BRIAN BLESED

Ex­clu­sively for SFX, Brian Blessed re­calls t he mak­ing of cult ’ 80s f ave Flash Gor­don. On­ward, our brave Hawk­man!

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - News - As told to Nick Setch­field. With thanks to Lisa Downs. www. lifeafter­flash. com

THE BEARDY LEG­END ON FLASH GOR­DON!!!

Isaw Flash Gor­don as a kid, with Buster Crabbe, who was a mag­nif­i­cent Flash. He was an Olympic swim­mer, a gold medal diver and a gold medal crawler for the Amer­i­can team. He was a mar­vel­lous ac­tor – he looked a bit like Lau­rence Olivier. Ev­ery time he got in­jured or hurt he ex­pressed pain very well. A tremen­dous feel­ing of pain. And you thought god, he’s in real trou­ble!

I al­ways think it’s the hard­est part to cast. You can take some of the most fa­mous film stars of to­day – like Tom Cruise, a won­der­ful ac­tor. You can put a cam­era on him and he’s got the most per­fect smile but he can look sin­is­ter. You could put the cam­era on [ Flash Gor­don star] Sam Jones and at any an­gle he’d look pure. So when Ming says to him, “Who are you?” and he says, “Flash Gor­don, quar­ter­back, New York Jets”, it’s so pure, his re­ply. As Ming says “I’ve never met any­one like you…”

I watched those first big se­ri­als in the cinema in York­shire. I was born in Mexbor­ough. We had two cin­e­mas and ev­ery week­end you saw Flash Gor­don. They never cheated – he was al­ways in trou­ble at the end of each half hour, and you re­ally didn’t know how he’d get out of it. And it was al­ways very plau­si­ble, how he es­caped. We gath­ered ev­ery week. And through­out each episode there was

al­ways a back­ground moan­ing, which was the strange at­mos­phere on Mongo. It was al­ways threat­en­ing and sin­is­ter. It was im­pec­ca­bly done. It even had walk­ing bombs in it! An­hi­la­tons! Imag­ine that. To­day we’ve got sui­cide bombers and they were in Flash Gor­don.

Flash Gor­don has al­ways been the most in­flu­en­tial thing of my youth. We all adored it. Great sci­ence fic­tion films were be­ing made in the ’ 50s but Flash Gor­don al­ways haunted me more than any­thing else. I al­ways played Vul­tan when I was a lit­tle boy. I ran down the em­bank­ment and jumped over the bushes near the rail­way sta­tion. I never dreamt that one day I would ac­tu­ally play Vul­tan.

They said, “They’re mak­ing Flash Gor­don and they want to see you.” I’d never seen the comic strip. I’d only seen the films. They pro­duced some comic strip art for me to look at. And I looked at it and good god, it was just like look­ing at my­self. Vul­tan is me! I had a beard be­cause I’d been in The Mus­ke­teers for the BBC, play­ing Porthos, and be­come a char­ac­ter ac­tor. I then yearned to play the part. Of course they wanted big film stars. Mike Hodges, the di­rec­tor, said, “Well, Porthos in

The Three Mus­ke­teers is Vul­tan – Brian is Vul­tan!” I was of­fered a fee of £ 30,000, which back then was an enor­mous amount of money. I was still in the race but not guar­an­teed to get the part.

deal­ing with dino

Even­tu­ally I went to meet Dino De Lau­ren­tiis, the pro­ducer. I had a tremen­dous time with Dino. “I like you very much, kid!” he’d say. “I like your smile, I like ev­ery­thing about you!” Dino and I im­me­di­ately had the most bizarre re­la­tion­ship. Peo­ple were ter­ri­fied of Dino De Lau­ren­tiis. He was so pow­er­ful that peo­ple trem­bled and never faced him. He was a kind of war­lord. As­ton­ish­ing. But I im­me­di­ately said, “If you don’t cast me in this I’m go­ing to break your jaw!” And he laughed and said, “Okay, you’re gonna break- a my jaw!” So we al­ways had this kind of ex­tra­or­di­nary, con­fronta­tional but warm re­la­tion­ship. He said, “I want you to play it, kid,” and that was it. I was in heaven.

It was a mar­vel­lous cast. Max Von Sy­dow and Peter Wyn­garde and Ti­mothy Dal­ton and Topol and Melody and Or­nella and all of them… And lots of dwarves. Ev­ery­body seemed to be in it. So I raced to the stu­dio. I just couldn’t get there quickly enough. And I knew ex­actly how to play him, and what to do with him, and what the style was. He was a fly­ing Vik­ing, you might say. Thor, al­most. I found the whole thing madly, won­der­fully ex­cit­ing.

