When he reached out his hand and said, “Hey mate, I’m Sam”, we were automatically on a first name basis, leaving me with only one of two options. Either I broke down in front of him and screamed, “I am not worthy”, or I continue to stare back at him blatantly and let the Flash Gordon soundtrack run its course in the back of my head. It’s not my proudest of moments to say that I chose the first option. So, equipped with nothing more than a camera, a Flash Gordon T-shirt and veins pumping with only coffee and anxiety, I had to refrain from having a complete Mark Wahlberg moment.
Front and center among the wreckage of countless terrible science fiction films produced in the 1980’s, stands Jones, who continues to personify the era through his unforgettable role of Flash Gordon.
Yes, that film. The film that sees a famous football player travel to outer space, recruit an army and then tackle the tyrant Ming the Merciless in order to save planet earth. It’s a mouthful, but because of its overtly fun style of cinema, will remain as one of the most iconic films of all time. Besides, nothing is more 1980’s than a film with spandex, low budget special effects and of course, a soundtrack compiled by Queen.
It may be hard to believe that the film will be 40 years old in 2020, but it’s also no surprise that Jones has moved forward, endeavoring in projects of all sizes, some which are set for release in the upcoming years.
As I unmasked the man behind the role, it became obvious that Sam J. Jones is a man of many words, but boring is definitely not one of them. In an interview at MCM Comic Con Liverpool, Jones talks everything Flash Gordon and the life beyond the iconic role.
CD: How are you enjoying MCM in Liverpool?
SJ: “Very well. It’s actually my first time here, but it seems to be a great turnout, especially for a Sunday”.
CD: Do you do many conventions?
SJ: “Oh yeah! I did about 30 last year, and by the looks of things at the moment, I am scheduled to do even more this year. It’s mainly all on weekends though, which means that it doesn’t really interfere with any of my movie work or home life”.
CD: Does it differ here compared to the States? SJ: I think proportionally, the UK hosts bigger events, whereas the States hosts conventions of any size, be it small, medium or large. In the States you can go to at least three or four conventions every single weekend.
CD: That sounds like enough to drive someone insane.
SJ: It’s all about keeping up appearances really. For veterans like William Shatner, they are determined to make appearances at two conventions if not three some weekends.
CD: Are you planning on visiting Australia again soon?
SJ: I’m planning on coming back soon. The last time I was there was back in 2013 for Supanova, which is your biggest convention. The only problem with Australia is that they want you to stay for two consecutive weekends, which is fine considering the distance, but usually you are looking at about seven to ten days at a time.
CD: How do you kill time between the conventions?
SJ: I mean there really isn’t much time to kill. Usually when I travel alone, this is when I catch up on all of my rest. From here I will go back to my room, watch a movie and call room service, and then get about nine or ten hours sleep.
Normally in my line of work, eight hours is rare. If I were to bring my family, it would be a completely different story, but for me at the moment, this is phenomenal.
CD: Looking back to your time as Flash Gordon, which is probably your most prominent role, do you have a most memorable moment?
SJ: Well its funny actually, I’m not really a guy for grey areas, but I either want to hear the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The memory that stands out the most was the audition process, which was about eight or nine months long. It was horrible. I was only 24 at the time. So when they flew me to London for the old fashion screen testing that they had to do back in the late ‘70s, I spent 30 days just biting my nails. To do that to someone, it’s just wrong.
CD: What does the casting process entail these days?
SJ: “Now that I’m in my older age, I have to be a lot nicer. Over the years I have had people ringing me up or there have been some people wanting to take me out to lunch. That’s when I ask one simple question. ‘Why?’ For me to go out my way, so that someone else can be seen with me is absurd. I have kids and a family now, so why am I going to go out of my way, just to be seen with someone, based on a pitch and a slight possibility. I want people to cut through all the bullsh*t, tell me over the phone or send me a talk sheet. Just make it simple and easy. People will wear you out, usually they mean well, but there are a lot of time wasters in the industry”.
CD: Back to Flash Gordon, you will forever be known as the iconic character. How does it feel in the sense that you have a legacy behind you?
SJ: “I know what I mentioned about the casting process, but looking back now, I think its cool. I absolutely love it. You hear stories these days about athletes and even musicians who say that they are not role models. Like it or not, we are role models as soon as we step out of our front door. Especially in America, where we have some really angry actors who say that they don’t want to be seen by the paparazzi, there is a simple way to resolve that. Stay at home or buy an island and never leave it. One man I always admired though was Michael Jackson, because he wore a disguise out in public. I remember, he sat down at a restaurant beside me one day, and I figured it out. The only way that I worked it out was by his mannerisms and his voice.
The fans pay the money to see you at the theatre; they take the time to watch you on the television, they go out of their way to get a photo or a signature. When we are in public, we are role models”.
CD: How are your current projects shaping up?
SJ: “So I did four films, three of which are independent. One is called ‘Axcellerator’, where I play a hitman, taking care of people in all the wrong ways. There was another film called ‘Head Games’ and also a comedy spoof film poking fun at Kung Fu films of the 1980’s called ‘Enter the Fist and the Golden Fleece’. Those are set to be released quite soon”.
“The fourth film was really an interesting concept. I had a UK film crew follow me around for a couple of years, just documenting my life. What made it so interesting for me was that I had the freedom to say and do whatever I wanted without the restrictions of a production company”.
Photo by Shane Zeiler