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Friday, June 18, 2021

[Interview] Tony Todd on Upcoming Projects Including ‘Candyman’, ‘The Changed’ and “Masters of the Universe: Revelation”

Just recently, Bloody Disgusting exclusively premiered the trailer for The Changed, writer/director Michael Mongillo’s upcoming horror/thriller which is said to provide a new spin on the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers setup. Beginning with an explosion which ushers in “a historical and metaphysical change that only a handful of people haven’t yet undergone”, The Changed concerns “a group of ordinary people who band together in a suburban home to battle imposters who have replaced their families, friends, and neighbors.”

One of those neighbors is Bill, a seemingly well-meaning imposter, portrayed by genre icon Tony Todd. Mr. Todd was kind enough to carve out some time from his busy schedule to chat with Bloody Disgusting about his role in The Changed, his larger career in the genre, and his work on the stage. Along the way, we discuss the upcoming Candyman reboot, his originating Scare Glow for Masters of the Universe: Revelation, and his ever-growing collection of action figures based upon his many roles.

It’s a fantastic talk with an absolute legend, and it’s one we hope you enjoy!

Bloody Disgusting: So The Changed looks pretty fantastic. I love that it’s being described as a modern riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Tony Todd: I think that’s the tagline, but I didn’t look at it that way. No, that’s totally different movie. It’s not the same movie. That’s an easy tagline, because in Body Snatchers, they just take over your body, right? With their pods. This isn’t quite the same, but I’m not going to quibble over that. People wake up and they’re changed, but the thing is that they look the same as they did before, you know?

So it’s a soul thing, more than a body experience, sort of like a Rapture moment. And at the end of the day, you never know whose side is correct. There is no “good versus evil”.

BD: How was it that you came aboard The Changed?

TT: Well, it’s interesting. It was shot in my home state, which is Connecticut. We were supposed to do it before the pandemic hit. And, of course, like everybody else we got delayed for about nine months or so. I liked the script, I love my character. I’m one of the people who is changed, and I’m probably the one you see the most of.

As it turns out, I’m the next door neighbor to the hero couple. One particular morning, all of a sudden I’m acting a little different, mixing it all up inside their house and intellectually trying to convince them that this moment of change is revolutionary. That it’s a good thing. There are no more hangups about sex or money or any of those things that bother normal human beings.

BD: Given its connection to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, at least in the marketing of the film, would you say that The Changed has some pointed things to say about the times in which it’s been made, much as the films in the Body Snatchers franchise did?

TT: It does. Michael Mongillo, the writer/director, this is one of his passion projects and his largest to date. This is his most ambitious. He has a wonderful company of local Connecticut artisans that have stuck with him. Besides me, he’s got Clare Foley, Jason Alan Smith, Carlee Avers. A great cast of people. They’re very, very good, and part of Michael’s acting repertory.

That makes it easier when people know the director, when the director knows who he’s working with. I was an outsider, but I’m a professional so he trusted me. Plus, I was from the area.

BD: How did you approach playing a character who may be possessed by a supernatural or alien presence?

TT: You can’t. I mean, if you do that, you fall into tropes, right? I played him as if my point of view is the right way, because what the change is offering people who are not changed is a life of peace, almost Rapture-like. No more concerns over petty human frailties. We’re looking at a higher intellectual development. As I say at one point, “I’m the same man you used to invite over to play bridge. I’m the same guy, you borrowed my first pressing of London Calling. I didn’t come over bearing ill will. I just came to let you know that everything’s going to be alright. Because whether you agree, or don’t agree, something’s going to happen at midnight. So as your friend, I’m trying to tell you that this is a good thing.”

Now it’s up to the audience to decide which side they want to be on, you know? It’s interesting, because in the film, I’m not the one that displays violence – other than one moment. But it’s the other side, it’s the heroes that get increasingly more and more desperate. For example, the main couple, they seem to grow further and further apart because of this tension that they’ve created in the household, and thinking everybody is after them.

When, in fact, we’re not. If we wanted them, we could take them. But it’s better if you agree. Some of the characters are teetering.

One way or another, you’re going to get rid of your ego. My whole drive is getting rid of the ego. Everything’s the same. Your memory is not wiped. The same things that you had around you are still around you, but you’re no longer materially connected to them.

