not an emotionless alien. As a Kelpien, he's very connected to his emotions and he feels and plays off of all of them. I love that his care for others is something we all aspire to. He takes on his Captaincy with not only a Starfleet duty, but also in a fatherly way, looking at his whole crew as a family. As we jump to the future 930 years, all we have is each other. We're in the land of the unknown now and we do have each other still. He uses the word "together" so many times in Season 3, and that's a thought and an emotion that I really do love.

Space.com: With Saru becoming a series cornerstone and fan favorite, does that bring a level of added pressure to the role?

Jones: Pressure? Yes. And do I have to respond to that pressure? Yes. I'm a pretty lazy actor when it comes to real life. For me, less is more. So when given that responsibility of Captain, it brought on a whole world of fear. From playing Saru over those three seasons, and now the fourth, I've been inspired by him. Saru has helped inform Doug Jones on a better way to perceive the world around him. We can receive the same stimuli on two different things, but perceive it differently. 

Saru goes from a fear species to losing his threat ganglia and now forging ahead with the courage and confidence he's never had before. He's still faced with the same threats and perils, but how he responds to them is that, "We can get through this." And I think Doug Jones needs to adopt that too.

If I've been faced with a big fear of more dialogue, more scene time, more responsibility on film, more fans that can be upset or happy with me, then I'm going to take it with Saru's newfound courage. Yes, this is a task I can handle, and I will.

 A scene from "Star Trek: Discovery."  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Space.com: What new elements did you channel into your Saru performance in Season 3?

Jones: Well, I think the butler from "Downton Abbey" is still a part of Saru. He's very prim and proper and loves to adhere to protocols and then diplomacy. He's all about that. I also think there's a little bit of Christopher Meloni's Detective Stabler from "Law & Order: SVU." He walks with a very cocky confidence and I think Saru added that to his demeanor once he lost his threat ganglia. Now that he's a Captain, he has to have that kind of confidence walking into a room, knowing that his opinion does matter and he might be right about whatever the topic is.

Space.com: With Season 4 nearly wrapped, what can you tease about what's to come?

Jones: Since we're still filming, I can't tell you "jack-nothing." 

Last time we saw Saru, he was on his home planet of Kaminar helping Su'Kal find his way as a Kelpien. He's handed the Captain's chair over to Captain Burnham and she flies off on a new mission with the crew. So I'm not stripped of my Captain status with Starfleet. How do they plug me in, and how do they utilize me in Season 4, that's what we have yet to discover.

"Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3" is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Blu-ray Steelbook.

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