Without prosthetics, there is no mistaking the smile actor Doug Jones wears as he speaks. This is true even though he is on the phone from Toronto, on a break from filming Season 4 of Star Trek: Discovery to talk with reporters about this week's release of Season 3 on Blu-ray and DVD by Paramount. Despite the dreariness of having to do back-to-back-to-back media interviews, Jones is ebullient about the series, the timing of this release and his Saturn Award-winning portrayal of Capt. Saru.
“I'm kind of the Spock of this particular iteration of Star Trek,” Jones said. “I'm the one on the bridge who looks different, who sounds different, who walks different.”
“Your walk is one of my favorite things about Star Trek: Discovery,” I confessed, and Jones responded with a hearty laugh. “Bless you,” he said. “Thank you for that!"
Speaking of walking, the DVD set’s release coincided with yesterday's anniversary of the first men to walk on the moon. Jones noted that he vividly recalls that he was 9 and on a road trip on that day 52 years ago.
“Happy landing day!” he said. “How exciting that a show like Star Trek can help real scientists and real astronauts and real NASAs of the world explore possibilities. When they're presented fictitiously, you kind of tilt your head and go, ‘Oh! I wonder if!’ I like to think the flip phone is a great example of that, after seeing those communicators in the early years. Now we do Zoom calls and Skype and FaceTime with the technology that was also in Star Trek.”
Saru Spoilers Ahead!
For those who will be watching Season 3 for the first time, a warning: there are some spoilers ahead.
The series picks up with the arrival of Commander Michael Burnham and the Starship U.S.S. Discovery in the 32nd century. In addition to all 13 episodes, the DVD set offers more than two hours of behind the scenes extras, such as cast and crew interviews, stunt secrets, set building reveals and exclusive deleted scenes, including a particularly tense one between Saru and Burnham, played by series lead Sonequa Martin-Green.
“Becoming captain was a big deal for Saru, of course, and for a couple of reasons,” Jones explained. “One, he's been working all of his time in Starfleet for the captain's chair, with hope of getting this one, as has Michael Burnham. They’ve both been brotherly-sisterly competitive towards that goal. But by the time they got to that decision, as to who gets the chair, they both wanted each other for it, which I think is a beautiful thing. We have a trust and love and respect for each other: ‘You could do it better than me.’ ‘No, you could do it better than me.’”
“That's how I would do it, in real life! I don't know that I would ever want to elbow my way into something, a position of authority,” Jones continued. “So, once there, and as her as my first officer, I needed her support. I need to trust my right hand. And so you need that voice to say, ‘Hey, listen, the decision you're making, are you sure you have the right mind about this?’ And she's the one I could hear it from.”
But will Jones give eager fans any spoiler-y tidbits about the future of Discovery as we look ahead to season four?
“Since we're still filming, I can tell you exactly nothing,” admitted Jones. Still, he did provide some clues.
“As Season 3 ends, as you’ll see on the DVD set, I'm captain all season long, and the very last part of the last episode, I do relinquish the captain’s chair over to my dear friend Michael Burnham,” Jones said.
What happens to Saru from there? “I'm left with a little sabbatical on my home planet of Kaminar,” he said.
But is he still in Starfleet?
“I've still got captain status with Starfleet,” Jones disclosed. “The question for Season 4 will be, where do they plug me in, and how? And you’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.”
Doug Jones Unmasked
Jones, an Indiana native who has been acting since minoring in theater at Ball State University in the 1980s, has appeared in more than two dozen films, often behind a mask or prosthesis of some sort. But the last three episodes toward the end of Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery provided him with an opportunity to be seen in a way fans have rarely seen the 6’ 3½” actor before: as himself.
“Everybody who goes into a particular holo program gets changed into another species,” Jones recalled of the arc that began with the 11th episode, “Su’Kal.” “Well, of course, Saru the Kelpien gets turned into a human. When I saw that in the script, I leapt for joy! ‘Oh, great! I don’t have to wear rubber and glue those days. Great!’”
However, Jones revealed there was one aspect of his “human” role that required time in the hair and makeup trailer. “They did throw a wig on me, because my head is shaved to the skin when I'm filming as Saru, because of the makeup sticking on my head,” he said. It was decided one bald Star Trek captain was enough.
“They gave me a lovely wig. It was just so great to be in a regular makeup chair, just getting a little bit of correction done, and then boom, out the door!” said Jones. “I could even go to the bathroom for myself!”
“The guy in the rubber suit”
Jones, 60, has also won awards for his many films and even a lifetime achievement award, but never an Emmy or an Oscar. Does that bother him, or is he working for his craft instead of for a trophy?
“Absolutely,” he said. “It would be fabulous. But without it, I'm still okay. I am fortunate that studios I’ve worked with on feature films and a couple of networks, including CBS, who have been great with promoting when it comes time for award season. We've been a part of the ads, ‘For Your Consideration,’ so every effort has been made.
“But I've never, never had my hopes up for a nomination for either of those Academy Awards, because the guy in the rubber suit never gets nominated, for whatever reason,” he laughed. “And that doesn't diminish what I think of myself, or all the work I've been doing. It doesn't really diminish whether or not a particular body of voters recognize it.”
Star Trek’s “other thans”
What truly matters to Jones, he said are the actors and legions of fans he considers “family.” We chatted about how many of his Star Trek: Discovery castmembers identify as LGBTQ. “On this show, we tip the scale on representation for sure!” said Jones, who is cisgender, straight, and this spring celebrated 37 years being married to his wife.
This was our third conversation since 2017, and I reminded him of the last time we met; I asked him a question, at a 2018 screening of the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water. I mentioned that his portrayal of the creature in that film was very personal to me, as a transgender woman, for how his character was treated by almost all those around him as something “other than” normal.
“I’ve played so many ‘other thans’ in so many films and TV shows,” Jones said. “When you're surrounded by other ‘other thans’ and so many of them, you find a sense of family; You find a sense that, no matter how different or monster-like, like you might feel, there is a place of belonging. There's a place of family for you, and there is love for you.”
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1, 2 and 3 are now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Dawn Ennis (she/her/hers) is an award-winning columnist and regular contributor to Forbes.com, CT Voice Magazine, The Daily Beast and StarTrek.com. She is also the sports editor for the Los Angeles Blade, an on-air correspondent for “Connecticut Voice Out Loud” on WTNH-TV and hosts the “RiseUP With Dawn Ennis” talk show. In 2013, Ennis was the first transgender journalist to come out in network TV news. She teaches journalism at the University of Hartford while simultaneously pursuing her Master’s degree in Communications. Ennis is a single mom residing in West Hartford, Conn., with her three children, their dog Dahlia and their cat Faith.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on Paramount+ in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.