From a Hook to Everlasting Life: Dread Central talks IMMORTAL & CANDYMAN with Tony Todd
Throughout the past 30 years, very few actors have left their mark on multiple genres the way Tony Todd has. Although known very much as a horror staple, the actor has made his mark on everything from dramas to horror to animated films and video games as well. Never content to stay within one playground, so to speak, Todd is always reliable as an entertainer; his passion bleeds so deeply within every role, whether it be the iconic title character in Candyman to Ben in Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake to Captain Darrow in The Rock… all the way to Grange in The Crow. With his unmistakable voice, his gravitas, and a presence that very few actors possess, Todd remains one of the most unique performers around.
Playing Ted in the new anthology Immortal, Todd is able to break the hearts of viewers as a man tasked with helping his dying wife say goodbye to life (or so we think). We thought we’d catch up with the actor to discuss the anthology, the lasting impact of Candyman, and his thoughts on Nia DeCosta’s upcoming take on the story as well. Read on!
Thrown into the face of death only to emerge unharmed, the characters of Immortal are left staring at eternity in the face with uncertainty and fear like they’ve never imagined. The film follows Chelsea, a high school track star who comes clean about sexual misconduct with her coach only to find out her confession might be too late, Gary and Vanessa, a young, expecting married couple who scheme a morbid solution to their financial issues, Ted, a man filled with sorrow who agrees to euthanize his cancer-ridden wife Mary, and Warren, a young man with little direction in life who is forced to discover his new gifts after a tragic accident.
Immortal stars Tony Todd (Candyman), Dylan Baker (Hunters, The Good Wife), Robin Bartlett (Shutter Island, City of Angels), Samm Levine (Inglourious Basterds, Freaks & Geeks), Vanessa Lengies (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Waiting…), Agnes Bruckner (The Woods, Murder By Numbers) and Mario Van Peebles (Posse, New Jack City). The film directed by Rob Margolies, Tom Colley, Jon Dabach, and Danny Isaacs; Jon Dabach wrote the screenplay.
Dread Central: Immortal has such an interesting concept, in the sense that as a viewer, you really have no idea what’s in store for you. Every segment stands out from the other. What led to your involvement in this one? If I’m not mistaken, you’re a producer on it as well, right?
Tony Todd: Yeah. My friend Robbie Bryan, who I worked with twice, once on The Man from Earth then again on IMurders. He brought it to my attention. I read it and it touched me on a human level, it touched me on a hype level. I love anthologies, particularly if all the segments are solid and each one leads into each other; they’re all different.
DC: Anthology filmmaking, to me, is so interesting when it’s done right. I think that a short-form approach to storytelling really causes a filmmaker to think about what they can do in a short amount of time.
TT: There’s no wasted material. You have that 25, 30-minute window and you’ve got to make sure that all of the elements of storytelling are there.
DC: As an actor, do you approach a role in a kind of short-form storytelling in a different way than you would a traditional feature narrative?
TT: No, whether it’s film, TV, voiceover, or anthology, all the same, you have to create a character with your own height and your feet. You have to know who that person is, what their point of view is, what they want in life. Those circumstances will change, even though you’re the same actor every time. If you know your skills and you’ve been trained well, you know which emotions to pull up, what’s appropriate. Then, you’re also working in sync with your director, who’s helping to modulate you or bring things out. You can also never be complete unless your partner is equally as strong. I’ve had that with Robin Bartlett as my partner. We had never met before, but we had two days of rehearsal then we just started it. This was only a four-day shoot.
DC: Oh, wow.
TT: And that worked and she comes from theater in New York, just like I do. We just knew it was powerful material and I couldn’t be who I am without her being who she was.
DC: Your segment deals with losing a loved one and the pain that comes with a lot of that grief, as well as the very touchy topic of assisted suicide. I really enjoyed the rest of the film, but the segment you’re in really spoke to me and hit me right in the heartstrings. There’s very much a kind of a Shakespearian tragedy element to it. It’s kind of like you’re watching a stage play. I’m curious, was that any influence in, perhaps you wanting to take this one on?
