411 Mania Interview: Actor Tony Todd
Posted by Tony Farinella on 03.01.2013
411's Tony Farinella sits down with actor Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination) for an interview about his new film on DVD and Blu-Ray Sushi Girl!
Tony Todd is a favorite among horror fans for his performance in Candy Man back in 1992, but he has also performed on television shows, the theater, and in a variety of other films. He's a versatile actor that has studied the acting game and always brings his best to each and every performance. Recently, I caught up with Tony Todd for a fascinating conversation about his work in Sushi Girl, his approach to acting, past projects, and so much more. Sushi Girl is currently out on Blu-Ray and DVD. You can also listen to the audio of the interview which I have included in this article thanks to a YouTube clip.
TONY: You've mentioned in previous interviews how this guy is a sociopath. What did you do to get in that state of mind for this character?
Tony Todd: I watched a lot of great classics and I studied people, went back to my Rolodex of people in old Times Square in New York. He's a studied sociopath. He studied it and acts things out. His first objective in life is to be polite and civil and charming but when people don't agree with him, he responds, which I think is the basis of sociopathology.
TONY: This is such a unique and outside the box project. For you personally, do you find that projects like this are oftentimes hard to find?
Tony Todd: No, they're out there. I think we need more situations and premises to put actors into. Doing mainstream films, quote unquote, gives me the financial fortitude to be able to go out and seek more character driven stuff. It was the right place at the right time situation. I met Destin and Kern a year before we actually started shooting, so I had a full gestation period. So it's been a two year journey, but that's fine. We all loved the material and we really respect and love each other, so here we are.
TONY: The work that you're doing now, what's it doing for you creatively as an actor?
Tony Todd: I've been acting now for twenty three years and I've been doing it steady and I still love it. I love being able to peel away the layers of a different person and a different situation and bring it to life. To me, that's like playing with a big old Lego set. You never know exactly what's going to come around, but you know it's going to look good and feel good and move people in one way or another.
TONY: Is the enjoyment level different for you now, Tony?
Tony Todd: Yeah, because I know more. As an actor and going on the journey, the more situations and different budgetary restraints that you have from big budget films and smaller budget films, you find a way to tell the truth, which is always the goal.
TONY: How do you go about finding that truth?
Tony Todd: You start with yourself. I've had a pretty good life and grew up in New England and I lived in New York and worked in L.A. and traveled the world. You never know when you meet somebody or see a situation, what you're going to be able to store up and use. For me, life is a constant pallet. You pull a little from there, you pull a little from there, and you try not to be too outlandish and always try to find your center. Sushi Girl allowed me to do that.
TONY: I've heard you talk about in previous interviews how you would like to direct. What do you think a great director has to have in order to connect with his actors and make a successful film?
Tony Todd: I think the best directors are those, whether they have acted or not, they have an initiate understanding of actor psychology. The creative people tend to be fragile a lot to begin with, so people that are able to tap into their sensitivity whether they're playing a malevolent character or a charming rascal, if it's weathered in the cloak of your own reality, you're going to make choices that are good. I think a good director brings out the best in people. A good project is ninety percent casting, and I was told early on that if all things are equal between two contestants for a role, the director is going to go with the person that they feel more comfortable with, that they can talk to, and draw out their best work.
TONY: You've worked with so many great directors in your career. I'm sure it's hard to pinpoint or single out certain ones, but who are some directors that you've worked with that you look at and you say, ‘I want to use what they taught me when I direct my own film?'
Tony Todd: My first love is theater, so I've been fortunate to have worked with some of the best ones from August Wilson to Sam Shepard and all these people have a zest and a drive for excellent storytelling. If you give an actor a wonderful story and encourage them, they're going to give you a hundred percent, a hundred and ten sometimes, which is even better. It's all about your humanity and presenting people with something that's interesting playset to then go ahead and construct something special.
TONY: You were a producer on Sushi Girl and I always like to ask actors: Do you have a certain internal barometer when you're looking at scripts or seeking out projects?
Tony Todd: I know it when I see it. For this year's Academy Awards, I watched every single film. I saw some more than once. For example, when you see a movie like Life of Pi, you know that's something that's beyond the parameters. I'm a visual person, so it's not a ten page read, but I can know within thirty pages whether this is something I want to know what happens at the end, whether the characters are well drawn, whether it's something that somebody wants to put their life and soul into. I watch a lot of movies, good ones, bad ones, mostly good, and you can tell. Everybody's tastes are different. It's all about humanity. I've worked with great playwrights in my work and people that possess storytelling and a zest for life are the ones that people want to do. I don't think anybody wakes up and wants to do a bad film.
TONY: You mentioned how you can tell if a film is a good film or a bad film. With your own work, is it oftentimes hard to watch films that maybe didn't turn out the way you thought they would?
Tony Todd: Of course. There's always disappointments in life. It's like Christmas or holidays. You expect a certain list of toys and sometimes the parents can't get you that number one toy, so they try to give you something that's second rate (laughs). A well balanced kid will take that lesser toy and make it the best experience in the world. The spoiled child will still want more number one toys. It's a balance.
TONY: When a film doesn't work, what do you think happens? Is it a matter of the script or just something on set not clicking? What do you think happens when a film doesn't work?
Tony Todd: Sometimes it can be the script, but most of the time, it's about the chemistry. I learned a long time ago you're only as good as your weakest link. The best films, the best projects that work are when everybody's on the same page and the script is exciting, every single character from the smallest to the biggest and everybody shows up early because they just can't wait to get to work.
TONY: What has been the key to having diversity and longevity in Hollywood?
Tony Todd: I try not to curse anybody out. In the last fifteen years, I've done a lot of repeat work with people and I think that's the best thing. I've always told people that every job that you have can potentially be three or four more. You do your best work. You come in loving the process and loving the work. When they start getting bored, that's when you consider looking at something else. If you're excited and the script is right and the people, your teammates are great, it's like Laker chemistry. When the chemistry is there, we win championships.
TONY: I'm a big Laker fan, so this has been a rough season, trust me.
Tony Todd: We had a little spurt recently, but damn, man, gotta play every game.
TONY: It's gone from a dream season to a nightmare season in a hurry.
Tony Todd: Yeah, it's not over yet.
TONY: What are some films of yours that maybe people haven't seen but you're very proud of them and you wish people would see them?
Tony Todd: I did a film called Driven about thirteen years ago about L.A. cab drivers that won a lot of awards. There used to be a time where every movie made would show up on cable, but it's not so much the distribution case anymore. Driven was one. I did a film called The Man from Earth, won a lot of Sci-Fi awards, but it doesn't have a TV deal. Le Secret, I did with Erick Zonca in France, which is only shown in Europe. It did very well over there, but was never distributed over here. You always have those things. It's the ones you make that are bad that they show all the time (laughs).
TONY: Is there a role or a character that you haven't played yet that you would like to play in the future?
Tony Todd: I wish I could sing. I'm a big, big fan of music, specifically blues music or forgotten R&B stars. I've always been fascinated by the Sam Cooke story and things like that. In another world, I would come back and make sure those musical biographies, more of those were made. The Buddy Holly story, things that were done, but even more so Jazz legends like Wesley Young.