Some people, as it goes on, they wonder – “Do I want to stay in here, looking out the window and worrying about it?” Because, I’m not offering that they lose their personality. I’m asking you to lose things in the human condition that call for mass shootings every weekend. The reliance on money, the reliance on material things, as opposed to spiritual.

So I approached it like that.

BD: Is The Changed ultimately ambiguous as to who is, quote-unquote, right or wrong in this situation?

TT: Yeah, I think it toys with that thin line. I mean, the audience is going to derive whatever they want as to who’s the bad guy and who’s the good guy. What’s beautifully written about it is that it’s hard to tell at any given point. Because again, we’re not the ones displaying violent tendencies. It’s the paranoia of the human beings. The main couple, they’re battling anyway. They’re on the verge of collapse anyway. But this moment of terror unites them, until things go sideways.

Tony Todd in ‘Candyman’ (1992)

BD: Speaking of genre films that deal with timely themes, it looks as though we’ll finally be able to see Nia DaCosta’s Candyman reboot this year.

TT: Yes, yeah. They don’t want to move it again. We moved that date two times, two hard dates, and there’s no way they’re going to move it again. I think they’re already running trailers in theaters now, so it’s going to get heavier as it gets closer. I can’t wait, it’s going to be great.

It’s a continuation of the first film. Nia DaCosta does a wonderful job directing, Jordan Peele wrote it. It’s in good hands. You know, I was really thrilled to see that A Quiet Place opened strongly, $48 million or something. So that’s a good sign for us. If it’s successful, no one knows what’s going to happen. Maybe there will be more, and maybe that’ll be the end.

You know, after almost thirty years of carrying that character to conventions and interacting with fans, it’s nice to finally have a new chapter to discuss. And new Funkos! I finally get my own official Funko.

BD: It’s about time!

TT: Yeah, how about that? I’m happy. I have a MEGO, I have a NECA, I’ve got a McFarlane. Now I’m going to have a Funko.

Then, we have the upcoming Masters of the Universe: Revelation from Kevin Smith, coming out on July the 23rd. It’s public knowledge that I’m doing Scare Glow, the character that wasn’t seen in the original series, but they had a toy of him. So I’m the first one to voice it, which is great.

BD: So this character has been around for over thirty years, and you’re the man who’s bringing him to life for the first time.

TT: Isn’t that pretty cool? You just made me realize that myself. Yeah, it’s pretty impressive. Kevin is over the moon about it. The head of Netflix is a huge Masters fan, so he was in the writer’s room and was spearheading it all the way. This was a labor of love. It really is. The vocal cast is amazing. My boy Mark Hamill, he and I worked on Sushi Girl together. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Phil LaMarr, Kevin Michael Richardson, Alan Oppenheimer, and Chris Wood playing He-Man.

BD: Plus it’ll give you the opportunity to have another action figure!

TT: I can’t keep count! It is pretty cool. It is pretty cool to have over twenty action figures out there. So if I ever, ever, ever – God, please bless me – experience Alzheimer’s, I’ll be able to just be like, “Bring out my trunk! I don’t know who I am, but I know who these people are. They’re all a little bit of my soul.”

Scare Glow in “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” (2021)

BD: Just speaking as a fan of the genre, over the years I’ve seen plenty of actors balk at being recognized for their work in horror. They sort of minimize their connection to it. With you, you’re a bonafide icon, and you’ve been in more noteworthy horror films than can be easily counted. You continue to appear in horror, you meet with fans at conventions, you speak with horror outlets like Bloody Disgusting. I was wondering, would you call yourself a fan of the genre? Have you always been a fan, and what keeps you coming back?

TT: Well, I’m a fan of movies. I’m a professionally trained actor, I have my Masters in Acting. When I was in acting school, did I circle “Horror”? No. But it was one of the first things that … you know, my introduction to it was Night of the Living Dead ’90. Then it just kept adding on, but I try to be very careful in the roles I select. I try to make every role different from the last.