TT: I just knew it was part of the material. You know, I’m a cancer survivor myself. I have great love in my life and kind of know what it feels like when you know, all of a sudden you’re facing mortality. Thank God I’m a survivor and I pray for all cancer survivors out there and know that you can beat it. So fuck cancer, but you know, it’s life and death. For me, you use your imagination in roles like this. What would it feel like if you had the last kiss from your partner? You know, the last moments on Earth. So let’s let it flow, which is what happened with good material. You can let your emotions and your passions flow
DC: Do you think that maybe that’s a reason the genre has stayed so beloved to so many people: that it’s so easy to find yourself within these films?
TT: Well, I’m an old school man. I’m a fan of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. I’ve been used to anthologies since I was a kid. When Twilight Zone hit with viewers, it was because it had a great beginning, middle and end and great factors that it would bring in to elevate the material. That’s kind of what we were trying to recreate here. I have another anthology coming out, late in the month of October, Tales from the Hood 3, with Rusty Cundieff and a beautiful young actress named Sage Arrindell. She’s someone you guys should keep an eye out for. She’s only seven, I believe right now, but she held her own in our segment.
DC: That’s funny you say that. I was actually just about to ask about that. The first Tales from the Hood is one of my favorite anthologies around.
TT: People keep telling me that, that it was absolutely a personal favorite of theirs. That’s good to hear. I know the second one was a little shaky, but this is a return to form. I can’t predict everything, but I know the things on that end feel right. Thank God, you know? First of all- Shout out to everybody who has had to survive the pandemic. People have had to deal with it. People, families and health, first and foremost. Fortunately, I was able to work a lot in 2019, not knowing this was going to happen, because I was on the steam roller. Thank God I did.
DC: Yeah, definitely; it’s been a wild existence, to say the least. The idea of immortality is presented in this anthology pretty well. It’s always a great conversation piece between people speaking on what an individual would maybe do, if death wasn’t an option. I’m curious what your thoughts on the whole idea of immortality are? Would you want to live forever, if that was a possibility?
TT: You know, when I was a kid, where we could say I had eternal summers and when summer felt like it lasted a whole year I used to think, and I think there’s a lot of young people thinking the same; we all felt that. As you get older, you realize that there are seasons to things. If you live right, you treat your friends right, your family…everything is in its own time and place. So as we get older, we learn how to adjust. I’m also working on my autobiography right now, while I’m in the house. I’ve been compartmentalizing and stuff. I just thank God for the journey that I’ve had and the people I’ve met in the films… the good AND the bad, that I’ve been able to work on.
DC: Yeah, definitely. Obviously a lot of people are asking you about Nia DaCosta’s upcoming take on Candyman. I know you really can’t say much about your involvement, so I’ll bypass that. What I AM curious about, are what your feelings are on the character itself returning in such a relevant time, like 2020?
TT: I’m honored. I’m absolutely floored. I do ask myself what took so long?! Through the convention world, I mean, you’re part of that circle, seeing how you guys pump information and fandom… I’ve been carrying the character for going on 30 years from the additional films and I get to watch each year having an increase in Candyman’s popularity and attention. We get more and more people in line for that film, even though I’ve done over 200 films.
So when it came up (Nia DaCosta’s film), I knew it was going to be special. When I got the call from Jordan (Peele, producer), I was in South Africa doing a film. I was absolutely assured by what he said. Thirdly, the original release date was June 12th, which happened to be the woman who raised me’s birthday, my Aunt Clara so it felt spiritually connected for me. Unfortunately, we had to move it back a couple of times. I know they’re calling me in to do some interviews soon on the Universal lot so hopefully, we’ll see it soon, but everybody’s proud of the film. I think the fans are going to be floored. We’re not just making a cookie-cutter thing here. Nia, with her feminine sensibility and her love of horror, is trying to create something unique and special. Something that’s going to be talked about hopefully for seasons to come.
