[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 2 Episode 6, “The Sounds of Thunder.”]
Doug Jones doesn’t like to know what’s coming next for his characters. “I’m a one-week-at-a-time guy. If I know too much ahead… I don’t want that to inform how I play the scene today,” he said.
But after the dramatic events of “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 2 Episode 4, “An Obol for Charon,” Jones suspected that the writers would loop back around to Saru, who went through a near-death experience that had social media on red alert.
“We really had people duped into thinking that was my swan song — that was going to be the end of Saru, which I thought was beautifully played by the writers and the editing,” Jones said. “The timing of that episode was just perfect, the way it played out. It really was a surprise when it’s like, ‘Nope. I don’t have to die after all.'”
There was good reason that Saru’s fate had the audience worried; unlike many other “Trek” series, “Discovery” has racked up a bit of a body count. “It’s been established on our show is that no character is safe, really,” he said. “Anybody can die at any time. This is the new model of television, right? Keep the audience guessing.”
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On “Discovery” Saru lives, but in a much-changed state, as the loss of his threat ganglia freed him from his species’ ever-present sense of fear. “That all becomes a huge conflict that I knew we had to circle back around on,” he said, “so when I got the script for Episode 6 (“The Sounds of Thunder”), it’s like, ‘Ah. Here it is.'”
The actor has become a legend for creating characters under layers of prosthetics in projects ranging from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “The Shape of Water.” However, he said the challenge of “Discovery” doesn’t just lie with the long hours in the makeup chair, but in the scripts.
“Our writers’ room is full of very smart people, including a couple of PhDs,” Jones said. “Memorizing their dialogue is the hardest thing I have done in my entire acting career. Paragraphs of monologues that involve terminology that I have to look up and some that is not in the dictionary, some you have to look up on Wikipedia because it is Trek-lore instead of real, and so it’s like, ‘Ah!’ So if there’s an episode that’s light on dialogue, I am the happiest camper.”
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Jones noted that he doesn’t often get a heads up from the producers when a big Saru episode is coming up. However, he did feel that if his character was about to get killed off, they’d let him know in advance.
“Sometimes, it is when the script comes out — that’s when the character finds out they’re going to be killed off,” he said. “Other times, you’ll get the call from the producers or the showrunners and say, ‘Hey, just a little heads up. Here’s the arc that’s going to lead you to your death in a couple episodes from now,'” he said. “It depends on who’s running the show and how courteous they are. I think the people running ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ would, indeed. I think I’d get the call ahead of time on that one.”
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Jones will soon appear in two episodes of the first season of FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows,” the vampire comedy based on Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s cult-favorite film. “Their pilot episode was done during our hiatus last year from ‘Star Trek.'” he said. “Episode 5, though, did have to be wedged in near the end of our season. But we made it work.”
Jones is now wrapped on both shows, which means “my hair’s coming in,” he said. “Yes. I don’t love the bald look on me, but it does serve the makeup process easier.”
It’s a sacrifice that he deems worthy to play Saru. “I love him dearly,” he said.
New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 2 stream Thursdays on CBS All Access.