I won’t lie: when someone in the audience at a panel during Days of the Dead, Atlanta, asked Tony Todd to say, “Be my victim,” I almost rolled my eyes…until he immediately held the microphone up close to his mouth and dropped his pitch and murmured, “I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom… without these things, I am nothing.” I’m talking, of course about Candyman...
...That role was definitely what the audience of Tony Todd’s Q&A at DAYS OF THE DEAD in Atlanta knew him from best. All of us got excited when he stepped out from behind the stage and raised his hands up from his towering frame above his leather Kangol and literally howled before taking the stage next to his interviewer and hanging his hat on the decorative horse’s head between their chairs.
Todd immediately addressed our concerns about his role in Jordan Peele’s Candyman reboot… by not addressing them. “All I can say,” he said, “is that we just wrapped on a certain film that releases June 12,” and when prompted again, later in the panel, restated that he had an NDA over his head that would only allow him to say, “June 12.” JUNE TWELFTH IT IS, MR. TODD.
Those were not the only questions he fielded, of course: we learned that he’s a gamer, that he prefers Playstation to XBOX, that the PS5 comes out in November and that it’s backwards compatible. His new favorite game is Personified, even though it’s “weird as hell,” and he loves VR, particularly Gran Turismo. One of the cats he lives with is named Charlie Parker. He has all of his own action figures, and he anticipates that one day he’ll prank himself with them, hiding them in the cabinet, then—“oh!” or the toilet bowl—“oh!” He also shared some fun facts about having dressing rooms in Alcatraz’s jail cells while filming The Rock, and partying with Tom Hardy (be still my heart—both of them in one room? I’m dying. I’m dead. I’m a ghost. Sike—I would NEVER ghost them).
Naturally, since we were at a horror convention, the conversation could not stay off Candyman for too long, and Todd related the story of getting cast as the Candyman back in the ‘90s. He didn’t have to audition, he said, but Clive Barker saw him in a The Last Elephant with James Earle Jones, and then Todd came in for a series of “personality tests.” When asked what that meant, he shrugged and said they were like compatibility tests to see if he could do the role itself. He also told us that SOMEWHERE IN STORAGE he has the original Candyman coat AND HOOK “if that matters.” If that matters. Somewhere in storage. Somewhere. In storage. If. That matters. Can you imagine being on Storage Wars and unearthing the original Candyman costume? I can. And then I get sucked into a mirror.
Several members of the audience stood to ask Todd about or thank him for representing Black people in horror films, too, which is the aspect of his career for which I am most familiar with him. He stated that it used to bother him when people told him, “You scared the shit out of me when I was a kid,” because they were watching the film too young, and he’s glad that Candyman was not his only role. He also said that he’s honored, “especially in Chicago,” and glad to represent Black people in horror. He invited the audience to watch Horror Noire, the recently released Shudder documentary of Black people in horror entertainment that has won many awards, as well. After 25 years of carrying the Candyman legacy on his own, he said, he’s glad to now have “the hottest director” (Jordan Peele) behind it with him. He also said that the best part of having played Candyman is that he never has to worry about his personal safety, and he clarified that he both meant it as a joke and sincerely.
The question I found most interesting was, “What did you tap into to be so scary? And what sets Candyman apart from other villains?” He answered simply that he thought about being Black in America, and that was it. “It’s not a joke,” he said, “it’s a romantic ghost story. Helen was the love of my life.” And I just LOVED the simplicity and sincerity and rage of that answer. “That’s it.” That’s enough: that’s plenty. Great question, great answer.
When asked “What’s next?” in a variety of questions, Todd mentioned a gangster film that has wrapped and will release this fall, entitled All Gone Wrong, about Lamont Hughes, and another Masters of the Universe character which he can’t yet reveal. Because his first love is the theater, his bucket list performances include all of August Wilson’s Rest in Peace plays, but also Coriolanus and Prospero in The Tempest. What was exciting to me is that his autobiography, which will feature fan artwork, is in the works, and he called for MORE PLAYWRIGHTS and NEW PLAYS. One member of the audience also asked if he would consider producing his own character-driven series or limited run, and though Todd’s agent would love that, he does not want to be locked in to one character yet “because I am a character actor. And because I don’t want to work every day.” Because he’s “getting older,” though, he admitted that we will likely see that happen sooner rather than later.
The most exciting premise—albeit all tongue-in-cheek—was when the interviewer mentioned the Clermont Lounge, local Atlanta dive bar staple, and Todd said, “That’s the first place I go in Atlanta to relax. We should make that show. ‘Behind the Curtain at the Clermont.’”
And an audience member said, “If you do that, you HAVE to bring Blondie back, though.”
Todd replied, “Yeah… where is Blondie nowadays? Has she retired?”
All in all, if you ever get the chance to meet or be in the inimitable presence of Tony Todd, do it. It’ll surely last you until his “certain film” releases on June 12.
By Mary Kay McBrayer