Dino would al­ways come into the stu­dio, and if he came into the stu­dio while we were film­ing ev­ery­thing went wrong, be­cause they were all ter­ri­fied of him. Even Mike Hodges went red in the face. I was fly­ing one day as

The Prime Min­is­ter took me in to see the Bri­tish Cab­i­net. I stood on a chair and said, ‘ Gor­don’s alive!’

Dino came in. It was all go­ing wrong. Two thou­sand of us try­ing to fly! “Please,” I cried. “Bug­ger off, Dino! We can’t work! It’s go­ing to cost money! BUG­GER OFF, DINO!” And he just laughed and said, “Hee- hee, the kid tells me to bug­ger off… no one talks to me like this!”

I was in this film called Man Of La Man­cha, play­ing the vil­lain, with Peter O’Toole. And a lot of it was filmed in the Dino De Lau­ren­tiis stu­dios. This was be­fore Flash Gor­don. I re­mem­ber all the ac­tors were sit­ting around the stu­dios on a big lawn. It was Dino’s favourite lawn. And he sent his man down to or­der all the ac­tors to get off it. We’d been suf­fer­ing with the heat in­side, in th­ese dun­geons. I re­mained there, in the middle of his favourite lawn. And O’Toole said to Dino, “Blessed won’t move. He won’t do as you tell him.” And Dino al­ways re­mem­bered that. “You wouldn’t move, would you, kid? I like that!”

The first six weeks on Flash Gor­don we were film­ing scenes in Ming’s palace, so ev­ery­body was there. Max Von Sy­dow came up to me. He’d done all those won­der­ful films with Bergman, par­tic­u­larly The Sev­enth Seal. He said, “I’m very pleased to meet you. You’ve done Shake­speare parts. I’ve seen you.” And then he said, “I must con­fess I’m about to make my en­trance and I don’t know how to play him.” Now I felt cer­tain about ev­ery­thing. I wasn’t vul­ner­a­ble at all. So I said, “Well, I saw you in The Quiller Mem­o­ran­dum, in­ter­ro­gat­ing Ge­orge Se­gal. You had blond hair and you were a Ger­man and you kept crack­ing your fin­gers. You acted from your fin­gers.” I said, “Ming is a wizard, and uses his hands for his power. He’s a wizard and he’s a sex fiend. He has sex po­tions. He has his own harem. He’s all hands!” And Max said, “That’s it, Brian!” So when you watch the film, you’ll see that he uses his hands a lot. So I rather credit my­self with the fact that I gave him this note! A won­der­ful ac­tor.

Wher­ever I go in the world I have to say “Gor­don’s alive!” I was half­way up Kil­i­man­jaro and there was a Ma­sai war­rior. He said, “It’s him! Can you say ‘ Gor­don’s alive!’?” So I said “Gor­don’s alive!” to a Ma­sai war­rior, half­way up this great moun­tain… I was on this Bri­tish ex­pe­di­tion and this Typhoon sub­ma­rine came up. All th­ese sailors got out and said, “It’s him! It’s him! Say ‘ Gor­don’s alive!’” I can’t walk down the street be­cause ev­ery­one wants me to say it. It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of free­dom, in a way. A short while ago I was at Num­ber 10, do­ing some­thing about ele­phants. And so there’s the Prime Min­is­ter. He took me into a room and there was the Bri­tish Cab­i­net. I stood on a chair and said, “Gor­don’s alive!” Wher­ever I go – peo­ple dy­ing in their bed. “Can you just say ‘ Gor­don’s alive?’” I’ve said it for the Queen!

Flash Gor­don has be­come more and more of a cult movie, much more than Dino ever an­tic­i­pated. When there’s crit­i­cism and peo­ple say it’s camp, I can’t ac­cept that. I think the film is per­fect. They mustn’t make a re­make. It has a comic strip style, and that’s what’s good about it. It moves apace and it’s full of va­ri­ety. Fellini’s great set de­signer does the sets and the mu­sic by Queen is be­atific. The scene in the rocket, when they set off and fall asleep, that beau­ti­ful ro­man­tic mu­sic… And the skies are pur­ple and green, not black like they were in Star Wars. The whole thing has been a mir­a­cle.

Brian signs for us at the SFX Week­ender back in 2012.

Worse than flip­pin’ seag­ulls. “Yes! The world’s big­gest piece of pop­corn!”

Saved ev­ery one of us: Flash and Vul­tan.

And nor­mally he’s so shy and re­tir­ing.

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