Interview by John Atkin - June 2010
In 1986, Mattel announced a contest in which one lucky fan would get the chance to win a cameo in the live-action Masters of the Universe film. The winner of that contest was a young boy from Illinois named Richard Szponder. Instead of just receiving a walk-on roll, Richard was cast in a very memorable cameo as the gruesome Pigboy (evil servant of Skeletor!)
I recently had the chance to chat with Richard about the film, and he shared with me some of his favorite memories from his time spent on the set of Masters of the Universe!
20 Questions: Richard Szponder
1 - How did you find out about the movie contest? How old were you, and where were you living at the time?
Mattel advertised the contest through television commercials, and I remember seeing the “win an appearance in the MOTU live action movie” ads. At the time, I was eight years old, living in the Chicago suburbs. My mother took me to Toys R Us to get an entry form, and I remember telling her that I wanted to send in a whole bunch of forms. She told me she would give me one stamp to send in one form. And that was all I sent in.
2 - What was your reaction when you first found out that you won? What did your friends and family think at the time?
Before I ever officially won the contest, there was a lot of communication back-and-forth between my parents and the people at Mattel. They first contacted us to inform us that I had been selected as a finalist in the contest. Whether or not there were other finalists, I did not know. I assume it was precautionary to get all of the necessary permissions and paperwork signed before announcing me as the winner. It was an exciting time as we waited for phone calls and FedEx packages with documents that required my parents’ signatures.
When I finally did hear back that I had in fact won the contest, I was overwhelmed with excitement. My family and friends were very supportive, as were my teachers and local community.
3 - How long was the wait time for you between winning the contest and actually appearing in the film?
Months went by between winning the contest and the actual trip to California to complete the shooting. Several times, we would receive notification that the trip had been scheduled, only to find out later that filming had been postponed. I remember the disappointment each time the trip was pushed back. When the trip was eventually finalized, we arrived at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, and found out that our flight to Los Angeles had been cancelled. My father ran around the terminals, exchanging our tickets on United for tickets on American, and we finally departed.
4 - Before arriving on set, did you know that you were playing the role of Pigboy? Was the costume design already done for you?
Prior to arriving in California, I had no idea how they would fit me into the film. During one of our first visits to the studio, we were taken on a tour where I was shown concept drawings of the Pigboy character. The costume design was done prior to arriving on set. The concept drawings had detailed the outfit and the mask. I did have to go for costume fittings as the designers gathered the materials and manufactured the costume (I still have the costume today. It was sent to me in a package months after filming was over.) A mold of my face was taken to create a mask of the exact size and proportions.
5 - What was the process of getting into make-up and costume like for you? How long did it take?
I remember the make-up and costume process as grueling. It took hours for the make-up artist to attach the mask and complete the make-up. My family sat with me in the trailer while the artists worked on me. During that time, Billy Barty, who played “Gwildor” in the film, came into the trailer, and we talked about how he would have to spend four hours each day getting his mask and makeup done.
Putting the costume on was also cumbersome and time-consuming. It was made up of so many layers, from material that looked like an old burlapsack to the cape and the helmet. Far worse than getting into make-up and costume though, was getting out of it. I remember the skin on my face burning horribly after they took the mask off. Whatever adhesive they had used to attach the mask left my face feeling like it was on fire for days.
6 - What was it like for you as a kid being on the set of Castle Grayskull?
When I first saw the film sets, I was in awe, but I also remember thinking, “This doesn’t look like Castle Grayskull!” To this day, I still think that the sets and characters should have been more traditional to the toy line and cartoon, rather than the more interpretive sci-fi characters they were. Being on the set was still fascinating, and I remember the network of wires, cables, cameras, and props all over the place. It’s amazing to watch the film and see none of that on camera. If you’ve never been on the set of a film, you have no idea how many people are working behind-the-scenes.
7 - You have some wonderful pictures of yourself with many of the actors from the film. Did you get the chance to meet all of the principal cast? What was it like seeing Dolph Lundgren (He-Man), Frank Langella (Skeletor), Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn), and the other cast members in costume?
