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Interview: Tony Todd on “Candyman”, “Final Destination”

Tony Todd

Tony Todd

Candyman: even now, the most hardened horror hound may have trouble saying his name three times. He’s one of the most distinctive, badass and sadly underrated villains in the history of horror cinema. Conjured from significant inspiration from the age-old urban legend about a murderous stalker with a hook for a hand, revered horror author and artist extraordinaire Clive Barker first brought the story of Candyman to life in his short story, “The Forbidden”. Brought to the big screen in 1992, screenwriter/director Bernard Rose’s film adaptation has been cited as one of the best Barker adaptation’s to date and a seminal achievement in horror following the heyday of Freddy and Jason. But what would an adaptation be without the perfect actor to fill the shiver-inducing trench coat?

That credit goes to exceedingly talented and multifaceted performer Tony Todd. The hulking, easy-going and highly intelligent Todd has become a universal name across the gamut of film, animation, television and theatre. Todd’s big break into acting for the screen happened in 1986 when he was cast as Warren in Oliver Stone’s critically acclaimed Vietnam flick, Platoon. Since then, he’s acted in several superlative TV series, such as The X-Files, NYPD Blue, 24 and even The Young and the Restless. His acting career also boasts an abundance of theatre credits, perhaps most notably as the starring role of King Hedley in award-winning playwright August Wilson’s King Hedley II. He’s won several awards for his stage acting, and of course, has acted in over 150 film and television titles, including no less than four major horror franchises: Final Destination, Hatchet, Wishmaster and, of course, Candyman. Recently, he reprised his role as Ben in Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D, alongside Bill Moseley, who also returns from the 1990 Tom Savini-helmed remake. But aside from his established career as an actor, Todd is also an enthusiastic teacher of playwriting and is an enthusiastic advocate of education. Diabolique got a chance to sit down with him at the Third Annual Calgary Horror Con and chat about his colorful plethora of achievements…

DIABOLIQUE: Are you having a good time in Calgary?

TONY TODD: I’m having a good time in Calgary. It’s an emotional thing because I did a movie in 1996 here called Black Fox with Christopher Reeve. I was here for seven months. So it’s good to be back.

DIABOLIQUE: And you were here a few years ago for the Calgary Entertainment Expo?

TODD: [Three] years ago for the big pop culture show. I do pop culture shit too.

DIABOLIQUE: Your acting career has been quite vibrant. You’ve acted in film, television and stage productions…

TODD: Did you use the word “vibrant”? That’s a good word. You must be an English major.

DIABOLIQUE: Actually, a journalism graduate and soon-to-be professional communications major. So I’m halfway there! But back to the question: How would you say acting for the screen differs from acting for stage productions? Do you approach screen roles differently than stage roles?

TODD: Theatre or stage is my favorite medium because you actually spend six weeks going through the material with a fine-tooth comb with other actors until everybody knows the material backwards and forwards. And then you get on stage and it’s immediate gratification because it’s loud. Film, on the other hand, and television, you tend to get the script and you work on it in private. And then when you come on the set on that day—I mean, they say you have rehearsals but it’s not the same kind of rehearsal. It’s like you have to make a decision that is less organic. Like the decision that is going to be the most, you know, expedient. And if you’re not a good actor, sometimes that first choice is not necessarily the best choice.

Tony Todd

Tony Todd

DIABOLIQUE: And how would you compare acting for film to acting for television?

TODD: Well, there’s an old adage that goes: theatre feeds the soul, film buys the house and television buys furniture. Now, I’ve been lucky because the television shows that I have done have been hot—like extreme cult favorites, from 24 to X-Files. I don’t do the dumb shit.

DIABOLIQUE: X-Files is awesome.

TODD: X-Files is great. I did NYPD. I do Law & Order. I do all the hit ones. I’m fortunate that way. And even in my voice over work, I do all the ones that the kids like.

DIABOLIQUE: People often recognize you by your deep, scary voice, and you’ve done a lot of narrative work for documentaries and television. Have you had any formal training in voice acting?

TODD: No, I didn’t. But I did go to a great school, Trinity Rep Conservatory. I got my masters in theatre. And like, if you know theatre, you can pretty much dial whatever you need to dial down and just find some sort of truth in reality or whatever you’re working on. Our school was fantastic. Acting is weird though because a lot of people think they can just wake up, because either they look good or whatever, and be an actor. Unfortunately, sometimes, that’s true. But generally, they don’t have much longevity. If you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you’ll be better off. A lot of people ask me—because in my school there was 23 of us that graduated, and only two of us are working—and people ask me, “Well, why you and not me?” And I say, “Well, one thing you got to have is fearlessness. You can’t worry about when it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen. You just have to know it’s going to happen and accept that; so fearlessness.”

