Believe it or not, the first film that I actually saw Tony Todd in was Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night Of The Living Dead.
However (and perhaps predictably), it wasn’t until I saw Candyman (at the ripe old age of 13 or 14) that I really noticed him. Since then, he has gone on to amass an impressive resume of work in films such as Final Destination, The Crow and The Rock and in TV shows such as 24.
We first mentioned a low budget UK independent horror flick called Dead Of The Nite back in January, when it was announced that the film, delayed for a huge funding drive, had secured the services of Tony Todd.
Of course, we sat up and paid attention.
Since then, we have been fortunate enough to talk to director SJ Evans and producer Sousila Pillay on several occasions and I was genuinely thrilled to be invited down to Cardiff for an opportunity to sit down with this true “Titan of Terror”.
So after a gruelling 8 hour car journey from the barren wastes of the North, I found my tiny carnie hand engulfed by the biggest hand I have ever seen, in a manly handshake with the Candyman himself, before taking my seat opposite him and shooting the breeze on Dead Of The Nite, Final Destination, Hatchet and, of course, Candyman.
It’s worth mentioning that Tony Todd is a lovely guy. Polite, funny, completely free of pretension and passionate about his career both on and off the screen. I would like to thank Tony for taking the opportunity to talk to me.
Andy – So, how are you finding Cardiff?
Tony Todd – Oh yeah, last night, here I am in beautiful Cardiff and I am told by the producer, “Oh you can walk out of here, go to your left and there are a lot of pubs that are open until 4.” I took that in. Now, the old Tony might have been like “Oh really” but THIS Tony? I went to sleep, woke up at midnight, realised I had that option but I thought, “I am going to go downstairs and get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cup of tea”, and that’s what I did.
AE – Lovely stuff! Let’s get going. I believe this is the first horror movie that you have made in the UK, is that right?
TT – The first one that I have been here for physically, yes.
AE – I also know that you appeared very briefly in SJ’s documentary on tattooing, but what was it specifically, that attracted you to come over and appear in Dead Of The Nite?
TT – Well, I love to travel and I love a good part and I had met SJ and Shoo at Memorabilia about 3 years ago and they promised me that they were very dedicated in wanting to make a movie and their passion was such that I said OK. A part of me put it aside and said “yeah, they’re kinda serious” and it took a couple of years but we got talking and it happened, and here we are. What I didn’t realise is that it was a ten hour flight to Heathrow, and then a three hour drive, but thats OK because I love this area. It’s beautiful. And the part as well. Im looking forward to tomorrow, its my first day, I have a lot to squeeze into 2 days.
AE – A flying visit then?
TT – Yeah, they’re kicking me out on Tuesday. When I first started in film, they usually booked you for like 6 weeks, or 8 weeks, and you’d do a scene a week but this is a bit different.
AE – Are you able to tell us anything about the character that you are playing?
TT – Yeah, I play an American ex-patriate who has been in the countryside for about 30 years, he fell in love with a woman here and it didn’t work out. Actually, I was accused of her murder and I have been under the radar ever since. My current job is as a caretaker at this gorgeous manor, this authentic castle that is just going to be eye candy for audiences and Im a bit of a suspect in what’s going on here, I don’t know why that is, but now they suspect of 5 people being killed? So the question for the audience is whether or not your on my side. Whether youre against me or for me. Are you against me or for me?
AE – Ummm…
(He stares at me menacingly for some seconds. I almost flee in terror, until he smiles)
TT – Anyway, thats the journey of the film, Dead of the Nite. Yes, I was there for the beginning and I’m there at the end but whether that means anything… you’ll have to wait.
AE- What are you most looking forward to on this little independent UK film?
TT – You know, I’m able to juggle big budget films where they pay you a lot of money so I can pick and choose an independent film that I like and usually, with independent films, the filmmakers have more vision, the films are more down to earth and tend to be more character driven. So its fortunate that I can say yay or nay. Yay or nay.
I want this film, Dead of the Nite, to be successful on its own merits because it has a great story and I’m told we have a terrific cast. I know the producers and they are wonderful, marvellous people. One of them is sitting behind me right now…
I so hope that they make their money. It needs to be successful and in order for independent films to continue, it’s important that your readership, and everybody who says they love good films, go out and support the ones that have merit because without that, we cant have more films being made.
Also, this is the second case where fans have turned into film-makers. The first one was Adam Green. He started as a fan and now he has, what, like 5 films under his belt and a new TV series.
AE – Ah… Holliston.
