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A conversation with Tony Todd

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Actor Tony Todd has enjoyed a long and varied career in film, television and theatre work. From horror to comedy to drama to sci-fi, he works in multiple genres and is careful not to become (in his words) 'pigeon-holed' or stereotyped by any one of them.

From his first movie 'Platoon' in 1986 to signature roles in horror films 'Candyman' and 'Night of the Living Dead' and TV roles in '24,' 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' 'Chuck' and 'The Flash,' Todd, a Hartford CT native, keeps it fresh while his phone never stops ringing with new possibilities.

When he isn't in front of the camera, writing, doing voice-over work, or enjoying a rare day off at home with his cats, Todd loves doing fan-based shows like BangoreFest, taking place this weekend at the New Balance Field House at the University of Maine in Orono. Todd is scheduled to appear on Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30.

Last Friday morning, a few hours after taking a red-eye flight from the west coast to Marlborough, MA, Todd called to talk about his wide-ranging career and how much he is looking forward to his trip to Maine.

TME: It will be great to have you here for BangoreFest. You're scheduled for Q&As and photo-ops with fans on Saturday and Sunday. Do you enjoy doing shows like this?

Todd: I love traveling and meeting the fans who show up and continue to buy tickets at the theaters. Also, I'm an east coast guy, so any chance I have to go east, I savor it.

TME: You always seem to be working and you do it in several different mediums. Which is your favorite?

Todd: Theatre is my first love. I got my master's degree in theatre so I'm going to be a doing a show in Hartford, CT my home town. We start rehearsals on December 18th. Now someone might say, why would someone who's lived in California for 25 years do that?' First, I really need a dose of east coast reality and also they asked me and it's a great play. This will be the first time I've performed professionally there for 25 years. Every 12 to 18 months, I always go back to the stage. It keeps everything fresh and honest.

TME: Have you visited Maine before?

Todd: I've been to Kennebunkport once. One of my first gigs in New York City was in a theatre troop called 'Working Stage.' Maine was the first stop on our tour. It was just a quick trip but for a young man, it was an impressionable experience to see the changing leaves. I grew up with that but so many people in the troop didn't. It's just amazing.

TME: You've done more than 100 movies. Your body of work is immense. Of those movies, can you tell us about one that didn't receive its due that we should back and watch?

Todd: I've done a lot of independent films that are very good. We did one called Driven' in 1996. Writer and director Michael Shoob, who also has roots in Maine, wrote this movie about LA cab drivers and I was one of them. There was Danny Roebuck, Xander Berkeley and myself. It was a wonderful piece and got great reviews but this was before Redbox and things like that and it never got a hard, physical drop but I know it's available somewhere.

There's tons of things like that. 'Man From Earth' (2007) is another one. It was Jerome Bixby's last script before he died. He's the gentleman who did 'Fantastic Voyage' and a lot of early Twilight Zone and Star Trek episodes. His son unearthed the script and we got together and did it and it includes a lot of Star Trek veterans.

I'll always remember my first film which was 'Platoon' (1986). Before I knew it, I was airdropped into The Philippines and the next thing you know, you're in a film that wins four Academy Awards. Everybody who was in that film then had the opportunity for a varied and vast career and I'll never forget (director) Oliver Stone for that.

TME: When you were starting out, did you ever work a regular' job?

Todd: My one and only job outside of the industry was when I was a bartender in New York City. I was actually doing shows there and the boss said Man, you're great. I need to get you behind the bar' (laughs). But it was great and I learned so much. I had so many wonderful customers. James Gandolfini ('The Sopranos') was a regular, may he rest in peace. I'll never forget those days.

TME: Do you remember James's drink of choice?

Todd: Yes I do. It was a scotch on the rocks. Chivas. I remember him being such a great guy. Actors sometimes will go on about Oh, when am I going to get my next job? When am I going to get some work?' and he would belly up and moan about that for a bit but there was always such a great community of actors at that bar and they would say Don't worry about it, you're great.' This was post The Actor's Studio' era. Post Deniro, Pacino, Hoffman, all wondering what their next defining role would be. We all knew that James was going to be OK and we knew that we would all be OK.

TME: For many, a favorite film of yours is 'Candyman,' which continues to draw fans even 25 years after it was released. What is it about that film that continues to fascinate people?

