Interview by John Atkin - April 2010
Pons Maar is originally from Florida, where he studied ceramics and visual arts. A keen interest in performing led him to a number of intensive workshops; encompassing everything from trapeze to improvisational ensemble theatre. After moving to San Francisco, he became a fixture on the local arts scene as a graphic designer, musician, and performance artist. He played in a couple of punk/alternative/art bands before setting out on a solo performing career. At a performance of 'Natural Enemies' he was seen by Oscar-winning Sound Designer/Editor Walter Murch, who cast him as the Lead Wheeler in the movie Return to Oz. Pons acted in the film and served as the Performance Coordinator; starting what was to become a pattern of working on both sides of the camera. Following with other non-human roles in The Golden Child and Masters of the Universe, Pons continued to delve deeper into the confines of latex makeup and hot and heavy suits. He performed in 65 episodes of the hit TV series Dinosaurs, and played the lead character in the movie Theodore Rex. Over the years, he began to focus more on Coordinating Puppets and Creatures. This lead to work on major productions like Monkeybone, Team America: World Police, and TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Pons served two years as Co-Head of the Puppeteer Committee for the Screen Actors Guild. Currently he is shooting video, editing, and working in the Naming and Branding field with the company 'A Hundred Monkeys.'
In the 1987 movie Masters of the Universe, Pons Maar played the part of the reptilian creature Saurod. His character wore an elaborate metal helmet and body armor, and was armed with a laser gun and retractable razor claws. In the film, Saurod and his fellow bounty hunters are sent to Earth by the evil Skeletor to capture He-Man and retrieve the Cosmic Key. I recently chatted with Pons about his work in the film, and he was kind enough to answer some questions and share his thoughts about his experience performing in Masters of the Universe...
20 Questions: Pons Maar
1 - The character of Saurod is one of the most popular characters from the original Masters of the Universe movie. Many fans at He-Man.org have compared your character to Boba Fett from the Star Wars films, in terms of his “coolness” factor. Were you aware of your character’s popularity within the He-Man fan community?
No, I was not aware of Saurod’s popularity at the time but I thought I definitely had the coolest character in terms of the production design done by William Stout.
2 - How did you get involved in the Masters of the Universe movie? Did you audition for the character of Saurod specifically, or did you audition for any other characters as well?
I think I went in for a bit of a group audition and then some call backs. I remember being in groups with big muscle bound guys and short little guys so it was pretty mixed up. The last call back involved all of us standing with Dolph Lundgren so the director could get a sense of how everyone looked together size-wise.
3 - How long did you work on the MOTU film for?
Can’t remember the exact amount of time but it was months. We had a pre-shooting period of training, then once shooting started I was needed at the beginning of the shooting schedule and at the end. Basically I was involved in scenes shot on location and on stage and the schedule had them spread out for practical reasons. The shoot ended up going over time-wise so I was at home being paid, waiting to be called back in for the next phase of shooting.
4 - Your character had one of the coolest, scariest, and most elaborate costumes in the film. How long did it take for you to get into makeup & costume for your scenes, and what was it like wearing the hand painted 'lizard eye' contacts?
My costume was made by a shop that did a bunch of the props and things... so, I was going in and having the suit built on me for several days. They did a great job of making the costume faithful to the production designer’s drawing but the making of it and the wearing of it were somewhat taxing. It wasn’t the easiest costume to get into and out of but it wasn’t the worst, certainly not the heaviest, suit or costume I ever wore. I know that the first time it was all assembled on-set just to get the director’s final approval it took about 8 hours to get it all on me... I was furious. But, they did get the suiting up time down to a much more reasonable amount of time.
What I really remember is the helmet. I had a partial appliance on my face because only part of Saurod’s face would show thru the helmet. The costume helmet never had a fitted interior. It was just a big open shape. My dresser would have to force foam up behind my head wedging the helmet into my face. I wore glass lenses in my eyes which, once in place, started to slowly give me tunnel vision. I think it had something to do with oxygen not getting to your eyes. It was really uncomfortable and the longer I had the helmet on and the lenses in the less I could see. I ended up doing a lot of scenes basically blind.
This was just before the complete adoption of flexible lenses. As soon as they were inserted your peripheral vision was cut in half. Then as time passed, and I mean short increments of time, the tunnel vision just got worse and worse. After one particularly long shooting day on location they put me up in a room because my eyes couldn’t completely focus and I didn’t feel safe driving home.
5 - Saurod’s costume had a movable tail that was controlled by remote control, which I understand required you to wear a special harness under your costume. Did this ever cause you any problems during the filming of your scenes?
No, I was pretty much unaware of the harness and the tail while shooting. Probably because so much else of the costume was so uncomfortable.
6 - In the movie, your character’s throat expands and contracts like a frog. How was this impressive visual effect achieved for the film?
You’re gonna love this. It was the most low tech solution but it worked well didn’t it? They had an inflatable bladder in the dewlap, as the throat pouch was called, and ran a tube into my mouth so I controlled it just by blowing into the tube. I’m pretty sure the inflatable bladder was a condom.
7 - Gary Goddard (the Director) said in a recent interview that he created Saurod so that a character could be killed off in the movie without harming the original cartoon continuity. As Saurod was a brand new character, there wasn't any previous material for you to work with. Did this allow you more freedom to flesh out the character on your own?
Well, honestly, I was just trying to make the character’s movement believable and unique. I was also just trying to survive the shoot.
