To horror fans, Tony Todd is cooler than Denzel Washington, yet to those who hate the scare genre he’s most likely “that guy.” You know, one of those veteran character actors you recognize instantly but can’t immediately place the name or where exactly you’ve seen him before. Chances are, TV and film watchers have seen the 25-year vet in multiple projects, from roles on television hits like 24 and Chuck, to his recurring role in the neverending Final Destination movie series. The Washington, D.C., native’s bread-and-butter, however, remains the independent horror market, in which the star of the Candyman films has become the modern-day Vincent Price. His latest pic, the splatter-filled sequel Hatchet II, hits DVD shelves today, and its gore rivals that of last year’s Piranha 3D. Written and directed by Adam Green, Hatchet II brings back deformed madman Victor Crowley (played by horror icon Kane Hodder, formerly the most celebrated man behind Jason Voorhees’ mask) for a ridiculous amount of homicide. Todd reprises his role as New Orleans con man Reverend Zombie, alongside fellow horror staple, and slept-on hottie, Danielle Harris (a regular throughout the Halloween franchise). Complex spoke with Todd about Hatchet II, dealing with new filmmaking technology, and how he’s actually more Shakespeare than slasher.
Complex: What made you want to revisit the Reverend Zombie character for Hatchet II?
Tony Todd: I was approached by John Beuchler, who did the special effects for the films, and he’s a good friend of Adam [Green, the director]. Before the first movie, Adam had reached out but I didn’t know who he was, and John backed up his call. I talked to Adam and he convinced me that the cameo in the first one would lead to a fleshed-out character in the second Hatchet. So, with that, and his enthusiasm, I jumped on board, and here we are, like, four years later with two movies. It’s interesting, because Adam has had the Hatchet story in his head since he was a boy scout, apparently, back in summer camp. So he knew what the trajectory was; the only contribution I really made was my interpretation of the role, and the makeup, particularly in the first one, with the triangular eye-patch thing. I loved that we were able to remove it as the second movie progressed.
What was your inspiration for that makeup in the first movie?
Tony Todd: When we were shooting the second Candyman movie, I spent some time down in New Orleans, and there is an actual Reverend Zombie shop down in the French Quarter. I spent some time in there, and looked at a bunch of pictures, and it’s a hodge-podge of impressions. He’s a man who’s originally from New Jersey and ends up in the bayou, and he’s basically a con man, but he’s the type of con man who has to believe his own hype, so the more he lives in that skin, the more he becomes who he says he is.
What’s great about the Hatchet films is how hardcore they get with the gore and the kill scenes. It’s really over-the-top, but in a good way. Is that something that you appreciate about the series?
Tony Todd: Yeah, Adam comes from the fan world, the fan circle. So it’s really impressive that he’s not only someone who’s a fan, but also had a vision. My hat’s off to him for embracing that dream. And it’s intentionally over-the-top; I think there’s something like 17 kills in this movie, right?
Yeah, it’s pretty insane.
Tony Todd: [Laughs.] Yeah, definitely. And none of it is CGI; it’s all practical effects.
How is it on set watching those elaborate kill scenes as they’re filmed?
Tony Todd: It’s all right there in front of you. It’s not faked on set and then added in post-production with a computer, so it’s pretty fun. The ones that I witnessed were always followed by a hearty round of applause by everybody on set. [Laughs.] It was like a big Mardi Gras party going on while we were actually making this thing.
Which kill in the movie is your favorite?
Tony Todd: Yeah, when they killed me. [Laughs.] That took about two hours, with Kane’s big-ass foot stepping on the back of my neck. He was going for the gusto. Kane and I are good friends; we’ve done a few films together. We’re actually in pre-production on another one for later this year.
Oh, cool. Can you tell us anything about that?
Tony Todd: It’s in the early stages, but we’re doing something about modern-day bounty hunters who are actually going after a guy who’s imitating horror movie kills.
That’s a pretty cool premise.
Tony Todd: Yeah, I think it’ll be good.
In addition to yourself and Kane Hodder, another horror movie veteran in Hatchet II is Danielle Harris. What’s she like to work with?
Tony Todd: She’s a firecracker. I think she may be all of 3” 2’. [Laughs.] I say that affectionately. She’s just this spunky, powerhouse of a young actress, and we really appreciated her stepping into that transitional role [Harris’ character, Marybeth, was played by a different actress in the first Hatchet]. It’s interesting, she and I are also going to be in this Night of the Living Dead: Origins later this year, which is an animated variation of the classic film, and that’s a really unique project.
