Most horror fans will be familiar with actor Tony Todd from his star making turn as Ben in Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990) or playing the hook handed killer in the film adaptation of Clive Barker’s Candyman (1992) and its sequel or maybe even his Bludworth character in the Final Destination films. In his current film, Sushi Girl, he plays the ruthless head of a gang of criminals intent on getting back diamonds from a member of the team that went to prison for a job six years ago…at any cost.
Todd is an imposing presence onscreen, at 6’ 5” with his deep, eerie voice and towering height, he is known for his horror roles, but actually has had a diverse career over his 23 years in the business. Todd came from a theater background and has been in such varied films such as Platoon (1986), Lean on Me (1989), The Crow (1994), The Rock (1996), and many others. He also has had a prolific career in television with over 70 appearances since 1987 in such shows as 21 Jump Street, MacGyver, Star Trek TNG, Star Trek DS9, Star Trek Voyager, The X-Files, Werewolf, and tons more. Todd also has had a huge career as a voice actor in many shows and films.
Tony Todd is the real deal, he’s an actor who’s not caught up in the Hollywood BS and is only out to put his best possible work up on screen. He’s a genuine guy and a class act. I recently was able to talk with Tony about his role in Sushi Girl, his background, and whether or not we will see him step into the role of Candyman yet again. Read on for the full interview.
Horror Society: Talking about your latest film Sushi Girl, where you play Duke the leader of a group of criminals, what was it like working with such an amazing ensemble cast?
Tony Todd: It was a dream, you always want to be surrounded by people that are ready to bring their A game. We had a full year before we actually started shooting where we read the script and people could do their own internal work. When we got together, it was such a tight budget that every hour and every day counted. People came in with their lines fully learned, digested and were ready to externalize and it was a joy. It was a great cast, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duval, Andy Mackenzie; we were all ready to lay out our best work.
HS: Everybody in the film was amazing; it’s such a diverse group of characters.
TT: Yeah, well that’s what a good script should be right? We’re not trying to do one man shows here, were playing off of each other. So there’s true evidence of people playing and having fun which hopefully ends up in the finished product, which people are now apparently enjoying and watching.
HS: What attracted you to the role of Duke in the film?
TT: It was a great story and when they started telling me casting choices, where they were going seemed ok. It was something that people made time for, everybody works in this cast.
HS: Was there anything in particular that you drew from to play the menacing character of Duke?
TT: No, I’ve been doing this for 23 years. You learn something from every encounter with every person you meet whether it’s conscious or unconscious, you store it somewhere and when the situation is right, you pull him here and there and if you’re centered as a person, you know what choices to make. If you have a good director who’s bringing out the best, everything should click. Kern (Saxton) and I both have a great love for great classic film noir classics. Before we worked we would share different films, different things from different sources that would put on the same page.
HS: You were also an executive producer on Sushi Girl, what were you able to bring to the table in that capacity?
TT: I helped get some of the funding put in place. I actually went around to different sources and I became a face to the project and helped people feel confident about signing the checks. It’s weird when you have to wear both hats at the same time. I probably had the least amount of time to joke around that I would normally have because I was trying to make everyone stay focused. Part of my job was to stay in character and keep bringing people back to their point of reference. It’s been a great hat to wear and I’m really proud of our collective accomplishment.
HS: I had read that you stayed in your Duke character throughout filming, is that true?
TT: Yes, that’s true but I’m no longer Duke now (laughing). When you have a good character, you want to hold on to it for as long as you can. When you’re near the end of a project and you still love your character and you have that sense of longing and loss then you know you’re in the right pocket. A lot of that comes from my theater background, I’ve been fortunate to work with some wonderful playwrights in my life.
HS: Cortney Palm played the Sushi Girl in the film, was she actually lying naked and motionless on the table during all of those scenes?
