Tony Todd is an actor with a significant library of credits to his name. He’s perhaps best known for his pivotal role in the Candyman franchise, which is where we kicked off a conversation that took us through the worlds of Oliver Stone and Michael Bay, before arriving at his own upcoming directorial work.
We started with the Candyman, and took things from there…
Was Candyman the part that got your foot in the door, would you say?
For the public? Maybe, possibly. But the film for me that changed things was Platoon. It’s the one that I had my MFA in acting and writing. I was bartendering when that came along, and ever since then I’ve never had to pour another drink that wasn’t mine!
How was the shoot of Platoon? Oliver Stone sets are renowned for being a little bit different…!
Insanely realistic. It was amazing. There I was living in New York one moment, and the next we were in the Philippines when Marcos was deposed. And then three days later we were in the middle of the jungle with army fatigues, and [Stone] said dig a hole, and literally nobody changed their clothes for 18 days.
We had mock battles at night. But coming from a theatrical background it felt like rehearsal for me. I saw a lot of things, grown men weep. And there was a lot of good actors in that cast: Johnny Depp, Forest Whittaker, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, myself.
And that for you, even appreciating your acting background beforehand, it all must have been quite special?
How many films have spawned that many actors who are currently working? In different ways we would never have imagined or predicted for ourselves. You’re going to get an Academy Award, you’re going to be a mega cultural person, you’re going to be a horror star…
And the camaraderie when you’re in the midst of such an intense situation?
I think it shows on film. It felt like a platoon.
I’ve also caught you a lot through a lot of terrific TV work, and most recently you’ve popped up in 24 again, coming through with Redemption and through to season seven. We see it as a show that’s entirely against the clock, but the shoot must be ridiculously insane, for time pressure alone?
It is. I had done season four previously and I was finishing a film in Arizona called The Graves, and they have a law that you can only be on  once, but I guess they had difficulty casting this part! They called me out of the blue and then I had to go and meet with Fox, and the next think you know is that I’m on the plane to South Africa. And, of course, I said yes, as I love Howard Gordon who wrote this and is its executive producer. He gave me a job in X-Files years ago.
It’s different when you go onto a show that’s already a success, because the crew is always well oiled and already have a way of working. They have machinery that works for them. But that character was so powerful. He stormed the White House, he slaps the president. But what I didn’t know is that if you slap the president, you are about to die!
That’s 24 law!
[Laughs] Is that it? They never gave me the law book!
Mind you, if you’ve had a second go, they might let you back in for a third try?!
There were rumours within that episode that perhaps his body would return in the end, but they went in the army direction.
When you’re meeting people at conventions such as these, what is the work they’re discussing with you?
Today? It’s Candyman and Transformers.
Are you involved in Transformers 3 do you think?
You want to quote me? What I was told last month, yes. But that’s Hollywood!
Is there anything you can tell us about it? It’s got to be worth a try.
No! There’s more of it! [Laughs, starts thumping desk and making explosion sound effects]. Something along those lines!
It must be fun to do?
I felt like a big kid. When Michael Bay called me, I’d worked with him before on The Rock, and he called me and said, “Tony, I might have something for you.” I said, “Okay, you haven’t called me in ten years!” He said, “I’ve been busy!” I said, “I’ve been busy too Michael, glad we could make our schedules match!”
So he brings me and he’s got this enormous computer bank with these half-finished robots, and it looks like a little bit of animation, drawings, black and whites, finished stuff. I can see the joy in him, because he’s a big kid with a director’s set. And he’s got robots, 250 people working for him, and he’s saying, “You see this, you see that, you’re going to take over the world.” I’m watching this man showing me, and I’m like, ” Do you want me to do it like that, or do you want my interpretation of it?”
How many days were you on it?
