July 11, 2016 Interview – Tony Todd
Passion and sincerity cannot be bought. Two of the most important attributes to any body of work, an actor should most certainly possess each of them with utmost integrity. Standing pridefully behind these words, American Actor Tony Todd has built an impress career in theater, television, and film that has lasted over thirty years now. Known for a long list of distinctive characters in famous Horror films including 1990’s Night of the Living Dead and 1992’s Candyman, Todd takes none of his success with a grain of salt. Actively engaged in the community helping others, Todd’s career in the arts is just a small part of the man he is. Recently we sat down with the talented character actor for a look into his career, his view on the Horror genre, future projects, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in film and television for three decades now with many memorable roles. First, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in professional acting?
Tony Todd – I was in high school and I had a growth spurt between sophomore and junior year and I was totally useless. Not only did I grow a foot, but my voice dropped, I was totally uncoordinated. I couldn’t walk down the hall without tripping, locking myself in my own locker. I was kind of goofy and I didn’t know how to talk to girls at all. One day the teacher gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and it was like reading a Comic Book without the color though, I would provide the color. I did color commentary, and from that moment on I was hooked.
The first show I did something for I didn’t get, they allowed me to be a curtain puller. I just loved the stage, how it looked, how it felt, the velvet ropes, the curtains. I was the best curtain puller in the world. The very next show, I got the lead and from then on it was like, boom, walked out there and my high school peers, ya know. They were laughing at the right places, that applause that they gave me that day was the best applause I ever heard. From then on I knew that’s what I wanted.
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty cool story, you started young then. Prior to 1990, you had starred in television series such as 21 Jump Street and a bunch of films including 1986’s Platoon, as well as 1989’s Lean on Me. After that, you went into a lot of Horror films, first with 1990’s remake of Night of the Living Dead. Was Horror something you wanted to get involved in, or did you kind of just fall into it?
Tony Todd – I didn’t have any opposition to Horror, I liked it. I was a big fan of the original Universal Monster stuff, but no I didn’t say, “That’s what I want to do.” I love all film. Me and my aunt, the woman who raised me, rescued me, it was just me and her, she was a single mom. Every night, at that time, they used to have the 8 o’clock movie and we would watch it together. It was everything from Frankenstein (1931) to a James Cagney film, a Humphrey Bogart film. Each one we usually would watch together and then we would talk about it. In those days, they would only do quality movies, nowadays you have 450 channels, but there is a lot of crap. They only played the classics, so I grew up with that kind of consistency. First of all, a movie that I first saw was 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which I think is remarkable, you had all these stars and it was funny. Then I got serious and looked at the original Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, etc. That’s the standard to which it stands. My favorite Horror film would be 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby by Roman Polanski.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some classic films for sure. 1990’s Night of the Living Dead is probably one of the best and underrated remakes ever made. What was that experience like working on that film?
Tony Todd – This is a tip to all you young actors, try not to curse your directors out. They are your friend, they chose you and they are here to make you look good, so put your best foot forward. Tom Savini is one out of a group of about 10 directors that I do repeat business with. If you look at the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, until you have a drink with the man, or go hunting or fishing with somebody, or go and play poker with somebody, you really don’t know the interior of that person’s character. The more you do that, the more language that a director has to communicate with you. Therefore, if you use an actor to feel free or feel appropriate to be able to expose whatever is necessary for that character.
So that being said, Tom was the first of that kind to have a deep association with me. I was actually in Pittsburgh on a project with Forrest Whitaker for HBO and he was the one that told me that there was a rumor that they were doing Night of the Living Dead and I bare a resemblance to Dewayne and I should go over there. You didn’t have to tell me twice, I ran over to the production office, saw Tom, cornered him. He says “No man, I think we are done,” I grabbed him gently by his lapels, sat him down, and I did the monologue that’s in the film where he is talking to the fireplace, right to his face, man to man. That was it.
CrypticRock.com – You did a phenomenal job with that role, that was your first lead role, right?
Tony Todd – First lead role, my son was born, I was in a good space, it was fantastic.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was an excellent time. The film itself is highly underrated, but the fans love it, and that is what matters most.
Tony Todd – The fans, they love it. You know what happened, we had a theatrical release. We were going to open but the Iraqi war started and everybody was at home watching the drone strikes. People weren’t comfortable, that hurt us a lot. It used to run on cable all the time in the early days of cable, like every other day, so it’s gotten its exposure. Is it as popular as say, pick a meaningless personality driven star. Probably not, I’d put my movie up against that bullshit any day for people that love it, not just watching it to idolize it. That’s the difference.
CrypticRock.com – Totally agreed. As we were talking about Horror, you started to get really big Horror recognition with Candyman in 1992. Were you surprised to see how positively Candyman was received by people?
Tony Todd – Yeah, because I didn’t have to audition for that. Bernard (Rose) is another director I’ve worked with more than once. He told me, this movie is going to change my life. We were sitting in Chicago doing some scouting and I said, “Bernard, I am going to do the best job I can do.” I was a little younger then, and I said, “Nothing is going to change my life, I am going to do a good job for you.” When you have a combination of him and Tony Richman behind the camera, Philip Glass, the lovely Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, using Chicago as a backdrop and Cliver Barker with the original story, you can’t go wrong.
