Coming in from the cult

By Scott Kara

The Armageddon Expo hits town this weekend with its annual celebration of extreme fandom for all things sci-fi, fantasy and comic book. TimeOut talked to three of the visiting cult stars here to meet their public

For Doug Jones, spending five hours a day getting made up, plus two hours getting cleaned up, is actually his job.

"The makeup trailer was the workplace," Jones says. "The movie I kind of throw in for free."

The 48-year-old Jones was last seen in Hellboy 2 reprising his role of Abe Sapien. He also played the Angel of Death and the Chamberlain in the film - characters which require him to put on bizarre prosthetics the way some of us put on a tie.

The lanky actor arrived in Los Angeles from his native Indiana in 1985, with hopes of being the goofy neighbour in sitcoms. He became an otherworldly thing instead. Over and over.

A three-year stint doing "Mac Tonight" - McDonald's spots as a sunglass-wearing piano player with a crescent moon for a head - created what Jones calls a ripple effect in the creature-effects industry. Jones says he acquired a reputation as a lanky dude who "moved well in cumbersome costumes and didn't complain. That was a biggie."

He's played a half-kangaroo half-man (a mangaroo?), a zombie and, most notably, of late, the Silver Surfer in the 2007 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. But it was his Abe Sapien in the original Hellboy (2004) that helped him transcend the realm of comic-book geekdom.

Jones' sensitive portrait of the scaly psychic who works at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense provided a counterpoint to Hellboy's (Ron Perlman) cigar-chomping brutishness.

"I was flying way under the celebrity radar for about 18 years," Jones says, "and all of a sudden Hellboy comes along and kind of put me as a speck there. Who's that bluefish guy?"

His fish tale would not be complete without Hellboy writer-director Guillermo del Toro. When Jones played one of the super-sized cockroaches in del Toro's 1996 Mimic, he sat across from the Mexican director at lunch one day.

Del Toro peppered him with questions about makeup artists and effects specialists Jones had worked with.

"All of a sudden I didn't have a director sitting across from me, I had a fanboy," Jones recalls. Del Toro asked for Jones' business card and tucked it in his wallet.

Several years later, del Toro was in Hellboy preproduction, inspecting a full-scale model of an Abe Sapien design. One crew member remarked that it looked like Doug Jones. Jones swears that del Toro blurted out, "I know Doug Jones!" and pulled his business card out of the same wallet. Then del Toro hired Jones again to play the Faun and the terrifying Pale Man in the Spanish-language Pan's Labyrinth which further raised his profile.

"He has been able to make monsters and freaks of nature into leading men with all the human issues that the audience can relate to," Jones says of del Toro. "For that I will be eternally grateful."

For Hellboy II, Universal allowed Jones to also lend his own voice, previously done by David Hyde Pierce, who refused to take credit in deference to Jones' performance. Jones calls the Frasier and Broadway star the best person he knows in the showbiz "ego system."

You can actually gaze upon Jones' own countenance in a few upcoming projects. In the apocalyptic Legion with Dennis Quaid, he plays an ice cream man - not a walking Popsicle but a human who serves ice cream.

He also capitalises on a rare chance to be a leading man in the new horror anthology Fear Itself (starting tonight on Prime TV). In episode eight, Skin and Bones, he's a rancher who mysteriously returns from an absence 60 pounds lighter and "possessed by something".

But usually it isn't long before Jones is summoned for a severe makeover to inhabit some beast or goblin. Over the years, he has tried to make the most of his time in the makeup chair: he gets to know the artist, he watches funny YouTube bits on his laptop and, most important, it's usually the one chance he gets to rehearse.

His status as the go-to guy for the heavily masqueraded has its roots in mime, he concedes without irony. He practiced the art at Ball State University and belonged to a troupe called Mime Over Matter.

"It was a whole art form that awakened in me that communication is only half verbal," he explains. "The rest is your body language, your facial expression. That tells the rest of the story ... I like to envelop a character, all of him. Every molecule of him needs to be working and in motion."

Perhaps he should start practising a stiff walk. Although Jones' three-picture contract with Fox to reprise the Silver Surfer has stalled, he received one of the professional shocks of his life when del Toro declared at the Hellboy II premiere that he would like to develop a new Frankenstein with Jones playing the monster. It would confirm him as a 21st century Boris Karloff.

For a guy who's spent more than half of his Screen Actors Guild card-carrying life in the makeup chair, what's a few bolts in the neck? Says Jones: "An honour beyond all honours."

