More than 30 years after battling an evil alien emperor, the muscleman-turned-bodyguard returns to the big screen this month in Seth MacFarlane's ''Ted''

By Rob Brunner
June 22, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Sam Jones has made 45 films and appeared in countless hours of TV, but he’s still mostly known as the guy who played a New York Jets quarterback on the planet Mongo in the 1980 cult sci-fi film Flash Gordon. Now he’s back with his highest-profile role in many years, making an extended cameo in Seth MacFarlane’s talking-stuffed-animal comedy Ted. Jones, who does an over-the-top version of himself, sank his teeth into the part. In one scene, he fights with an irate neighbor during an epic house party, and he might have been a tad too enthusiastic during the shoot. ”I almost bit his wrist off,” says the actor with a laugh. ”I got into it a little too much.”

Jones is not somebody you want to mess with. These days the former Marine has mostly given up acting, instead focusing on a second career in the personal-security industry. So how’d he wind up in Ted? ”Seth called me and wanted me to do sort of a spoof of myself,” says Jones, 57. ”It’s funny, a lot of creative people in the business were fans of Flash Gordon back when they were 5 or 8 or 12, and now I’m getting calls where they want to use me for something.”

When Jones scored the lead in Flash Gordon, his résumé consisted of little more than a supporting role in the 1979 Bo Derek comedy 10 and a centerfold in Playgirl (”They paid me $1,000. I thought, ‘Wow, come on!”’). It was a big-budget production, but not, perhaps, the most demanding role. ”A lot of my direction, because I guess [director Mike Hodges] was happy with what he was seeing, was basically ‘Get your line out before the explosion goes off.”’ After Flash, Jones appeared in such movies as Fist of Honor and Expert Weapon and on TV shows like The A-Team and Baywatch.

But cult stardom only gets you so far, even when you’ve saved the world from Ming the Merciless. ”You reach a point in your career when the weeks turn into a month or more of the phone not ringing,” says Jones. ”My wife said, ‘Honey, get your a– outside and don’t come back until you have a job.”’ Jones thought about what he might be good at, and one day he cold-called a security company. ”I said, ‘What do I need to do to come on board?”’ He started the training process, was good at it, and soon found himself protecting a billionaire in L.A. and corporate execs in New Orleans after Katrina.

Jones now lives in the San Diego area and specializes in security for people traveling in Mexico. He usually avoids mentioning his previous career when he’s on the job. At one point he had a gig with a movie exec who had no clue about Jones’ past. ”I had been protecting him for about a year,” the actor says. ”Then he put it together. He said, ‘Oh my God, I know exactly who you are. I trust you with my life! Thank God I knew you as a security professional before I found out you were Flash Gordon.”’