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Doug Jones Talks Revisiting Billy Butcherson For Hocus Pocus 2 - Exclusive Interview

Doug Jones may just be the most prolific actor working today whose appearance no one is actually familiar with. He's starred in a bevy of popular films and television shows, although typically under a ton of makeup and prosthetics to play intriguing monsters and creatures that go bump in the night. He was notably Abe Sapien in both of Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy" movies. Del Toro is actually a frequent collaborator with Jones, as Jones has also appeared as various beings in "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Shape of Water."

However, Jones was certainly already well-versed in playing monsters before working with the iconic director. And nowhere is this more evident than in Jones' role in the 1990s classic "Hocus Pocus." You might remember him as Billy Butcherson, a corpse brought back to life after the Sanderson sisters arrive in modern-day Salem. While he's initially an antagonistic force toward the main children, he eventually reveals his true intentions and goes after the witches by the end. 

To get in on that sweet, sweet nostalgia, Jones returns to portray Billy in "Hocus Pocus 2," arriving on Disney+ on September 30. In an exclusive interview with Looper, the actor spoke about what it was like to return to the character after a nearly 30-year break. 

On Hocus Pocus' ever-evolving legacy

It's been nearly 30 years since "Hocus Pocus" came out, and it's still a beloved classic. Have you noticed how the movie's legacy has changed from when it first came out to becoming a cult classic to all the clamors of a sequel getting made?

It's been quite a wild ride over these 29 years because when it came out, it did moderately at the box office. I thought at the time, "Oh, that's the end of that." But then, thanks to TV airings and home video collections, all of a sudden the momentum was building over the years. Instead of opening big and fizzling out over the years, it did the opposite. It opened small and has gotten bigger and bigger and snowballed. 

[The] iteration[s] of home video [have] gone from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray to 4K and now streaming on Disney+. It's on Freeform channel every Halloween, every October in high rotation. The availability of it is so much more than I ever thought possible back in the early '90s, and with that has come a loyal fan base. They sit down and have an event with "Hocus Pocus." It's, get the family together, get your friends together, have the watch party, bring the candy corn, pop the corn, make the brownies. 

That's the kind of film I had as a kid with "The Wizard of Oz." That was the sit-down, put-the-family-together movie. But that's when things aired on TV once a year, and if you missed it, you missed it, so you had to hunker down and watch. In this era of streaming and everything's available at one touch, it's nice to know that "Hocus Pocus" has that old-school flare to it, where we sit down together and watch this and enjoy Halloween together. What a thing to be a part of. 

Over the years, the hype of "Hocus Pocus" has gotten so much more. We have a new generation of fans coming up. Our original fans are having kids now, so we have new kids and a new wave of fandom. With it has come merchandising and cosplaying and drag shows, and the list goes on and on [with] the "Hocus Pocus" world and how huge it is. Now that "Hocus Pocus 2" is coming out, more merchandise has been created. There's even a breakfast cereal available at Target and a Billy Butcherson backpack along with a full life-size head at Spirit Halloween. My tombstone is another big seller at Spirit Halloween that you can put out in your yard to decorate. I never saw this happening back when. It is a lovely ride to be on. 

The sequel [was] rumored and talked about starting about nine years ago: "Hey, we might be doing it." "Oh, that's great." Then fandom creat[es] posters with their great Photoshop skills: "Here we are; this is the new movie." It goes out on social media, which we didn't have back in the '90s either, and all of a sudden I'm getting messages going, "Hey, are you in the new 'Hocus Pocus'?" This is five years ago. "Well, no, there isn't one yet. That's a really great poster someone made." And I cherish their excitement. That's what I loved about all the false starts with the sequel — the fandom out there really wanted it to happen, and that was proof. When the official phone call did come with the right voice telling me, "We're on, they want you back, you're in the script, here's our film schedule," it's like, "Okay, glory be, it's about time."

Doug Jones' reaction to the news that Hocus Pocus 2 was happening

Could you go more into what your reaction was like when you finally got the news that "Hocus Pocus 2" was going to happen? 

I was so excited, and because I've been asked over the years, out of all the characters I've played, is there anyone I'd like to revisit again? Billy Butcherson has been the top answer for that. [In] the first movie, [you] see a bit of him. You feel his anger and his pent-up ... There's history there with the Sandersons, Winifred especially. There's more layers and more to find out about that, so I would love to have explored more. So getting to do the sequel, as you saw, they do touch on a little bit more of our history and what actually happened, and can Billy clear his name for all eternity to come now because the legend's been told incorrectly, according to him, for these 300 and some years? That's why I've always really wanted do that.

