Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I’m not really sure if this qualifies as a Legends interview or not, since Tony Todd and I didn’t really have the time to plow through all of his career highlights. There’s no doubt became a horror film icon when the first CANDYMAN in 1992, but he’s done so much beyond horror over his career, and we only skimmed the surface with this interview, which was done last week upon the release of FINAL DESTINATION 5, which is the third of the films to feature Todd as a mysterious man called Bludworth (you also heard his voice another one of the films in the franchise).
Todd is a towering man with a deep voice, and he’s also one of the busiest actor working today. His first film was Oliver Stone’s PLATOON, if you can believe that, and he’s continues working in such genre and non-genre films as WISHMASTER, THE CROW, three of the “Star Trek” TV series, Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, COLORS, the Tom Savini-directed remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Michael Bay’s THE ROCK, recurring roles on “Chuck” and “24,” and both HATCHET films as Reverend Zombie
He’s also a ton of fun in front of a crowd of loyal fans, like we had for him at a FINAL DESTINATION 5 screening held the day before the film opened. Please enjoy, Tony Todd…
Capone: Forgive me if we cover some of the same ground we covered last night, because I wasn’t recording it. I wanted you to feel free to say whatever you want and not be on the record.
Tony Todd: Although that should have been recorded, because that was really spontaneous. I had a great time.
Capone: It was great, I just want people to feel like they can say whatever they want and maybe even say things they shouldn’t say.
TT: Yeah, but then when I said something I shouldn’t say… I wasn’t criticizing the kids. I mean it’s a R-rated horror movie, fool, so if you bring a kid, that’s your business. [A few non-AICN winners brought young children to the screening with them].
Capone: I know. They were little kids though. I got emails about it last night from people who were there just going, “Why did you let those children in?”
TT: How many were there?
Capone: There were at least three. They weren’t people that I had given tickets to, they were some other people that were recruited to fill some seats up.
TT: As a parent, I would never have done that, but that’s their choice.
Capone: We even tried to stop them, but to no avail. So first of all, you’re in Chicago, what does it mean to you when you come here? This isn’t the place where it all started for you, but it’s definitely the place where things changed.
TT: Definitely. Thank you, that’s a great word. I take that in every time, I honestly do. I love the architecture of this place. I love the history of Chicago. If you made me choose, it’s on my top five places that I have personally been to. I haven’t been to South Dakota yet though, so things could change. But yeah, I give homage to the fact that this is where it changed. And I also try every time I’m here, I go to the [blues club] Kingston Mines and I managed to go there last night. They took me to another theater and they were running late, I begged and pleaded and said, “I know I’ve got to get up at six, but just be me a half hour there.” And I did that. I went there and it just infuses me, because that’s where I used to hang out when we did CANDYMAN and [the manager] Frank was still there and he gave a shout out, which he always does and I beg him not to and at that point in the night people are drunk and they are half hearing [drunken claps].
TT: You know, so half hour to the dot we got out, and I came back here, and it was like it might as well be night and day from the Kingston Mines. Things got very sterile, and I went to sleep.
Capone: Do you have any specific memories about shooting that film? Aside from what you did on your downtime? Anything that you learned on that movie?
TT: Yeah, well Virginia Madsen and I spent a good three weeks bonding, which was the first time I had done that. Well that’s not true, on PLATOON we bonded, but in a different way. This is like doing ballroom dancing, horseback riding, fencing classes, we wanted to capture that turn-of-the-century, gothic adventure thing and just have a short hand language, and so that was very important. I remember one of the first scenes we shot was the parking lot scene, where I appear to her for the first time, and Bernard Rose trusted me so much. I said, “Is this what you are thinking?” and he says, “Whatever you do is what it should be.” He really trusted that I was the person that should do that part.
So there’s a moment when he appears and he isolates it with showing the footsteps, you hear the voice, you see her, Candyman has already been talked about in the film at least for a good half hour before he makes his appearance. Our cinematographer Tony Richmond had this great wonderful shaft of light, and I they just found that light and made his head turn with his hands behind his back, and that for me was who he was, that’s where he was born. I had my research, but I didn’t physically know it until I did that and then everything else fell into place.