TT – Yeah! Holliston. I’m doing episode 4 and Kane (Hodder) was in the second one. I don’t know if I can say that. I guess I can. Sometimes they give me these Non Disclosure Agreements but I didn’t sign one for Adam because we are friends. I have got to be careful what I say and don’t say, like with Dead of the Nite…? Am I the killer or not?
AE – You have played some pretty iconic roles within horror, what is it that keeps you coming back to the genre time and time again?
TT – Actually, what I come back to more than genre films is theatre. I do theatre any chance I get. We are now developing a one man play about Jack Jefferson, the first black heavyweight fighter in America. (In the 1967 play ‘The Great White Hope’, Jack Jefferson was the fictionalised name used to portray the real life first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson)
We did a test performance about a month ago and it was great. Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, The Crow), who is a friend of mine, wrote it and he was gracious enough to give it to me and that’s going to go places. I have also just been sent a new play called The Roost, and I’m going to go do a play read-through on May 12th and I have done a lot of August Wilson. August Wilson is the greatest African-American dramatist in American theatre.
So that keeps me fresh and allows me to keep the muscles stretched and come and do two days, four days, five days and occasionally, 30 days, in exotic places like the Maldives, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Cardiff.
AE – Not bad work if you can get it.
TT – It’s a good job, man. I remember the bad years I spent in New York City just walking the streets, knowing that I was going to get it, but just walking the streets of New York. I had 3 dollars allotted for food every day, but I was happy and I never doubted.
AE – Ok, so it has been TWENTY YEARS since Candyman.
TT – Yeah, the twenty year anniversary.
AE – Did you ever imagine, going into Candyman back then, that it would become what it has?
TT – No. You never know. It was a combination of things. Bernard Rose, a crazy Brit. I love him to pieces. Clive Barker, a maniacal Brit, had a script and story that was unbelievable. Philip Glass… Is he a Brit?
AE – Oh… I don’t know.
(Tony – If you read this… Philip Glass is American. Confirmed.)
TT – Anyway, he was the composer on Candyman. Tony Richardson did the cinematography and I KNOW he was British. It just had this British vibe that was transposed to probably the worst ghetto in America, Cabrini Green.
So yeah. Twenty years and not a day goes by that people don’t still fuck with me about it. I’m a human being. Some days I can take it and it’s great and other days I am thinking about something else like an alimony payment or a movie I just completed or what kind of pancakes Im having or girlfriends. Whatever.
I don’t mean girlfriends, plural, by the way.
AE – What do you think it is that is so enduring about the character of Candyman?
TT – The consensus I have gotten from a lot of people is that they really believed it and most of them saw it at a very young, impressionable age.
AE – I certainly did.
TT – See? They saw it far too young and it got under their skin. It was an urban legend that you could wrap your imagination around. The most common thing that gets said to me is “You scared me to death when I was a kid” and I was a kid when I made the movie, really.
AE – Presumably you feel a great affection for the role?
TT – Yeah but occasionally I’ll lose a job because of Candyman. I was just up for a TV sitcom where I was first choice and everything was going on fine and the network decided at the last minute that I was too scary for comedy. So, thank you, Candyman.
AE – I’m kind of sorry that I brought him up now.
AE – There has been this talk for a while now about the long-mooted fourth Candyman film…
TT – Yeah. The rights are caught up in three different companies, though I did hear from Clive’s assistant two weeks ago and then I’m hearing things about viral webisodes and shit and someone wanted to make one where it was kind of a joke and I was like “No, I take this character too seriously to ever do that”. Who knows? They’re going to make it at some point. It’s how they make it and who they make it with that’s the question.
AE – Would you be keen to return?
TT – I wont do it if its just to do it. Its got to be right because Im still living with it 20 years later. My goal in life is not to be remembered as Candyman, as much as I love him.
AE – What would you rather be remembered as?
TT – A great parent. I have been lucky. I have done some wonderful films with incredible directors like Oliver Stone and Michael Bay.
AE – You mentioned Adam Green earlier. Now, you worked with Adam on Hatchet and to a larger extent on Hatchet 2. Those films are great fun to watch. How were they to work on?
TT – That’s it, yeah. They’re fun. They keep coming after me for the new Hatchet.
AE – Oh? Can we expect to see Reverend Zombie in some dream sequence or flashback?
TT – Actually, I saw Kane a week ago in Nashville and he was like, “please” and I was saying “I dunno, man. I think I have done what I needed to do with this, but I love you.”
They’re going to shoot it in New Orleans, which is a plus. I sincerely doubt that it’s going to happen but I do know that I can tell you this as a matter of record that I know Hatchet III will be in New Orleans and that they plan to make it even more violent than the last one. How that’s possible, I don’t know. They are great drinking films.