Meeting the actors and actresses was probably the most exciting part of the entire process. Dolph Lundgren was one of the first actors I met on the set. He was out of costume, and we met in an office building. Of everyone we met, he was always one of the most gracious. He took the time to say hello, talk with me and my family, and take plenty of pictures. He was incredibly kind. Frank Langella was also amazing, and I remember being intimidated by him. I only met him while he was in costume and makeup, so I had no idea what he looked like in reality. It wasn’t until years later, when I saw the film “Dave” that I found out what he really looked like. One of my favorite pictures from the whole experience is the photo where I’m sitting on Skeletor’s lap with Evil-Lyn standing in the background.
Meg Foster was probably the kindest of all the principal cast. Evil-Lyn was always my favorite character, and I remember being in awe of her costume. It was one of the most elaborate in the film. She spent so much time with me and my family, and I remember those moments very clearly.
People often ask me about meeting Courteney Cox. Yes, I did meet her. Unfortunately, I do not really remember meeting her. But I have the pictures to prove it! I think as an 8-year old kid, I was more enamored by He-Man and Skeletor and all the “bad guys” than by the human girl in the movie.That said, the guys who played the villains were a lot of fun. I met all of them on the set, and we took some fantastic photos together.
8 - In one fantastic photo, you are sitting on the castle throne surrounded by Skeletor’s bounty hunters, holding a rather large sword. What was it like being surrounded by such “monstrous creatures”?
I’ve always loved the villains, the bad guys, and the nasty creatures. From an early age, my father and I always watched scary movies together. Being in the company of Skeletor’s minions was awesome, and I remember some of those moments as my favorites. I remember the guys who played the villains laughing and joking with me and my family, and the pictures that resulted from those meetings are some of my favorites.
9 - In your big scene, you share the screen with Frank Langella’s imposing Skeletor. How did it feel being on stage with him, and being in front of the cameras for the first time? Also, what was it like getting the chance to hold the Havoc Staff?
Being in full makeup and costume probably made the whole experience easier, but I remember seeing through the mask was a bit challenging. We filmed at night, and I remember Mr. Langella giving me bits of advice along the way. It took a few shots to get the scene just right. I don’t recall being particularly nervous, and I do remember that everyone on set seemed excited to have me there. They were all very encouraging and helpful and treated me like a professional.
Is it called the Havoc Staff? I didn’t know that! I remember struggling a little with the staff; having trouble holding it upright and walking with it.
10 - How many days did you spend on the set, and how much time was spent filming the scene you were in?
My family and I were in California for a total of nine days. Much of the time was spent on the set. During the days I was on set, I worked with a tutor. He looked just like John Ritter. It was a legal requirement that I continue to do my schoolwork while on the set of the film. We had lunch in the studio cafeteria and mingled with the cast and crew of the film. As far as filming goes, we only filmed for the one evening.
While in California, Mattel also sent my family on a number of sightseeing trips. They paid for us to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios,and we even toured the Queen Mary. This was especially meaningful because my father traveled as an infant aboard the Queen Mary from England, where he was born, to the United States. We visited Hollywood, Santa Monica, and toured all around the LA area in a limousine that was available at our disposal.
11 - What memories do you have of the Director, Gary Goddard? It is said that after you won the contest, he struggled to find a role for you in the film. Is that true?
I remember spending a good amount of time with Mr. Goddard. He talked with me and my family about filmmaking and about the MOTU movie in particular. He walked around with us, showing us the sets and explaining many aspects of how the special effects would be added into the film.
Apparently he did have some trouble finding a spot for me in the film. I was not aware of this at the time of filming. In fact, I did not find out about that until the film was released on DVD. One of the bonus features on the disc included the ability to watch the film with Mr.Goddard’s commentary. When my scene approached, he talked extensively about the contest and the difficulty placing me in the film. It was fascinating, and the DVD release allowed me to relive the whole experience.
12 - What did you think of the film when you finally saw it in the theater? Were you excited to see your name in the credits at the end?
When the film was first released, Mattel paid for a release party for me, my family, and friends. They purchased an entire block of tickets from one of the local theaters so that I could have my own little premiere. I enjoyed the film, and I remember thinking how impressive the special effects were. I laugh at them now, but I do still think the special effects were some of the best at the time. The film had been so hyped and so promoted that I was glad to finally see it beginning to end. I remember “Good Morning America” doing multiple segments about the film, watching them, and waiting for when I could finally get to see the film.
