Actor Sam J. Jones embraced a role he is uniquely qualified to play: He is the subject in the documentary film “Life After Flash.”
Jones will be among celebrity guests at a Wizard World pop culture convention Friday-Sunday, Sept. 6-8, at the Renaissance Hotel & Convention Center.
Popular on the convention circuit because he played the title character in the 1980 movie “Flash Gordon,” Jones was introduced to a new generation of filmgoers when he played himself in the Seth MacFarlane teddy bear comedies “Ted” and “Ted 2.”
Jones also played himself, obviously, in “Life After Flash.”
Available for purchase at lifeafterflash.com, the 2017 documentary explores Jones’ life since portraying “Flash Gordon” and what happened to him in the aftermath of clashes with “Flash Gordon” producer Dino De Laurentiis.
A promo for “Life After Flash” said the film “looks at the real man behind the heroic mask: his successes, his battles and his ultimate struggle for redemption.”
Jones took part in a phone interview prior to his Tulsa trip. Following are selected questions and answers. Keep an eye out for mentions of Bo Derek, Clint Eastwood, Luke Perry, Patrick Warburton, Lou Ferrigno and Jerry West.
Regarding the documentary, was it a little bit scary to put your whole life out there on display for people?
It is a bit disconcerting when somebody comes to you and says, “Hey, I want to do your life story.” My first reaction was, “Wait a minute. I’ve got a whole lot of life left in me.” But I realized right away I really had to be transparent, you know? If you are going to make this thing work, if you are going to reach people, you’ve got to open up and lay it out there and you’ve got to talk about not only your successes, but your failures as well.
The word “inspiring” has been used to describe “Life After Flash.” Would you go along with that?
Oh, yeah. Of course, it is. It’s not because I’m in it. It could’ve been anybody’s story. I had to lay it out there. I had to talk about my failures and my successes. It’s fascinating to me that people write books and they make speeches, yet they should only be doing it if they actually experience it, if they have actually been on both sides. You can’t talk about how great things are or how perfect things are. You have to talk about (the failures) too. I refer to it as a do’s and don’ts of life. If we are faced with this choice, this is the reason why I chose that way. These are the consequences that follow and this is how I dealt with those consequences.
I asked you in the past what advice you might give to your younger self, and I recall that you said “get over yourself.” True?
“Well, yeah. There’s a great song by an artist (MercyMe) called ‘Dear Younger Me.’ Incredible song. He addresses that, looking back. For me, it’s get over yourself, but if you don’t have people that are mentoring you or giving you great advice, you have to resort to what we should all be doing now and that’s using common sense and practical thinking. If we just take common sense and practical thinking, usually, it doesn’t matter what the masses are doing and it doesn’t matter what the so-called group thinking is. Thank God gave us a free will, free thinking, critical thinking and individual thinking. We’ve got to stop jumping on the bandwagon about this or that. But, anyway, talking to my younger me, I would, first of all, say be an excellent listener and if people are speaking common sense and they are practical thinkers, you really need to absorb that and listen to it. If they are speaking hatred and unforgiveness and bitterness and they’re angry all the time, that’s an indicator of, no, I don’t want to be that. As a matter of fact, as I get older now I look at a lot of men my age or even older and I think to myself. I study people. I watch how they treat the flight attendants. I watch how they talk to people. And I say to myself ‘I don’t want to become that. I don’t want to do that.’ So, long answer, No. 1 be an excellent listener, always use common sense and practical thinking, and, you know what, have a sense of humor. Stop taking offense about what everybody says. It’s the human condition. A lot of people can’t help it. So guess what? They can laugh. Make them laugh. If they decide not to laugh with you, then move on.”
Before you were an actor, you were a Marine who decided to give the NFL a try. Did you choose to try out for the Seattle Seahawks because they were an expansion franchise at the time and your odds might be better of making the team? Or did you have a different reason for choosing Seattle?
I went to Seattle because that’s where my grandparents lived and I had a bunch of family there, so it was a way of staying there for a while until I got a job, which I did. I had family connections there. It grounded me a little bit.
You look like you could play right now.
C’mon, man. I’m 65. I feel great. I’m in good shape. But I am learning there are certain things I can do and I can’t do. I still train a lot. As my buddy (and fellow Wizard World guest) Lou Ferrigno says, we have to train efficiently and effectively.
What position did you play when you tried to make it in pro football?
I was the smallest tight end in the league. I was 6-3, and I was probably 215 or 220 at the most. That’s very small these days.
You threw the ball around during a fight scene in “Flash Gordon.” Flash was a New York Jets quarterback in the movie. I thought maybe you had tried to play quarterback.
No. I didn’t have the speed. I didn’t have great hands, either. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Thank God that’s how it turned out, otherwise, you and I wouldn’t be talking right now.
A magazine article about Clint Eastwood inspired you to pursue acting. What was so inspiring about it?
That’s a great question. I wish I could find (the article). I’m sure it would be easy to do. It just inspired me. I think he started in the business in ’55, so I think at that time he had already been in the business 22 years. I thought, well, I don’t know if I can accomplish what he has done in 22 years, but I sure would like to give it a try.
I think what inspired me is I think he talked about when he was done with the series “Rawhide,’” he went back to work. He went back to manual labor digging ditches and digging for pools in people’s backyards. That inspired me. I thought, look at this guy.
It took me a lot of years to figure out that I used to label myself that I was “just” an actor. I think this documentary covers that, that we as men, and I’m addressing the men now, that (we can’t think) oh, I’m just a physicist, I’m just a truck driver, I’m just an athlete, I’m just an actor. Well, no. If that provision is not coming in for that skill set or that core competency, then, by golly, we need to change that label and we need to say, “No, I am a working man providing for myself and my family.” That’s the new label. I’m a working man. (Editor’s note: Jones found a second career in the security business.)
When you moved from Seattle to California to become an actor, was there anyone famous in your acting classes?
Not in the early years, but I went back to acting class in my 30s. Patrick Warburton, a good buddy of mine, and Luke Perry were there. It was wonderful. I had a great time with those guys. I still see Patrick quite a bit now. He’s at all the comic cons.
You were pretty excited to do a beer commercial with Jerry West in your early years of acting?
That was my first job. I’m pretty sure it was my first paying job in Hollywood. It was a Schaeffer Beer commercial with Jerry West, the legend, and some other basketball players. It was great and it gave me a lot of confidence.
Your first movie was “10” with Bo Derek. Were you intimidated as heck to be in that movie with her?
Well, no, and I’ll tell you why. Yes, she was beautiful and stunning, but more importantly, she is a great person. Beautiful heart. But she was completely unknown. She was not a star. I think she did “Orca the Killer Whale” or something like that. But she was just wonderful to be around. I knew this was the first big lead role for her, so I just wanted to back off and not get in her space. I spent most of my time with her husband, John Derek. I think I had lunch with him, it must have been 10 times, just he and I. He was wonderful. He filled me in about all the Hollywood stories and gave me great advice. It was very inspiring.
At a past convention, someone said you were the Flash Gordon of the 1980s and asked you who could be the Flash Gordon of this era. Your answer was “absolutely me.”
Well, of course. We all understand the formula and the process. Any movie that wants success, you have got to have the younger good-looking guy and the younger good-looking girl. I get that. But, yes, whether I play Flash or the dad or whatever, yeah, that’s what I can do and that’s what I want to do.
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