Tony Todd is, to say the least, an imposing figure. At 6’5”, broad of frame, and with a deep, booming voice, he’s a guy who gets attention. The fact that he’s also a dependable and wholly competent actor makes him all the more impressive. Since the mid-Eighties (and his appearance in the Oliver Stone film Platoon), Todd has brought an earnestness to every role he’s done; and he’s done a lot with well over a hundred roles listed on his IMDB page.
Thrust onto the genre’s center stage in Tom Savini’s adaptation of Night of the Living Dead in 1990, Todd has worked solidly, appearing in genre and non-genre roles and in both big budget and low budget films ever since.
After a small cameo in the first Hatchet movie as Reverend Zombie, Todd returned when writer/director Adam Green revived the ominous Victor Crowley for Hatchet II. This time, Todd’s voodoo priest/swamp tour guide company owner has a meatier role and a lot more to do. On February 1st, 2011, Dark Sky Films releases Hatchet II onto DVD & Blu-ray. Now, the carnage is coming to your house…
Dread Central recently spoke with the gifted actor about the film and how he prepares for the roles he takes on. His answers just may surprise you.
Dread Central: Tell me about the casting process for Hatchet II. I know you were involved with the first film…
Tony Todd: Right… and that came about through John Buechler, who is a good friend of Adam’s and did the special FX on the first one. He lobbied for it, and I agreed to do the one day cameo with the expectation of the character being fleshed out in the second one.
DC: So, did Adam write the part with you in mind?
TT: I don’t know if he did or didn’t. I know he went hard to get me and Robert Englund involved in the film and his wishes came true. Adam is one of the most inspirational directors I’ve worked with. He’s really enthusiastic and that shows on the set in the way we were treated. It was really a labor of love in spite of the fact it was a throwback slasher film.
DC: He seems to have effortlessly caught the “slasher pictures of the ’80s” vibe that a lot of other people are trying to get these days.
TT: Other people are doing it for the bucks, but Adam is doing it for the love and I think that’s the difference.
DC: Give me a little character sketch of Reverend Zombie.
TT: He’s a guy who found himself down in New Orleans. Where he’s from is somewhere in the upper Northeast, possibly Jersey. His real name is Clive Washington and he discovered he could step into a façade down in New Orleans. He’s running a tour boat operation. But he’s the type of guy where, the further he goes, the more he believes his con. So you don’t know where it stops and where it finishes for him. That, to me, was the interesting hook and the angle. I was so glad in the opening of HATCHET II that we were allowed to strip off the makeup and become closer to who the real person is in spite of the fact that he uses larger than life attitudes and voice patterns.
DC: When you accept a role, how much research do you do for it? How much back story do you create?
TT: Oh… tons, because I come from the theater. The way I was taught was that you delve deep into the background. Personally, the way I do things is that I get a “color sketch”, and once I accept a role, I allow the universe to bring me different impressions. For Candyman I had two sketch pads, and I’d do different sketches as an artist and did a lot of research into the time period. That still holds true. I try not to accept a role unless I believe in the script and/or the people involved because, once you accept, you become family. So, at the end of the day, you want to work with people you care about or at least care as passionately as you do.
DC: Do you go as deep as to say, “This is his shirt. This is his jacket?” Do you get involved in costuming?
TT: Yeah, I do. I totally believe that each character is motivated by a certain color. It’s all about sensory explorations and all of that; at the end of the day or on the day cameras roll or the film plays in a theater or when the curtain opens, it all comes to fruition. I look at characters as putting on a cloak insofar as shielding the mannerisms that you don’t want in the character but enhancing the ones that are appropriate.
DC: Do you see yourself as being sort of along for the ride?
TT: I feel myself as tapping into whatever part of Tony’s personality is appropriate for that role. Though I’ve never personally killed anybody [laughs], but whenever I commit homicide in film, it’s justified from that character’s point of view.
DC: So, Hatchet II’s shoot… Was it long? Was it hard?
TT: We broke it up into two parts because we shot the last week specifically down in New Orleans, which was great, though I wish it had come first because we had to do the whole swamp tour at the end of the film and that would have infused a lot of stuff that went on in the stage work we did. Adam had some great crew people that were able to accurately create the swamp environment on the stage despite the fact that some people got sick because mold started creeping in. But we were only on stage for about three weeks or so… maybe eighteen shooting days. It was interesting for me because the studio we shot at was the old Mary Pickford Studio, which is where I originally shot Candyman, so that was a nice return.
DC: I recently spoke with Tom Holland, and he also mentioned how people had fallen ill during shooting.
TT: Tom was a great guy to meet and to work with. I was always a big fan of his directing work. I always make new friends and reinforce the ones you had, at least that’s what I try to do.
DC: I know with the cast, it’s such a genre who’s-who and I know a lot of these people you’ve either worked with in the past or see each other at conventions, so it must have been like “old home week.”
TT: With Kane Hodder, in particular. He and I have done like three films together and we’re getting ready to do another one at some point this year. I consider him a great friend. But I trust the director and it’s the director’s call who he brings into the mix. With Adam, he uses people he likes. It’s great when you can afford to do that.
