By Najib Aminy & James Laudano
Candyman, General Juma, Captain Darrow—Tony Todd. This I-CON, accomplished character actor Tony Todd brought a much needed “cool” to Stony Brook. After playing opposite Kiefer Sutherland in the hit television program, 24, and frightening young children since 1992 as the titular Candyman, many convention attendees were excited to meet the six foot, five inch actor, writer and director. After catching up with him at his dealer room table, The Press was granted an interview with the man who has been behind countless badass and exciting characters since he debuted in 1986. Fortunately, Todd was incredibly accommodating, and answered our questions in between meeting and signing autographs for fans.
Stony Brook Press: After acting professionally for over twenty years now, what would you say is the most appealing thing about performing?
Tony Todd: When I was in high school I was totally uncoordinated, but I loved basketball. But I was a mess. Everytime I walked down the hall the basketball coach would look at me and shake his head. Fortunately, there was an English teacher who dropped into my hands, one day, a sacred copy of Othello by William Shakespeare and I read this and I could just see the words popping off the page. To this day, not more than two years goes by when I don’t return to the boards because it’s immediate, there’s no lying, you’re standing there naked and hopefully the life experience you’ve accumulated up to that point allows you to tell the truth and nothing but.
SBP: You’re writing and directing a new project, Erie, PA. What has the transition from acting to directing been like?
TT: I got my MFA in writing at Trinity Rep In Providence, RI—one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. My emphasis was writing with acting as a back up and it just happened—when I moved to New York, after I taught school for two years—when I arrived to New York, I got hired as an actor right away.
One thing led to another and writing was pushed aside, though the impetus for writing has always been there. A friend of mine I went to school with called me one day and asked, “How come you’re not writing?” He made me wake up. And I immediately said I am going to write something for me and you because we had the same acting teachers and we could relate. I wrote this great story about bookies and they have a timeline—they have 72 hours, otherwise their friendships are severly tested. My inspiration is Midnight Cowboy. I went up to Erie, PA—this town is stuck in the 70s. They still have mullet cuts and the bookeyism is real and legit and I had my environment and it all came together.
SBP: You have a very diverse resume. What has been your favorite role or genre to play?
TT: I was raised as a kid by a single mom who was actually my aunt, but one of the things I did to amuse myself was play in the backyard; I played pirates, aliens, cops and robbers. I’ve been fortunate enough as an adult to reenact those childhood fantasies.
My favorite genre is a western that I did called Black Fox with Christopher Reeve, rest in peace. For six months, it was the joy of my career, because every morning I had to put on a six shooter, put on my western gear, drop my hat back, put my bandana on and jump on a horse—for six months. It was paradise, I got paid for it…Chased stage coaches, shot native Americans, had some romance by the fire place, bonded with my brother in the barn—all that.
And the woman who raised me, I convinced her to finally get on a plane—and she did—and she came on set. The happiest moment of my life was watching her sit on the sidelines in a lawn chair watching her baby boy do good. That’s what’s up and that’s what time it is. Make somebody proud.
SBP: Okay, so this is where we hit you with the hard questions: Your Wikipedia page states that you are “known for your height and voice.” Is there anything else you feel you should be renowned for?
TT: I would like to dispell the fact that I wasn’t an athlete in high school because I couldnt play basketball. I joined the swim team…It should read swim-team co-captain in 1972.
I was also a Boy Scout which I’m very proud of because I came one merit badge shy of being an Eagle Scout. The six years I spent with them is part of why I am here. It gave me discipline—gave me different skills. I think I know how to survive in the wilderness if I had to—more so than the guy who sits in front of an HD television.
I went to the World Jamboree in Japan—first time on a plane—although I almost disgraced myself. Now I am going to confess, when I went over there I discovered you can reinvent yourself. It’s kind of like when you go to college, when you show up on campus, once it clicks in I can reinvent myself, you get a second chance. I went over there and told all the guys I was Al Capone revisited, so we started on a little minor shoplifting excursion but we got caught—which was another reason I was one merit badge shy.
SBP: So what would you define as “Soft-ass shit”? [Note: In The Rock, Todd’s character, Captain Darrow, famously shouts “I don’t like soft-ass shit” to Nicolas Cage. This is one of the coolest things ever.]
TT: Commercials, that’s why you never see me in them. Actually, I did do one but that was the only one. That was a Taco-Bell, back when they did a run-for-the-border campaign; I had to eat something like 50 tacos. To this day, when I see a Taco Bell, quote me on this, I want to blow it the fuck up. Because if you’re going to do Mexican food, do real Mexican food.
SBP: What was it like working with Megan Fox [in Transformers 2]?
TT: I didn’t have any scenes with her but I heard she was hot.
I worked with Michael Bay on The Rock, so it took him twelve years to call me again—so he called and I said okay. You know, Michael Bay is Michael Bay. He is a megalomaniac filmmaker, good man—knows what he does. He’s got his niche and he doesn’t care.
One note he gave me when I came into his office, he had megabanks of various stages of visualization, he said, “I just want fucking robots coming in, fucking big robots.”
That’s very intuitive because I’m used to directors who talk for six hours. He knows what he wants, “more fucking robots”.
SBP: We read that you did a voice for Pokémon once. Is this really true?
TT: No it’s not true. For a Pokémon, no. I never did Pokémon, sir. That’s some weak ass shit.
SBP: Thoughts on the future of Sangala [the nation his character ruled in 24]?
TT: [In the voice of his character, General Juma] Sangala lives without me, even though I am dead. The people of Sangala, they stay true and they know I went down and invaded the White House for a purpose.
It was great. 24 is 24. It’s got its own machinery. Do I believe it, do I believe he can kick everyone’s ass?
[He gestured no]
SBP: Is there anything you’d like to add?
TT: I want everyone that’s young or not so young to follow their dreams no matter what. I’ve been told no a lot of times in my life, and every time I’ve been told no, I’ve found a way to reinvent myself. In order to succeed, you’ve got to find something that you love; respect someone that is better than you.
My current love is basketball. I am a Lakers fan, and I think Kobe Bryant is a man amongst angels. Everytime when I’m depressed I watch him play. He’s playing tonight, as a matter of fact, against the dreaded Oklahama City, with Kevin Durant, who they’re calling the new Kobe.
[He then challenged us to take a bet that Bryant would outperform Durant.]