Tony Todd Gives Us the Skinny on Sushi Girl
Tony Todd's resume is extensive and diverse. He's credited with everything from gruesome horror films to voiceover work in children's cartoons and appearances in video games. His 20+-year career has been incredible, and he recently sat down with Dread Central to talk about his newest project, Sushi Girl.
Sushi Girl (review) is a unique horror-flavored heist-gone-wrong film directed by Kern Saxton that stars Todd along with Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duval, Andy Mackenzie and Cortney Palm. When asked what audiences should expect when sitting down to watch Sushi Girl, Todd said, "I don't want to compare it to any other film because I think it's unique unto itself. Basically my character, Duke, is the leader of this particular crew and I invite a group of people back to see each other six years from the last time we met. Ostensibly, it's a dinner, but it turns out to be a celebration of the release of one of us from prison, which leads to a questioning about some details that were left unattended, and when the right answers aren't given, things go down different paths. And then it becomes a survival film. A very atmospheric survival film, as the whole thing takes place in a deserted sushi restaurant."
The cast for Sushi Girl was actually assembled over a year before filming began, so a real cohesion developed among the players. "It's a well-rounded cast," Todd said. "One of our strengths was that our ensemble was really tight. We became really close, and to this day we're still getting together and having different functions and parties. That's very un-Hollywood. You meet a lot of people, you meet a lot of acquaintances, but to still have that sense of family is a treasure."
Sushi Girl presented an opportunity for Todd to be a producer as well. "I helped secure some of the funding opportunities and picked up some pieces here and there, going to some meetings, crossing the T's and dotting the I's. Invisible producing," Todd said. "But because of that, having that title going into the shooting, maybe it made me take a little more responsibility in making sure we were remaining focused. Sometimes in independent films, forces get scattered a little bit, but it helped that we were in the same location, primarily. And we worked non-stop, six days a week, for two and a half weeks. But because we had met each other a year before we started shooting, that helped. We were all aware of who each other was, what each could bring. I think we grounded ourselves and made everybody bring their best job to it. It wasn't just a job for hire. Everybody worked far below their quote because we loved the story, we loved our characters and we respected each other, which is important."
Todd commented on the uniqueness of Sushi Girl, "I don't think Sushi Girl is a film people have seen. I'm firmly convinced, as a producer, that when we hit VOD and we have a theatrical shelf life and when it finally settles down to its television home, this film will be one that people will talk about and that they'll remember. And it's a testament to the fact that you don't need $100 million to make a film." And Todd was adamant about the strength of the production company. "Assembly Line, this company will be working together again and again. People should pay attention to Assembly Line."
A lot of the intensity of Sushi Girl came from the creative process the cast used. "We made a concerted effort not to see our other characters. We tried to look at each other fresh, as these new characters, Crow, Duke, Fish, etc.," Todd said. "I made it clear, before we started shooting, I started sending out text messages as my character, Duke, and I didn't break characters. Everybody works differently, some people need to laugh and get away from the intensity, but I felt I had to be Duke for the entire two and a half weeks just to keep it grounded."
Todd remarked how the character-driven Sushi Girl drew him in from the beginning. "I like playing any character that's good, that resonates with me, that does something inside me that says, 'I've got to do this.'" Todd said. "And I look at the characters in this film as a dysfunctional family. Think of it like a Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey and everybody's gathered, everyone's got their own history and I’m the dysfunctional father figure who happens to be slightly psychotic. When I tell you to go to your room, it's not up for debate; even though I’m smiling, it's not for debate. Do it or die, and you can quote me. Do it or die."
"And I have to give props to Cortney (Palm), too," Todd said about the Sushi Girl herself. "Her ability to endure all the things that were happening around her is a testament to the best quality an actor can have, which is the ability to listen and respond and to react in whichever small way they can. She was terrific for her debut film, and I think she'll go far."
In addition to the powerful main cast, Sushi Girl has some nice surprises in the supporting roles. "We had great cameos in the film," Todd said. "Like Sonny Chiba. The first male character you see in the film is Sonny Chiba. That's just outstanding." Other actors in supporting roles include Danny Trejo, Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey.
The atmosphere of the film was enhanced by so many quality aspects. "We had the influence of a lot of great moments and opportunities," Todd said. "The musical score…I think Kern did a great job in choosing which songs would draw people into the atmosphere. Our DP was able to shoot in an already dark space but was able to light it with different surfaces and textures. Our crew was fantastic."
