Shakefire sits down with legendary horror icon Tony Todd whose screen credits include Candyman, Star Trek and the Final Destination series in which he plays the mysterious coroner William Bludworth.
Tony Todd: Of course, I have to. Otherwise it's just mouth speak. So I did that way back 10 years ago.
SF: Can you tell us who you think he is?
TT: I can tell you what he's not. He's not Death incarnate. He's not an angel of Death. I can't tell you what decisions I've made because they're my secrets but I think after talking with Craig Perry, the executive producer, at some point who or what he is will be revealed.
The beautiful think about his is because he's so cryptic is that I've noticed he is what the audience receives he is when they watch it. They bring to the character their sense of perception. When he shows up it's interesting that you bring up exposition because they know that he's going to guide them at least somewhere closer to the path.
SF: The Final Destination series is a widely popular franchise. What went into your decision and why would you want to be involved?
TT: Why would I want to be involved? Why wouldn't I? [laughs]
No, I mean, in the original one it was helmed by Glen Morgan and the team partners, Wong and Morgan, and we had done a couple of pilots together and we'd also done some work on The X-Files so they were fans and we were friends. So they made this offer, and it was great.
I'm a working actor so unless the scripts putrid and unbearable, and believe me, I get two of those a week, we can come to negotiation terms, and I'm going to do it. I'm a businessman.
SF: What's important to you when choosing a role, a character, or a director or story?
TT: The director is great, someone that has provision and purpose and hopefully identity although I have been known to take chances with first directors. Adam Green is case in point with the Hatchet series, and that worked out. Story; that's everything. It has to have a beginning, middle, and end. I don't like repeating myself if possible so I like to be able to take it outside the box.
I was just talking to my manager during this half hour lunch break and we have three things on the table right now and they're completely different. I can't mention their name because we just started negotiations but one of them is a gentleman of the evening who happens to have a heart of gold. It takes place in a dinner and it's like, you got seven girls and instead of beating them they want to work for him as a business. And he's got a heart, literally. He wipes their tears when they cry and says you still have to go out their though [laughs].
SF: You've been working for two decades, but a lot of actors are starting to find it hard to find work. Not only how do you keep working but how do you stay relevant enough for people who want to approach you for projects?
TT: Well I was blessed enough to get on shows that were considered hip. When I came up to television I did Star Trek, The X-Files, 24; I managed to land on the shows that are right on the pocket. Then having just raised two teenagers, that's about as hip as it gets. Then I travel a lot so I'm interested in people genuinely. I love to travel; I'm a big kid. I was raised as a single kid, an only kid, so the beautiful thing about it when I reflect is that I'm getting paid now to enact all those imaginary people that I played with by myself in the backyard or under the porch; from aliens, to cowboys, to bank robbers or pimps.
SF: Typically you don't get much screen time in the Final Destination films yet you're one of the most iconic characters of the franchise. What do you do to maximize your impact onscreen?
TT: I try to make the best of what time they allow me and then I relish in the fact that I work less and get paid a lot. That's not a bad thing. Also, Final Destination in particular allows me to pick and choose a couple of independents where it's more character driven so it's a nice balance. And they keep calling so...
But I do know when we finally wrap it up there will be eventually even a more involved thing about who he is, Bludworth...William Bludworth.
SF: Do you ever get tired of people calling you Candyman?
TT: Five years ago I got really annoyed because I'd done over 100 films and 50 television shows and it was annoying because the movie's now in its 20th year. But then I said, "You know what, just accept it." Because the most annoying question I used to get is, "Oh I loved you in Candyman, Sandman or that dude man whatever. Have you done anything else? Are you still working in movies?" Now that annoys me because that means you have a narrow perception. But then I realized that that's a good thing because as an actor I try to make choices to differentiate between each thing as best as I can by being the same person, six foot five, who's in that role. So I've accepted it. Though it's altered my life in that I have to do my grocery shopping after midnight, I can't go into Best Buy in the hours I want to. But I'm glad that I'm no bigger a star than I am because I can't even imagine what it's like to never go into a supermarket because I love to cook.
SF: Throughout your career you've been always notable for both your stature and that amazing voice you have. At what point early on did you realize that you did have a great voice that you could use well?
TT: Well, I was crippled by the voice because I was told by a music teacher that I shouldn't ever try to sing because I ripped music. And I really loved music. Sam Cook is a huge inspiration to me, Al Green, David Ruffin from The Temptations. In my head, I sound just like them in the shower. But according to people who study music I don't.
I went through this weird growth period in high school where I shot up literally six inches and my voice changed almost simultaneously. So even though the voice sounded with authority walking down the hallway was an effort because I was clumsy and I just fell into things, between lockers. One time I fell right into the basketball coaches arms and he shook his head at me. There was nothing to be done. An English teacher, thank God, saved my life by giving me a copy of Coriolanus, and I was just turned around by the magic of word.
SF: You've kind of found your place within the thriller/horror genre. What has been your experience with it and how it's changed over the past years?
TT: It's weird because Hollywood looks at horror in a two-faced method. There are some people who don't think much of it. They think there is never any film as a horror film that will be nominated. They forget about The Exorcist but it's okay. It's this weird love/hate thing because traditionally, if you look back at the horror films of the 30s, those at Universal, the Frankensteins, the Draculas, the Wolfmans, they saved Hollywood from total financial collapse.
I'm not a big fan of remakes because there's too many creative ideas buried within every good writers head to be able to come up with something. You should be challenged to come up with something new and refreshing. I'm also glad that the torture porn period is over. I wasn't a fan of that. I remember watching part of Hostel with my daughter and neither one of us were amused because we like to travel and it's just not like that. Nor should you format fear among different cultures. That's not cool. So I think it'll find its way; it has to find its way.
SF: What advice do you have for future filmmakers, producers, actors, etc.?
TT: I think every student has to be bold enough to reach out to whatever they want. One of the most rewarding things I did in the last two years is someone reached out to me from AFI, the film institute, and said, "I don't know if you'd be interested but could you join us for a week?" The script was great. It was called Dockweiler about life on an LA beach. And I did it. It was his graduating thesis film, 20 minutes, won a bunch of awards so it paid off. Now he's in a position to be a young filmmaker. So if you're going to school to study, study hard. This is your time to do that laboratory, to do that trial and error thing, try to fail. Believe in yourself. If you can't stand rejection, get out of the game. If you can't handle that, stay out of the kitchen, because it's tough. I get rejections every week but I learn how to handle it. You know what, it wasn't meant for me, move on. Just keep your faith, listen, got to every concert you can, listen to music, talk to people, find out your differences, watch movies, watch movies, watch movies.
Be sure to check out our review of Final Destination 5!