DC: I think the teaser that was released was probably one of the best short films I’ve seen in years.
TT: Wasn’t that beautiful, being stylistically beautiful and horrific at the same time? I’m proud to be a part of it. Horror is in a good place right now. I think particularly after this experience, you’re going to see a lot of good films coming up. This whole thing, I think for actors and the filmmakers, a lot of people are going to be taking time, writing very serious scripts. Really hard-hitting stuff, because we’ve now already seen the worst. [laughs]
DC: As you said, you’ve been in over 200 projects. Everything from Platoon to The Rock and so many others, leading to your genre work as well. So many films that you’ve been in have stood the test of time. Talking about the Crow, Candyman, the Final Destination films. When it comes to Candyman, the role itself, that role really became it’s such an iconic one, the character really spoke to a lot of people. Years later, does the reception, the love that it gets still surprise you? What is it about that what you and Bernard Rose created together that made it so impactful?
TT: I never took it for granted. I never walk into any room expecting that my line is going to be sold out. But yet every appearance I make, I’ve seen it get increasingly more and more powerful. I think we told a great story. Bernard had the genius to transpose it to Chicago, and we had great source material with Clive Barker’s vision; and of course Virginia Madsen with her incomparable performance. He’s a great character in the vein of Phantom of the Opera: Tragic. Flawed. Yet persistent in the things that he wants.
DC: One of my favorite parts of my Twitter feed is always seeing your tweets regarding what you’re listening to, musically. So many gems. Everything from the great Smokey Robinson on. A recent one stood out to me. You were listening to the new album, Imploding the Mirage, by The Killers. I’m curious, what are your thoughts on that one? I really dig it.
TT: Do you like it? I do too. When I was in college, I was a midnight DJ, and they threw me in. I said, “I want to be in acting.” They said, “Well, you earn some credits and we’ll give you a shift.” I think it was like midnight to 3 in the morning; then I had to be in acting class at ten the next morning, but I loved it. It was literally just like being around my music. I had my incense. I had my bells ringing. I called myself the Fireman. It was a gig. So I’ve always loved, not any particular genre of music, but all music. The kind of music that brings you back to a time and place and a feeling, right And I think I’ve been playing more during this pandemic, because I’ve had more time on my hands and people haven’t told me to stop (Laughs). So I like putting up eclectic groups of songs and you’re good in that you mentioned Smokey Robinson because that was the very first song, while I was shoveling snow in Hartford, Connecticut. I heard “Second That Emotion” and my life changed. I begged my Aunt to let me go see that concert. She let me do it with my cousin as my chaperone and my life musically changed from that moment on.
DC: When I was six, I used to go visit my mom over summers and I’d have to fly with my older brother. My mother was really scared of putting us kids on the plane by ourselves, but one day Smokey Robinson and his entourage were on the plane.
TT: Oh Wow!
DC: And they, Smokey and his entourage, told my mother not to worry about it. They had us sit next to them and talked to us the entire flight. So, he’s very pretty special to me too.
TT: That’s a really cool story! That’s great. I got to wave at him once in Hollywood; he was in his Bentley and we were on Sunset Blvd and I was new to Hollywood. I said, “Yeah, you the man dude.” I also like posting food and recipes. Those are my hobbies. I just want people to feel good. Twitter can be a cesspool sometimes if you go down the wrong rabbit hole, and hopefully it’s working.
DC: I have one more question, then I won’t take up any more of your time. After this pandemic is over and in between films, do you have any desire to go back on stage? Cause I know it’s a big passion for you.
TT: That’s my first love. We were supposed to do a version of Fences this summer at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and that was the first thing that got canceled. I know they want to reschedule that for next summer and I also have a production of Ghost in The House. It was a one-man show based on Jack Johnson, the first African American champion, that we had plans of filming. So, we have that I do just want to give a shout out to all the young filmmakers and actors and future producers out there. Just follow your dream, if this is what you love, just plan a way to get to the finish line. You know, you can do it. We’ve all got a unique story, but tell it, please just tell it.