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Tony Todd Interview 01

TONY TODD INTERVIEW

Interview conducted by Stuart D. Monroe

If I have to tell you who Tony Todd is, then you’re probably reading the wrong article. With over 200 credits across all genres of film, television, video games, and voice-over work, Tony is one of the most respected (and selective) actors working today. He’s also a classically trained stage actor and one of the most intelligent and socially conscious people I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with.

In the horror genre, he will forever be Candyman. The iconic role set him up for a career where he’s been able to pick and choose the best parts. A man who loves and has immense respect for the genre, Tony was gracious enough to take a nice chunk of time to discuss his newest film, The Final Wish, as well as the real horrors of the world, the upcoming Candyman reboot from Jordan Peele, horror’s unique ability to be socially relevant, and who’s on his Mount Rushmore of theatrically trained Hollywood names.

Read this into the mirror out loud five times. I dare you.

Horror DNA: Good morning, sir!

Tony Todd: Hey, Stuart. How are you? Good morning!

HDNA: Doing well, sir. How are you? How’s the new year been?

TT: Good! Where am I talking to you from?

HDNA: I am in Dallas; well, close enough to Dallas anyways.

TT: Okay, cool. Happy New Year and Happy 2019!

HDNA: Thank you, sir. It has been excellent so far, and this is a pretty good way to kick it off.

TT: Only three days in, so let’s keep the roll running, huh?

Tony Todd Interview 06HDNA: What can you tell me about your role in The Final Wish? Based on my research, it seems to be kind of a Bludworth, creepy exposition kind of thing…

TT: Well, I don’t want to give it the label “creepy exposition”. It’s exposition for sure, and the exposition here comes in the third act. So, it’s the final exposition to give the hero whatever he needs to get to his path. It’s a Jeffrey Reddick-written script. Jeffrey and I were connected on Final Destination, so whenever he calls, and I know it’s going to be something that might be successful, we answer. It’s a completely different role from Final Destination. I’m not in a morgue this time. I’m actually an antique book expert. It was a lot of fun. It was a cameo, but it was a really good cameo in a movie that was good enough to be picked up for a theatrical release.

HDNA: That’s kind of cool that you just go in for a cameo and they can practically sell it on that alone…well, that and Lin Shaye. She’s just amazing.

TT: You know, I’m pretty picky when I select cameos. I get a lot of scripts that come across my desk, and I’m pretty good at sussing out the ones that will be successful most of the time. And also the personal history – like I said, I’ve worked with Jeffrey on four out of the five Final Destination movies. He’s a good friend. I consider him part of my family, so that also helps weigh my decisions.

HDNA: Definitely. That’s nice.

TT: You have to be able to have your friends’ backs, right?

HDNA: Yes, sir. Indeed. You do seem to be very selective across every genre. The roles are intelligently selected.

TT: Thank you! Well, I still love what I do. I have to be picky. I have a lot of people in my personal life that I’m lucky to work with. I’m really excited about 2019. Already we have a great slate. We’re doing two films in February that are completely different. One is a historical piece where I play a black senator in a western called Badlands. The other film is completely different. I can’t tell you the title right now, it’s untitled, but it takes place in a film school. I play a film professor to a group of students who uncover a horror script that they can’t keep their hands off of. So, we’ve got that too right off the bat. I’m going down to Days of the Dead in Atlanta this year as well as Monster Mania in Cherry Hills, New Jersey. We’ve also got a couple of pilots that we’re already working on and a horror reality show that’s probably going to be dropping really soon. So, it’s a full slate [laughs]. A full year; I’m ready to come out of the gate swinging. All my sports teams are doing well. I mean, what more can I ask for?

HDNA: I wanted to ask about that. You’re from D.C. but grew up in Connecticut. Who are your teams, particularly on the NFL side?

Tony: I like New England. I grew up exposed to the Patriots, and I go to Yankee baseball games. I work out here in California, too, so I got to see Shaq and Kobe in their prime. I love sports. I love competition. It keeps everything else that I do in perspective.