TT: Cortney was a trooper, she had an innate sense of concentration despite the fact she was surrounded by crazy people for three weeks. She knew that she had big moments coming so an actor has the ability to be patient and wait for those moments to happen and listen and be part of the process whether they’re active or not. It’s going to pay off for them when it comes to their time at bat. A good script is a relay race, characters have their moments and pass the ball effectively and hopefully the outcome is a winning situation.
TT: I really prefer theater, that’s my first love, but it’s hard to make a living in theater. I always try to do at least one play a year at a minimum. In a perfect world, I would be living in New York totally and just going from off Broadway to Broadway and back again. I also love film, and film allows me the latitude and financial freedom to pick and choose projects that I like and Sushi Girl is one of them.
HS: You played yourself in an episode of Adam Green’s Holliston. You had previously worked with Adam on Hatchet 1 and 2, how was it working on Holliston?
TT: Holliston was great, I love Adam, he’s an adventurous filmmaker, he loves life, and he takes chances. I wasn’t really playing me; it was an exaggeration of me. He made me feel comfortable and convinced me it would be funny and there comes a point when you want to start examining what your image is and that situation allowed me to do that in a comedic way.
HS: That was one of my favorite episodes of the season.
TT: Thank you. Adam’s got a long career ahead of him. In the last 15 years or so, I’ve done a lot of repeat work with people and it’s always nice when you get a call from a director that you know and you count as a friend. Adam is part of my extended family in that regard.
HS: Yes, I’ve interviewed Adam a couple of times and he is such a great guy.
TT: He’s enthusiastic and full of life and that’s always a joy.
TT: Actually, you know, that question comes up about once every two years but I can say that recently I started talking again to another group and there’s more of a chance now than previously but there’s nothing finalized yet. We have been having some good discussions; there is a potential story on the backburner.
TT: You’re the first person I’m telling this to, we just recently had a meeting with them in the last two weeks.
HS: That’s awesome!
TT: Potentially. I mean this is Hollywood (laughing) so, you believe it more when you’re actually on the set.
HS: Sure. Is there any one project in particular that you’re most proud of?
TT: No, they’re all like children, there are definitely ones that I wish I had never done, but those are few. I think you always want to top yourself and better yourself, move on, and work with more and more diverse directors. I like being able to go back and forth from big budget films to independent films. Independent films are much more satisfying. Just because you have more freedom, the characters tend to be more drawn out.
HS: One final question because we are limited on time here. What’s coming up for you is there anything that you want to talk about?
TT: Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of films in the can. There’s a film called Unbroken. There’s a film that I made in Whales called Dead of Nite, which is making its Australian debut in April and I’m part of that. I’m currently doing day work on and when I say day work, I just mean I consider it my day job. I’m working on The Young and the Restless that just celebrated its 40th anniversary. They came to me with a character that I just couldn’t refuse. The difference in working in the soap world, you have to come totally prepared and you’re there and you basically have one take. I look at that as a challenge and my character is really a unique one. I play a prisoner who’s falsely accused of murdering his wife. I’ve done 4 episodes so far and I’m going to do at least 20. So that’s what I’m doing right now, I just worked yesterday. It’s a whole new demographic, I have my reasons for everything that I do.
HS: That’s great to hear. I don’t watch soap operas but maybe I’ll check you out on that one.
TT: Mostly it’s all character driven, you know, character, character, character, character. I also have my wish list of directors that I haven’t worked with but I would kill to work with like Martin Scorsese, and Ang Lee. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Clint Eastwood and I would love to do that again. All of these people enjoy the art of acting and the art of storytelling, that’s what you’re looking for. As well as all those genre writers out there who are gestating their scripts and are looking for a way to get them made and done. It’s a great palette.
HS: Tony, I just wanted to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me and the readers of Horror Society. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for a long, long time now. You’re a great actor and I wish you the best of luck in the future, and I’ll be waiting for the next Candyman sequel.
TT: Thank you, I really appreciate that. You’re going to see more of my directing efforts in the future also. Thanks to all the horror fans out there, I really appreciate it.