Hatchet II – Blu-ray and DVD Trailer
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DC: Would you consider Adam an “actor’s director?”
TT: I consider him more of a fan’s director. He comes from the fan world and he’s gotten the opportunity to get projects greenlit, so I think when he writes and shoots, he comes at it from the common man’s point of view, which is great. He doesn’t have a blown-out ego or too many hidden agendas.
DC: You’re in a lot of both genre and non-genre films; are you much of a genre fan?
TT: Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t do them unless I liked it. I didn’t set out to say I was going to be a horror icon or anything. It was just the luck of the draw. My first love is theater and I’m chomping at the bit to get back onstage this year. It’s been two years.
DC: IS something like that in the works?
TT: I’m just counting on the universe. There’s nothing specific, but I’m putting it out there.
DC: With Hatchet II, there’s so much special FX and I know you’ve done other films that were special FX-heavy. Does that process ever get tedious for you?
TT: No, because I love the process of making film, so I know each department has to bring their “A game.” Hatchet II had so many practical FX that were created that I think it will galvanize the fanbase, because they’ll know it’s not CGI. It’s somebody had to think about how to make this work. I think Robert Pendergraft did an excellent job in that regard.
DC: How do you feel about the “CG vs. Practical” debate?
TT: Well, you know… Every budget has its own pluses and minuses. I’m not opposed to being in a big budget film because the pay is bigger. Whenever Michael Bay calls, I try to accommodate that. At the same time, I tend to get more freedom and range of characters with independents. So I’m always looking for a good role in a film that may not have as much money, but allows me riches in characterization.
DC: And experiences…
TT: Or location. Sometimes I’ll choose a project by where we’re shooting. This was a great way to go back to New Orleans which is a city that I love.
DC: There’s so much physicality in Hatchet II. I know you’re a big guy and Kane’s a big guy…
TT: We have a lot of big guys. R.A. Mihailoff is a big man. He’s a good friend of mine.
DC: Is that bashing around something you enjoy doing?
TT: I studied stage combat. The beautiful thing about film is that no matter how extreme the situation gets, you know you’re going to walk away from it at the end of the day. MOST of the time. Unfortunately, I was on The Crow, so…
DC: Man, I’d forgotten about that.
TT: But you’re cautious and, if it’s something that concerns you, you talk to the Stunt Coordinator. You make sure who the set medic is and you just trust your instincts as an adult. Try not to step into open potholes. [laughs]
DC: If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you about The Crow. Looking back on that, other than the tragedy of Brandon’s death, is the making of that picture a good memory for you?
TT: It was a terrific experience. Alex Proyas is a visionary director. I just recently watched the film on cable and I’m astonished at how seamlessly it holds up. I’ve been fortunate in that regard. A lot of my films tend to get shelf life on cable and/or hold up. It’s only the bad ones that don’t [laughs], and I might add, it’s very difficult for me to watch myself on film. It’s kind of like hearing your voice on a tape recorder for the first time.
DC: How do you feel about the idea that’s bouncing around about a Crow remake?
TT: [sighs] They’re going to remake everything eventually, so that’s the producer’s fault. Personally, when I become a producer, I consider that the end of the story.
DC: The thing that first put you on my radar was Savini’s Night of the Living Dead… and, over the years, I’ve become a big fan of that film and of your performance in it.
TT: Well, thank you, sir. You know, we just did an animated version in 3D called Night of the Living Dead: Origins, which is going to be a hot film, man. I did all the voice and face capture work on it about two months ago.
DC: One of the things that fascinated me was, in looking over your IMDB page, you currently have fourteen films in some state of production.
TT: [laughs] Is it that many? [laughs] I think about 70% of that is accurate. I’m at the point now where I go to IMDB about every two weeks and call my manager and say, “You need to take this off and this off.” So I guess, in that regard, I’ve become successful because I know so many people who are trying to gain their first credit. As a matter of fact, we’re negotiating three new things today. [laughs]
DC: [laughs] That is so awesome!
TT: It’s beautiful, man. [laughs] Be careful what you wish for, know what I mean? With it comes its own headaches… like I can’t have Facebook. I don’t Twitter. Some days I’m jealous. I wish I could just be a person who can have a Facebook account. God knows how many offers I’d get then.
DC: Facebook’s been very, very good to me, I’ll tell you that.
TT: Everybody I talk to says that, but as soon as I try to do it, I get a lot of stalker mail.
DC: That’s too bad. And finally, Final Destination 5 – thumbs up… thumbs down?
TT: Thumbs up! Thumbs way up. They expanded my part, and the producer told me as we were leaving Vancouver that if it opens at Number 1 – which statistically it has – they’re going to shoot the next two simultaneously. That was my first 3D experience.
DC: Was that challenging?
TT: Yes, for different reasons. You can only shoot like two and a half pages a day. I’d just come off an independent before I went there where we were shooting ten pages a day, so… That tells you what money can do.
DC: Anything else we should know about?
TT: I did a film last year called Unbroken by a company called Stormcatcher Films, and it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done in the horror genre. The film is directed by Paul Moore.
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