Todd: It was ten years after it came out before I could even get close to it. Bernard Rose wrote and directed the adaptation and ingeniously set it Chicago. I used to worry because people would come up to me and say Oh, that movie really scared the heck out of me when I was a kid.' We didn't intend to make a film for teenagers. It's an adult film. Bernard told me Don't worry. Relax. Anybody who sees a movie when they're young and it affects them in some way, they're going to remember it for the rest of their life and they pass it on from generation to generation.' I think we're probably on that third generation by now.

TME: When you were doing the movie, did you have any inkling of how big it would become?

Todd: When I read the script for 'Candyman' and I saw the bees and the gothic elements, it struck me right away. I knew that this would be a movie that people will remember for the rest of time. I'm proud to have been a part of it. Between 'Candyman' and 'Night of the Living Dead,' I've been part of films that are treasured and revered by the horror community and I'm proud of that. But I'm also happy that I haven't been pigeon-holed into any particular category. Some people question that but I know the truth because if I get a script that is too similar to a project I've done before, I can always go back to stage work which keeps it honest, real and true.

TME: Some of your dialogue in 'Candyman'verges on the poetic in places. You can tell the script was carefully written.

Todd: That's right. 'Candyman' himself only has 12 minutes of actual screen-time. He's one of those characters that's talked about for the first 40 minutes before he makes an actual physical appearance. It's one of those classic moments and is certainly one of the lynchpins of my film career.

TME: I'm guessing you've met some interesting fans over the years who want to tell you how important this movie or that movie is to them. Tell us about some of the more memorable encounters you've had.

Todd: I fly all the time and sometimes I'm in an isolated mood and throw on the headphones but I've learned the value of conversation, because you never know who you're going to talk to. Probably the thing that affects me the most is when I talk to Vietnam vets or people with Vietnam vets in their family who tell me how much 'Platoon'meant to them and how accurate we got it without being sensational. That really means a lot.

I'll also get people who want to tell me how I scared them and I try to get them to understand that it was just a character and that I'm a human being. But I understand the value in that. When somebody is that affected by something and they thought it was real, some of us must have been doing a good job.

The things that mean the most to me is when somebody remembers something I did at a great regional theatre like the Kennedy Center or Arena Stage or Syracuse or Broadway. Theatre is something that is so of the moment. It's a vapor, you know? You do and it lives in the consciousness. It's not recorded. It's a memory. Those are the things that matter most.

But everybody's different and when we do one of these fan-based shows, we get bombarded by a lot of impressions, which is why we're looking forward to BangoreFest. I've never been to your city before and I hear it's beautiful. Hopefully, Stephen King will show up (laughs).

TME: It's possible. You'll be at his alma mater, the University of Maine at Orono. That's where the New Balance Field House is located.

Todd: You know I used to DJ when I was in college. That was how I got through school dabbling in broadcasting.

TME: That's very cool. Were you allowed to choose your own music?

Todd: Oh yeah, this was a time when we had total access to the library and it was all vinyl. The program director would check once in a while to make sure my vocal patter was OK and that I wasn't inhaling too much incense. It was great (laughing). You'd take a bathroom break and put on a 20-minute jam (laughs), usually jazz like some Miles Davis or John Coltrane, then come back and switch it up. I still have a huge vinyl collection.

TME: I'd like to hear tapes of that! After your current stage work is complete, what's next for you?

Todd: This has been a great year. I did a Kevin Smith project. It's a TV series a comedy called 'Intelligence.' We're waiting to find out what's going to happen with that. I've got a thing called 'West of Hell,' and it's a thriller that takes place on a train in 1878. There's a couple of things I can't talk about yet. They're in the voice-over world. Last year, I did the voice of Zoom in 'The Flash' and I think there's a chance that will be happening again. And I'm writing two scripts at the moment which is another passion. And hopefully I'll be directing soon. I've never directed a film before so I don't want my first film to be a horror film because I don't want to be defined by that but I do have one. First, I'm going to do a buddy-gangster film first called 'Providence.' I got my degree at Trinity Rep Conservatory in Providence, Rhode Island and I want to shoot it there because there's a lot of different cultural exchanges going on in that city.

TME: I know a lot of people are looking forward to seeing you at BangoreFest. I think you'll really enjoy it.

Todd: I can't wait. After my gig this weekend and just before I come to Bangor, I'll have four days at home with my cats, my garden and my cooking and that is going to be nice. I will see you next weekend and I look forward to meeting all of the fans in Bangor, Maine.


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