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Part 3: A Midsummer Night’s Mash-Up

Gary Goddard: I should start by saying that Ed Pressman and David Odell already had a finished screenplay, so the decision was already made—in order to make it for a low-budget—to have the story take place on earth. [As opposed to He-Man’s home planet of Eternia, where the toy line and TV series took place]. So Julie [played by Courtney Cox] and Kevin [played by Robert Duncan McNeill] were already in it. This was an established thing. The movie started, in the original screenplay, literally on earth, with a very beat-up, bedraggled He-Man pounding on the back door of Julie’s house and her finding this guy who’s a strange heroic warrior. This was a fish-out of water story…set on Earth.

Tim Kilpin: At the time, I remember feeling like this could really be bad. This could really not work. How do you set it on earth and also make it seem relevant to kids and teens and blah, blah-blah, blah-blah-blah. But remember, this was before Transformers and GI Joe, so nobody had a great frame of reference for movies like this.

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Gary Goddard: I argued heavily that we should bookend with Eternia. So I said: what if we open on the throne room and we close on the throne room and that way it won’t feel like a budget contrivance. It’ll feel like it’s meant to be because this is the place where everything’s happening. So much later, I contrived everything—the rise of the moon, the planets aligning, the transformation into a god, all that stuff, so that it would happen right there in the throne room. We open in the throne room and we close in the throne room so that’s how I got the budget to build one massive set that had a lot of production value because I said I’m gonna use it for the opening 20 minutes and the closing 20 minutes.

Tim Kilpin: Those were probably the best parts of the movie.

The other reason those scenes worked so well was because they put Frank Langella and his considerable talents on full display. 

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Gary Goddard: I think my biggest task was trying to get the right team together. I had seen Frank in the Broadway production of Amadeus and I never forgot it. He was an actor who cold basically act through the makeup, act through the mask, and I realized that Dolph, with the speech issues, probably wasn’t the guy to center the film on. So I centered the film on Skeletor. All without telling anyone. I had to give a spine, an anchor to the movie. And then I found Meg, who was a perfect foil because she’s fantastic too. So the real moments of power and real emotion are when Frank and Meg are on the screen and then the humor comes a little bit from Kevin and Julie, but really from Griwldor. He was a replacement for Orko. Because we couldn’t do Orko. Because we would have had to do Orko with a guy hanging on wires, flying around. It wouldn’t have worked. So we made the decision, it was a conscious decision, you gotta understand, Orko and Battlecat—who we would have needed to do with stop-motion animation—Orko and Battlecat still existed, somewhere back on Eternia, but I made the conscious decision to not saddle myself with those things. Because I think a film is only as good as its weakest element, it’s Achilles heel. And I just knew that an Orko charcter hanging on wires, it would have been a nightmare. So what I wanted to do was pick the characters that I thought could be adapted well.

One of those characters was Teela, He-Man’s right hand lady. 

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Chelsea Field: I actually met Gary Goddard a few years before Masters of the Universe. He was doing a show called Conan the Barbarian up at Universal so I went up there and auditioned for him. At the time, I was so desperate. I had just moved back to LA—I was living with my mom, running out of money—and I remember Gary asking, “Can you do any tumbling?” And I thought to myself: no, I haven’t tumbled since I was 12. But I said, “Um, sure!” And he goes, So I threw an aerial, which I hadn’t thrown in like 8 years, and then he goes, “Okay, can you do a back handspring?” So again I say “Um, sure!” Then I threw a back handspring and my arms started to collapse. Somehow I got my feet underneath me. I swear, the fact I didn’t break my neck, I’m a so lucky. But that just sort of goes to show you that when you want a job, you will do anything. Thank god he didn’t ask if I could do a backflip.

Gary Goddard: Chelsea had auditioned for me at Universal, for the Conan show. And I remembered her because she was a striking beauty. She was very, very beautiful—a beautiful body—very physical, great face. I must have seen a hundred different women for Teela and what I wanted to know was could they act and could they hold a sword? Could they hold a blaster and not look out of place? And by the way, we had no time, there was no time for training on this film. This was a Cannon film.

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Cannon had a reputation for making less-than quality films. And during this time especially they’d started to run into some financial troubles. 

Gary Goddard: So we were struggling to find a Teela and then I remembered Chelsea. I had no idea where she was, but I mentioned her to Vicky Thomas—our casting director—that Chelsea had been a dancer and I had this feeling. So Vicky tracked her down and brought her in and I had to put her through several auditions because she had never been a lead before and everyone was like “are you sure are you sure?”

