Based in Los Angeles, the multi-talented Anthony De Longis masters careers as an actor, stuntman, fight director, whip master, horseman, bladed weapons specialist and trainer, and Voice Over artist. He has trained such notable stars as Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jet Li, Anjelica Huston, Bo Derek, and Tom Cruise. De Longis is the whip expert who taught Michelle Pfeiffer how to handle the bullwhip as Catwoman in Batman Returns, and who helped Harrison Ford brush up on his whip skills for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullStar Trek: Voyager. His combined abilities as an actor, swordsman, and bladed weapons scholar helped create one of the most popular episodes of Highlander: The Series.
In the 1987 movie Masters of the Universe, Anthony De Longis played the part of the aggressive swordsman known as Blade. He is introduced in the film by Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) as being one of Skeletor’s (Frank Langella) finest warriors. Bald with an eye patch and a scar on his head, he wore armor covered in chain-mail and spikes. Blade was armed with two large swords, and carried an array of knives and projectile weapons. I talked with Anthony De Longis about his work on Masters of the Universe, and he shared with me some of his memories from that time.
1. What was the process that led to you being cast as the gruff and aggressive swordsman known as “Blade”?
I was recommended to Director Gary Goddard as both an actor and sword expert. Gary liked my reading and skill set and cast me in the role.
2. Not only did you act in the film as one of main villains, but you also served as a broadsword trainer and fight co-choreographer. How much time did you spend working on the film, and what key scenes were you responsible for choreographing?
The great Walter Scott was our Stunt Coordinator. I’ve since worked for Walter on MAGNIFICENT 7, as well as choreographing the flashback sword action and training the actors for SECONDHAND LIONS. Stunt legend Loren Janes (Steve McQueen’s double) was assisting Walter and was set to train Dolph Lundgren. I had worked with Loren on MACGYVER, and Loren very graciously said, “You know more about swords than I do – you train Dolph.” So I did. I choreographed both the Blade vs. He-Man sword fight and the Skeletor vs. He-Man climactic Power Staff / Sword of Grayskull duel at the end (doubling Frank Langella for the action).
3. What was it like sparing with Dolph Lundgren during the sword fights? What type of training did he require from you to do the scenes?
I trained Dolph for a month giving him a solid one and two handed broadsword vocabulary. He’s a terrific athlete and a trained kick-boxer so he had terrific natural skills. Then due to the filming schedule, I didn’t even see him for the better part of the next month. I kept asking Walter Scott when I could see the location so I could plan choreography for the film. The environment always plays an important part of any action scene and can either be embraced or struggled against. I prefer to make the setting an active character in the scene when I can. Walter assured me we’d have “plenty of time once we got there.” Guess what scene we shot FIRST on the very evening we arrived at our Whittier location. You guessed it, the big sword fight. Fortunately I’d taught Dolph some double sword vs. single sword choreography as part of our training regimen and that gave us something to build on with virtually no rehearsal.
4. What did you think of William Stout’s elaborate costume design for Blade? With all the armor you had to wear, was it difficult to perform in during the fight scenes?
It was not user friendly. My chainmail was 10 six foot lengths of steel pipe cut into 1/4 inch pieces. They never would tell me how much it actually weighed but it was definitely in excess of 50 pounds. My dresser actually wrote me a letter because she was worried about my health and the strain this would put on me physically since all this weight was on top of a suit of surgical rubber. Initially I had no exposed skin other than my head. I was able to convince them to cut the arms out of the wardrobe so my skin could breathe a little, but I regularly poured my sweat out of my boots at the end of every shooting day as if I’d been wading in a river.
Second funny story: this one also involving wardrobe that looked great but was a bitch to work in. When I choreographed the story of the final duel with Skeletor and He-Man, I was assured Skeletor’s helmet wouldn’t restrict the movement of his Power Staff. I designed some practical but very complex and flowing attacks and defenses to make the duel a clash of titans, and to give Skeletor’s character credibility by pitting He-Man against a worthy opponent. Day of filming, and I’m given the post transformation Golden Helmet that looked like the skyline of New York with elk horns jutting out into the neighboring states. Most of the choreography I’d created was impossible to execute due to my chapeau’s superstructure. I couldn’t wield the staff around my head or even efficiently around my body without clipping the projecting horns, so a quick on-the-spot adaptation of the action was required. Action execution was made even more difficult by the fact that the helmet’s eye slits only let me see straight ahead cutting my peripheral vision to nil. I literally couldn’t see the stairs or ground where I was fighting. Every step was a treacherous adventure since I was in Langella’s leather soled boots and the smoke that made the lighting so beautiful, also covered the floor with a fine sheen of slippery oily film. It was like fighting on an icy precipice, with Dolph swinging his enormous and very heavy sword that I affectionately dubbed the “Buick Slayer.” And you thought working in show biz was easy and glamorous. Sometimes it’s a fight for survival.