Capone: Candyman is a really unusual horror figure, because he’s not disfigured and he’s classy.
TT: [He holds up his hand] What do you call this? What is that? You don’t call that disfigured? [laughs]
Capone: I meant facially disfigured, compared to some of the horror movie villains at the time that were popular–Freddy, Jason. But even the hand thing, he made classy, there’s an elegance to him.
TT: Well we wanted that. We definitely wanted him to walk like a dancer and walk like the painter that he was, that was deprived. So that was intentional, and I think he is classy. I think he was very much more of a Phantom of the Opera than a Wolfman, not that I don’t have respect for Lon Chaney Jr.
Capone: You hinted last night–or maybe you just flat out said it–that in the FINAL DESINATION movies, with Bludworth, that there’s more to him than we know presently. You said that in your head, you know what his secret is.
TT: Right, which I had to do, because I wanted to get a good backstory to make it real. I didn’t want to phone it in.
Capone: And there’s definitely a look in your eye that says, “I know something and I know it for a reason, so you better believe me.” What is the likelihood that we will ever see that story?
TT: Steve, who knows? I think if I were a betting man, I’d say you’ve got a better than 50 percent chance that you’ll see it, because it this movie breaks records or even does admirably well this weekend, I think they will be going back to their little think-tanks, and we know that it cannot go much further than six or seven, right? So let’s not ride the horse all the way across the desert.
Capone: You can only go to that well so many times, we hope.
TT: Yeah, or you need to reboot it completely and figure it out from there. Maybe the answer is to take my character and just reboot that, which is something I think Jeffrey Reddick wants the do, the man who created it. It’s interesting, because when you see his credits with “based on characters created by Jeffrey Reddick” you’re like “Wait a minute, they’re all dead from the first one except me.”
Capone: So they are basically talking about you…and Death.
TT: But I’m not death, we went through this.
Capone: I know. Or so you say, since you won’t tell me his secret.
TT: Or maybe I am. Maybe I’m being resistant. Maybe the homework I did is completely opposite. Maybe I should just say “Fuck it, I’m Death. I’m the Grimm Reaper.”
Capone: But is the backstory something you came up with or something he told you?
TT: I came up with is based on the clues that he provided, and that’s the magic of art, because I try to make art as opposed to product.
Capone: You weren’t there, but I said it before to introduce the film last night…
TT: I wish I had been there for that.
Capone: Really, all I said was that for some reason this franchise has held up better than just about any other horror franchise after five films. I think they are all strong in their own way, and I’ve actually really enjoyed them. I can’t say the same for too many other series that have gone four or five movies.
TT: You didn’t like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER?
Capone: I liked the first one.
TT: Okay. How many of those were there? Three?
Capone: I only remember two with Jennifer Love-Hewitt. They might have made one after that for video. I think this one is one of the strongest ones. I think the 3D is used really well in 5–better than the last one certainly–and it just plays better. I think it’s fun and people are reacting to it.
TT: Don’t you think people are getting tired of 3D?
Capone: I don’t know. If it’s done right and shot in 3D, I tend to like it. That’s another thing I loved about this movie is that almost all of the movie is in the daylight. That’s the problem of 3D, if you shoot it in dark then you lose the 3D. Even if they shoot it in 3D, darkness doesn’t work in 3D, but this movie everyone is dying is broad daylight, and that’s awesome, because you never see that in a horror film.
TT: That’s a good point, except for that final scene in the café.
Capone: Yeah, you are allowed some darkness obviously. But what I was going to ask you was, why do you think people are still fascinated by these particular films?
TT: It’s a hell of a title, right? “FINAL DESTINATION.” I mean that’s a hell of a title, so people have that familiarity. I think most of the people that come to see this one would have seen at least one of the others, so they know that it’s going to be a Rubik’s Cube of destruction.
Capone: Well they have to have seen the first one to really appreciate it.