Chelsea Field: I wound up doing probably ten auditions for the thing. Gary kept calling me back. And at the time, I didn’t really know why. I just felt like they weren’t sure and I had to keep working to get this job. But I look back now and I realize: oh, I hadn’t done anything! And he was probably trying to convince the producers that I could do it!

Gary Goddard: “Are you sure?” “Are you sure?” “Are you sure?”

Chelsea Field: So I’d go back there for my 3rd call, my 4th call, my 5th call and every time I’d be jumping around the couches and over chairs and behind the coffee table and every time I did I’d be going [making laser noises] “Peow! Peow!” because I had a laser gun. And I felt like an idiot. I felt like I was jumping around like I was a five-year-old boy.

Gary Goddard: She was just great though.

Chelsea Field: Then finally, one day, my agents called and they said “are you sitting down?” and I said “no,” and I was standing and I can remember exactly where I was standing—I was looking out the window—and they said, “You got Masters of the Universe.” And I screamed so loud, there was like an explosion out of my chest. Like I’d scored a touchdown on the final play to win the Super Bowl. Because you have to remember that, back then, going from being a professional dancer into acting was so, so difficult. The perception was that dancers made terrible actors. So getting the part, it was a huge deal for me. I truly have never felt that kind of explosion of joy since then and I just know that feeling will never be repeated.

Chelsea Field wasn’t the only young actress getting her first chance at a leading role. The other was Courtney Cox. 

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John Weems: I think Gary was the one who wanted Courtney Cox, which turned out to be a pretty prescient decision. Give Gary credit for that. She had just done the Springsteen video and he liked her look and all of that.

Gary Goddard: I wanted a very fresh new face with a, you know, pretty but in a wholesome kind of suburban way. And the funny story on that one was that when she came in she was all made-up, as actresses tend to do, and the casting director Vicky Thomas brought her in and said, “I think you’re really gonna like her.” At the time, she was quote “the girl from the Bruce Springsteen video.” Okay, good. So she comes in, I met her and she was very nice. But when she left, because with the makeup on, she looked like she was 25, I was like “Vicky, I don’t think so. She’s really nice and she read well, but I don’t think she’s in.” Vicky said, “let me have her come in tomorrow and I’ll have her come in without any makeup.” Cause Vicky was pretty sure that she was the right one. And that next day, she was fantastic. And afterwards I said to Vicky, “you’re right. That was her.” So Vicky gets the accolades for the smarts on that one.

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Like most movies, some parts in this film were harder to cast than others. But, unlike most films, this movie had a uniquely unusual problem with some of its parts. 

Gary Goddard: A lot of the toy characters couldn’t be adapted well. I mean, I adapted Beast Man and, man, I took crap for that too because “he doesn’t look like the toy.” Well, it’s not a toy! It’s a fucking movie now. And so I created characters of my own that worked for this story. Characters who I thought could live and breathe on the screen. Like Karg [played by Robert Towers] and Saurod [played by Pons Maar] and Blade [played by Anthony De Longis].

Anthony De Longis: I was coming off one of my favorite roles—playing this assassin, Piedre, who was a master of disguise on MacGyver—and I had been recommended to Gary as both an actor and as a superior swordsman. I don’t really remember too much about my first meeting with Gary, except that I vaguely recall him telling me that I’d have to shave my head, or be in makeup for hours, in order to play the character. I made my choice and they bought me an eclectic razor, which I used in rush hour traffic to and from our 6 weeks on location in Whittier.

William Stout: Anthony was amazing. He played Blade, but he was also the stunt coordinator for all the sword-fighting scenes and he also doubled as Skeletor too.

Anthony De Longis: Part of my job entailed training Dolph how to wield his sword. We met and I very quickly convinced him that I knew what I was doing and that I was there to help him look great. I’m in the Black Belt Hall of Fame, the Martial Arts Hall of Fame and the Knife-Throwing Hall of Fame, so I try to bring that element of truth while telling a story and creating an illusion. Dolph took to the training really well, no surprise. But we did not get much time to rehearse. A lot of the choreography was done virtually on the spot. And it’s a great tribute to Dolph’s talent as an athlete and martial artist that he was able to roll with the punches and get the job done with style. What we assembled was literally done on the day of the shoot.

William Stout: Anthony was really good at staging the fights so that they looked dramatic. And I tried to design a set that took advantage of the fact that we were going to have sword fights. I went back and watched all the Errol Flynn swashbucklers, which were designed by one of my great heroes, his name was Anton Grot. And I looked at how Grot how designed the sets, and so I made sure that there were steps and places to hide behind and columns and ups and downs, so it gave the actors a lot to work with.