HDNA: I have no complaints this year. I’m born and raised in Clemson, so I’m a Tiger fan just waiting on that National Championship. It’s been a damn good year.

TT: See? There you go. The wait is worth it, just like those Philadelphia Eagles fans finally getting their glory.

HDNA: [laughs] Yep, and we will hear about it for a long time. I’m a Redskins guy, so I have nothing to cheer about.

TT: Yeah, but that Redskins fan base is very dedicated. I did a play once at the Kennedy Center, and I’ll never forget going to the theater on Sunday and walking through the crowd. It was quite amazing.

HDNA: We’re a hearty bunch. We’ve got thick skin. It makes it fun living here in Dallas as a Redskins fan. I wear my gear everywhere I go.

TT:Tony: That’s a hell of a rivalry right there.

HDNA: So, in your selection process what are your criteria? You pick ‘em incredibly well. Are there certain things you look for in that?Tony Todd Interview 02

TT: Just mix it up. I’m a character actor. I have a great team around me – a great voiceover department team, a great agency, and a great manager. They’ll present me with different things, like at the end of the year last year. I did two video games and a Warner Brothers project that’s getting ready to drop soon. I love video games, so whenever they call that’s a trip. And I love movies. They bring me interesting projects, and if I’m available and it floats my boat I’ll probably do it.

HDNA: You definitely keep the variety going.

TT: Yeah! I’ve got to keep it fresh. I’m not interested in; I’ve always avoided being a regular on a TV show. A lot of my friends have done it. It’s great money, but I’ve seen how people get bored really quickly. I want to keep the excitement fresh. Playing different characters keeps me honest.

HDNA: The Final Wish has that Final Destination blueprint, if you will. You can definitely tell it’s one of his. It differed in that it was more of a slow-burn until you showed up for the last third; the speed picked up quite a bit from there.

TT: That’s me! Bringing the third act to life. He’s a different kind of character, you know – more of an archaeologist. Who knows? If it’s successful and we do another one, his role will be expanded, which would be fantastic.

HDNA: I certainly hope so. I know it can be kind of hard in that January time slot for some movies to get the eyes that they should get on them. I hope it does; it’s worth a watch.

TT: I think it’s worth a viewing for the horror fan. It’s not just patently a horror film, but it certainly is horrific. And when the Lin Shaye fans can find the film, I think we’ll be fine. We’ll keep plugging ahead. I’m sure Jeffrey is already pounding away at the typewriter as we speak. He reads every interview that I do, so he’ll hear you write that he’s extremely talented and I want him to dig in even deeper. As a matter of fact, I’ve got to pitch something to him to write for me.

HDNA: Cool! I’m sure there’s a lot more depth he can mine with that story, still a lot left to be told. You mentioned Michael Welch. I was pretty impressed by him. I didn’t fully realize until I started watching it that he was Mack on Z Nation. That was a nice surprise. And Lin Shaye – that’s just icing on the cake. She’s so incredible.

TT: And she had a great role it, I thought. The illumination of the motherhood angle and the different generations was very well-played by her.

HDNA: So, being that it was a small cameo were you able to spend any time with Lin Shaye or really work with her at all?

TT: Sadly, no. We didn’t work together on the set. We met up at the L.A. premiere and bonded immediately. She’s great. She’s got a lot of energy, and her face is becoming more and more familiar. It’s good to see people of all sexes and races get that publicity for what they do in front of the camera. I love the cast on this one. The cast was great, and congratulations to Lin, as well. She did a wonderful job.

HDNA: Absolutely! No we need a sequel just to have the two of you on screen together this time.

TT: There you go! Jeffrey just needs to squeeze that out and get the two of us up there together.

HDNA: I’m pretty sure I even said that in the review. It’s just begging for a sequel.