The good news is, before the pandemic, I shot maybe five films. I think only one of them has come out since the pandemic. Bernard Rose, wrote and adapted the original source material for Candyman, he and I have teamed together to do a new film. I don’t want to say anything about where it’s gonna land, but it’ll be somewhere nice. It’s called Traveling Light. It’s myself, Danny Huston, Olivia d’Abo . A great cast of people just came together and shot this thing. As a matter of fact, the film closes on the day after the riots erupted over the George Floyd situation.

Then, whenever I get too uninterested in genre scripts that keep getting sent to me, I run back to my first love, which is theatre. Which is what I’m doing now. We’ve carved out a space to display August Wilson, one of the greatest writers in American Theatre. His last play, a one man play called How I Learned What I Learned. Today was our first day of in-person rehearsal, and we open on the 29th.

BD: I was going to ask about that. Beyond horror, you’ve worked in various genres, you’ve worked in film and television. But your work on the stage – you originated King Hedley in Mr. Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle! Could you tell us about working on the stage, and a bit more about How I Learned…?

TT: Theater is my first love. It’s the thing that rescued me in high school, and put me on a path of what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be an auto mechanic, I didn’t want to be a criminal. Everyone should have that “Eureka” moment. “This is what I love to do, and this is what I want to do for life.” And that’s what theatre gives me. This is my first play in the last two years. So this is like a coming home.

We have a great director, Chris Edwards. This is a one man show, and it’s the last play that August wrote. He actually wrote it for himself to do. Then, he unfortunately got sick, and it passed through a couple of other hands, and now we’re reviving it. Since I worked with August, and I’ve done several of his plays, they called me. So it’s a lot of words, it’s a one man show, but it’s got beautiful music and production values. Hopefully we’ll kill ‘em, and hopefully we’ll travel. It’s just right now, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. But it’s lovely, man. It’s lovely.

I’m blessed to be able to do what I do, to be creative and be able to feed myself, feed my family, have a nice place to live in, and a nice car, all those material things. But the thing that keeps me going is the love of the craft. Love of the craft.

So we have Traveling Light coming up, which is not a genre film. But it is me and Bernard Rose, so people will come to it with certain expectations. I’m actually the hero in this piece.

And also, voiceover kept me extremely busy during the pandemic, because everybody has a studio in their home. If you can do theatre, you can do film and TV. It doesn’t always work the other way around.

BD: Just being honest, I would find that prospect terrifying. Being on the stage.

TT: Believe me, I may sound confident, but I am terrified. That’s the beauty of theatre. It’s like, once the curtain goes up, you’re flying by the seat of your pants. With respect to the words, and respect to the plot. But you know what I mean? You just have to put yourself out there, and be an open vessel. Then I try to bring that sort of stage work to whatever film project I’m doing.

So all you horror fans out there, if you really want to get an insight into who I am and what I’m about, the magnitude of personality that I’m capable of, then if you’re in the area (only forty minutes outside of Philadelphia, an hour and a half from New York), then come share the experience. And if you want to hang out and have me sign your program, fine. I’ll be there.

BD: And which theatre is this going to be at?

TT: It’s one DeSales University Campus, the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. They’ve been around, this is the 30th year. They skipped a year, as every theatre did. They have an 80,000 subscriber base. We’re performing is a 426 seat theatre, but we’re only using 140 seats or so.

BD: Just wrapping up, can you give us your final thoughts on The Changed?

TT: Well, I think The Changed is going to surprise people. I think it’s personally more of a supernatural thriller. I just heard from Michael today that we’ve been accepted to FrightFest in England. I think it’s going to have legs. I know Michael is extremely proud of it. And as I said, it’s a representation of what happens with a crew that’s dedicated to the writer/director. You know, everybody was devoted to it. It was a tight budget, getting the days done.

BD: Excellent, I can’t wait to see it. And Candyman will be out later this year. That will be a must-see as well. He’s one of the most iconic horror figures in horror. He’s from the 90s, but he feels as though he belongs to an older school of sympathetic villain. More in the mold of the old school Universal Monsters.

TT: Yeah, and guess who owns the intellectual property now?

BD: Candyman is now a Universal Monster! That’s amazing!

TT: Isn’t that pretty cool? It just hit me too, in the same moment.

Very special thanks to Tony Todd for his time and insights.


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