That does sound interesting. What is it exactly?
Tony Todd: Simon West is the producer, and it was one of the hardest shoots for me, because I had to work this new medium of face-capturing. Basically, it’s like wearing a 30-pound weight on your head. [Laughs. And there’s a bunch of stethoscopes pointing at your eyeballs. So, once I got past that and surrendered to the new technology, it was fine. But every line that I uttered, every expression I gave, I kept being paranoid, thinking, “Wait a minute, are my emotions being sucked into some cyber-world, that they’ll be able to go on without me?” [Laughs.] Other than that, the animation cells that I’ve seen are like stop-and-start stuff, and it takes place in a mythical Times Square in the year 2020. The world has come to a zombified conclusion, but the names of the characters remain the name. I’m playing “Ben” again, like I did in the Night of the Living Dead remake.
For horror heads, the character of Ben is really iconic.
Tony Todd: I was proud of the remake we did, and somebody made me an offer for this new project. I think it’s a rare opportunity that I get to reprise something that I did 18 years ago. Hopefully this new one will reach a whole new generation of horror fans.
Is that motion capture experience something you’d want to do again?
Tony Todd: Well, I think it’s like saying you want to surrender to a Smartphone. [Laughs.] The technology is upon us, and that may or may not be the future, so you have to embrace it. I just want to make sure that I stay current, that I continue to work, and that I keep embracing the work, so it’s not a matter of whether I like it or not. Personally, I’d rather be on stage doing Shakespeare, but, you know, I’ll get around to that.
Some people who know you for all of your horror work might not even realize how much theater experience you have. Was it strange at first when you went from the theater world to the horror community?
Tony Todd: I grew up a single kid, and the woman who raised me was a big movie buff. We spent most of our time watching an eight o’clock movie every night. She would use the movies as morality lessons, and I would see it as, “Wow, that’s cool that people are pouring their hearts out in this little box.” The more I did it, the more the love of acting was instilled in me. And, you know, I caught a couple good breaks along the way. I got a scholarship and then my Masters degree, and ended up in New York, and two weeks later I had my Screen Actors Guild card. Theater will always be my first love, because there’s nothing like six weeks of rehearsal, getting to know a cast, and getting to perform live. But, you know, television pays the bills and movies last forever.
I’ve read in the past that you don’t ever watch your own movies. Is that still the case?
Tony Todd: No, no I don’t. It’s very hard. I think most actors who really, really put themselves in the work, it’s kind of like being spooked, man. To me, what’s put on film remains in another dimension, so my ego is secure enough that I don’t need to go and see every screening of it. [Laughs.] I react more to people’s reactions to the work. That’s why I do the horror conventions; if someone tells me that they enjoyed my work, then I have to trust them and take them at their word that I did a good job. I don’t need to see it for myself.
Another project that you have coming out later this year is Final Destination 5. That series, in which you play mortician William Bludworth, is perhaps your biggest one to date. What makes you keep going back to that franchise?
Tony Todd: Shit, it just keeps ticking, man. It’s like the little Duracell rabbit. The good thing, for me, about Final Destination, only having worked a week on it, I get paid a ton of money, and that allows me to pick and choose other independent films that hopefully turn out to be good. I’ve had a few clunkers over the years, and I don’t want to do the clunkers anymore. I try to carefully select projects now that I think will have staying power. When we left the set of Final Destination 5, I was riding in an elevator with the producer, Craig Perry, and he tells me that if the movie opens at number one, which, statistically, we all know will happen, they’re going to shoot the next two simultaneously, and that’ll be great. I can then pick and choose even more carefully.
You can’t be mad at that.
Tony Todd: To be honest, I need some time off. [Laughs.] I’d rather be on the Virgin Islands somewhere, and if a script is that important they’ll figure out a way to air-mail it to me. If it’s a little guy on a boat, he can canoe it over to my beach bank. If I don’t like it, I’ll say, “Take this back with you,” and if I do like it, I’ll leave the island. [Laughs.] That’s the goal, man. That’s the dream. Now that my New England Patriots are out of the fucking Super Bowl, I’ve got little else to look forward to. I had to throw that in.
Oh, you’re a big Pats fan?
Tony Todd: Yeah, I grew up in New England.
So you must hate the New York Jets right now.
Tony Todd: [Lets out a dismissive sigh.] What did you say? [Laughs.] There’s my answer to that.