If you’re a real pop culture nerd, chances are you get as excited when you see a supporting character with a familiar face as you do when one of your faves is the star. Let’s celebrate these heroes!…
Back in the early World Wide Web days, defunct site Fametracker had an awesome column called “Hey, It’s That Guy!”, celebrating character actors and actresses from all your favorite things. So we’re showing our love for that idea every so often in our Friday Five by doing the same, and this week we’re celebrating the stars of the 1987 Masters of the Universe motion picture!
Now, the item in our August LEGENDS crate celebrates the traditional animated and toy-styled look of He-Man and his friends and foes. But this column is all about celebrating performers across decades of film and TV, so we decided we’d take a slight left turn and zero in on Cannon Films’ attempt to turn MotU into a box office juggernaut. Despite the franchises’ huge popularity with kids in the mid-80s, and star Dolph Lundgren’s new-found fame following his turn in Rocky IV, the film was plagued with production issues and other behind the scenes drama even before it theatres. Though many changes were made to the look and feel of the cartoon, over time Masters Of the Universe the movie has gained quite a cult following, and it definitely features some familiar faces (and voices, for those caked in prosthetic makeup!)… let’s see who’s who. (Note: we only had five slots, so that means we’re leaving out the fresh-faced young actress who played human heroine Julie. Courtney Cox. Yeah, whatever happened to her?… 😉 )
Frank Langella (Skeletor)
He may be virtually unrecognizable behind the grotesque skeletal makeup they applied for him to play He-Man’s arch nemesis, but the commanding voice of Frank Langella is pretty hard to miss. One of America’s greatest stage and screen giants, he’s the winner of four Tony Awards and was nominated for the Oscar for his role as Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon. (Adapted from the play in which he one one of those Tonys). Langella had his first big brush with genre stardom in 1979 in the lead role of John Badham’s version of Dracula; his broodingly handsome version of the Count leaned heavily on the romance. He also appeared on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Jarro Essa; played Perry White in Superman Returns; and most recently, the Jennings’ KGB handler, Gabriel on TV’s The Americans.
Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn)
Few peepers in film and TV are as unmistakeable as Meg Foster’s blue eyes, so pale they almost look like she’s staring through your soul. It’s a physical trait that worked well for her in the role of Skeletor’s right-hand woman, Evil-Lyn in the MotU feature film, along with her customary intensity and gravitas. Foster was incredibly prolific in the 80’s and 90’s, making appearances well-known to fans in a TV version of The Legend of Sleep Hollow (opposite Jeff Goldblum!); John Carpenter’s They Live!, The Osterman Weekend, Leviathan and more. Most recently, she appeared in the super-creepy and excellent war-horror film Overlord in 2018. (Trivia fact!: Foster was also the original Detective Cagney on Cagney & Lacey in the 80’s, but she was replaced shortly into the first season by Sharon Gless because she was deemed “not feminine enough.” Weird flex for a show about tough lady detectives…)
Jon Cypher (Man-At-Arms)
Man-at-Arms is probably among the most recognizable of the MotU characters in this film – maybe even more so than He-Man, as Lundgren adopted a very 80’s mullet in place of He-Man’s traditional bowl cut – but legendary character actor Jon Cypher plays the grizzled warrior as much more of an old-school military man with a touch of fatherly wisdom. A veteran of stage and screen, Cypher made his big debut as the Prince opposite Julie Andrews in the stage version of Cinderella; he went on to star in more musicals including 1776 and Big: The Musical, and did tons of TV in soaps and dramas of the 70’s and 80’s (Dynasty, Santa Barbara, As the World Turns, Hill Street Blues, Knots Landing, etc.) Cypher’s no stranger to genre stuff besides his role here, though; if you’re a fan of the animated Batman Beyond, that’s Cypher as the voice of the evil Spellbinder!
Chelsea Field (Teela)
Heroic female lead Teela probably resembles her cartoon/toy counterpart the least in the MotU film; they gave her much more functional armor that makes her look pretty badass fighting alongside her dad, Man-At-Arms. Chelsea Field is also a compelling presence, given that in the scheme of things Teela gets fairly little to do; she really makes her screen time count. Field made her screen debut in 1985 in a bit part in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, and has since also appeared in films such as The Last Boy Scout and The Dark Half. On TV you’ve seen her in dramas including Tales From the Crypt, Cold Case, NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans… the latter of which she appeared in alongside her real-life husband, Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise’s Scott Bakula!
Billy Barty (Gwildor)
Ah, Gwildor… he’s an interesting one. Entirely created for the MotU movie, he takes the place of the cartoon’s Orko, who was considered impractical for the effects at the time because he floats and has no legs. The pint-sized locksmith and inventor melds pretty seamlessly into the franchises’ world, though, and it’s hard to underestimate the talents of the great Billy Barty in making that happen. A staple of television and film for over 50 years, Barty could lay claim for most of his life to being the most recognizable and prolific short-statured actor around; he appeared in hundreds of titles, from 70’s Krofft psychedelia like The Bugaloos and Sigmund & the Sea Monsters to guest shots on TV like The Love Boat and CHiPs. In the 80’s he had a great fantasy run, not only in MotU but as the dwarf Screwball in Ridley Scott’s Legend, as well as the wise wizard High Aldwin in the beloved Willow. After a long and storied career, Barty passed away in 2000 at the age of 76.