Anthony De Longis: Those sets that Bill designed were great for what we needed to do. Especially because He-Man’s sword-—which I used to call “Buick Slayer” because it was rather ponderous and hazardous, shall we say—was very tough to maneuver. Anybody with less strength and athleticism than Dolph would not have been able to manipulate it with such apparent ease. Dolph did a really good job and I was very proud of our work together.

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William Stout: Boy, Dolph…there was a line of ladies. Just waiting to meet Dolph in his trailer. He was quite the ladies man. Incredibly beautiful human being. He’s very large, but he’s gorgeously proportioned. But I think of all the actors, he was the one I interacted with least. I figured that most of my work with Dolph was done once I finalized his costume.

Anthony De Longis: My costume? It weighed 55 pounds at least! I was in surgical rubber from head to toe. And then I was in gloves. And then I had boots and I had chain mail. And my chain mail, I came to find out, was 10 six-foot lengths of pipe cut into quarter inch pieces. So I was wearing somewhere between 50-60 feet of steel pipe. So they’d throw that over my shoulders and then on top of that they had these shoulder pads with spikes. As soon as I saw that I said, “well, I guess I won’t be doing any shoulder rolls with this.” But, golly, Bill did a great job with everything, the production values look great.

Gary Goddard: Originally, there had been a different production designer. Bill was there as a concept designer, but initially we had a different production designer that just didn’t work out. We were in our fourth or fifth week ore pre-production and he just wasn’t getting it. Very talented, but you get into the sci-fi fantasy and if someone doesn’t feel it from the guts, it’s hard for them to understand it. So he was doing these intellectual interpretations of things. I said, “You know, I don’t think you’re really getting this.” And he said, “well I hate this fucking stuff.”

John Weems: Almost from the get-go, the tone of the film was a big concern. How do you make an action movie that, by definition, has to appeal to young males and still have something that is still true to the character—especially with He-Man being pretty goodie two shoes. So that was a big question mark. The tone.

Gary Goddard: That was one of the reasons that I wanted to shoot the movie at night. If you try and imagine these characters—these creatures and monsters—walking around in broad daylight…I don’t know. To me, there’s no theatricality to that, there’s no magic to that. The sunlight is very unforgiving, I think it would have made everything look very clunky. So I decided that everything [in the story] would happen in one night. And I think a theatrical lighting and creating more of a dream state helps that a lot.

William Stout: Night shoots are tough. The only thing worse than a night shoot is a night shoot in the rain…it’s no picnic. But the reason you do a night shoot is usually  either for atmosphere or to cover up your budgetary limitations. And in our case  it was to cover up budgetary limitations. Details that would give away what something really was, they just fall back into the shadows and you don’t see them. It works great. Plus it’s easier to see lasers and stuff like that at night in the dark.

Gary Goddard: And during the night, all this magic—it’s kind of like A Midsummer Night’s Dream—all the magic happens from sunset to sunrise.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream wasn’t the only Shakespearean influence on Masters of the Universe. An appreciation for The Bard also helped shape Skeletor’s role in the film. 

Gary Goddard: Why does Skeletor do what he does? Why is he a “bad guy?” He tells you. We gave you the line. “I must possess all or I possess nothing.” It’s the burning driving ambition. I must possess all. I mean, this is Shakespeare. What drives half of Shakespeare? A King’s ambition. They will kill, maim, rape, do whatever they have to do, in order to either get power or maintain power. And what is it in the psyche? Skeletor to me was the physical representation of someone who’s devoted his life to attaining power, whatever that means, in every way that is, and he will not be happy until he has it. And frankly, he won’t be happy after he does have it. With Skeletor, Frank and I were having a great time because we’d find quotes from Shakespeare and quotes from Moliere and James Campbell. We looked for lines that would play out in a dramatic way and would work these into his dialogue. So we had fun in our own way.

Tim Kilpin: But the thing you have to remember—if you go back to the early days, the formation of these characters—is that there was nothing so dramatic behind it. It wasn’t a Shakespearian drama. It wasn’t Tolkien-esque, with someone figuring out all the mythology in advance. It was kind of handmade at the beginning. And it was a little ad hoc in terms of the original mythology. I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t want to hear that, but it was. And the show came along and helped us build dimension and depth. And then the movie came along and gave us an opportunity to do more of that. And some of these worked better than others, but it wasn’t a grand plan at the outset. It was built as we went.

John Weems: Long story short: I don’t think any of us thought we had Gone With The Wind here.

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