Getting the call that we were going to get the chance to do that was like, ah, so exciting. And [I was excited] to reunite with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, [and] Kathy Najimy again and meet a whole bunch of new kids and have a new adventure and continue the story. There aren't enough adjectives to say how I felt so yummy about it. I was relieved as well because I'm working on "Star Trek: Discovery," [which] takes up most of my time in these past five years. When I heard [the 'Hocus Pocus 2'] film schedule was going to fit right into my hiatus between seasons of "Star Trek," it's like, "Ah, nothing overlaps, didn't have to finagle anything. Thank heaven." So it was a win-win all around.

It's not unusual for TV reboots or movie sequels to utilize nostalgia. How do you feel "Hocus Pocus 2" handles nostalgia while offering something new to audiences?

The nostalgia is putting the three witches and Billy back on film looking exactly the same as they did before, with the exact same energy and campy, overdone caricatures of ourselves. That's nostalgia. Anyone I've talked to who's seen this second movie said it took them right back the minute the witches came up. Also, [you get] the pacing, the musicality of it, the musical numbers, and get the Sandersons singing again, and all is well in the world. 

Plus, what helped make the first movie so timeless is that it takes place on Halloween night and there's people in costumes, so there's not really any 1993 style that we're stuck with in that movie. We're all in costumes, and we come from different periods with these overdone, lavish looks. That plays in this new movie as well. It takes place on Halloween night again. There's overdone, lavish looks. I think Halloween itself is nostalgic because we all grew up with it, with happy memories from our childhood trick-or-treating and having parties and watching scary movies with our friends or whatever it was. Yeah, there's nostalgia for sure.

On putting Billy's makeup back on

What was it like to get back in the makeup chair with Tony Gardner to bring Billy back to life?

Tony is an old friend, but we met on the first "Hocus Pocus" movie and have done, oh golly, maybe 15 projects together since then. He's been very loyal to refer me for one thing after another whenever he's designing a new creature. So to get back together with him again and have him recreate my look exactly like it looked 29 years ago ... When I came up out of the grave, you would think two minutes had passed since 1993. For that, I was extremely grateful to have him along, and we laughed a lot. 

The wig I wore was actually the same wig from the first movie. It had been sitting on a mannequin of me in producer David Kirschner's office all these years. They basically were able to take that off him and put it back on me, and it didn't even need teasing. It was ready to go.

What can you tease about Billy now that it's been 30 years since audiences last saw him?

I can tease that he went through most of the first movie not talking because [his] mouth was sewn shut. [He] cut it open at the end of the first movie, so [he] came out of the grave [in] this movie talking already. And he's not happy about it. He doesn't like being awakened this many times when [he's] supposed to be at [his] eternal rest. [He] can't quite get there, so he is a bit annoyed. The mere mention of the Sandersons is enough to make Billy ... to frustrate him to no end. Whatever it takes to abolish them, banish them, he's in for it.

On working with Sam Richardson

You have quite a few scenes with Sam Richardson in "Hocus Pocus 2." What was it like working with him?

Sam Richardson is an absolute dream to work with. He is hilarious, and he'll take a scripted moment and run a few takes of it. You can see different colors, different timing, different things come out every time, and every one of them works brilliantly. It was like taking an acting class, working with him — a comedic acting class, specifically, working with him. He's brilliant, and one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life. We giggled a lot together. We laughed a lot together off camera. It was an instant buddy film happening off and on camera.

It's not unusual to see you covered in makeup or prosthetics for a role. How does Billy compare to some of the other characters you've played over the years?

I have quite a wide array of creatures, monsters, [and] otherworldly beings. Billy is one of the easier ones because he's human — dead human nonetheless, but human indeed. As far as the design goes, it's gloves to get over my hands, some leggings that make my old dead skin on my legs show through my torn stockings, and the face and neck prosthetic was all one piece that glued on to me. It went on pretty quickly. For a prosthetic makeover to happen in only two hours a day, it's really mercifully short.

You mentioned "Star Trek: Discovery" is also coming down the pipeline here. Season 5 [is] set to come out in 2023. Is there anything you can tease about your character this time around or what you'll get into?

"Star Trek: Discovery" is a very action-packed "Star Trek" series. Every year, we have our adventure, our thing — either problem to solve or an adventure to go on. And Season 5 is no different. There's much excitement and much ... We live up to our show's name, "Discovery," this year. I've never seen a "Star Trek" series where all the characters change rank and uniforms as many times as we have. That will be continuing as well in Season 5. I can't tease any more than that.

"Hocus Pocus 2" is available now for streaming on Disney+.

This interview has been edited for clarity.