1. The audition was at a dance studio.
That makes sense if you know that Hocus Pocus director Kenny Ortega — also responsible for the High School Musical series — is, as Doug Jones put it, “huge in the dance world.” Also, the character of Billy only had one line in the original script, which meant there wasn’t really anything for Jones to read. “For the role of Billy, he really wanted to see a physicality and what choreography he could throw into that character to make it a more visual piece,” Jones explained. “So he gave us a scene to act out of waking up from 300 years of being dead. ‘Stand up, give us what his walk would be, get from point A to point B. When you get to point B, crumple down and look up at Winifred and tell her off. Give me something.’”
2. And whatever Jones did worked, because he had them laughing right away.
“I remember, as I wasn’t even halfway across the floor yet, from point A to point B through this choreography, [Ortega] and the assistant casting director were laughing, tilted heads back, laughing, grabbing their sides laughing,” Jones said. “I had no idea what I was doing, but I thought, this was going pretty good. As it turned out, before I even got home, the call came to my manager that they really wanted me in the movie, so I was tickled pink.”
3. This was Jones’ first major role in a studio film. His biggest credit before Hocus Pocus: Batman Returns.
“The only studio film I had been in before that was Batman Returns, as a supporting character,” Jones related. “I was one of Danny DeVito’s henchmen in that. So this, though, was my first sort of supporting role with some juice in a major film.” In Tim Burton’s Batman sequel, Jones is credited as “Thin Clown.” Which is pretty accurate.
4. Yes, Billy is supposed to be a hot zombie.
Rejoice, everyone who found themselves strangely attracted to a rapidly decaying 300-year-old zombie! “Kenny kind of wanted Billy to be an attractive zombie,” Jones revealed. “This was before zombies were cool, by the way. … They formed a dead guy mask on me, a foam latex prosthetic makeup that gave me pronounced cheek bones and a pronounced jawline and sunken cheeks, so they could take flesh away from places that might be decayed. And he ended up looking kind of attractive. I hear that from people all the time who grew up with the movie. Their first movie crush was Billy Butcherson, often. It’s really kind of sweet and charming to hear that.”
5. Despite being a huge Bette Midler fan, Jones couldn’t stop laughing when they first met.
It was Jones’ first night of filming, and they were shooting a scene in the park that eventually got cut for time. (More on that below.) “[I was] so terrified to see [Bette] face-to-face that I didn’t want to make a fool of myself,” Jones said. “And the first time I see her, she’s wearing this bright red wig and no eyebrows and buck teeth with those dinky little lips drawn on. I got the giggles and I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t take her seriously because she looked so incredibly goofy.”
6. That cut scene in the park had Billy pining after Sarah.
You’ll recall that Billy was Winifred’s ex-boyfriend — but that he’d been poisoned after Winifred caught him cheating with her sister Sarah. The love triangle was hinted at in the park scene: “Bette wants to give me some instruction on what I should be doing next, and all the while, I’m just kind of mooning over Sarah Jessica Parker,” Jones remembered. “I grabbed a piece of her blonde wig and I was stroking it. I had it caught in my fingers. And when they walked away, I kind of followed them, and I got hooked onto a lamppost in the park and just kind of had this sad moment of longing as they walked away. I loved that scene. It was my very first night of work and it was just kind of a magical moment for me. And unfortunately it’s not in the film.”
7. Another regrettably cut scene: Billy’s dance break.
After “I Put a Spell on You,” when all the townspeople are bewitched into dancing, Billy originally had his own little moment in the spotlight. “When the witches are gone, I hopped up on the stage and I boogied down myself,” Jones revealed. “I got to have free run of the stage and dance however I wanted to. Kenny Ortega just wanted to let me go, take the reins off and let me have at it. I had so much fun doing that. At some point, I kind of shook it off and exited off the stage, and that’s what kind of carried me to the next scene where I’m outside of the party.” Think of all the dancing Billy GIFs that could have been.
8. Part of why Jones was so excited to meet Midler is that her advice had gotten him through tough times in the past.
During a particularly stressful filming experience a couple years prior to Hocus Pocus, Jones saw an interview Midler gave to Barbara Walters, in which — as Doug paraphrased — “Bette very confidently looked at Barbara and said, ‘Barbara, I don’t care anymore. I used to be so wrought-up with all the decisions that didn’t involve me because I wanted to have control over everything. Now,’ she says, ‘I stand where they tell me to stand, I wear what they tell me to wear, and I say what they tell me to say. I do it all to the best of my ability, and beyond that, I don’t care.’ So it was like, whew, how freeing is that.” When Jones finally got the chance to tell Midler how her words had helped him, “she looked at me and said, ‘Ha! I said that?’ ‘Yes, you did, and it was great.’ ‘Yeah, it was pretty good, wasn’t it?’”
9. After Hocus Pocus bombed, Jones felt like his big break was over.
Given how often (and lovingly) we talk about Hocus Pocus now, it may surprise some that the movie was a box-office flop. Then again, it had a lot going against it — namely the fact that it was a Halloween movie released in July, against major summer blockbusters. “When we were making this, this was one of my first feature films ever, so I was thinking, OK, this is the one, this is gonna be the hit that takes me to the moon,” Jones confessed. “It did not do the box-office figures at all that we had hoped for, and kind of went into obscurity in the theatrical box-office world. Not knowing what would happen in the future, I thought, There was my big chance. It’s over.” Of course, it wasn’t.
10. Years later, Jones realized that the film had become a cult classic.
“Every parent now shares the movie they grew up with with their kids,” Jones continued. “I had no idea this would happen, because I didn’t know what technology was going to turn into. I didn’t know that Hocus Pocus would be one click away on every computer and TV screen in the world, and it would become like The Wizard of Oz of Halloween. I had no idea it was going to do that.” Jones started to understand the film’s popularity when he did speaking engagements: As his credits were announced, Hocus Pocus always got the biggest cheers.
11. While much of Hocus Pocus’ cult status is owed to home video and TV airings, Jones also believes audiences are now more receptive to fantasy and horror.
And he would know: Jones’ major recent roles include the Pale Man (pictured) and the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, and Abe Sapien in the Hellboy series. “Audiences are more appreciative of fantasy now than they ever have been — you see that in the world of comic book films and horror films and any kind of fantasy/sci-fi,” he reflected. “There’s so much more of it now than there ever was. So Hocus Pocus being a movie that’s very fantasy-driven, but also with a heart — it has a family story, a brother and sister fighting the forces of evil together, kids winning over silly adults, it’s just got all kinds of themes in it that every independent culture today can very much resonate with.”
12. But back to the one line Billy had in the original script. It was actually just a single word: “Bitch.”
“When I cut my mouth open I was supposed to just say ‘Bitch!’ to Bette Midler,” Jones disclosed. “At the time, I was like, It’s a kids’ Disney movie. Well, we’ll get back to that.”
13. Jones didn’t like that, so he changed it, creating one of the film’s most memorable moments.
“That was a conversation that I wanted to have with Kenny Ortega on the night that we shot that scene,” Jones said. “And I told him, I’m not comfortable just throwing the B-word out when our audience is going to be kids expecting a Disney happy movie. There’s gotta be a more creative way that’s actually going to sell this movie better than that. So the line that I ended up saying was when that I came up with by myself. Kenny approved it, loved it, and that’s what stayed in the movie. And that’s when I cut my mouth open, coughed out the moth and the dust and said, ‘Wench! Trollop! You buck-toothed, mop-riding, firefly from hell!’” In the end, Billy’s big moment — still quoted by Hocus Pocus fans 20 years later — was pure Doug Jones.