TT: To really appreciate this one, yes. There you go again with the problem of how six comes forth, because they’ve kind of put themselves in a box. I made a joke to Eric [Heisserer], who wrote this version, and said “You know what? You guys missed an opportunity. If we never do another one, I should have been the pilot on the plane and just one look back would have floored everybody.” “We’re going down.”
TT: Then dissertations could have been written by people brighter than you and me.
Capone: When you were growing up, were horror and sci-fi films favorites of yours, or were they not the things that you were drawn to?
TT: Well no, a lot of them were. I was raised by my aunt, as I think I have told you before, and every night we would watch a movie. She liked a lot of James Cagney classic film noir stuff. I didn’t know at the time that they were film noir, and that’s become my personal favorite, with James Cagney, Humphry Bogart, William Holden. But the ones that I would wait for, the ones that all of my buddies in school that… the four o’clock movie would be “WOLFMAN is coming on!” “DRACULA is coming on, man.” “FRANKENSTEIN is coming on!” “ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is coming on!”
Capone: That’s my personal favorite, yeah.
TT: Okay! That’s one of my personal favorites as well, and then when I became an adult, ROSEMARY’S BABY for the naturalism of it was great. But when it comes down to it, those Universal standbys man, those guys, Borris and all of them. I’ve read quotes where almost all of them hated it, but they also knew the value of it, particularly Bela [Lugosi], who would wonder the streets. I think Tim Burton kind of captured that in ED WOOD. Bela wa forced to do PLAN 9. Do you know that somebody actually sent be a copy of PLAN 9, they did a remake of that recently for like 50 grand and asked me if I were interested in doing PLAN 9, and I’m like “Do you know the history? What’s wrong with you?”
Capone: It would be too knowing. It would be too winking at the audience at this point.
TT: It’s a wink behind a wink behind a wink. Now, THE BLOB, okay.
Capone: So was it cool that you grew up loving these Universal horror monsters, and you sort of became one as one point.
TT: Well no, because Universal doesn’t exist as we knew it. I just don’t understand why Hollywood has this love/hate with horror. On the one hand, there are those snobs that are too good for horror, but at the same time if you look at the history, horror has always rescued Hollywood. It’s always been the horror film.
Capone: It’s almost always profitable yeah.
TT: Yeah, it’s always revitalized it, and then they can do the romance comedies, and they’ll never find that combination of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck no matter how much they try. I personally had an epiphany about three weeks ago. I was shooting something up at Universal and I met the location guy, and he says “How would you like to go to the Bates Motel after dark?” I said, “What?” We went in the golf cart with the photographer we went by there, pulled up… Have you ever seen it?
Capone: I have.
TT: I went with the car parked outside, the house in the background, went into the motel room, put my hand on the desk where Mr. Perkins was at. That was a big thrill for me, because as a horror or movie fan, that’s almost like being invited to THE GODFATHER wedding, without wanting anything and surviving it, hopefully.
Capone: It’s funny you mention James Cagney, because earlier this week I interviewed Malcom McDowell, because he’s coming to town, and that’s his favorite actor.
TT: Is he working here, or is he doing that Comic Con?
Capone: He is doing a convention, yeah. It’s not Chicago Comic Con; it’s a horror convention.
TT: It’s the Flashback Weekend one?
Capone: Right, he’s part of that.
TT: So they are having two conventions on one weekend?
Capone: And they’re across the street from each other, but it works because it’s two totally different audiences, but they each get a lot of cross traffic. What did it mean to you to get cast in the remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, because that’s an iconic character in a lot of ways, especially in horror films. Was it important for you?
TT: Yeah, it was for a lot of reasons. My son was just born, and there were a couple of things on the table, but I wanted to play this hero, and I remember seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at the drive in, and it changed my life. No pun, it changed my life. It was groundbreaking. Not only racially, but the way it was shot in that faux documentary style where I believed it could happen. I just happened to be in Pittsburgh doing something else and I got wind that they were doing it. I’ve never done this in my life, I ran over to the production office, cornered Tom Savini, and said, “You’ve got to read me.” It was like chutzpa. “You have to read me,” and he did and I guess everything lined up and I got the offer.
