A Chat with Tony Todd (“Hatchet II”)

Tony Todd is often unjustly considered to be just a horror actor, but one only needs to take a look at his filmography to see that he’s working in countless genres. Indeed, his television work alone has found him bouncing from sci-fi (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) to comedy (“Chuck”) to action (“24”). Mind you, we’re probably not doing a whole lot to change that whole he-only-does-horror-movies perception by talking to him about his work as Reverend Zombie in the “Hatchet” franchise – “Hatchet 2,” by the way, is now available on DVD – but we did at least make a point of trying to ask him about as many different roles as possible. We did not, however, say the name of his most famous film five times in front of a mirror. (We’re not crazy).

Bullz-Eye: How are you?

Tony Todd: Good, good. Just going through the day.

BE: I can imagine. I’m sure they keep you busy. A tight schedule.

TT: It’s really weird when they give you someone for 15 minutes, then the next person, “You’ve got 15 minutes…” It’s like speed interviewing. (Laughs) But I guess it’s a necessary part of it. Where are you calling from?

BE: Norfolk, Virginia.

TT: Norfolk, okay. I just did a movie down in Petersburg, Virginia.

BE: Not too far away from here.

TT: It was great. Some of my best work I think I’ve done in a horror film.

BE: Which movie was that?

TT: It was called “Unbroken.” There’s a company down there called Stormcatcher Films.

BE: Right, exactly. Very cool! So…”Hatchet II.” You got to play Reverend Zombie again.

TT: Yeah, and doing the first one, I knew going in that this was going to happen. So I’m glad that Adam Green is not only a man of his word but has a vision that keeps me employed. (Laughs)

BE: Plus, we got to see a little bit more of him this go around.

TT: Yeah. Well, he had told me the back story when we did the first one, so I was able to play that scene in the first one knowing the full knowledge. And then we got to go down to New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities.

BE: Even better. So what was it like to get the chance to step back into the Reverend’s shoes? I mean, he’s certainly an interesting character.

TT: Yeah, I tried to find his reality, which is that he’s a small time con man from New Jersey. His real name is Clive Washington. And just like when we go from high school to college, you get the opportunity to reinvent yourself, and he’s a reinvented person that, unfortunately, is believing his own hype. He can’t shed it.

BE: How did you and Adam first meet up?

TT: I met Adam on a convention circuit, actually. He comes from the fan world. He’s very enthusiastic; loves film, particularly horror. I think we chatted a few times, and then he made me an offer to play Reverend Zombie. I turned it down. And then he and (John Carl) Buechler kind of lobbied and convinced me that it was a project worth taking.

BE: Obviously, you’ve done plenty of horror films in your time, but do you really consider yourself to be a horror fan?

TT: I hate horror. You can quote me. I hate horror movies.

BE: (Laughs) Really?

TT: No, I’m kidding. (Laughs) But I don’t, like, wake up in the morning and say, “I’ve got to kill somebody.” No, I love movies, man. Having become such an integral part of the horror circuit…that wasn’t something I dreamed about. It was the luck of the draw. As an African American actor, unfortunately, a lot of the time we have very limited choices of how to make a mark. I remember seeing the original “Night of the Living Dead” at the drive-in and that sort of took me over the edge, because I was convinced there was a market for who I am as an American, somehow on film. So I offer a tribute to the late Duane Jones for giving me that. But at the end of the day, I like good scripts, I like good stories, and I like working. It beats selling crack, right?

BE: Sure, I’ve always said that myself. (Laughs) But prior to really taking off in the horror genre with “Candyman,” you certainly had already worked with a wide variety of high-profile directors. I mean, there was Dennis Hopper (“Colors”), Clint Eastwood (“Bird”), Oliver Stone (“Platoon”)…

TT: They must have all seen something interesting, I guess.

BE: What did you learn from those various directors, from being around them?

TT: I learned if you get a good story and the director believes in you, you can make a ton of cash doing something that beats working in a factory…which I’ve also done. (Laughs) I’ve got to say, Oliver Stone kind of plucked me from obscurity, in terms of mass media, giving me the role in “Platoon.” But I always knew somehow…I never doubted that I wouldn’t somehow make a living in this business.

BE: When you did the first “Candyman” film, did you have any sense at the time that it was going to prove to be a cult classic?

TT: No, I didn’t. You can’t go into it thinking that. As a matter of fact, my personal favorite films are films that nobody has seen. I did a western with Christopher Reeve called “Black Fox.”‘ I loved doing that. I loved doing this film called “Last Elephant,” which we shot in Africa. But Bernard Rose…we were in Chicago doing exploration stuff there; he kept telling me that this movie (“Candyman”) was going to change my life. I’m going, “Okay, change my life? I’m not sure, but if you say so…” Lo and behold it did.

BE: Talking about some of your favorite films, I actually was going to ask you if you had any favorite films that didn’t get the love that you thought they deserved. Are there any other such favorites?

TT: Well, the ones I mentioned: “Last Elephant” and “Black Fox.” And another movie I did about L.A. cab drivers, called “Driven.” It’s some of my absolutely best work. But, you know, you can’t alter public perception.

BE: Unfortunate but true.

TT: But hopefully the best is yet to come.

BE: You’ve certainly done plenty of TV work, too. I’m a big “Chuck” fan.