5. One of the personal sacrifices you had to make for the role of Blade was to shave your head. How did you feel about having to do that for the role?
I had two choices for the Blade look, I could spend an hour in the makeup chair like Karg and Beastman, or I could shave my head. I opted for the latter. Now remember, this was long before Michael Jordan, et al, had popularized the look, so some people found it a bit alarming. I was always a fan of Yul Brynner, so I didn’t mind. We did 6 weeks of night locations in Whittier, which meant I’d hit rush hour traffic both going and coming to work. I used the time to shave my head with an electric razor and glare at the other drivers. Good times.
6. Blade was shown as being He-Man’s near equal in sword play. When he first challenges He-Man to a sword fight on Earth, he acts like he has a personal vendetta against the hero. Some fans have speculated that this was because he had lost an eye in a previous duel with He-Man. Were you ever given any back story for your character as to why Blade hated He-Man so much?
No, I was never given anything specific, but I always felt they had crossed paths before and Blade was out for a re-match. They definitely had a past and a great deal of respect for each other’s deadly array of skills. I believe it’s important for an adversary to push a hero to his very limits or your hero is weakened for lack of a challenging, worthy opponent. If they don’t have to dig deep, if the victory is a foregone conclusion and there’s never any real jeopardy, if the hero is never truly challenged… they’re not much of a hero. Ultimately the audience is denied the emotional investment and suspense that comes from genuine peril and danger and the resulting rise to the challenge heroism that only a strong foe can offer.
7. In one memorable scene, Skeletor orders Blade to whip He-Man into submission with a red “laser” whip. The Director (Gary Goddard) had you hold the handle – minus the whip – while shooting the actual scene. A special effects artist was given film of you using an actual whip, and hand painted the laser effect on film. Do you think the scene could have been blocked differently to allow you to safely use an actual whip, or were you happy with the end result?
If you go to the Whip Master chapter of my skills reels at www.delongis.com, you’ll see me cut the wick out from under the flame of a candle, cut through a wineglass my partner Dave Baker is holding in his bare hand, and see me sever a target from Dave’s fingers at full gallop as we pass on two charging horses. When you can do it for real, filming is easy. But for MASTERS, they wanted to show off their special effects. I asked that they let me show them how a whip actually works and demoed my unique “De Longis Rolling Loop” style that I used for Michelle Pfeiffer and later taught Harrison Ford. Frankly I prefer real skills done in real time. I think it provides the character credibility and offers the audience more emotional investment and ultimately a more satisfying movie going experience. Perhaps you fans can write letters and get me back to play the more experienced Blade in the next movie, complete with more refined skills.
8. The final fate of Blade has been a mystery to fans over the years. During his final battle with He-Man at Castle Grayskull, Blade is hit with the back of a rifle and sent stumbling off camera. Although we never see it, it is implied that Blade fell down into one of the open pits. Do you know if Blade actually died in the film, or do you think he survived?
Thanks for remembering. I absolutely believe that Blade survived. I’d love to see my character brought back, especially if I’m playing the role. Again, I believe in the power of the fan base, so please write letters and accept no substitutes. Thank you.
9. You were Frank Langella’s stunt double during the climatic sword fight between Skeletor and He-Man at the end of the film. Did you know when you were cast that you would be Langella’s stunt double for the fight scene, and what was it like being dressed up as Skeletor?
No, that was a decision made at the end of the film just before we shot the scene. I worked out the choreography as outlined above, and then suited up to shoot the action that we had to instantly amend and adjust, pretty much on the spot. I’m reminded of when I later worked with Jet Li in FEARLESS. He and I met when I walked on the set and we shook hands. Immediately Woo Ping’s team started throwing out ideas. When Jet and Woo Ping were satisfied with the story of the action phrase, Jet and I walked it a couple of times and then shot it at speed, never more than two takes before Woo Ping was satisfied and we moved on to create our next brand new phrase. Believe me, Jet Li at full speed is quite the dance partner. Neither one of us had memorized the choreography we’d just created, but once in distance our decades of respective training had us moving automatically in response to each other’s energy. Working with Dolph Lundgren, another amazing athlete, was pretty much the same situation. Working in this manner requires tremendous ability and much practiced high level skills. Everyone has to bring their “A” game. Not my favorite way to work, as I like a little rehearsal, but it’s always fun rising to the challenge when failure isn’t an option.
10. Masters of the Universe was originally set up to be a trilogy of films, with many of the principal actors having signed on for three films. If a sequel had been made, do you know if Blade would have returned, or if you would have been working behind the scenes again?