Unlike CANDYMAN, I knew that that was going to be at least a noble failure as opposed to CANDYMAN where I had no idea which way it was going to go. So that was an effort on my part to do it, and that was before CANDYMAN, about a year before. What’s weird, when Bernard cast me he hadn’t seen NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, so he wasn’t basing it on that.
Capone: Interesting. We also talked about THE CROW last night. Tell us how well you got to know Brandon Lee, and what was your reaction when you heard what happened?
TT: The best reaction I could have about that was I wasn’t on the set. I left two days before, and we were down there together for three months. For me, that was the wake up call “Okay, what we do isn’t all fun and games, and you have to watch your back doing this as well as anything in life.” To this day, I don’t mess around with weapons unless I know what’s going on. Then secondly, whoever had the gun in their hand–it might be public knowledge but it wont come from my lips–I felt so badly for the actor and what they must carry with them to this day.
It’s supposed to be fun and games and it’s supposed to be play, and the weird thing is before that happened, a week before we did that huge gun fight where all of the hitmen had gathered around the table. We shot that for a week, and that’s one of the reasons why there was still a little fragment left in that particular weapon. Too many things went wrong.
Capone: And when you see the film you can’t help but think, “Wow, that guy would have made dozens of more really good movies after that.”
TT: Is it true that they are making a remake?
Capone: I believe so, although they just lost their lead actor. But I think they are starting fresh, yeah. I don’t know that much about it. I’m curious, when you heard about the first FINAL DESTINATION film, on the surface it sounds like another film about killing off a bunch of youngsters. But what made you sort of think, “Wait, this is different.”
TT: I knew the pedigree of Glen Morgan, James Wong, and Jeffrey Reddick. I was involved or indirectly involved with all of them and I trusted them and I heard a rumor once that I wasn’t their first choice for it for the role. I haven’t had that confirmed. Particularly on this character, it was supposedly somewhat like an establishment person, so that can be one of three folks.
Capone: Really? You think there’s only three?
TT: I’m talking about that establishment, “I am God-like” person. I’ve never asked them if that was the case or what, but that just means they got me for a little less money, and here we are five films later. I’ve got to ask [producer] Craig Perry that one day. “Craig, who was it that you cast?” “Only you Tony, you were the one.” “Okay” “It was always you!” [laughs]
Capone: The last question I was going to ask was about SUSHI GIRL, because you seem really high on that. I’m excited as hell to see it just based on the cast.
TT: I’m high off of it. It’s going to change my life, with everything being equal.
Capone: Tell me about it.
TT: It’s a gangster movie. It’s straight up yakuza style. It’s old school, it’s new school, young director, first-time director, Kern Saxton, whose name I don’t say enough. The guy that he co-wrote it with, Destin Pfaff, who used to stalk me with scripts. I would be shopping at Ralph’s supermarket and I’d turn around and suddenly there’d be a script in my basket. The first one he put in was called “RIP,” and I immediately threw it away. Then he found out where I lived in Hollywood at the time, and there was a script waiting for me on the step. I told him this shit man, “You were the script stalker,” and then finally I just came around. I said, “You have persistence,” because he wrote one of the roles of my life. We’ve got an incredible cast, with people I’ve already mentioned and Mark Hamill, Danny Trejo, Andy Mackenzie, James Duval…
Capone: I’m most impressed by Sonny Chiba.
TT: He flew all the way from Tokyo to do it. It goes on and on and it’s going to come out in the spring, and the buzz is phenomenal.
Capone: That’s awesome.
TT: Yeah, we’ve got a couple others too. JACK THE REAPER is another horror film I did that won Best Sci-Fi/Horror at Cannes this year. It was directed by a woman named Kimberly Seilhamer. Then UNBROKEN which I did in Virginia. It was about a man of the cloth who has to deal with his own mortality, kind of like his an inverse of EXORCIST.
Capone: Right and you’re also gearing up to direct something?
TT: Yeah, that’s less in the here and now though, but it is in the foreseeable future. These other things are all done and completely different.
Capone: Cool, well it was good to see you again.
TT: I always love our conversations.
Capone: I’m sure we will run into each other down the road.
TT: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate it.