John Simpkin - Interview 40 Years Flash Gordon
The working day of Hawkman was a strange one
John Simpkin is an actor/musician who appeared in many films and TV productions in the late 70's, 80's and 90's.John played an Hawkman in Flash Gordon. He also worked as an action double for some major stars, including Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Gary Oldman, but is probably best known for playing the alien "Klaatu" in Return of the Jedi.
- Thank you John for your time for the "Flash Gorden 40 Years Anniversary" Interview Series.
- John, how did you get your role in Flash Gordon?
Well I had a call from my agent asking if I wanted to audition for a "Hawkman" on the new Flash Gordon movie... She said they were looking for Athletic physiques!! Well the audition was a pretty big one and we had to queue up in our swimming shorts to flex what biceps we had and have a couple of photos taken.. it was pretty embarrassing and (despite all the push ups I'd just done in the changing room) , I failed. A few days after shooting started I got a phone call from the assistant director saying a Hawkman had dropped out and was I still free? I was in... my ego restored!
- After 40 years can you remember how do preparing for your role as Hawkman?
Well as I was working alongside some pretty fit looking guys so I guess I did up my gym training a bit.
- Work on set with Sam J.Jones ,Melody Anderson or Brian Blessed. When you
look back, what can you tell us about these times and with which one do you work?
Yes the set was a pretty exciting place to be. The first the that struck me was the sheer size of it, and it was hot, The colours were very retro (like the original comics!). I was instantly impressed by Sam Jones.. he so looked the part, seemed a really nice guy, and was very capable of pretty well any stunt. (I later found out he was a Tae Kwon Do black belt)! It was certainly a great looking costume, but yes, the wings were very heavy. Going to the toilet was a major problem! During breaks in shooting there would be a queue of Hawkmen shuffling slowly sideways through the door of the Gents!
- The wings of a Hawkman how heavy were those costume?
The working day of Hawkman was a strange one. It began in the make-up caravan in tthe carpark. We would form a queue (in our underpants again) and take it in turn to walk between two teams of make-up artists, who would spray us orange/brown from head to foot (like a car assembly line!) . Next, still standing, our hair would be quickly attended to. Then into wardrobe, then some sort of dressing room. The wings were bolted on whhen we went on set.
- Do you still have contact to some actor´s/actress of the Movie?
I'm still in touch with Alan Austen, Peter Ross and Derek Lyons. But a couple of years ago I was signing at MCC Birmingham. I'd seen that Sam Jones was also there, and towards the end of the day I thought I would find his table and say hello, even though he wouldn't remember me . I walked up to him and he stared for a few seconds and said " I remember You! You were on Flash!". I couldn't believe it, but he really did recognise me from all that time ago.. we talked about the movie for about half an hour. Incredibly nice, genuine guy!
- Did you think in 1980 that Flash Gordon would be such a success?
To be completely honest, while I thought the film was going to be pretty spectacular and amazing, I didn't really 'get' the 'Retro' look. However, when I first saw the movie,complete with Queen soundtrack (such a good choice) , and some OTT moments, it all made perfect sense! With hindsight, perhaps it was a a masterpiece.
- Is there a funny or scary situation on set or behind the scene that you remeber and can share with us?
I remember on event that could have been straight out of a Carry On film... At some stage the Make-up/dressing room was relocated in a large portokabin in the studio carpark. At the end of a long and tiring day a couple of us returned to it, took our costume off, grabbed a towel and headed for the door marked "To The SHOWERS". As we stepped through, it was pitch dark, and we both tumbled down some steps and found ourselves naked in the car-park.. Not only that, but it took us a good 30 secs to get the door open from the outside! 😁
- Please finish the following sentence: “Looking back , 40 years later, at working on Flash Gordon.....
Looking back 40 years later, I consider myself privileged, and proud to have worked on Flash Gordon. I watched it again only yesterday, and loved it.. It is unique and a cinematic milestone.
- At the last some words for the fans?
To all the Flash Gordon fans I'd say, " You have great taste... One of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy movies of all time!"
- Thank you John for your time for your fans and the Flash Gordon fans.
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