I always hoped there would be a sequel and I would very much like to contribute to the success of that project. I’d love to bring a new dimension to the role of Blade and I’d be very pleased to help create new and exciting action sequences for a future film.
11. What memories do you have of working with Gary Goddard, Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, and the rest of the cast and crew? Have you kept in touch or worked with any of the cast and crew on other projects?
Lovely memories of working with all of them. Meg Foster was also a delight; gorgeous, and deliciously, sensually evil. Alas, I’ve had no contact with any of them since filming other than running into Gary Goddard at a restaurant a decade ago after a screening at the Motion Picture Academy. That’s one of the downsides of working in the movies. You become a team working intimately together to overcome the obstacles that are inherent in making something as challenging and fragile as a movie. When it’s over, everyone moves on to the next job, often never to see each other again.
12. After filming wrapped, did you get to keep any cool props or memorabilia from the film?
I was able to keep my Blade swords. I donated one to a Highlander charity a few years ago and still have the other in my office.
13. You have had many memorable guest starring roles over the years in film and television, often playing villains that viewers love to hate, on shows like Highlander: The Series and Star Trek: Voyager. Do you think your work on Masters of the Universe helped lead to any of those parts?
Work always helps generate work so I’m sure it didn’t hurt. I love to play strong antagonists because as mentioned earlier, a hero needs a worthy adversary to be truly heroic. I never play the villains as “bad” guys. I always think of myself as the hero. I play by my own rules because I can, at least until I encounter a hero strong enough to thwart my intentions.
14. What did you think of the movie when you first saw it back in 1987? Looking back, how do you feel about the movie now?
I liked much of what I saw, but felt there were things that could have been more effective, but then I believe you should always strive to be better and never settle. OK is never good enough. I’m afraid I haven’t seen the film in over 20 years. I’d like to see it again and see how it holds up.
15. Blade’s sly mix of humor and intimidation, along with his cool costume, swords, and projectile weapons, turned him into a fan favorite. Many fans have said that Blade was their favorite new character in the film. What do you think it is that made your character stand out?
That’s exactly what I was going for. Seriously, I had no idea my character was so popular. That’s very gratifying. My thanks to you and the fans. I gave the portrayal of Blade my all, and did the very best I could with every scene. I always do. I’m very pleased to hear the fans were pleased with my efforts.
16. Blade was one of only three characters from the movie to receive an action figure. What did you think of it when you first saw it?
I wished it looked more like me (I suspect they didn’t want to pay royalties). I still have a lone action figure but I’m afraid the weaponry and accessories disappeared over the years.
17. Mattel has a new He-Man toy line in production for adult collectors (Masters of the Universe: Classics.) Would you like to see an updated version of Blade made as an action figure?
Yes! Especially if it looks more like how I portrayed Blade in the film.
18. A number of older sci-fi/fantasy films like Star Wars and Star Trek have received “Special Editions” on DVD. Some of these films had new special effects added to visually enhance them. Do you think a film like Masters of the Universe could benefit from a similar treatment?
Undoubtedly. Much of the FX was pretty crude in those days. The technology has grown exponentially since we made the film.
19. You have done voice work on a number of popular video game and animation projects. If a new Masters of the Universe cartoon is ever released, would you be interested in doing voice work on it?
I’d love to! Voice-over acting is one of my favorite things to do. If you ever get to play RED DEAD REDEMPTION you can bring justice to the Wild West riding with my character Marshal Leigh Johnson. I had a great time doing both the voice and the performance capture and I’ve created a new deliciously bizarre character for Epic Games BULLETSTORM, coming out the first of next year. Last week I recorded three characters for REDEMPTION 3. I enjoy Voice Over work, it’s “theatre of the mind”, and it keeps my acting chops sharp. It would be great to get another shot at a Masters of the Universe role.
20. There is talk of a new Masters of the Universe movie being produced by Sony Pictures in the near future. Given the chance, would you ever want to reprise your role as Blade in a new He-Man movie, or possibly play another sword wielding character? Would you also be interested in doing any behind the scenes work again as a fight choreographer?
In a heartbeat! I’ve got 38 years as a working professional on both sides of the camera to bring to the new project. I’d love to contribute to the success of a new MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE film as an actor, fight director, action choreographer or voice over artist. I’d be most appreciative if you fans wanted to spear head a write in campaign to have me return. I’d love to play a part like Tri-Klops, but it would be nice to see some of my face on screen should that opportunity come to pass. I can be much more expressive when I’m not wearing a full helmet. I’m just saying.
Interview by John Atkin – Nov 2010
Originally posted at motumovie.com