DIABOLIQUE: You’ve also taught playwriting classes in the Hartford Public School System?

TODD: Yeah. I love teaching. Other than acting and theatre, teaching would be my next favorite thing.

DIABOLIQUE: And why is that?

TODD: Because I love seeing the light turn on in somebody’s eyes when they get it. And I love communicating, and I love emoting. And also, when I was in high school, the way I even got into this whole crazy business is I had a big growth spurt, right, and I was told that I was supposed to play basketball. I love basketball, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t like being told what to do, plus I was totally uncoordinated. And the coaches hated me. And in the high school system, the athletes are the most popular. This English teacher saw the constant frustration in my face, and she handed me a script. It was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I read it and it was like a world just opened up. And so I’ll never forget that it was a teacher that took the time to try to find something that would light the candle. That’s why I like teaching.

Tony Todd

Tony Todd

DIABOLIQUE: How has teaching impacted you as a person and as a professional actor?

TODD: I try to treat each experience as a learning process. If I can’t [learn something from it] or inspire somebody because of it, then what’s the point? I’m not into shit for the fame and glory. As a matter of fact, I hate being recognized, which happens every day. That’s not what floats my boat. I’ve used my notoriety in positive ways. Candyman is popular for a lot of gangbangers everywhere, so I use that to counsel those people. We have a way of opening the dialogue. And they say, “How did you make it, man?” and I say, “Well, I never sold drugs. I love life too much and I respect life too much.”

DIABOLIQUE: So are you an avid reader of Shakespeare?

TODD: Well, I respect Shakespeare. Of course I love classic literature. I love classic film. People expect because I’ve been lucky that I’ve done a couple horror movies—which only account for 30 percent of my work—that that’s all I love. I love film. I love great films.

DIABOLIQUE: Having been cast in several villainous roles in horror movies throughout the course of your acting career, do you feel like you’ve been typecast at all?

TODD: Again, only 30 percent. And 30 percent is not typecasting. The roles I’ve done are just iconic roles. I can’t control that. I just try to do my best work.

DIABOLIQUE: Regarding Tom Savini’s 1990 version of Night of the Living Dead, I’ve read that you beat out a lot of competition for the role of Ben, so tell me about your experience auditioning for that role and why you think you prevailed.

TODD: Because I loved the material, I was a big fan of the original and I had passion. There’s no variable to why one person gets the role and another person doesn’t. I had an audition last week where I thought I was very, very good but I didn’t get it. It’s timing. It’s coincidence. It’s passion. It’s connecting with the director at the right time. And in NOTLD’s case, I literally ran into Tom’s office and I made him consider me. And it worked. Luck, persistence, timing, being prepared when your card is called… Sometimes when you get it, you have to really get it. If you don’t get it, then you’re going to be in trouble.

DIABOLIQUE: What can you say about the future of the Final Destination series? Do you know if there is going to be another installment?

TODD: Did you like the franchise?

DIABOLIQUE: Very much so. I actually went to see the last one—in 3D—with my mom, who had never seen a 3D movie before, so it was a really great experience for both of us.

TODD: Did she like it?

DIABOLIQUE: Oh she loved it!

TODD: Good. That 20-minute opening sequence is pretty intense.

DIABOLIQUE: The gymnast’s fatality was really something.

TODD: Yeah, it was funny.

DIABOLIQUE: So do you know if they’re going to be continuing the series?

TODD: I can’t say because there’s no contract on the table, but I will say that because every one of them has made money, of course they will.

Tony Todd

Tony Todd

DIABOLIQUE: And are you going to be reprising your role as Bludworth?

TODD: Wouldn’t I be? Isn’t he a major part of the franchise? So yeah. And no, I’m not Death in that.

DIABOLIQUE: I was going to ask…

TODD: I know you were. It’s just the easy choice.

DIABOLIQUE: So the whole “Death” thing wasn’t intentional?

TODD: No. He’s not Death—that I can tell you. He’s not Death at all. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. An actor can never reveal every secret, because if we did that there’s no mystery. I hate when people think he’s Death, because he’s not Death.

DIABOLIQUE: How did you feel about the integration of 3D in the last installment?