8 - Your character doesn't speak in the film, but he hisses, snarls, and moves around with a great deal of vigor and enthusiasm! Did you do all the vocal sound effects for the character yourself, and did you develop the animated body movements that Saurod is known for on your own?
I don’t think I was available during post to do the audio of the character so I’m pretty sure the vocals aren’t mine. Saurod’s movement was all mine.
9 - In both your first and last scenes in the film, you share the screen with Academy Award nominee Frank Langella’s larger-than-life Skeletor. What was it like performing with him on set?
Frank was a really polite and gracious man. I think it probably had to do with his theatre background. Once, when we were on set I was in my lean board... probably need to explain that... once suited up with my mechanical tail I could only lie down on my side or, if I wanted to stand, lean against a stand that had a space for my tail to poke thru. I couldn’t sit on anything... so Frank came by and asked if I was comfortable and then wanted to know if I wanted anything to read or needed anything. This is something that very few actors I’ve worked with have ever done.
In terms of performing, you have to understand that I was performing with someone who was wearing the Skeletor mask, so it could have been almost anyone in there. Obviously Frank gave a fantastic performance but, as I’ve mentioned before, it was not the most comfortable suit or lenses to be wearing while performing so there was always an urgency for me in getting everything shot as soon and as well as possible.
10 - Skeletor kills Saurod as punishment for failing him in his mission to Earth. A lot of fans at He-Man.org have said that they felt your character was killed off too quickly in the film. Were you disappointed at all that your character died so quickly?
Only once the film was released was I aware of how little screen time my character had. I had plenty of on-set time and shooting time, so... no, I wasn’t disappointed but it would have been cool to have seen more of Saurod. Then again, I am a firm believer in leaving people wanting more.
11 - In the film, it appears that Saurod pulls out his gun to shoot Skeletor before he gets incinerated by Skeletor’s purple energy bolts. Did Saurod try to kill Skeletor before getting blasted?
Absolutely he went for his gun. Self protection, if a little late.
12 - What memories do you have of working with Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the cast? Have you kept in touch with any of the cast and crew over the years?
Pretty vague memories at this point. I remember they had a complete work-out gym for Dolph rigged up in a trailer for him. He would do curls before shooting so his muscles were ripped. It didn’t seem like he had much experience as an actor but he gave it his all and he looked fantastic. I kept up with some of the cast and crew after and I worked with a lot of the same people on other projects.
13 - After the release of the movie, Mattel turned Saurod into an action figure, whose special feature was shooting sparks from his mouth like fire. The character never displayed such an ability in the movie. Were there any scenes (deleted or not filmed due to budget constraints) in which Saurod actually had that power?
I think that originally he was supposed to have a venom like fluid he could shoot out his mouth... or was it his claws(?)... He was a reptile after all. I’m not sure when that idea was dropped during the production so maybe that was what the sparks shooting out the action figure were all about.
14 - Did you ever see (or own) the Saurod action figure, and what did you think of it? Also, were you aware that your character would get an action figure while you were making the movie?
I did own one of the action figures and thought it was really cool. During production I didn’t know which characters would be made into action figures.
15 - Did you get to keep any cool stuff from the film? (Props? Costumes? Memorabilia?)
I don’t think I have anything.
16 - You have played a number of 'creature' roles over the years in film and television. Did your work on the Masters of the Universe film help lead to any of these parts?
Well, playing 'Fu' in The Golden Child led to both Saurod and a part in Dead Heat as one of the pool zombies as it started defining me as a creature performer.
17 - What did you think of the film when you saw it back in 1987? Looking back, have your thoughts on the film changed all?
Have to say I didn’t like it that much. I was never a big He-Man fan and didn’t think the script was very strong. Also, I thought there were strong and weak parts in everything from the writing, the acting, the cinematography, and the effects. I imagine I still feel the same way about it now.
18 - With older genre movies like Star Wars and Star Trek getting "special edition" makeovers on DVD (with brand new effects added to them), do you think a film like Masters of the Universe could benefit from a similar treatment? Or should they just leave the film as is?
It’s hard to imagine anyone adding any effects to the film, as there was never a sequel, nor a studio interested in future He-Man projects to my knowledge. I would love to see a special edition DVD release if there is any behind the scenes footage, or even a collection of the production designs done by William Stout. As I’ve mentioned before, all the production design by William Stout was phenomenal. I became friendly with him and years after the film I was able to purchase the original character design (ink and water color) for Saurod. William (Bill) took it out of its frame and inscribed, “To my great and talented friend Pons who made this character come to life.” I feel honored to have it.
19 - Now that there's a new He-Man toy line in production (Masters of the Universe: Classics), would you like to see a new action figure made of Saurod?
That would be great. It’d be cool to see a reinterpretation.
20 - A new Masters of the Universe film is being produced by Sony Pictures for the big screen. If asked, would you ever work on another He-Man movie (either as an actor or behind the scenes)?
Well, of course I would. We can just keep making it till we get it right.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions this evening. Your answers really give new insight into the making of the film.
It was a pleasure answering the questions, I had to really think back and remember things. Its always a pleasant surprise knowing that there are people out there still interested in work that we did so long ago.
A VERY big thank you to Pons Maar for his kindness, and for taking the time to answer questions for fans at he-man.org and www.motumovie.com
Pons Maar has a personal website, which can be seen at www.ponsmaar.com