Before 2017, actor Doug Jones was likely best known to fans of science fiction and fantasy either for his portrayal of Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films or as the titular Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. And then came last year, when Jones arguably became the most famous sci-fi/fantasy actor on the planet, thanks to his roles in the Oscar-winning Shape of Water and the first season of Star Trek: Discovery.
In the latter, Jones plays Mr. Saru, a member of an alien race called the Kelpiens, a “prey species,” who are treated as livestock by savage Empires and unseen alien farmers. In the latest installment of Short Treks — “The Brightest Star” — we learn the origin story of Saru, and discover he was actually rescued from his home planet and a life that would end in certain death, by a very familiar character.
SYFY WIRE caught-up with Jones to discuss how this episode changes our perceptions of Saru in Star Trek, what the future holds for Season 2 of Discovery, and how he feels about the sex lives of both Saru and the Fishman in The Shape of Water.
**SPOILER WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead for Short Treks “The Brightest Star”**
In “The Brightest Star” we discover a younger Lt. Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) rescued Saru from his home planet. Does this change the way you play the character?
Doug Jones: It doesn’t really change the way I play the character. I always knew this all along; that she was instrumental in my upbringing in Starfleet. I didn’t know the exact details until this short film was written and I saw the script. When you meet all of us at the beginning of Season 1 on the starship Shenzhou and Captain Georgiou is the sort of matriarchal figure that both Michael Burnham and I look up to for our nurturing and our guidance, now, you can understand why.
They did some flashbacks about Michael Burnham’s rise and her joining Starfleet from her Vulcan upbringing. But you didn’t really know my background; how can a Kelpien from the planet Kaminar make it to a position of power on a starship? And this short film does answer that. It was great to see a younger Georgiou as a lieutenant and to be a younger Saru in my teenage years, full of wonder and just looking out there. And looking at his village and wondering, "Is this all there is?"
And of course, it’s Georgiou from a Starfleet ship who answers my call and sees my potential. It's a heartwarming storyline for me because I can think of my parents, and teachers, and college professors, and anyone who has nurtured me and helped push me along. That’s who Georgiou represents for me. And it was a lovely storyline for me to play.
Now that we know Saru is cut from his entire race, can Saru date? Can Saru have a mate?
That is a valid and great question! I do... not... know! I mean, in the short film, we see that Kelpiens do have a family life and do reproduce and everything is very similar to what we know as humans. But, now that he’s by himself in his new world, his new life... is there potential for love? I would hope so. I would certainly hope so. Will it be with another Kelpien or will it be with another species altogether? We live in a world where all things are possible. Let’s see what’s ahead.
How do you feel about so many people wondering about how the Fishman has sex in The Shape of Water?
To me, it just means that if the character or story doesn’t resonate with you or you don’t care that much, you’re not going to ask those questions. If you're saying "gosh, how does he perform the intimate parts of his life?" then that means you want to get to know him intimately, and that’s a compliment from an audience member. I mean I don’t know how to answer that question, but I’m glad it’s there. And I'm curious about this question with Saru on Star Trek, too.
What has the role of Saru given you that other roles haven’t?
Well, I’ve done the type of character where I’m an alien who is very intelligent and speaks very intelligently. But, what sets Saru apart is that he had to make a sacrifice, he has to leave something behind to achieve his future. That element is nostalgic for me personally — for any of us really — if you’ve moved away from home and became something, and what sacrifices came with that.
He’s on a starship now, and he’s among other species, and he’s the only one of his kind. He’s a loner in a certain way, but he’s also found a sense of chosen family. I mean, I got to do the sacrifice thing when I was the Silver Surfer, and I got to do the chosen family thing in the Hellboy universe, with that odd-ball chosen family of ours. So Saru brings in a lot of elements I’ve played before, and a few that I haven’t. Like, leadership and authority and having some, but making that rise from a very humble beginning. How do I go from gathering kelp in the sea to running a starship? That is a huge jump! I love that play-out of potential. What potential does all of us have that is untapped?
As a fan of the original series, what was your favorite Star Trek-y thing you got to do in Season 1?
Oh, my gosh. Beaming! Anywhere! I watched the show as a kid in the ‘60s, and the idea that your body could be turned into particles in the air and then regenerated somewhere else was like: Are you kidding me?!!! So that’s the one piece of technology I wanted to be true. So when I saw the transporter room and got to beam down to the planet Pahvo in Episode 8 last year, that was my dream come true, right there, forget about it.
In Season 2 of Discovery, will Saru be let down about not being the Captain?
Just because Captain Pike is joining us from the Enterprise, that doesn’t mean Captain-hood is off the table for Saru. The dynamic between Saru and Michael Burnham is key to this. They’ve been so competitive with each other throughout Season 1 — that brother-sister relationship has been a base for us. And that comes with love and respect, but also the competition. But in Season 2, I think it’s more about the respect. If the Captain chair becomes open again, I think both of us would want to see the other one in it. Many possibilities are ahead!
Short Treks "The Brightest Star" is streaming now on CBS All-Access. Doug Jones returns as Saru in Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, which will debut on Jan. 17, 2019.