Sam J. Jones will forever be associated with his iconic role as American football star-turned “saviour of the universe” Flash Gordon. It’s a character which has been firmly ingrained in the pop culture subconscious for decades now, with many fanboys who come of age in that era heartily embracing him.
It clearly made a huge impact on a young Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, who brought the actor back to the big screen, via a wondrous (and strangely touching) performance in this summer’s comedy box office champ, Ted (now available on DVD and Blu-ray).
We recently caught up with the 58 year-old actor and owner of a business which specialises in corporate security and hostage extraction (naturally) to talk about his appearance in Ted and how his role in that 1981 sci-fi extravaganza has shaped his life.
HeyUGuys: Hi Sam. Thanks for taking take out to chat with us today.
Sam J. Jones: Yeah, absolutely. Anything for HEYUGUYS!! (laughs)
How did Seth MacFarlane approach you for Ted?
I’d never met the man, but he called me and said when he was nine years-old he’d seen Flash [Gordon] and it had inspired him to get into the business. He wanted to know if I would do Ted, and I asked him to send me a script and we could talk about it and take it from there.
Were you a little hesitant at first?
No, not really. I think the timing was perfect. I think the history he had with me and the whole formula really worked well together.
Did you feel intimidated on the first day of the shoot?
I felt, without sounding arrogant, that I belonged there and it made sense. On set I was probably a little nervous in a good way, but after we started I felt very comfortable and we had an amazing time and I had great support from Mark [Wahlberg], Seth and the producers. It was a wonderful experience.
How did it feel slipping back into the Flash Gordon costume after such a long time?
Seth really wanted me to do a spoof and parody of myself and that’s something we both agreed to do. He spent a lot of money on that platinum blond wig. What the script said was ‘Sam Jones steps into the party, and inexplicitly, he’s wearing the same costume and hair from 33 year ago’ (laughs).
While you were making it, did you ever have any inclination of how well-loved Flash Gordon would be all those years later.
Not really. Visually, it was a piece of art, but you never know when you do a film. It obviously had a great cast – Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Ornella Muti. The list goes on, and I knew they had a decent following, but it all just worked so well. It didn’t do great when it was first released. It was something of a box office disappointment but the popularity just rose and it’s really become a celebrated cult film.
Now it’s not just people who saw it the first time around who love it – it’s their children and their children’s children, too. Three generations have become Flash Gordon fans.
Was there ever talk of a sequel being made back before the film’s release?
I actually signed a contract to do, I think, five or six others, but the box office put an end to any others.
You have a decent amount of screen time in Ted. Has it reignited your interest in the movies again? Would you be happy to appear in an ‘Expendables’-type action/adventure?
That passion has never really left me, but the phone doesn’t ring as much as it did, and that’s why I always have a different vocation. I always felt that whenever I pushed the issue, I’d always end up taking two steps back, so my philosophy in life is if people want me, they’re gonna hire me. If they don’t, I’m not gonna force myself on them. That’s why I have a second job. When I’m not making movies, I’m running security operations in high-risk environments. This is what I do. I’m married and have five children, and I go to wherever the work is, be it in security or the movie industry. I go to where I love what I’m doing, and both jobs satisfy me equally.
Do your kids ever look back at Dad’s iconic role and find it humorous?
It’s funny because my kids weren’t really part of my life back then. Most of them weren’t even born. They’ve since watched the DVD’s of Flash Gordon and a bunch of action films I was in, but they just really know me as just as Dad.
What does Sam Jones have planned for Christmas this year?
I’m gonna be with my family and in-laws. There are even lots of presents under the tree already. I’m thankful that everyone is happy and healthy, and I’m also thankful for Flash Gordon because that role allowed me to do another 40 films. It’s been a great ride.
Ted is out on DVD and Blu-ray NOW