Tony Todd is best known for playing the hook-handed, bee spewing urban legend/killer Candyman in Bernard Rose’s 1992 film, based on a story by Clive Barker. Prior to Candyman, Todd took the lead in Tom Savini’s 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake and had small roles in Platoon, Colors and Clint Eastwood’s Bird. In 2000, he became a regular player in the Final Destination films as the ominous Mr Bludworth. The next fifteen years saw Tony star in numerous features, including Adam Green’s Hatchet films, before reuniting with Candyman director Bernard Rose in 2015 for a part in his brilliant modern day Frankenstein adaptation. But Tony Todd isn’t solely tied to the genre that made him famous. As well as having featured in over two hundred productions, he is a passionate blues fan and has several other theatre and TV projects in the pipeline, as well as planned future feature films.
In his latest film Hell Fest, Todd plays a terrifying theme park owner whose carnival becomes the hunting ground for a psychotic killer. HEYUGUYS recently caught up with TT to talk about Hell Fest, along with his passion for blues music, perpetual love of theatre and longing to return to the stage.
HEYUGUYS: There have been many stalk and slash horror films over the years. What do you think Hell Fest have to offer that’s different to the others?
TONY TODD: I know the script had been kicking around for a few years. I started tracking it about a year and a half ago. I love that it took place in an amusement park and the twists that take place during the story telling. That’s always pertinent. There’s always room for another slasher, particularly when you put them in a different environment. What was interesting to me is that, the slasher that could be anybody that attended the park as there are so many people in disguise. It’s an “everyman” character, which is interesting.
The film had an 80s vibe to it too that made it quite nostalgic, which seems to be ironically be the “in thing” at the moment. Was that evident in the screenplay?
I think that came from production designer Michael Perry (It Follows) along with horror figure mask makers (Tony Gardner’s Alterian, Inc) who designed the ones for Scream and Happy Death Day, and director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Masked Ones/ Get Out editor) who had a deep interest in 80s style horror. Then you had Gale Anne-Hurd exec-producing. Her pedigree alone was definitely inspiring. When it was presented to me, it was a no-brainer. I just wish the timing of its release in all territories would have been similar, but we live in a new world now. Hopefully the numbers in the UK might be enough to help justify a sequel and make this another chapter in the horror pantheon where we can learn more about my character.
The theme park looked awesome too. Did the management of that make the production more difficult?
The production was great, but it’s a job like any other job. You got to make sure the crew’s on point and people are covering each other’s backs. We even had a magic mountain water pipe given to us for the duration of the shoot in Atlanta. When I arrived on set, Gregory explained the situation and premise. I realised we were on the same page and just wanted to give guts to the glory. So we had a good time making it and I’m proud of the work we did. The young cast were also outstanding. It was a night shoot though so, even though we shot in Atlanta, temperatures dropped and a lot of the young cast were wearing skimpy clothes so they had to deal with that, but good rapport with genuine people helped those nights seem shorter. Those kind of values you just can’t duplicate or make up.
What struck me about the young cast and teen characters they played in this were surprisingly quite likeable. Usually it seems like they are written and, to a degree, performed in a way to make audiences hate them and want to see them killed off.
Yes, to make viewers enjoy the kills more, but there was a good rapport and caring about the characters intensifies the suspense.
Since Night of the Living Dead and Candyman you have been in many horror films, but there were none before that. Do you enjoy working in horror or have you become tied to it and typecast due to the success of Candyman?
Hollywood is very strange place. When you do one colour well, they don’t want you to deviate, just play different shades. But I’ve been in over two hundred projects which are not all horror. I’ve played my share of heroes and fathers. I like acting in anything! Just knowing that somebody wants you is a good feeling. I do a lot of voiceover work for animations, act in independent films and also come from a theatre background. The stage is my first love though when film-making gets too much. When I get three scripts that seem to be the same story, I go back to the theatre for my inner joy. There’s a one man show that keeps coming back to me, called Ghost in a House, it’s about Jack Johnston, the first African-American heavyweight champion in the world circa 1919. He actually spent some time as an exile in some of the London dock clubs. We’ve got a new run of that coming up. Rehearsals start in January.
You’re a big blues music fan too. I see on Twitter you’re always sharing links to songs and music videos.
In another life I would’ve liked to been a great blues singer but it wasn’t meant to be. I really appreciate music. It’s the rhythm of life.
Is there a musician you would like to play on screen?
In Bernard Rose’s recent production of Frankenstein I got to channel my Bluesman. We changed the blind character he meets in the novel to a blind, homeless musician in LA. We got rights to Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and ripped it up with great acoustics.
And you had a small part in Bird years ago? The film about Charlie Parker.
Yes, directed by Clint Eastwood, but that was just a cameo. I also played Chuck Berry once in an independent film (Heart of the Beholder) and there’s also a script on my desk at the moment about the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. They’re interested in me playing George Clinton from Parliament Funkadelic. He’s a tall gentleman and he loves his funk and so do I, so that would be a dream come true. I grew up on that funkadelic mothership.
Have you heard of any update on the Candyman remake/ sequel front?
The Candyman fire has definitely been stoked with Jordan Peele’s interest. That would be an interesting and valid take with him as a director. I know Bernard Rose (original Candyman director) also still has an angle. Jordan’s just wrapping on his Get Out follow up, so when he’s done we’ll all sit down, hash it out and see where we are.
You seem to have a lot in the pipeline at the moment. Were you always this busy?
Well, a lot of people get hasty with their declarations so I’d say 70% of what is reported as in the works will be accurate. The best information will be on my Twitter feed (@TonyTodd54). I’ll drop stuff there when it gets verified. I just completed another film by Final Destination writer Jeremy Reddick called The Final Wish, which we just shot in LA. That’s also starring Lin Shaye. It debuted at a film festival out here about a month ago so there’s high hopes for that. I’m also working more on a more reality based project called “American Horror with Tony Todd”, with this great company Kinetic Content. In every episode, we’ll be travelling to different locations where some sort of mysterious event has occurred. It’s not a paranormal show, these are real experiences brought to us by real people. We’ve shot a sizzle reel and are starting to stockpile cases of serial murders and unexplained occurrences, dreams, psychic experiences etc. A lot of interest has already been generated and we’re taking it to a big convention in New Orleans in January.
Hell Fest is out in UK cinemas from today (16th November)