She was Superman's gal but these days Margot Kidder is on her own mission to save the planet

It was supposed to be an interview about Lois Lane and her memories of taking a romantic flight above Metropolis in the arms of Superman.

But for the first 10-plus minutes of talking to Margot Kidder, who played Superman's love interest in the great 1978 movie, it's all about Barack Obama. She's a supporter, organiser, and, by the sounds, a mighty fine agitator for the presidential candidate.

She tells TimeOut in her friendly and eccentric banter, that she's hoping the Pulp Armageddon Expo organisers, who are expecting her for the sci-fi, comics, and gaming event this weekend at the Aotea Centre, won't mind if she arrives a day late so she can be at an Obama rally she's organising.

Just like Superman, she's dead set on saving the world.

"It's very important. It's down to the wire. I can't tell you how exciting it is over here. Nothing's more important for our lives than electing this man. My situation is I've been put in charge of my whole county here in Montana so I'm trying to shave a day off my trip to New Zealand because it's very important."

Her first obligation at the expo is a cocktail party, to which she hoots, "I'm not too damn good at cocktail parties anyway". But, she stresses, she will be there for the fans when the expo opens. "I just need an extra day to help save the world from John McCain and Sarah Palin."

Kidder is kooky. Since the first four Superman movies in the late 70s and early 80s she has continued to act in theatre, television, and movies. But the 60-year-old's personal life has had many ups and downs. She's been married and divorced three times (none of the marriages lasted longer than a year), in 1990 she was involved in a serious car crash which prevented her from working for two years, and she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

These days she describes herself as "a little old grandmother living in Montana" and still enjoys going to expos like Armageddon to talk about Lois Lane, who for many is the classic comic book love interest.

"Sometimes they [the fans] look at the picture that I'm autographing and then look at me and go, 'You don't look like that'. And I go, 'Well, 30 years have passed'. Sometimes there's disappointment - but I must be one of the only actresses my age who hasn't had a facelift. And I don't care. So there's this a bit of disappointment that I haven't remained timeless. I don't know how you're supposed to do that other than carve up your face and I'm not willing to do that so I hope they like me," she laughs.

She had been in movies before Superman, including Brian de Palma's 1973 thriller Sisters, but confesses her main motivation to audition for the part of Lois Lane was to get out of a bad marriage.

Growing up in Canada, she was forbidden to read comics so knew nothing about Superman and had to borrow a copy of the comic from her stepson to research before the screen test. At first she wasn't impressed with Lois because the newspaper she worked for, the Daily Planet, was rallying "against these terrible women's libbers".

"I thought I was a women's libber so I thought it was kind of silly. But I wanted a job, flew down, auditioned, and then they flew me to London for a screen test."

As well as basing her depiction of Lois on the script by Tom Mankiewicz, she also borrowed from her own life. "So," she offers with another enthusiastic hoot, "when I had a crush on a guy I would act like a completely retarded idiot and when I was with guys who had crushes on me that I didn't care about I was dismissive."

One thing's for sure, the chemistry between her and Reeve was perfect. Back then she remembers "he was the skinniest dork you've ever seen in your life. Then what happened was he just started working really hard and started getting built up and turned into Superman before our eyes."

The pair remained close friends until Reeve, who was paralysed in a horse-riding accident in 1995, died in 2004.

"He actually grew so much as a human being after his accident. He went inside himself, in search of some kind of wisdom, in a way that most of us never have to do."

And what of that famous flight over the city, after which Lois gets to interview the Man of Steel and dubs him Superman? Well, it was anything but romantic.

"What we were doing was hanging from wires, me and Chris strapped together in these really uncomfortable contraptions and bickering like annoying siblings and they'd go, 'Action', and we'd go all gooey-eyed and and look in love and the minute they'd yell 'Cut' we'd go back to sniping at each other."

"We loved each other but more like a couple of siblings."

LOWDOWN

What: Armageddon Expo
When: Saturday to Monday of Labour Weekend
Where: Aotea Centre, Auckland
Other guests: David Anders (Heroes), The Sandman (wrestling), Jim Lee (comics) Kavan Smith, Andee Frizzell and David Hewlett (all Stargate Atlantis), and more
Event Highlights: Discussion panels and workshops (typical subject "Mythological Anime: Giant Robots and Superheroes") contests (from pizza and ice-cream eating to cosplay), exhibitions, movie screenings. Oh, and lot of people wandering around in costumes.
See also: This weekend's Canvas for a photo essay about diehard local Star Wars fans - at home.

- AP, Scott Kara

- NZ Herald

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