I did ten sessions, and the sessions usually last for three or four hours. And as a matter of fact, I was doing a play in New York, August Wilson’s Fences, and in the middle of rehearsals I get a call saying they need another session. So they sent me to a remote place which is not like Michael, because he’s very hands on. And when I showed up I could tell that these guys had just got a phone call from somebody, because they were white as ghosts. They were not looking at me. It was top secret shit or something. And I looked at the transcript that had come over the fax and it didn’t say what the project was. It just said ‘Tony Todd’s lines’. So I knew that the fear of God had been instilled. That’s when I knew I was in a Michael Bay film!
And then he was directing me over the phone, my cell phone. While we’re looking at this, and these guys weren’t even looking what was on screen, as I guess everyone’s afraid of piracy these days. Rightfully so, I guess.
How’s Michael Bay changed between The Rock and Transformers 2?
Michael’s not going to change. What’s he going to change for?
I’m going to be directing soon. My approach is completely different. I’m a hands-on guy…
What are you going to be directing?
I wrote a script called Eerie, PA. Think Midnight Cowboy meets Boxcar Bertha, character driven, bookies, race track, debts, friendship, loyalty, all of that. My approach is hands on.
I love actors. I’m going to cast it with actors I’ve worked with. I have a shorthand, I think, after working on so many films. Michael’s films are a more typical director’s set. And both ways are completely valid. That’s the beautiful thing about this business. Whatever it takes to get the shot.
Presumably, it’s an independent movie?
Yeah, of course. I don’t have $250m! [Laughs]
Do you think the advances in television, the ways that they’re being shot and directed, are helping independent film now? They’re getting more complex things done quicker?
Yeah, I think just what you said. People who come through television, if they don’t get distracted, they learn how to shoot fast. They don’t get shocked. And if they know how to adjust to that and they think outside the box, then they’ll be fine.
One of the dangers is that sometimes you learn how to shoot quick, quick, quick, and then you become shallow. That’s why as I get older and older I do less and less television. I only do television if it’s something really good like 24. There was a period where I did do a lot of television, but the luck of the draw worked in my favour, as they were all shows that were either fan-favourites or cultist things. This wasn’t by design, but it happened. So I’m fortunate.
I’m a huge fan of Chuck. From where we were sitting, it was the first time in a long time a brand new show that came along where people seemed to be having an insane amount of fun.
The talk is that it’s a terrific set, and that you have a lot of fun putting in references in there. Was there a real camaraderie to that as well? Was it a case of anybody could join in the fun?
Yeah, yeah. But unfortunately, but my end of the story wasn’t the fun part! I had to squat behind a general who was constipated, and I played a CIA director who didn’t have a desk! But I loved the show, the show’s great, and, unfortunately, all good things had to end. And when 24 came along, I had to hasten the demise of my character. I miss the experience. One of the plans was that it was going to develop and develop and develop, but I didn’t see that coming.
I love Chuck, and I hope Chuck continues. It’s a good crew, and good, good people.
Beyond Eerie, PA, you mentioned you’re writing, and I’d imagine you’ve been doing that the past few years, what are the other projects you’re working on?
I have a horror film called Catalytic. If you notice over the past few years there have been an incredible amount of indescribable acts, like we just found a guy in Cleveland. And when they found him there was a smell, and there were 12 bodies in the back yard. Then there’s a little kid that stabs his parents. I’m trying to find a way to group all these things together to a significant cause, as if there’s a rip in the fabric of the universe. And then with every rip there has to be somebody who comes along and repairs it. That’s the gist of it, but I wanted to examine why people are freaking out.
So you’d humanise it?
Yeah, yeah. Because there’s incredible acts of good happening too, but I’ve never seen such bizarre things when people do flip out.
But, I don’t want my first directorial movie to be a horror film, because I just get every horror script in the world. So, I want to do this other one, which comes from years of studying good films like Midnight Cowboy. I’ll say it again!
Tony Todd, many thanks for your time.
Find out more on Tony Todd at www.tonytoddonline.com.
And many thanks to the fine folks at Memorabilia for setting up the interview. The Memorabilia Show returns to the NEC in Birmingham, England on 27-28th March 2010. Details here.