TT: Oh, are you? It just won’t go away! (Laughs) You guys are lucky it’s still on the air! Which is a rarity for television these days. No, I love “Chuck,” too. The only reason that I’m not still on “Chuck” is because “24” came along, and I really didn’t feel that I had enough to do on “Chuck.” So I had to go and jump ship.

BE: I actually was going to say that you never really got to stretch your acting legs much with your character.

TT: No, not at all. And I really felt…for the first time in my career, I felt guilty taking a check. It was, like, “What am I doing? All I’m doing is, like, looking at a monitor!” But they’re a good group of people, and I wish them all of the success in the world.

BE: So how was the “24” experience for you?

TT: Adrenaline rushed. The reason I think “24” had such an impact on people is that it’s all action, all the time. There’s a countdown and a slice of cinema verite. I got to go to South Africa again on that, so that was cool. And I got to invade the White House, which is…depending on which part of the Tea Party you belong to, is a good thing. (Laughs)

BE: Either you have an affinity for playing authority figures or they see you as one, because you popped up in “The Event” playing one, also.

TT: Yeah, either I’m playing a government figure that is highly in charge, or I’m some sort of gothic killer. So you tell me the link. (Laughs) It’s really strange, but I appreciate that. Because of that, I don’t get pigeon holed, so that’s cool.

BE: By the way, I’m a huge “Star Trek” fan, too.

TT: That started everything, man.

BE: Obviously, I knew you were under the make-up for Kurn, but you getting to play adult Jake was great.

TT: Thank you, man. That was probably my favorite TV experience.

BE: Now there you did get a chance to stretch your acting legs.

TT: Definitely. That was a ton of work. I remember the last day we were on set for that, I had a 1:00 call on a Sunday, one AM. And it took five hours of make-up, and my set time was six AM, so we ended up having a 22 hour day. You know, I have a lot of family members that don’t really appreciate what I have to go through in order to keep the wheels running and turning and burning. And it really doesn’t matter to the people watching it, because it goes by in an hour, but there’s a lot of dedication and work that goes into stuff.

BE: Do you ever get tired of having to deal with the make-up? I mean, certainly you’ve had plenty to deal with.

TT: That would be like saying to an accountant, “Are you tired of crunching numbers?” I mean, you might as well as me if I’m tired of doing interviews. (Laughs) It’s all part of the bigger picture, which is rehearsing, preparing for a role, doing the role, and then dealing with the aftermath. So it’s all part of it. I do fun things, too. I’m probably going to play in my tomato garden after this.

BE: Nice. Well, thanks to the beauty of Netflix, I was able to check out the Jekyll and Hyde film that you did…

TT: Yeah, I have mixed feelings about that. You’re only as good as your weakest link, you know? But I went into it with the noblest of intentions. I thought the character was great, but it wasn’t cast well and…that’s all I’ve got to say.

BE: I won’t focus on the negative there, but I’ll flip it around: is there a project that you worked on that surprised you considerably? Like, you walked in, kind of more or less because you thought it was going to be a check, but then at the end of the day it was, like, “This really is great. This really turned out well.”

TT: First of all, I don’t do things just for a check. I take a project because I really, truly believe in it. I did believe in “Jekyll and Hyde,” I just didn’t have control over it. Do you know what I mean?

BE: I do.

TT: I did a movie called “Man from Earth,” that was written by Jerome Bixby, who wrote “Fantastic Voyage,” and he also has a “Star Trek” connection. I knew on paper that it was a good story. And we did it, we shot it consecutively in seven days. It’s a little seen movie, but it’s a really intelligent piece of sci-fi.

BE: Yeah, actually that’s on Netflix as well.

TT: Okay. Great. Netflix is taking over the world! (Laughs)

BE: It is, but it opens up a whole world as far as being able to check out stuff that doesn’t really get big distribution.

TT: That’s great. But that’s also why cable is dying.

BE: I guess so, but there’s still a lot of good stuff to be had there. They’ve just to figure out the right business model where they can…where people can watch it on TV if they want to and online if they want to.

TT: Is that the eight dollars a month thing?

BE: Exactly.

TT: That’s unbelievable, man. There go the residuals. (Laughs) No wonder they’re getting smaller. Jesus Christ. That’s great. It’s great for the consumer, but they’ve got to figure it out for the actors!

BE: Well, I know I’m coming up on like the two-minute warning, but what do you have coming up? Because to believe IMDb, you’ve got, like, 20 projects you’re working on simultaneously.

TT: (Laughs) You can only believe 60% of IMDb. I just did voiceover work this week for a new show on Cartoon Network called “Young Justice.” I get to play my first superhero, one called Icon, who is a really good guy. I like him a lot. I just have one episode in season one, but I’m going to be heavily featured in season two. I’ve got that, then I did that movie “Unbroken,” which is going to be great. “Night of the Living Dead: Origins” is coming out this year. We returned to “Final Destination,” and then we’ve got…the unknown. There’s a bunch of offers on the table, and we’re just sorting through them right now, so I don’t want to talk about something that may or may not happen.

BE: Understandable. Well it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Tony. Like I said, I enjoy your work, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.

TT: Thank you, man. Enjoy. By the way, are you snowed in where you are in Norfolk?

BE: I’ve really lucked out. We don’t get too much snow down here because we’re so close to the water.

TT: Oh, okay. Well, stay warm during this winter, and thanks for talking to me!

  

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