Never say never but, like I said, I am in Adam Green’s Holliston and Adam and I will always work together.
I remember him when he first asked for an autograph at a convention show and he was one of the people who said “ I am going to make a movie someday” and when they made the offer for Hatchet, I turned it down because it was a one-scene role and it was Kane and John Beuchler who did the effects work that asked me to be involved, so we worked it out and I’m glad I did.
AE – Many of your roles like Ben in Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead, Bludworth in Final Destination and Reverend Zombie, are pretty exposition heavy roles. Storyteller roles, if you like…
TT – Oh yeah. They bring me in to tell the story a lot. I tell a bit of this story too, in Dead Of The Nite. I’m interrogated. Im always being interrogated.
AE – You are often cast in these storyteller roles, or as the bad dude but is there anything within the genre that you would really like to do?
TT – Actually, I’m directing a film this year called Catalytic. It’s a great story set in a sideshow and it has two main characters, one of whom is a disgruntled musician and a guy who is a man of the cloth, gone bad. Theres a great duality and a great battle of will and it’s within a sideshow too so you have magic and you have sword swallowers and tattooed women. Just this great, beautiful milieu. So thats going on and I’m hoping to accomplish something there.
AE – So moving onto Final Destination. Personally, I felt that Part 5 brought the franchise full circle but clearly, it’s a franchise that makes a lot of money and these big franchises are very seldom truly “over”.
TT – What do you mean? What have you heard?
AE – If they continued the franchise, would you be looking to return?
TT – Yeah. Of course. You know, Final Destination serves its purpose for me because they pay me a lot of money to do that and then I can afford to not worry about work for three years and pick and choose independent films that I really like.
AE – Certainly,for me, the highlight of the last couple of Final Destination films was you cropping up again in part 5.
TT – Yeah I wasn’t in the fourth one, which is one of the worst ones. I felt bad because on the fith one, they brought me up to Vancouver, one of my favourite cities on the planet. If you haven’t been, go. It’s insane. I was only there for five days and I looked at these kids that they had brought in and they were there for 3 months. They’re kids so they don’t mind being there for 3 months but I know that my five days was worth more than their three months. I’m very appreciative. It’s like “well this is how far I have come.”
I am forever humbled, forever blessed and forever amazed and I don’t take any of this shit for granted. It’s been a lot of hard work.
AE – Within the Final Destination franchise, there is an awful, awful lot of CGI and some of it is pretty poor at times. Do you feel that big budget films are becoming too reliant on that, and the likes of 3D, to the detriment of great make-up artists and stuntmen etc?
TT – The good thing about the last Final Destination film was that Steve Quale had worked with James Cameron and actually knew a lot about 3D. I must say though that filming in 3D is a lot of work because on independent films, you can be shooting like 8 pages a day but with 3D, it’s only 2 pages a day and it’s still long days. Twelve hours and it’s tedious, almost.
I love the practicals, man. The practicals are what make it real. There is a stuntman on this (Claudio Pacifico) who does this tumble down a flight of stairs. You could have easily done that with CGI but you can tell the difference. Real is real, man.
It’s like saying that we don’t need actors. Can things get too carried away? I don’t know. Ask Michael Bay. Actually, I love Michael. There is nobody else like Michael Bay. He’s a madman. A genius of a man.
AE – What’s next for you, Tony?
TT – Well, this year is going to be an incredible year. I’m doing a voice in a major, major, major video game, which is all I can say about that. I actually play a lot of games. I’m doing a lot more theatre and I’m going to be travelling more. I’m going to buy an island one day.
AE – Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Good luck with the shoot tomorrow.
TT – Thank you for making the journey to be here, man.
So, that was it. Another shake from his mighty hand, some photos and we were off exploring the wonders of Cardiff. The rest of the night remains a mystery.
I guess all that’s left is to hand over to SJ Evans for his thoughts on working with Tony…
“It was a genuine honour directing Tony, he was professional from start to finish and was a great presence to have on set. There’s one particular scene that I pictured in my head when I wrote it, then to see Tony perform it with such style and quality was a dream come true. This guy is Horror royalty.
I’d like to thank Tony for choosing Dead of the Nite as his first ever British shoot and also producer Sousila Pillay who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen.”
On behalf of everyone at AndyErupts, I would like to thank SJ and Sousila for allowing us the opportunity to come down and chat with Tony, and to Tony himself for being such a gent.
Finally, I would also like to wish SJ and Sousila all the best for the film.
I was beaming the whole time, which the guys can testify to. I’m still beaming.