Seeing my name in the credits was very exciting. I never thought that would be such a big deal. But simply because my name appears in the credits, all kinds of search results return when my name is ‘googled.’ My name is the last one that appears in the cast list, which is also kind of cool. It sort of lingers there as it crawls up the screen, last in line.
13 - I’ve heard that the scene you shot with Skeletor was originally longer, and that he actually spoke to you. Were you disappointed that parts of the scene were cut?
Yes, when the scene was filmed, Skeletor grabbed the staff from me, turned to look at me, and shouted, “Now leave!” I then scurried off. When I first saw the film in the theater, I actually missed my scene. I was expecting something much more significant than what ended up in the film. Of course seeing the film the first time was disappointing. What was even more disappointing, though, was when the film was first aired on television. The portion of the scene where I appeared was completely cut altogether!
14 - What are some of the things you remember most from being in the film?
I remember how kind everyone was; the actors, the Director, the film crew. It seemed that everyone enjoyed having a kid around the set, and I always felt very welcomed. The entire experience was memorable. I can’t believe it was 24 years ago because some of the memories are still crystal clear.
15 - In the credits, your character is simply referred to as “Pigboy.” Do you know if your character was ever given an actual name for the film?
At the time, they had given him the name Mata-Shai. I’m not sure if I’m spelling that correctly, but the drawings looked very much like the final Pigboy costume. Actually, it wasn’t until I watched the film in the theater and waited for my name to appear in the credits that I first saw the “Pigboy” name. You can imagine how thrilled I was at that.
16 - Did you get to keep any cool stuff from the film?
I do still have my costume. One of the coolest moments of the whole experience was when Mattel people showed up on set with boxes full of MOTU action figures. They had asked me for a list of all the action figures I already had. One day, they showed up with boxes of all the figures I didn’t already own. It was amazing! There were figures that had not even been released yet, including the new action figures based on characters from the movie. It was heaven for a kid my age!
17 - After the movie was released, did kids on the playground ask for your autograph?
No, nobody ever asked for the autograph. But it was an experience that got me a lot of attention.
18 - Are you surprised today by all the attention that your cameo as Pigboy has attracted over the years?
Yes, actually I’m very surprised. With the internet, it’s possible to find just about anyone out there. I never would have thought that an obscure character who appears in a movie for literally three seconds would cause people to be knocking on my Facebook door. It’s funny, but I enjoy it. At the Wizard World Chicago booth a few years ago, I introduced myself to the folks at the He-Man.org booth, and all of a sudden people wanted to take their pictures with me. It was pretty bizarre, but kind of neat at the same time. I’m still a fan of MOTU, and I’ve enjoyed watching as Mattel tries to recreate the line for a new generation. I thought the new cartoon series was brilliantly animated and told an amazing story, and I’m really disappointed that it didn’t take off.
19 - With the successful relaunch of the new “Masters of the Universe: Classics” toyline, do you think it’s time that Mattel finally released an action figure of Pigboy?
That would be amazing! MOTU is so unique in that so many collectors, now in their twenties and thirties, who were fans of the cartoon and the toyline are still fans today. The Classics line, more for the adult collector, is perfect for those of us who still feel passionately about the toys we grew up with. Watching the old cartoons now available on DVD, reading the comic books, and collecting the high-end statues and mini busts has been my favorite way of staying in touch with the kid in me.
20 - If asked by the powers that be, would you ever work on another MOTU project again?
Absolutely! As someone who was there in the early 80’s for the launch of the first toyline, and who has stuck by the brand for 30 years or so, I would love to put my two cents worth into a project.
|Richard, Evil-Lyn and Skeletor!||Richard with Gary Goddard and Courteney Cox!||Richard with Blade, Saurod, Karg and Beastman!||Richard Szponder||Richard and Dolph||Skeletor and Pigboy!||Magazine article - 1987||Gary Goddard - Director||Frank Langella as Skeletor||Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn||Carrying the Havoc Staff||Dolph Lundgren||Pig Boy with his sister.||Gary Goddard gives direction.||Rich & Anthony - Powercon 2012||Rich & Gary - Powercon 2012|