When the cult classic Hocus Pocus was filming, actor Doug Jones, who plays kindhearted-ish zombie Billy Butcherson, remembers being intimidated to be working with stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy. It was still early in his career — he only had a handful of credits over five years — so he simply felt lucky to be there.
Things were a little different when the same cast members filmed Hocus Pocus 2, which landed on Disney+ Sept. 30, 29 years-plus years after the original hit theaters.
"When the Sanderson sisters arrived on the set filming Hocus Pocus 2 last year, it was as though the Beatles had returned," Jones tells Yahoo Entertainment. "When Billy Butcherson showed up on the set for the first day, it was as though Elvis had risen from the dead. Our crew, everyone in every department, were these youngish [people] — anywhere from their 20s to their 40s — who had come up with the original Hocus Pocus movie, have been fans of it all these years, and now they're getting to work on a sequel. And these original characters are coming back looking exactly the same."
There were a lot of people working on the production who asked for selfies.
It's part of the "lovely evolution" Jones has seen happen over the decades since the movie was released in July — not even September or October — of 1993 to modest box office returns. Jones first noticed it on the fan convention scene. He's attended them for 15 years because of his well-earned reputation as a creature man, thanks to his work not only in the Disney movie, but because of the sometimes scary, sometimes scaly characters he's played in projects such as The Shape of Water; the Hellboy movies; Pan's Labyrinth; Star Trek: Discovery and What We Do in the Shadows.
"When I started, people would look at the pictures on my table and say, 'Oh' and they would point to Billy Butcherson. They'd say, 'Oh, yeah, I remember him. That was you?'... And they would get another picture of mine from something else," Jones says. "That has evolved into Billy Butcherson is now a top seller."
Fans want a photo with Winifred Sanderson's ex, and a signed one, to add to their Hocus Pocus collection.
Jones says his role in the cult classic helped to establish him as a guy that special effects makeup artists could put anything on. This despite that when he first came to Hollywood, he thought that he would be a "goofy next-door neighbor" type. He found himself auditioning to play monsters because he had training as a mime and a contortionist.
Jones admits that he doesn't even like scary movies in his off time.
"When I've been playing dark characters, let's say I'm playing a villain or a monster and something evil or dark, or I'm the devil incarnate in human form, and I'm eating someone's face and damning them to hell, when I'm doing that all day on a set; When I get home, I turn on the Hallmark Channel," Jones says. "I watch fluffy Christmas movies and, you know, predictable storylines, happy endings, where all the ends are tied up. I love, love, love to watch that, because it's a nice relief from the darkness I've been living in all day."
When it came to playing Billy again, though, Jones says he was thrilled.
"Watching myself transform from Doug Jones into Billy Butcherson again for the first time was… a rush of many emotions," he says. "One was just utter surreal, 'I cannot believe this is happening.' The other was, 'Old friend, I have missed you,' and the other is, 'Oh my gosh, the kids are gonna wet themselves when I walk out of this trailer.'"
The costume he wore had been recreated by the wardrobe department, because his old one was no longer in good condition. But there was one thing that was exactly the same.
"The one piece that is from the original movie is the wig, that big… black hair, the ponytail and the wild, messy beyond-the-grave look," Jones reveals. "That had been sitting on top of the mannequin [at producer David Kirschner's house, with other Hocus Pocus memorabilia] for 30 years. And that was still in pristine condition, so they took it off the mannequin and put it right back on my head again."
Just as exciting to Jones was being able to once again act big. As he sees it, Billy and the witches are like cartoon characters.
"We're over-the-top big with everything," Jones says. "And, as a person, I'm pretty expressive. I flap my hands when I talk, I make facial expressions when I talk. And so much of my acting career has been, like, 'A little bit less, thank you.' But in this movie, 'Cut. A little bit more. Play with it. Go.' You know, and what a treat that is, right?"
He also gets to, ahem, vamp it up on his current horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows, which is a mockumentary about a group of vampires who've lived together on Staten Island for more than a century. He plays Baron Afanas, whom he argues is very unlike Billy Butcherson.
"They both have their own, their own ecosystem. Their own sense of humor and their own silliness. Their own, you know, buffoonery," Jones says. "But they're different from each other. Because Billy is kind of angry about his past, he's angry about his present.... He's pissed all the time. But he does have a heart of gold in there, somewhere. The Baron is an old-school vampire from the Old World who thinks he is just the most magnificent thing in the world. And he's just happy to live and flourish and to throw his arms in the air and say [in vampire voice], 'I'm here!' That's something Billy would never do."
Jones adores the show, which aired its fourth-season finale this month, and he was happy to hear that it's already been renewed for two more seasons. He's already been asked to appear in a Season 5 episode.
He's open to playing more Billy, too.
"Well, you know, even after the first movie, you thought, 'OK, the witches are gone and so is Billy.' But they found a way to bring us back 29 years later, so I never say never," Jones says when asked whether he would consider putting the wig back on. "It seems improbable that we could come back and do a Hocus Pocus 3, with all of us, but also at the same time, if anyone could find a way, it would be Disney, to revive one or all of us... No one's talked to me about it. I don't know what possibilities are out there, but I would always say, 'Let's have a look at that,' if offered. Absolutely."
Hocus Pocus 2 is currently streaming on Disney+.