Interview by John Atkin - April 2013
Jon Cypher made his television debut as the Prince in the original 1957 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, opposite Julie Andrews in the title role. He is particularly remembered as Chief of Police Fletcher Daniels in Hill Street Blues, a role he played throughout the lifetime of the series (1981-1987). Jon Cypher also played General Marcus Craig on the popular television series Major Dad, and provided the voice of comic-book villain Spellbinder in the animated television series Batman Beyond. In Masters of the Universe (1987), Jon Cypher played the part of the heroic warrior Duncan: Man-at-Arms! I recently had the chance to talk with Mr. Cypher about his work on the movie, and he was kind enough to share with us some of his fond memories…
1 - How did you get involved in working on the Masters of the Universe movie, and what attracted you to the role of Duncan (Man-at-Arms)?
I met with Gary Goddard and, initially, reading the script I wasn’t really interested because, in the original script, the part was very minimal. However, Gary assured me that he was planning to add substance to the part. So I took a chance because the film seemed like it would be fun to do. Gary was true to his word and, in fact, I actually rewrote one of the scenes and Gary liked it and added it on the very day I brought it in.
2 - How long did you work on the Masters of the Universe movie for?
It’s a long time ago, but I think we were on the shoot for about two months.
3 - Do you remember your first day on set?
I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast much less that first day! Well, actually that’s not true because, as I think of it, I remember Dolph’s wonderful smile of welcome.
4 - What was the atmosphere like on set?
It was a great company. Everyone was very warm and friendly.
5 - Man-at-Arms was one of the main characters in the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon. Did you watch any episodes from the 80's cartoon for reference in playing your character?
No. I’ve played some historic characters in my time and I never researched them. I figured whomever I’m playing become me. For example, I played Thomas Jefferson for a year in the hit Broadway musical 1776 and I was asked once in an interview how I had researched the role and I said, “I looked at a nickel!”
6 - What did you think of William Stout's costume design for Man-at-Arms, and what was it like to perform in as an actor?
I loved the costume and it was easy to work in. Frequently when actors are trying to get inside a character, it finally comes together when they get into costume. I felt that way with that sword on my back and the rest of it… I was ready to go.
7 - What memories do you have of working with Dolph Lundgren, Chelsea Field, Billy Barty, and the rest of the cast and crew? Have you kept in touch with any of them over the years?
I have wonderful memories of everyone in the cast. Dolph Lundgren has the best smile in the known universe and is a very, very sweet man. I remember him pumping up with weights while waiting for the shot and just throwing the weights on the ground the moment the First Assistant Director started to call the shot and entering the shot just as the director yelled “Action.” And, boy, those veins were popping! As you all know, Billy Barty was a legend and I was thrilled to work with him. I remember using the word “dwarf” in his presence and he chided me immediately and informed me that it was an unacceptable word. The proper word he informed me was “little people.” I haven’t used the improper word since that day. The person I was closest to was, of course, Chelsea Field and, yes, we have stayed in touch. I live in Oregon now, and we haven’t seen one another for several years, although we’ve spoken on the phone. I felt like her father in real life. Still do. She’s a beautiful woman from every point of view...inside and out. And I’m so happy she’s found great happiness with Scott Bakula. Courtney Cox and I became friends, but then she got very rich and famous on Friends, and our friendship ran out.
8 - Did you get to keep any cool stuff from the film? (Props? Costumes? Memorabilia?)
No. I wish I had been able to keep something but film companies are ordinarily unwilling to hand stuff out in case they have to reshoot something that will require clothing or a prop. Anyway, I think I’d look funny walking around dressed like Man-at-Arms.
9 - What did you think of the film when you saw it back in 1987? Looking back, have your thoughts on the film changed at all?
All in all, I think it fulfilled what it set out to do. I’ve never seen it again after the initial screening. But I remember being pleased with what I saw. It was for me a very difficult shoot because we did a lot of night shooting at a distance from LA (I think we were shooting a lot in Whittier, the town where President Nixon had lived) and I was also doing the last season of Hill Street Blues (seven seasons as Chief of Police Daniels) at the time during many shooting days. That was a killer. It meant working all night and then racing back to LA to work all day. But, hey, where else do you get to be the “second greatest swordfighter in the Universe” even though, damn it, I never got to draw my sword.
10 - Sony Pictures plans on making a new "He-Man" movie in 2015. Is there any actor working today that you could see playing the role of Man-at-Arms?
Well, it should be an older guy with greying hair, but since most actors dye their hair when they get older (so they don't look like they're older) they'll almost certainly have to come back and hire me! On the other hand, Man-at-Arms with a cane doesn't quite work.
11 - Mattel has a new He-Man toy line in production for adult collectors called Masters of the Universe: Classics. Would you like to see a "Man-at-Arms" action figure made someday with your likeness?
Now there's a question! Hmmm! Even though I'm a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I guess I'm never going to get an Oscar or even a measly nomination, so it actually might be cool to have a toy for the mantelpiece that looks like me. And, wow, get this… I could spray-paint my little self gold… have a nifty plaque inscribed for the base, and who would ever know? Well, except me, of course... ;)
With love to all, Jon.
...A VERY big thank you to Jon Cypher for his kindness, and for taking the time to answer questions for the fans.