TT: That’s great. I can’t wait to read it. You know, there are two reasons I did this. A, for Jeffrey, our history and stuff. Also, my manager, Jeffrey Goldberg, was really high on Timothy’s [Woodward, the director] work. We looked at how he’s very atmospheric. I like that every one of his films is a completely different genre. He’s not locked into any one particular take on life, which is great. And he’s got a good team around him. I was glad to be a part of it. I’ve learned in this business (being in it for almost 30 years) the more connections you make with the people you work with, the more it leads to other work. The last 15 years, for me, I have worked repeated times with directors and producers and stuff. I spent the first 15 years cursing out anyone that would look funny at me because I thought I knew everything. But, I’ve settled down and realized that there are things that I can learn still. So many people waste time, but you want to get that circle of people around you that are true go-getters and creative kindred spirits.

HDNA: Excellent advice for everyone. If nothing else, do unto others and it’ll come back to you, right?

TT: Yeah! You know, this is a fun business. This is fun! This is extended preschool. We’re still playing with our silly putty and our peppermint paste and our construction paper, but now instead of dabbling with things and throwing them away we’re making something come to life. So, you go into it with that attitude and not, “Oh, my God. I have to go punch a clock!”. Trust me, I worked in a factory when I was in college. I know what punching a clock is about [laughs].

Tony Todd Interview 04HDNA: You’d mentioned the makeup of The Final Wish being a little more atmospheric and slow-burning. When you get a script for horror, what do you see as kind of a perfect horror movie? Or do you feel that it already exists and everything else is just trying to emulate that?

TT: There have certainly been perfect horror films: Bride of Frankenstein, Rosemary’s Baby…I look for high moments. In every script I try to make sure every one is different. There are certain ones, you know…I’ve done movies with teenagers in them, but I just try to find something with a different character. When I first read Candyman, for instance, the scene with the bees and the fact that he was covered, a living cavity, I knew that I would personally have to get over my apprehension of insects. But I also knew that it would be remembered forever, and I was right! To this day I get people coming up to me saying “Candyman”. Most films come and go. Sometimes you get a horror film that catches fans appreciation that surprises you. I love being Candyman. I love that attention is now being brought back to him, and we’ll see what happens.

HDNA: It’s pretty serendipitous, the timing of it all, with Jordan Peele bringing that back. The social significance of that movie, I would say, is the biggest reason why it has endured. It’s just ridiculous.

TT: Yeah. It’s off the chain. And that’s Bernard Rose [director of Candyman], who had the brilliant idea to transpose the story from Liverpool to Chicago and make it as meat and potatoes America as you could get. He had great depth in the job he did. It wasn’t overly heavy-handed. If it had been, it might have turned off a facet of the fandom. Candyman fans come from places where you’d least expect. I remember one time I did a convention in Florida. This family came up to me, and I could literally just tell that they were mountain folk. I was imagining that they were maybe too old, but they kept staring at me. They finally came up to me, and they said in the deepest Southern twang you can imagine, “We just love your movies!” I realized that, you know what, sometimes you’re making something that you just don’t know. Me and this group of people may have never had any chance to encounter each other or even say hello to each other or cross paths, but because of this one film it was a rallying cry. It’s like you said about the social significance – people feel naked when they watch that film. They have to choose sides: which side of the equation are you on? I think the guilt makes them embrace the film even more. Then you add on what’s going on with our world and the state of society today; when we get to this new interpretation it’s going to be loaded.

HDNA: It’s definitely going to have some teeth.

TT: The last thing you want is an angry black ghost flying around!

HDNA: [laughing hard] Sorry, I have to collect myself. I almost spit my coffee there!Tony Todd Interview 05

TT: Jordan is stellar. His new film looks incredible. Take the recent story that happened in Texas, down in Houston. A little girl was shot. They thought it was a white person, and it turns out that it wasn’t. So, sometimes you have to be quick not to jump to judgement and wait for the facts to come out and then act. The girl that was found today is another: 13 years old and found with the abductor who was only 21! She was able to escape. Those, to me, are the real horrors. The lady who was comatose for years and just gave birth…

HDNA: Oh, my…I hadn’t heard that. What the…

TT: You didn’t hear about that one? Yeah…in a coma for 12 years and she gave birth. Now they’re giving DNA tests to every male who worked in the facility.

HDNA: You can’t write a story half as horrific as that. That’s awful.