Todd was very excited to have the opportunity to star in Sushi Girl and spoke about the diversity of his resume. "I fight for that," Todd said. "There are people that come up to me and are like, 'Oh my god, it's Candyman. Are you still in movies? Do you still work?' I mean Candyman is 20 years old. People sometimes have a very myopic views, but that's their right. That's their opinion. But I know the truth and I tell them, 'Your kids might have heard me this morning on their favorite cartoon.' I'm able to jump back and forth between the big budgets...things like the Final Destinations have allowed me to do that, to pick and choose character-driven stories in the independent world, or going back to New York and to my theater roots. I'm in a lucky position because I've been doing this for 22 years, and I'm able to still tightrope and jump back and forth between genres and I really appreciate it. It makes me more of a chameleon than a personality. That is what I think a true actor should be. To go from a "Holliston" to a Sushi Girl to Call of Duty. That's pretty cool. I like that."
And in speaking of some of his other projects, Todd was extremely complimentary of FEARnet's original series "Holliston," in which he appeared last season. "The key to 'Holliston''s success is Adam Green," Todd said. "He has such an infectious energy. I met Adam maybe five or six years ago and he was basically a fan. He was in line at a Fangoria convention and he bought some of my pictures and said, 'I'm going to be a filmmaker.' Now I get that a lot and I'm not the type of guy to discourage anyone or say, 'Get the fuck outta here, kid.' You can't do that. I was taught if someone has a dream, until they prove otherwise, you encourage it. And lo and behold, about a year and a half after we met, I get a script for this film called Hatchet and at first I turned it down. I just wasn't motivated by it. But certain people in the cast, like Robert Englund, called me and said, 'You've gotta help this guy.' So I had a meeting with Adam and agreed to do the cameo in the first movie and he said if it worked, he'd expand my character for the second one. And not only is Adam a man of his word, but his sets are some of the most fun experiences I've ever had. Every project starts with the leader, and whether that leader is the producer or director or writer or lead actor, they set the tone. If the person is an asshole, it's not a good experience; and it usually reflects in the finished product if the person is there for the true joy of the work, like Adam was with "Holliston" or Kern and Destin (Pfaff, writer) were for Sushi Girl. The people who, no matter what time you have to get up, 6am, 4am, 5am, you're there because you can't wait to work and see the people, that's what makes the magic."
Todd also plays a character in the recently released, hugely anticipated Call of Duty: Black Ops II video game. "I'm a gamer," Todd said. "I'm in a weird position. I’m really nervous because I'm not a schizophrenic; not only am I doing voiceover in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, but I'm digital. I play Admiral Briggs, sending players out on missions. It's a little awkward playing the game, seeing myself digitized and taking orders from myself."
And in addition to Sushi Girl and Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Todd has more projects that will be available soon. "There's a film called Changing the Game I shot in Philadelphia for a young filmmaker named Rel Dowdell. That's been getting a lot of good reviews. Also there's a project that's on the table right now that's called Man With a Gun that I haven't shot yet, but we're in discussions and it's a really good script. It takes place in 1931, the presumed final days of the last gunslingers. It takes place on the crossbanks of the River Styx."
The Wagner/Cuban Company’s Magnolia Home Entertainment and Phase 4 Films jointly acquired North American rights to Sushi Girl. The revenge thriller will have a Blu-ray, DVD, and digital VOD release by Magnolia Home Entertainment under the Magnet Releasing label in early 2013.
Mark Hamill (Star Wars franchise) and Tony Todd (Candyman) lead a cast of cult heroes including Noah Hathaway (The NeverEnding Story), James Duval (Donnie Darko), Andy Mackenzie (MacGruber), David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight) and Cortney Palm (Superbad). Sushi Girl also includes feature appearances by Michael Biehn (Aliens), Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill Vol. 1), Jeff Fahey (Grindhouse) and Danny Trejo (Machete).
The film centers on the compelling character of a man called “Fish,” just released after six years in jail after successfully not ratting on those involved in the robbery that sent him to prison. The night he is released, the men he protected with silence celebrate his freedom with a congratulatory dinner. The meal is a lavish array of sushi, served off the naked body of a beautiful young woman. The sushi girl seems catatonic, trained to ignore everything in the room, even if things become dangerous. Sure enough, the unwieldy thieves can’t help but open old wounds in an attempt to find their missing loot, with violent results.
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