It took awhile for it to hit people, believe it or not, when it came out. It was fine, but nobody was running up to me on the streets saying, “Oh, Candyman.” It was weird, it took about 2-3 years before they started playing it on cable. Then one day, the moment that I realized, my daughter and I were doing Christmas shopping in Ohio. We were in the mall, and people kept coming up to us saying, “Candyman.” She put her little bag down and said, “That’s not Candyman, that’s my dad!” That’s when I learned a couple of things. A, fame is fleeting and it’s intrusive. B, what the real things in life matter, which is a little bit of privacy when you want it. I don’t need the red carpet, I just need to do good work and to take care of my family and my friends.
CrypticRock.com – That is what matters most in the end.
Tony Todd – Sometimes you forget, you lose sight of that.
CrypticRock.com – That is right. In any walk of life, not even just acting, people lose sight of that. Whether it be success with a corporation or whatever it may be, people lose sight of that what is really important.
Tony Todd – Sometimes you just have to take a second, take a breath, and appreciate what you have and not what you think you need.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Now since that time with Candyman and the films that came thereafter, you’ve been in many more films, and you have also appeared on a television series as well. How would you compare working on television opposed to film?
Tony Todd – First of all, theater is my first love, it will always be. After high school, I went and got my masters in theater in a very good school, Trinity Rep Conservatory. There’s an old joke that goes “Movies buy the house, television buys the furniture, but theater feeds the soul.” That’s how I look at it. I’ve been lucky with television and able to do, I don’t want to say the hip shows, but certainly the shows that are under the scrutiny of the public like the Star Treks, the X-Files, the 24’s. I am very careful about what I pick, so you won’t catch me on the ones you are going to catch me on, you know what I mean? I don’t dreck, I try my best to avoid it. That’s why I’ve never been a series regular, I’d rather do what I do. That is to be be a damn good character actor and to play different people every time, that’s my gift. I don’t want to play the same boring personality.
I once did a guest star episode on Without a Trace, I walked in and all the regulars were not only were they not speaking to each other, but they were bored. It was so empty and bored with what they were doing. I said, “That’s a damn shame.” They are getting paid a lot of money, so they should be thrilled and there is no reason to ever be bored. If you do get bored then you should walk away, what’s the point?
CrypticRock.com – You should enjoy what you are doing. As you had mentioned earlier, your voice dropped in high school. Probably one of your most distinct features that people recognize you as, that voice, that creepy voice that you use in a lot of Horror films. How did you sort of develop this character voice?
Tony Todd – This is me man, I just do me, but the real Tony is at home who plants a garden, rescues cats, and about to rescue a dog. I do philanthropic work with the homeless, I get in there and feed soup kitchens and stuff. I work with the organization called My Brother’s Keeper, we make sure that every year people get their knapsack filled with the essential goodies like a toothbrush, soap, a face cloth, things that we take for granted. When we give these people these things, their faces light up like they just received a 4K Ultra HD 60 Inch smart television, and there’s nothing that I would exchange.
The voices depends on whatever the situation is. I was taught as an actor that you can only act what you know of life. You can only know life unless you engage within it. So, if someone asked me how do you achieve zenness, I said, “I don’t know, you have to plant the seeds, you have to have the patience to sit back and watch them grow.” It could take 10 days, 15 days, whatever it takes, that’s what it needs.
CrypticRock.com – That is a lot of good work you do. One can imagine it helps also put life in a perspective as well.
Tony Todd – Yeah, and I keep it real. I surround myself with good people and good souls. I give and get, it’s karma.
CrypticRock.com – That is wonderful. As far as film projects. What can you tell us about some of your projects coming up?
Tony Todd – Well, Frankenstein with Bernard Rose was dropped on DVD/VOD back in February. I did a great movie called Drive Me to Vegas and Mars with Sidney J. Furie, who did 1986’s Iron Eagle, 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues. He is 82 years, he called me, Stan Shaw, Beverly Todd, Michael Lerner, and said, “I got this project I want you to be in it, it may be my last movie.” We did it, we did it for relatively little. The script is so good. It was a Comedy and I’m put in head of security in a casino. It’s kind of like Get Shorty (1995). It’s quirky and different. And of course I play Zoom on The Flash too right now.
CrypticRock.com – They all sound like interesting projects. You mentioned some of your favorite Horror films, could you tell us about some of your other favorites?
Tony Todd – The original The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) that was in black and white. Have you ever seen that? If not, you are in for a treat, find it. Trust me, it’s in black and white and it starts with a man on a bench. All of a sudden he and his wife are on a bench, he’s like a foot shorter than her. They take him in for tests. It’s a 4 star movie. Then she goes to work, she can’t find him. He’s under the couch, 6 inches tall. Then they realize they need to take care of him. He gets lost in the house and goes in the basement where he is threatened by the house cat, a tarantula. Oh it’s great and he has to fight for his life until he ends up just a tiny speck of cosmos. That’s a great film. I love the original The Fly (1958).
My favorite director is Billy Wilder. Sunset Boulevard (1950) is my favorite film. Also Double Indemnity (1944). I am telling you if you want a life of enjoyment then watch those films. Any film by Billy Wilder is worth watching. He’s my favorite director. He came from Bulgaria, he taught himself to speak English, and in 10 years he was a world class director. He came from the oppression of WWII and he taught himself how to speak and communicate. He has written some of the best films that have ever been made.