It’s been over two decades since Tony Todd appeared in the mirror as Candyman, scaring the hell out of a generation. Before that he was already a seasoned actor, appearing in numerous theater productions, big films like Platoon, and shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation. Since Candyman, he’s gone on to work on an insane amount of projects on stage and screen, but for many of us he’ll always be the man with the hook for a hand.
At Denver’s Mile High Horror Film Festival, Mr. Todd was on hand for a special screening of the film (complete with a blood fountain on stage!). Afterwards I had the chance to sit down with him and I gotta tell you guys, he really is the man – so impossibly chill and infectiously passionate. Mr. Todd opened up about many topics, including his legacy as Candyman, what it was like shooting in the projects, and his hopes for a foundation.
You already had a lot going on by the time Candyman came along, including a spot on one of my favorite shows of all time, Homicide.
That’s right, Life on the Streets.
It was! And it marks the start of Andre Braugher’s career. Well, he had done Glory before, but Homicide really cemented him. One of the strongest actors I’ve ever worked with.
Right on. But anyway you had a lot going on. How did Candyman come to you?
You know what? It was weird. It was the first time it had ever happened to me. I did a film in Nairobi, Kenya called The Last Elephant, with John Lithgow, Isabella Rosallini, and James Earl Jones. So I was in seventh heaven, alright? About a year later I get a call from my agent and he says they want to see you for this project called Candyman. I thought he was joking so I hung up. Some kind of Sammy Davis, Jr. movie or something, you know?
Then he called back and told me this director Bernard Rose saw The Last Elephant and told the studio that I’m the guy he wants for Candyman. He liked how I looked. So first I had to meet with the studio executives so they could put their stamp on it. They set a breakfast meeting at 7:45 in the morning. I walk in to this thing with no script, I’m sitting on my hands, and they’re pouring fresh-squeezed orange juice and fucking eating grapes off the vine, you know? And I was like, really? You’re going to do that to a starving actor?
But that was that.
What did you think once you got the script? Because even by horror standards Candyman is pretty weird. Your dialogue is really esoteric and poetic. What did you make of it?
I thought it was Shakespeare. My love is the theater. I was raised by my aunt and we bonded over the eight-o-clock movie on TV. We’d watch everything from James Cagney in White Heat to Lon Chaney in The Wolf Man and every Bogart movie. And my aunt would use these movies to discuss life with me, you know? So I had an appreciation for good film and theater and when I got the Candyman script I was like “Wow!” It was a blessing. An unexpected one too, which are the best type of blessings.
It was shot mainly in Chicago. Were you there? Or were you just in the LA studio?
No I was there. I didn’t shoot in Chicago, but they brought me there. See, Bernard Rose is a genius. We bonded over blues and beer. I took him to this great place in Chicago called the Kingston Mines with my good friend Frank Pellegrino (Goodfellas). We’re drinking, Bernard is standing there twisting his hair like a maniacal madman and he tells me “This movie is going to change your life!” And I was like “Dude, easy. You want a shot of tequila?”
But he was right. You know, to this day I’m Candyman. And I think that stands as a testament.
It’s true. I mean, we’re all here today celebrating the film and the character you brought to life. But getting back to the shoot, you were in the Cabrini-Green projects. At the time, I think the general population only knew it as the place from Good Times. But it was a seriously dangerous place. What was the vibe like from the locals towards you guys?
Well, the locals were paid off, you know? Cabrini-Green was ruled by five different gangs at the time. It was real bullshit. We went on a tour before shooting and it had to be at 8:00am because they had their own store in the complex, with like the thickest plexiglass I’ve ever seen. And we had to get our provisions there by 10:00am or your life was suspect. There were five different factions there controlling territories which consisted of vertical buildings. You know, it’s modern day indentured slavery through the power of crack, which was created by the government. But hell, that’s a whole other thing…
Yeah, I don’t think those projects are there anymore are they?
No, they’re gone. Because they were close to downtown. And the weird thing is they coexisted because it was two different worlds and never the two shall meet, except for the downtown people who had to go to Cabrini-Green to get their fix.
Were any of the gangs used as extras?
The dudes out front calling 5-0?
You can tell too.
Exactly, you can tell. It’s authentic.
How did Candyman play in that area?
First of all, Candyman is such a part of the urban mythology lexicon that it really hit me from left field how big the response in that area was. But it has so many different fan groups. You know, like here (MHHFF) I’d say is a pretty average group of fans. There’s your redneck horror fans in the south. I’ve had full klan members come up to my table and say “I love the way you kill people.”
No shit? That’s sickening.
It is. And then you have some bigger women, who’ll waddle up to me…I’ll tell you, this only happened one time. This woman plops her leg down on my table and on the inside of her thigh was tattooed my face. She says “Wanna see it wiggle?” And I said “No…” That’s frightening. So you get the good and the bad.
One positive thing I’ve been able to do, because gang members love that film so fucking much, I get a lot of work as a gang interventionist. We use Candyman to open up a dialogue and we talk about things. One of my dream projects is a foundation where teenagers from different backgrounds can be taken someplace every year. Just get them together and see that there’s a different world out there. Talk to them about the disparities between culture and classes in this society, you know? And hopefully they come back home and spread whatever joy they got. I want that to be my legacy.
That’s fantastic that something like Candyman allows you to do that.
Let’s talk about the sequels for a moment. I actually dig them because they continue the story of Daniel Robitaille. Unlike many horror sequels, they don’t just ignore everything that happened in the previous ones. Did you have any conditions going into the sequels and what do you think of them?
Only that they be good. When the third one came around, I discovered that you’re only as good as your weakest link. Even if you do a great performance, if you have a weak link in the film, that’s all anyone remembers. I loved working with Lupe (Ontiveros), who recently passed, she was a wonderful woman. The second one I love more.
Yeah me too.
All that back story in the second one, that was my stuff. How he was an artist and the fact that his father was a cobbler. Because I wanted it rooted in something. It wasn’t just slash slash, kill kill, you know? And I wanted it to address the segregation laws, which is one of the nation’s greatest tragedies, where a black man could be shot on sight for being seen with a white woman. Plus, Bill Condon did the second one. He went on to do big things like Dreamgirls and the Twilight saga.
I called Bill, and I want this on the record, I called him and said “Hey, you’re doing Twilight, right? It’s not that I’m a fan of it necessarily, but it’s huge. Give me a cameo in that and it’ll be beneficial for everyone.” But I guess I was too hardcore for those kids. I’m not soft-lipped enough to be a teenage vampire.
What do you think it is about Candyman that’s made him resonate for so long? He’s not like other slasher icons.
I’m not sure. I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that it appeals to so many different groups. There’s been over 30 dissertations written on it concerning urban myths and the cinema of the horrific. There’s a huge Latino fan base…I mean, I don’t know why it resonates the way it does. It must be the passion of the man!
But seriously, to me, it’s the most flattering thing. Someone asked me once how I felt that Candyman was going to be the opening line of my obituary? And I know it’ll definitely be up there, but I’m doing everything I can to ensure there are other points of discussion.