TT: I store things like that in my little notebook. Anything that I write, I want to be able to prove that it’s already happened. Those horrific things in life, that’s where it really starts. It has to start with the writer. It’s not just about the naked girl running in the woods, you know? Make something new and inventive and not just cookie cutter so that actors like me can be excited when we read your script.

HDNA: Not that other genres don’t have anything to say, but horror seems to be fertile soil for social commentary. Going back even to movies like Dawn of the Dead…people dismiss horror, but it seems to have a lot more to say than most of the other genres that are out there.

TT: It hasn’t gone away at all. And yes, there has been a lot of bad horror. The fanbase love of horror keeps this ship floating. There are horror fans that will watch anything, and then there are discerning horror fans that will watch only the best. I say you can have the best of both worlds. Just know the difference. Their gratitude and their love is amazing. Look at how many t-shirt companies there are and pop-up art companies there are. The horror con business, for example, is loaded with people who want to throw money at it.

HDNA: Yes, sir. I go to Texas Frightmare Weekend every year.

TT: I love Texas Frightmare, man. I wish I could get invited back there more! Last time I did it was five years ago, I think.

Tony Todd Interview 03HDNA: That sounds right, about five years ago. I actually have a picture of my daughter and I with you up in my office. We go every year since she was four-years-old.

TT: That’s cool! I can’t wait to go back.

HDNA: They always have a great lineup. I’m hoping to be able to go for the site this year as press (not that I mind paying). It’d be cool to get a little more access.

TT: Heck, if you can get a press pass, do it that way. Save yourself some money. You may want something from the vendor’s area (laughs). It’s convenient. It’s a really well-run show. I don’t know if you’ve been to Monster Mania. It’s on the East Coast in Cherry Hills, New Jersey. That’s another good one.

HDNA: Sadly, no. I haven’t been back to the East Coast much since my daughter was born, and that was 14 years ago.

One more thing: my daughter is a theater nut, and I know you’ve said that in a perfect world you’d perform on the stage exclusively, but it doesn’t always pay the bills. Who’s on your Mount Rushmore, if you will, of classically trained actors (regardless of genre) that you’ve worked with or would like to? Oftentimes people don’t realize that actors have that theater background. Who are some of the really good ones that you’ve worked with?

TT: Ed Harris. Ed Harris is definitely one of the greatest actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in scenes with and watching how he works, how he handles the set. That was extraordinary. Christopher Reeve I learned a lot from because he went to Julliard. We went toe-to-toe on almost all of our scenes. John Lithgow is another great one. We did a film in Africa together. So, yeah…when I was in acting school, Robert DeNiro was our God. This is when he was in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. That was everything for us. Classically trained actors, you can just tell. People like Al Pacino are so thoroughly committed to each and every scene. There are no throwaway scenes. They’re able to dig in and sometimes find more in that piece of fruit leaving no pulp unchewed. And I don’t mean that in a chewing the scenery kind of way; I mean being just full of character as you can be. These are the people that inspire me. Hopefully one day I can still work Pacino and DeNiro.

HDNA: I hope so. I’d love to see it. Or even better: John Lithgow! I’m a total mark for John Lithgow. I don’t think he’s played a bad role in his entire life.

TT: He transitions back and forth from comedy to drama in a heartbeat. I just did an episode of The Orville that has myself, Marina Sirtis, and Ted Danson. It was the first time I’d gotten to meet and work with him. Also F. Murray Abraham, a legend! I think that’s going to be out in February.

HDNA: That’s awesome, a great show!

TT: And I play a Moclan, so you get to have fun with that!

HDNA: Nice! Now I really have something to look forward to!

TT: I’m not sleeping around with every crew member [laughs].

HDNA: Keeping it classy there.

TT: Yeah. Exactly.

HDNA: Well, thank you very much. I could talk your ear off all day, but I know you’re a busy man.

TT: Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, Stu.

HDNA: I appreciate the time, sir. Thank you again for your time, Tony!

Horror DNA would like to thank the great Tony Todd for allowing time for to speak with us!

Want to comment on this interview? You can leave one below or head over to the Horror DNA Review Forum.

About The Author
Stuart Monroe
Staff Writer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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