For once, he doesn’t play the monster…
It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost a quarter century since writer-director Bernard Rose and actor Tony Todd launched one of the most iconic horror characters of all time, “Candyman” (in the film of the same name), freely adapted from the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker. Now Rose and Todd are reunited again on Rose’s latest film, a freewheeling yet deceptively faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror, Frankenstein, also starring Xavier Samuel, Danny Huston and Carrie-Ann Moss. [You can read our review here.]
In the intervening years, Todd has solidified his status as a horror icon with memorable roles in countless horror films, most notably the Final Destination and Hatchet franchises. But does he really like horror? And if so, what are his favourites?
It’s been over 20 years since you last worked with Bernard Rose. How did you come to take the role of ‘Eddie’, the blind itinerant, in his new film, Frankenstein?
I was a little reluctant because Frankenstein, along with Jekyll and Hyde, is among the most duplicated films in sci-fi and horror history, and unfortunately 60% of those films are not good. But Bernard and I had a lovely dinner and he explained his concept, convinced me that he was going to be the one operating the camera, with lots of handheld camera throughout the piece, to give it that newsreel/intimate immediacy, and together with the costume designer we created this look of a man wearing a white suit on the streets complete with grease stains and dirt patches, but still trying to maintain dignity, and it became in some ways a better father figure to the monster, unfortunately, than some people’s actual fathers.
You’re right, there have been a lot of adaptations of Frankenstein, but this is a really different take, isn’t it?
I think so, with the new 3D print technology [that creates the monster] and the fact that he transposed it to LA streets which has a homeless problem. But at the end of the day, in every single version ‘the monster’ is someone who doesn’t fit in, and is outside society, and I think one of the most brilliant things Bernard did was use the actual Mary Shelley text as the monster’s ‘super id’, where he talks completely lucidly, with sincerity and almost poetically, as the monster is learning language and context as he goes along, what’s normal and what’s appropriate in society and behaviour. And Eddie, my character, helps to show him the way as best he could.
How was it working with Bernard after all these years?
When you work with a director more than once, with each subsequent journey you develop a shorthand, a shorter way of being able to communicate with each other – less dialogue, maybe a wink or a hand signal, and with Bernard being behind the camera, it was a conversational approach which is always best in film, subtle and intimate. And we truly admire each other. I’m happy with what the gift he gave me with Candyman and what it’s done for me in the last 20 years, and he’s happy that Candyman was his biggest film up to that point, so we truly respect each other, and Bernard is already working on his next film which I’m proud to say I’ll be a part of as well.
Great! Can you tell us anything more about that?
No, because he should announce it first, but I will say it’s another part of the ‘Dead Poets Society’! [Laughs]
Candyman put you on the map as an ironic horror figure, and you’ve returned to the genre time and time again with franchises like Final Destination and Hatchet, but I always like to ask… are you a fan of the horror genre?
Why, doesn’t it show? [Laughs]
Well, yes, but actors like to work…
Yeah, I love to work, but I’m a film fanatic. If you asked me what my favourite genre is, it would be film noir: I’m a huge ‘black and white’ guy. Billy Wilder is probably my favourite director if you twist my arm – I can watch Double Indemnity again and again and again. I trained as an actor, I got an MFA Masters in Acting in Theatre, and I’m also comfortable with being a working character actor. If you look at my body of work, each character is different to the one before – I make that a goal of mine, when I can control it – so I never get bored, and I’m able to explore different characters. I’m a very observant person. When I first moved to New York, I loved to go to Times Square, before they Disney-fied it – look at John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy to see what it was like – when you walked down the street and were confronted with a hundred different character types. I’m going to be making my directing debut with a project called Providence which is based on the town that my school was in, a mobbed-up small New England town that exists on bets made, paid or waylaid, so I’ve chosen that as opposed to a horror film, because I’d rather do something else and then maybe do something like that. So Providence will be my first foray into directing, and that’s definitely film noir.
Will you be in front of the camera as well?
Yeah, I’ll be doing the second lead because you’ve got to do that to raise some money, but the guy I’ve chosen for my lead is a guy I went to school with, who never made a career as an actor, but he was one of the best actors I knew at my school; he’s made a successful career as a sound editor, but he’s an unhappy lad, so I’m gonna drag him away from the comfort of getting paid and eating donuts every moment he was and get him hungry again, and whup his ass into shape!
So what would your favourite horror films be?
My favourite horror films of all time would be Rosemary’s Baby at the top, because it was just so stylish and, again, almost film noir-ish. Then completely out the box would be Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, just because it was hilarious and a roar and as a child watching it and being scared and laughing six seconds later. But probably the best sequel ever made was Bride of Frankenstein. Those are the top three. And Dracula is right up there.
Me and the missus just watched the original The Fly the other day, and at the end when you see the little face on the fly, “Help me! Help me!” Because when Jeff Goldblum’s The Fly came out it showed you everything, but the original… less is more sometimes, you know? Another film they should remake and that I would personally love to do, wanted to do for a long time, was The Incredible Shrinking Man. Just the horror of being in a normal house when all of a sudden it’s flipped and common things become terrifying, like the cat and the spider. So there you go.
But you know what, Bernard said to me, when I was at a convention, and sometimes at these things everyone wants Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, you know? And I said, “Oh my God, is this gonna be forever?” And he said, “Tony, you got to remember these people saw Candyman when they were 7,8 – too young – and people who see a film that resonates in their youth, stays with them forever.” And I never thought about it that way, because we certainly didn’t make the film for kids! That wasn’t our intention!
But you know what he means: you were probably a kid when you first saw those horror films you mentioned – Bride of Frankenstein, The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Fly.
Sneaking into late-night TV watching, or under the covers, with the volume turned down, and full of commercials every few minutes. That’s why today I have a massive DVD collection that I can watch any time I want – without commercials!
FRANKENSTEIN is released in the UK on February 22