TODD: 3D is a difficult medium to work with. It takes a lot of time. It doubles the time it would take because every frame has to be shot. It’s kind of crippling as an actor. The toughest thing I’ve ever done is motion capture, which I had to do for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Literally you’re wearing a wet suit and you’ve got these little points of light on your face. It’s time consuming and it’s uncomfortable. One of the secrets of acting is to not be uncomfortable—to be eased, to have flow, to have entirety, to have truth. But it’s a new world. Eventually making movies will be eradicated anyway because everyone has YouTube and reality television. It’s always changing. But as long as there are classic movies around and somebody that loves them, we’ll all have our personal libraries. Who’s your favorite director?

DIABOLIQUE: I would say—in terms of old school horror—John Carpenter, William Castle and Bob Clark. One of my favorite modern filmmakers at the moment is a British fellow named Simon Rumley. His stuff isn’t conventional horror, but it’s very subversive and disturbing. He made a movie called Red, White and Blue that has stuck with me since the first time I saw it years ago.

TODD: Good!

DIABOLIQUE: And what about Candyman 4? Is that going to be going into production anytime soon?

TODD: Again, there’s no contract on the table. Of course, they’re interested in doing it but they don’t know how they want to do it. Half of the contingent wants to use me and the other half wants a new dude. But you know, 10 years ago, I cared, but now, I don’t care. I don’t care in a sense that, “Oh my God, I’m going to die if they reboot it.” I’m good. And even though I don’t own the rights to Candyman, I own the rights to me. So if I really wanted to do something Candyman-like, I could do it and just not call him “Candyman.”

DIABOLIQUE: As the person who is famously known to have starred as the urban legend inspired Candyman, to what extent do you personally believe in urban folklore and supernatural phenomena?

TODD: Well, I was raised as single kid by my Aunt. And she was so good that she wouldn’t let me know that we were poor until I was about 14. We lived in an area that was surrounded by a graveyard, but we didn’t have fear of the graveyard because that’s where we played.  We played softball in there. We played football in there. We chased squirrels. We chilled out in there. I smoked my first joint in the graveyard. So no, I’m more scared of real life politics—things like the Zimmerman Trial and NSA problems in America, and the Middle East thing where we are now on terrorists there again. Do you know that there were over 4,000 lynching in North America in the last hundred years, where black men were systematically lynched and hung from trees? That, to me, is scary. But we live in denial like that never happened, so… so be it.

DIABOLIQUE: What are you currently working on?

TODD: A lot of things. I just got hired yesterday to do this Warner Brothers cartoon called Justice League of America Versus Bizarro, and I’m playing Darkseid. He’s Superman’s number one opponent, after Lex Luther. Do you know anything about Darkseid?

DIABOLIQUE: Not really, no.

TODD: He’s a big purple guy, he’s purple and he wears black shorts. And he can kick Superman’s ass.

DIABOLIQUE: Very cool. Sounds like an interesting character. So you’re a fan of comic books?

TODD: As a kid I was, yeah, but more into Batman specifically. Superman was too powerful. He’s a man that could do anything… unless he had Lois Lane or Kryptonite in front of him.

DIABOLIQUE: Do you plan to direct anything in the future?

TODD: Yeah. I think I’ve done enough that I can do it. But I’m always working. I’m always working and writing.

Tony Todd

Tony Todd

You can find out more about Tony and his upcoming slate by following him on Twitter: @TonyTodd54. For more from Tony Todd, Candyman and Final Destination, check back here at DiaboliqueMagazine.com! Also, don’t forget to pick up Diabolique Issue #17, our incredibly great and star-studded horror-comedy issue, which is available for preorder now, available at the App Store now for iPad / iPhone users (Free with a Digital Subscription!) and will be on shelves and available for Digital Download on other platforms soon!

– By Lacey Paige

Lacey is a devoted horror enthuasiast and movie collector. A recent journalism school graduate, she is currently a contributing writer for Diabolique, Cinesploitation, Absolute Underground and Fangoria. She likes taking long walks in dark, eerie places; reading true crime and horror fiction; and sharing her borderline-obsessive love of horror with just about anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter: @LaceyPaige88.

About Lacey Paige

Lacey is a devoted horror enthuasiast and movie collector. A recent journalism school graduate, she is currently a contributing writer for Diabolique, Cinesploitation, Absolute Underground and Fangoria. She likes taking long walks in dark, eerie places; reading true crime and horror fiction; and sharing her borderline-obsessive love of horror with just about anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter: @LaceyPaige88.

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